Since the mid-70's on my first climbing road-trip out of Texas the Grand Teton has dominated my alpine dream horizon, assuming Freudian status after failing four times to complete a climb on those storied slopes. In the lexicon of my mountain fantasies perhaps El Cap and The Diamond on Long's rank with the Grand Teton among summits in the Lower 48 I covet. As a youngster, the Grand embodied alpinism in the States and I wanted to be an alpinist in a big way. An alpinist from Texas - somewhat oxymoronic.
I managed to succeed on several good climbs in the Tetons but never summitted the Grand despite 4 attempts in 5 trips to the range over 18 years. Climbed the Lower Exum twice and stormed off both times, once after coiling the rope before the Wind Tunnel to race a thunderstorm to the top despite pealing thunder. We turned around when we ran into Jim Kanzler and a client in full retreat. My hair started burning at one point rounding a ridge. That was a little too close for me.
The desire to climb the Grand resurfaced relatively recently and the notion of the North Ridge seized my imagination. Robert (ddriver) responded right positively when I broached the idea. We have had a modicum of success in the alpine over the decades and monstrous fun doing it. (Or not doing it as the case may be.) Type I and Type II fun we had mastered and if it came to Type III fun I figured we had a good chance of survival. Foolishly, he accepted straight away.
Camping was not assured though and we were agog at the entrance to GTNP where the sign noted all CG were full so we headed to the AAC Climbers Ranch and luckily landed a couple of bunks. Had a chuckle with staff when I name-dropped that my housemate signed their paychecks as AAC bookkeeper
"Oh, you know Carol."
"Yeah, she's my landlady."
The weather window was open so we planned to get right up there and try our luck. Packed in the parking lot just like the good old days and had dinner with old friends staying there (Brian from SLC) and made new acquaintances with those sitting nearby in the common cooking area - just like the good old days.
Next morning plans began to change. We negotiated the orange pylons and plastic fencing around the new construction at Jenny Lake and found the same old Rangers Office where it's always been and George Montopolis dispensing current beta and wisdom of the ages just like always (except his hair is not black anymore.)
No bivy permits were available for the Lower Saddle and a lack of info on the Valhalla Traverse prompted a switch of route choice to the Petzoldt Ridge from a bivy at Moraine camp. So we went.
Over night the wind came up and was gusting with bodyweight blasts by the time we reached the Lower Saddle round civil twilight so we bailed on the Petzoldt plan for the Owen-Spalding as the best chance to summit that day.
We emerged from the somewhat sheltered Owen-Spalding gully to more blustery winds at the Upper Saddle, donned climbing shoes and roped up near the fluttering prayer flags. Welcome to Death-On-Easy-Ground country.
Robert led the Belly Roll and I got the Double Chimney pitch. When I looked back from just below the crux I envisioned one bounce near the belay and then over the edge to oblivion so I plugged a couple smallish cams and worked my way into the Owen Chimney. Robert led through and we dispensed with the rope.
After the guided parties passed in descent we scrambled Sargent's Chimney, traversed under the 3 Stooges and had the top to ourselves for 20 minutes. We took the usual pix and then I nosed about in solitude soaking in the summit reverie, making sure I got it right, sinking into vistas and memories while Robert was posting to FB. It ain't last century, baby!
Of course the weather abated as we descended and we rested at the Lower Saddle in picnic conditions. Still, the next day dawned drizzly and we explored the starts to other climbs as we descended Garnet Canyon and ended up at Dornan's mid-afternoon before Happy Hour gazing out the window at the Grand and its subsidiary peaks.. After an appetizer of ale and a shot of bourbon I couldn't help but think of the last time I saw Chuck Pratt here.
We had run into each other out and about over the years and conversed a couple of times on Baxter's Pinnacle as he guided clients. We had nodded at each other in the late evening at Dornan's lifting a glass in toast to another day. That last time the barkeep put a Guinness in front of me before I could order and when I looked up there was Pratt lifting his glass in toast. A moment of climbing comraderie that will forever be connected in my mind to the summit of the Grand with Ddriver.
Before leaving at the end of the week we got in some more climbing up Cascade Canyon on Guides Wall when the weather was iffy and on the SW Ridge of Symmetry Spire with vertical to overhanging 5.6 on wonderful Teton granite. It left me looking forward to a few more decades of climbing amongst the legends of the range. A lifetime of extremely moderate mountaineering awaits and I'm stoked.