Believe it or not, Grand Teton is easily climbed without gear. Most of the pitches described in the guidebooks as “5.7” or “5.8” would barely pass as a 5.4 if they were in lower terrain. What makes the pitches dangerous, of course, is the exposure. One slip and you may fall 1,000 feet to your death. More than a hundred souls have lost their lives in this way. But if you are not afraid of heights and have some experience chimneying and scrambling up rock faces, the technical parts at the top of Grand Teton can be easily mastered. (Climbing the mountain is a major feat nonetheless because just getting to the lower saddle requires a 6.5-mile hike and 5,000 feet of elevation gain.
The entire climb requires an ascent of seven thousand feet, yet the guidebooks focus on only the last 100. Facts that everyone should know: Grand Teton is the second highest mountain in Wyoming (the first is Gannett Peak in the Wind River Range.) Grand Teton is also one of the 50 most prominent mountains in the United States, measured by its distance from the peak to its shoulder. Guide services occasionally charge more than two thousand dollars to guide someone to the summit.
The big bucks charged by the professional guiding companies ensure that the guides have a stake in generating the impression that they alone hold the keys to the summit and that bagging Grand Teton requires extensive gear and technical training. On the other hand, many of the paying clients enlisted by these companies are greenhorns from flat country who really do need to hire guides to make it to climb this mountain.
I grew up in the shadows of the Crazy Mountains in Montana and have been climbing since I could first talk. I’m fairly surefooted on rocky terrain and have a good confidence level regarding my abilities. I decided, after reading up on the topic, to try my hand at a solo, free-climb (unroped) of Grand Teton. I figured if I reached a point on the mountain that was over my abilities, I would turn around and try again another day.
I slept in my car in the Lupine Meadows parking lot until around 6:30 a.m.. After doing some quick packing, I left the car shortly after 7:00. This of course is known as a late start in climbing circles, and I would later encounter people who had left the parking lot as early as 3:30 in the morning.
The trip from the trailhead to the saddle may actually be the most arduous part of the climb. Miles of switchbacks, stream crossings and rock hopping. I reached the saddle around 11:00 to 11:30. There were two guide services operating near the lower saddle. The Exum company has a station well positioned right on the lower saddle, and the Jackson Hole guide group has a group of orange tents stationed high on a ridge to the right of the saddle. (I briefly stumbled through the Jackson Hole company camp while thinking it was on route to the saddle; finding it unoccupied and in the wrong place, I had to back down a hundred vertical feet to the left to get back on track.) I then kicked my way diagonally up the snowfield onto the saddle. There I briefly spoke to some Exum clients who had already summited (at like 8:00 a.m.) and were waiting for friends to descend to their level.
I took off up toward the Owen Spalding route at around 11:30, encountering a few guided climbers coming down as I went up. Had a brief encounter with a friendly park ranger who knew the score. Seeing me with my blue jeans and running shoes, he asked me what time I had left the parking lot. When I told him 7:30 he said he thought I could make the summit before the predicted afternoon storms came in.
Within an hour I was on the upper saddle, totally alone. I decided to drop my daypack and my gloves and just see if I could summit quickly and return. I negotiated the “belly crawl” and found a notch to the right I could climb up (probably the second chimney described in the guidebooks). Then I just poked and scratched my way to the summit.
Shortly before reaching the summit I had a great surprise. Two well-equipped climbers, Ben and Bonnie from Utah, happened to be descending. They asked if I needed a rappel and I said I thought I could make it down the same chimney I came up. I raced to the summit, stood on the U.S.G.S. brass marker and took a few pictures. I had no way of recording the time, but I assume it was between 2:00 and 4:00 in the afternoon. I started having second thoughts about turning down Ben and Bonnie’s rappel offer. I clambered down a couple pitches and found the two of them searching for a rappel route down to the upper saddle. I cast my lot with them and we found a rock with a multitude of straps clinging to it. I rappelled down two pitches on their line wearing Ben’s harness.
I thanked Ben and Bonnie and started ahead of them after we all got down to the upper saddle. I made the mistake of descending to the left (from above) of the Needle, and got “cliffed out” as the guide books say. I say a couple places where numerous parties had fashioned rappel straps to get over the cliffs. But I was, again, without a rope as I had left Ben and Bonnie far behind on the upper saddle above me. I thought I was in something of a pickle but finally identified a couple chimney cracks by which I managed to descend a couple of steep pitches.
When I got down to the large snowfield below the lower saddle, I let it rip with a monstrous glissade that was seen by all the Exum and JHG groups that were just then approaching their camps. My legs were quite wooden and numb during the final five mile hike to the parking lot.
Later that evening I stayed and showered at the American Alpine Club climbers ranch a couple miles away. The lodging facilities were not exactly luxurious, and I assessed them as overpriced. For 25 bucks you get to share one of six bunks in a cold unplumbed cabin. Lots of rules such as no eating of food except on some picnic tables in a communal area. Still there was good conversation (which may be the real value of the place) and the AAC library (off of the dining area) was worth spending a couple hours in. It is stocked with hundreds of great climbing and adventure books, many of which are long out of print. There are musical instruments, board games and a computer terminal with an internet connection. A fellow climber played guitar for more than an hour and it was pretty good stuff. I hunkered down on my laptop to work on a legal brief (along with this trip report).
The next morning (7/13/2013) I drove back north toward Yellowstone and stopped for coffee (and to finish this trip report) at the beautiful Jackson Lake Lodge in GTNP. Huge picture windows (gazing directly at Mount Moran), a piano player in the lobby. Life is too good to be true.
Climbing the Owen-Spaulding unroped is a nice outing. Congratulations on your ascent. You do yourself no service, however, by including snide attacks on the guides, untruths about the guidebooks, and a general tone suggesting that there is something exceptional about your undertaking.
The first ascent of the Upper Exum ridge, a route with more difficult climbing than the Owen-Spaulding, was done unroped by Glenn Exum in 1931, so unroped ascents (in this case an unroped first ascent!) are very far from being a novelty in the Tetons. Incomparably harder routes than the Owen-Spaulding are done unroped nowadays.
The Owen-Spaulding route is soloed regularly when conditions are reasonably dry. There is even a page devoted to soloing the Grand on the internet: http://wyomingwhiskey.net/ and you can find various videos of folks soloing the route on U-Tube.
It sounds as if you made a pretty quick trip; again, congratulations. But also understand that the entire round trip from Lupine Meadows up and down the Owen-Spaulding has been done (unroped, of course) in 2:53:02, more than an hour less than the time you report just to get up to the Lower Saddle. The original round-trip speed record, in 1939, was 5:22, and at that time there was no climber's trail from the Platforms to the Lower Saddle.
Most of the pitches described in the guidebooks as “5.7” or “5.8” would barely pass as a 5.4 if they were in lower terrain.
You've already been asked which 5.7 and 5.8 pitches in the Tetons (or on the Grand, as you seem to imply) are graded 5.7 or 5.8 but are really at most 5.4. Some Teton grades may be a bit soft, but by 3 to 4 grades? You're gonna have to give specific examples of Teton 5.7 or 5.8 pitches you have climbed that are, in reality, 5.4 at most.
The entire climb requires an ascent of seven thousand feet, yet the guidebooks focus on only the last 100.
This is just plain false.
The big bucks charged by the professional guiding companies ensure that the guides have a stake in generating the impression that they alone hold the keys to the summit and that bagging Grand Teton requires extensive gear and technical training.
This is a gratuitous dig at the guiding services, who mostly take people up the Grand who have never climbed before.
If you have your own rope and accept a rapell because the other party offers you their rope no biggi. If you have no rope then you in fact relied on someone else to carry a rope up there for you. The fact that you did not have your own harness/swami or rope and inconvienced and slowed down the party by haveing to actually have one of them take off their harness and lend it to you means that you in fact got rescued.
First: The Owen Spaulding route is rated 5.1 not 5.7 or 5.8. It is soloed frequently as is the Uper Exum and is no big deal.
Second: The 7000 vertical gain is 90 % hiking. You could do it with your hands in your pocket, chewing gum and balancing your pack on your head.
I hope you had fun dude but don't state things that aren't true. The Guidebook DOES NOT rate the OS or the Upper Exum as 5.7 or 5.8.
If you think the grades are soft go do Caveat Emptor in Death Canyon. The Guidebook rates that 5.10-. I'll bet it would kick your ass.
I climbed out of the Tetons for over 15 years, Did the "Grand" several times. Had Soloists blow past us all the time, They never asked to use our gear or ropes, and were never "Cocky". Bring a rope next time...So you will not need to be rescued again...
Congratulations, climbing the Grand in a day is a fine accomplishment. This TR interested me since I’ve never done the Grand and I am thinking trying a one day trip up it this year. Also, I am very much in favor of adventurous outings and part of such adventures is occasionally putting yourself in situations that push the limits of your own competence.
That said, I think you were pretty lucky to avoid a ranger rescue or worse.
• There is no 5.7 on the common, scrambling type routes to the summit.
• Long experience has shown that the “alpine start” of around 4:00 pm reduces the risk of a lightning disaster like the one that occurred on the Grand a few years ago. Read this account and you may change your triumphant tone about flouting climbing conventions. http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=1305110&msg=1305217#msg1305217
Once you have experienced the sheer terror of being on a peak with lightning around you, you never grumble about an early start.
• You should think about what you would have done had it started raining or hailing—hard--on the summit and those climbers had not been there to help you down. That friendly ranger you spoke to would have had to call out a rescue team to risk their own lives to get you off the mountain.
The tone of your report suggesting that the Grand is overrated and encouraging others with a similar level of climbing experience to go up it unroped is smug, foolish and dangerous. As someone who has climbed for 40 years, one thing the mountains regularly teach is humility and I am glad you did not have learn that lesson the hard way.
I would suggest you hire a guide, learn rope handling, and try a true 5.7 sometime. You sound like you’d enjoy climbing and you will look back on this TR, smile, and just shake your head.
Congrats on a successful outing. But the late hour of your summit in jeans and tennis shoes and your general tone sounding like you are new to climbing make me think this could have very quickly been a full on rescue. You'd have been seriously hosed had you not had those folks help you out or had the slightest bit of precip come in. Bad juju to be out here on the internet telling other folks (who might not be real climbers who stumble on your report) that this is a fun place to go hike and scramble with no real skill or proper gear. Again, glad you had a nice day out in the mountains. Next time, dress properly, take the right gear so you don't endanger somebody, and consider one of those guide services you were harshing on. You'd probably learn a whole lot that would serve you well down the road. Listen to the real climbers on this site....don't mind if they bust your nuts a bit. Hope you have many great summits in the future.
Gads I remember spending quite a bit of time looking for that rap gully. That mountain has complex terrain compared to most I have climbed. (I have not climbed any others in the Tetons) Finding the best way up or down is not so simple. I don't consider it a great solo idea for most folks if they haven't done it before. A fun climb, certainly not technically difficult but I would expect most folks will make a few minor wrong turns their first time or two. My buddies and I certainly did.
I actually enjoyed this TR quite a bit. Not perhaps for the reasons you might think. I can tell you are pretty stoked but I hope you take some time to consider in what simple and very possible ways things could have gone from triumph to desperate very easily. I'm not even talking about a slip either.
Sounds like the Grand hasn't changed much since I climbed it in 1956.
It's good to read a non-critical and factual comment on this TR. One thing that may have changed, though, is the NPS attitude toward solo climbing there. Summit published an article on non-technical peaks in the Tetons in the 1960's. Since this was around the time I started climbing, I read every word and vividly remember that, at that time, the NPS prohibited solo climbing, unroped or otherwise.
I see no need to pile on regarding the tone of the TR (or troll) itself.
Not what I expected for a TR, so it did provide some entertainment.
As others have mentioned, the OS is not 5.7 - 5.8. For my only trip to the Grand (wish there were more!), this lady led the Exum DIrect while pregnant. We did use a rope. Came in handy when our first attempt required a rap out when it snowed several inches that August day. Like many alpine climbs, no big deal if conditions are perfect but a very big deal when conditions change.
The tone of the OP implys that folks who use ropes on the Grand are suckers yet the guy ends up haveing to use a rope and harness that someone else carried up there for him. Weak sauce....
Reminds me of the twight article about Denali. the one where he calls everyone on the W. butt a wanker poser and sprays on and on about how bad assed he and his buds are. they ditch(litter) their tents and sleeping bags to go light and fast like real hardmen (posers) and in the end they eat the food and crash in the tents and sleeping bags, rescued by the very same people he feels superior to..
On the one hand, I enjoyed the TR because I also love adventure, soloing and . . . myself, but on the other hand I enjoyed it because of the utter cluelessness of the narrator.
Many examples of errors, spray, and hypocrisy have already been noted above, but I also like the, "ranger who knew the score," and the glissade scene.
If this were a troll it would be a pretty effective use of the naive and braggart forms of the unreliable narrator; it creates a kind of dramatic irony that makes piling-on irresistible to all of us know-it-alls.
Perhaps its worthwhile to advise newcomers to the range...a one day ascent of the Grand requires well conditioned legs. Individuals who may spend much of their life behind a desk and do not run/climb/ or walk appreciable distances may get "wooden legs" well before arriving at the portentious pitches of the OS.
The Owen-Spalding route has seen more deaths than any other route on the Grand.
Climbers have blacked out from altitude, skid on ice, been hit by lightning, or just slipped from holds out of fatigue or dizziness.
Without climbing experience and a fair degree of fitness...it's better hiking Table Mountain. The guiding concessions DO have their place...even for experienced climbers seeking more difficult routes. Both Exum and JHMG will guide two day ascents with high camp accomodations for $500 to $800, depending on group size.
I love soloing in the Tetons...hope I'm not being condescending saying it's not the place for casual, out-of-shape novices...
I did not get the feeling that this guy was a novice. He simply comes off as cocky smart ass who did not seem to grasp the fact that by borrowing a harness and useing the rope of a party that carried that equiptment up the mountain for him that he was rescued.
Roger Roots (his name according to Summit Post profile) also posted his TR over on summit post.
Rog, buddy, the climb sounds like fun. You, on the other hand, come off sounding like an arrogant prick and a d#@&%e. You go up unprepared, use another climbers gear, then take off running down the hill without waiting for them. Seriously pal, that is a total dick move. Oh yeah, it also means that you were RESCUED. Funny how you conveniently overlooked that little fact. The overall tone of your TR is at best self promoting, and you continually drop little comments that evidence that you think you are just a mite better than all the other people on the mountain. Let me help you; you are not better than the "greenhorns from flat country." You just have a bigger mouth and inflated ego. You did a 5.1 ascent. That does not make you cool. You would be a lot better off if you grew some humility.
Incidently, three accidental falls on the Grand last week...one climber slipping on snowfield and crashing into morainal rocks...one fall on North Ridge...and one fall on the Golden Staircase pitch. All received assistance...two evacuated by helicopter.
There have been a fairly high number of rescues this summer. In one tragedy, three weeks ago, a Colorado Springs climber, Gary Miller, slipped on steep snow below SE side of the Grand and fell into any icy water moat. He was pulled out but died shortly after.
Best wishes to Grand Teton climbers. Come back safely...
Yes it is a tough crowd, something tells me he would have been just fine had he not encountered the climbing party and the offer of a rappel, he would have figured it out and got down those chimneys. He winged it something most all of us have done and it worked out, such is the spirit of FA. So he didn't check all the proper boxes neither have most of us, but he got up it. "Fortune Smiles on Boldness".
Branscomb, quite a few of the responders have soloed numerous routes in the Tetons and elsewhere at a far higher level of technical difficulty and commitment, so there is a lot of opinion here that is very far from being armchair-based.
Mr. Roots is an experienced hiker but obviously a novice a climber. He could have written a trip report in another way and gotten nothing but the usual positive responses---in reality, this isn't a tough crowd at all when it comes to TR's---possibly tempered with some gentle reminders that he might have been in over his head without realizing it.
Instead, he wrote a piece laced with disdain, gross inaccuracies, and boasting, and pretty much got what such things deserve.
His description does come off as rather egotistical etc, etc: I grant you that. Let him have his day and the rest of us, with apparently lots more experience, can take the caution. Whatever.
His description does make the Grand sound like a somewhat trivial pursuit that always has some kind soul around to provide a rappel. People have been killed on the OS and the exposure is awesome down the Black Ice. The only time I ever did it, it was veraglassed and iced in the chimney and it took me an hour of whining to scratch my way up. I think it's kinda cool he soloed it car-to-car, but I would never do it.
The main concern might be that some noob would read it and think, oh yeah, let's go and end up way over their head. Hopefully all these comments would give such budding alpinismus the second thought that maybe sheer luck had a lot to do with his success and survival.
Lots of good comments, definitely some details could have been excluded in the report that may have saved this guy some chastising & made him seem like less of a loose cannon.
He has written one more TR than many posters here & I give him some kudos for being himself & writing it like he perceived it. He had an adventure & shared it here which I always appreciate on any level. Troll or not.
I actually always thought the OP, ect was 5.6 or .7 also
I can check my guide book but my memory is good.
I have never climbed there but dreamed many times.
The O-S was done in 1898 or perhaps even earlier, and the first ropeless one-day ascent was in 1923. No way if the route was 5.6 or 5.7. In 1965 it wasn't even fifth-class. Ortenburger gave it an NCCS grade of F3, which corresponded to the old Teton Grade 3 and Sierra Club Class 4. Routes of similar difficulty in the Tetons and other areas can be found in Steve Grossman's posting of Ortenburger's Summit Magazine article; see http://www.supertopo.com/climbing/thread.php?topic_id=1039859 .
Fast forward to 1994 and the Rossiter guide says the O-S route is 5.4---holy grade inflation Batman! There isn't anything on the O-S that would even remotely compare to a Gunks 5.4, that's for sure. Perhaps Rossiter is referring to the "chockstone chin-up" on the initial chimney? But that is easily bypassed...
If it is 5.0 then guides are charging 2000 bucks for a scramble.
Seems legit ..
There doesn't seem to be anything on the Exum site at that price. The Jackson Hole Mountain Guides have a four day ascent of the Grand, involving three nights at the Lower Saddle and apparently a day of training/instruction, for $1995 if done privately. The going rate for a day of private climbing on lower routes seems to be about $400, no bivy's involved, so the $2000 fee for four days and three nights does seem to be in line with other fees. Whether any of those fees are "legit" seems to be primarily a political issue.
In Canada most of the scrambles are 5.7 ..
And they are free ..
...as they are everywhere else. But if you want to hire a private guide for alpine climbing in Canada, it is going to cost $500 a day, exactly what the $2000 four-day Teton trip comes to. You wanna climb Robson, it's going to be about $3000 for the climb.
A noob thinking for himself is bad ass and way to stick it to the man ..
Round trip from the car in a day is Pretty Durned Good given your skill level and experience.
So, I'm not going to comment on Roger's ascent except to reinforce one thing he did right.
Downclimbing the OS is not trivial. I've done it, at the end of June, when I was much younger and very tuned up. And I feel lucky to be here to tell about it as the backs of the cracks were filled with ice making the belly crawl down tenuous at best.
Given your apparent skill level, I'd give you a 10% chance of making it.
You in fact did the right thing by hitch-hiking for the rappel descent. At least you didn't become a rescue or statistic.
But tennis shoes and blue jeans? ¿¿REALLY??
oh....and you were somewhat lucky with the weather. By mid-afternoon you really want to be down to the Upper Saddle at least, regardless of a blue sky morning.
Descending the Owen-Spalding after a solo ascent of the Exum Ridge a few years ago, I encountered a hypothermic Boy Scout wearing tennis shoes, jeans and a sweat shirt... having been left by the rest of his group climbing for the summit.
The altitude and pace had apparently taken its toll on him and the scoutmaster had told him to remain at the Upper Saddle until they returned. The wind was blowing about thirty miles an hour. He was shivering badly but refused to come down with me.
I gave him a down sweater I carry in my pack for high mountain ascents and asked him to get inside a light sleeping bag cover I carry for emergency bivouacs.
I waited with him for two hours until his leaders and troopmates returned from the summit. Leaders leaving a thirteen year old in skimpy clothing in harsh high mountain conditions is quite shabby leadership in my view but I didn't attempt to reprimand them.
I won't reprimand you either, Roger...but please understand that some of the disapproving comments on this TR proceed from a life concern for "noob" adventurers undertaking an ascent of the Grand with minimal clothing and gear. Your lust for adventure is highly regarded...some of your comments are a mite cavalier considering how the uninitiated might construe them in an unfortunate way.
Jennie, do you often get to the Tetons? I'll be there this week.....climbing complete Exum with a friend on Monday, 70th birthday on Tuesday, Caveat Emptor with High Traverse on Wednsday then home. Would be fun to meet.
Family members have encountered Roger a couple of times recently. Usually in unsatisfying situations. Most recently (8/18) Roger was encountered looking for upper exum route. My son directed him correctly when finding him above the needle going the wrong direction. Son, having previous knowledge of his attitude and demeanor assumed that we would be hearing of an NPS recovery (not search) in the near future.
By the way, that son guided me up OS route on 8/17 following a late start (9:30--due to no available campsites on mountain--didn't plan far enough ahead), perfect weather forecast, and persevering legs in a brief/painful 16 hours. We were just going to 'look, see'. Had full supply of harnesses and ropes just in case.
Since son didn't get enough exercise he then fulfilled a previous dream of a solo climb/run to top of Grand on 8/18. Four hours 50 minutes round trip from Lupine. He says it was easier with experience, skills, conditioning and no gear. Not recommended for the novice.
Guide services occasionally charge more than two thousand dollars to guide someone to the summit.
No they don't. At least not JHMG or Exum, the two guide services sanctioned by GTNP.
And be careful with the ratings in the Tetons. Richard Rossiter's ratings may be soft in some cases, the same as in his Boulder-area guidebooks (he's not a Teton local, by the way and some thought it presumptuous for him to write a guidebook for the Tetons).
The ratings in the Ortenberger/Jackson guide(s) are fully old school.
Both Mr Rossiter's guides and Ortenburger/Jackson guide rate the Owen-Spalding as 5.4.
The 1898 ascent and many other early ascents used the first chimney entrance just beyond the "Crawl". This passage required a chockstone pull-up or a shoulder stand for early climbers to access the upper part of the "double chimney".
Mr. Goldstone mentioned this...
Most modern climbers traverse a few feet farther north to the "second entrance" which is much easier if free of ice.
Because the classic route used the "first entrance" to the chimney...the guidebook authors listed the OS as 5.4.
The Owen Chimney, just above the Double Chimney is probably 5.1 or class 4 if free of ice.
The OS is very exposed as well as susceptible to icing...that, with the Tetons propensity for afternoon thundershowers establish it as a serious undertaking for beginners.
Reading this TR reminds me of reading Aaron Ralston's book, "Between a Rock and a Hard Place." Both were written for non-climbers, and both authors were clueless. Both also attempt to fool people into thinking that their authors are bad ass climbers. Roger's real error was in posting it here, where folks really know climbing and will call him out on his BS. By the way, didn't he say he was from Montana, not Texas?
Mr Roots embodies all the elements and characteristics necessary for a guided Everest trip. Just another accomplishment to tick off on the amusement park of life. Good fitness, lawyer (meaning financially capable) Texan, high opinion of himself, disdain for certain elemental procedures and techniques, the no big deal attitude after a successful trip etc. It is all there. He's ready for the South Col extravaganza. This is natural selection at work once again. As a detatched observer and long time resident of Teton County I'm no longer surprised. Sadly it has become common with most backcountry endeavors around here. Same church different pew would be the backcountry skiing now being attempted around here. Avalanche deaths are up significantly in the group that one would least expect; the so called experts. Attitude...
Teton climbers might find Jennifer Woodlief's recent book engrossing... detailing the 2003 lightning tragedy and rescue on the Exum Ridge of the Grand.
A Bolt From the Blue, Simon & Shuster
(An earlier, separate Grand Teton lightning disaster than the 2010 incident documented and discussed here on ST)
...perhaps limited relevance to this TR/thread...different route, different conditions...but very pertinent discussion of high mountain lightning dangers, typical Teton thunderstorms and helplessness of victims who survive a strike.
Chris Chan was a very accomplished big wall climber who soloed the Zodiac on El Cap, then she lost her life free soloing (coming down) on Eichorn Pinnacle, back in 2010. So, if you factor in fatigue, altitude, crumbly rock, weather, soloing the Grand Teton is not risk free. Even climbers who feel comfortable at higher grades sometimes encounter unexpected conditions in these situations that creates a higher level of risk
Yes, that must have seemed unreal, Brian...glad you and your party weren't harmed in the storm.
The helicopter short haul process is awe inspiring...inserting eight rangers on exposed ridgeline at 13,000 feet...late in the day...evacuating five injured climbers and Erica's body before dark was a phenomenal performance. Had the event happened earlier in Teton climbing history, several victims would not have survived the night.
Rangers would have arrived later and cleaned up the carnage...but five or six fatalities would render a much sadder story.
Did you attend the success celebration in the Lower Saddle hut after the rangers had climbed down a few hours after dark?
Jennifer Woodlief researched the events thoroughly. I was living in Idaho Falls at the time of the events and heard accounts from some members of the party who weren't hit and climbed down on their own power. Jennifer inquired with all of the climbing rangers and the victims and put in print an excellent record of the incident...as well as a good analysis of lightning in the mountains.
The comments about the 2003 storm are interesting. If anyone has the contact info for the author, I would be interested in talking to her. My friend Bill and I were on the route that day and we were racing against that same storm - we stopped at the friction pitch when the hail started because a huge group were pulling out all their bad weather gear. I urged them pretty strongly to either go up very quickly to then get down or bail into the Wall St. Couloir. We then left, simuling up in hail and driving winds. The lightning was very intense, initially on the middle and then it exploded on the grand. When we were descending we heard them calling for help and went back through the eye of the needle into Wall St. Someone was yelling for us to give them their rope which we offered to leave for them - in the end, we did not leave it since this guy was convinced that he did not need it in the end. He had rapped into the gully and we took on of the FRS radios to give to the helo team on the lower saddle. I ran down from there to the lower saddle and handed it to a SAR guy just as the helo touched down for the first run. I still think about that day and talking to them alot. I wish that I could have been more convincing or perhaps less focused on just getting up and over.
I grew up in the shadows of the Crazy Mountains in Montana and have been climbing since I could first talk
That line might be the best line I have ever heard on ST.
I enjoyed reading this but agree with others that you might have got into trouble descending in rain or snow without a rope if others weren't around.
Nevertheless sounded like a great adventure for you and one I would love to do. Now go take some mountaineering/climbing courses or join a club and you will realize that the skills you learn will make your travel in the mountains SO much safer especially when you are soloing.
It's unfortunate that this experience is tainted w/ego and selfishness. While soloing is selfish, I like to think I embark on this adventure to better connect to: myself, the rock, the river, the wind, nature...
Those who solo, hopefully do it ONLY for themselves and not to tell some tale after the fact!
Last year, just around this time and under the Blue Moon, I soloed the Upper Exum Ridge. I stayed at the Climbers Ranch and had a great experience and disagree that it is pricey! Really, $25 a night, in and around Jackson Wyoming???? The staff was incredibly generous, they had free good bikes you could use every day, backpacks you can borrow, the library has a free computer that was completely functional, the gave me a nice pad for sleeping... I highly recommend the Climber Ranch! And as the author mentioned, lots of interesting and generous people! PS - become a member of The American Alpine Club and it's only $14 a night not to mention lots of other great perks of being a member~!
I had 3 plans because 2 days earlier it hailed like nobody's business so I knew the mtn might be icy and wet. Plan 1, the preferred and easiest, was to do the Owens Spalding route.
I've been climbing for about 18 years and teaching rock climbing for about 15 and have had the luxury of climbing in a lot of amazing areas like Yosemite/Tuolumne, the Gunks, the Bugaboos, and a bunch of other places plus some I've had the good fortune of learning a lot from some of my climbing partners, who include Sharon Wood, the first woman to summit Mt Everest from the Western Hemisphere and an amazing Rock Climbing guide, Joanne Urioste, who as many of you know is a Red Rocks legend and Pionneer who we have to thank for putting up 100's of routes, maybe 1,000s in Red Rocks?
Anyway, I think I'm fairly experienced and have learned from some very accomplished climbers and although I never climbed super hard, I have a pretty good idea of my limitations. I have to say, any attempt at the Grand is serious, even for a seasoned veteran because the weather systems are so unpredictable and volatile.
This was my first attempt for the summit so the Owens Spalding seemed like the most logical and safest free solo. I should say I'm not a strong advocate for onsite free soloing but sometimes you have to make exceptions and hopefully you do your research and due diligence before hand and perhaps most importantly, you're not doing it for anyone but yourself!
I studied the routes and spoke w/many climbers, rangers and even staff at the Climbers Ranch. The info I recv'd was very valuable and I learned the Owens Spaulding may be icy and not climbable so my plan B was to climb the Upper Exum Ridge because this route gets more sun... The Upper Exum Ridge is a little tougher than Plan A but I also had Plan C, which was to turn around if Upper Exum Ridge was to icy and/or to difficult and consider it a hiking day. :-)
I left the Climbers Ranch around 3am and made it to the Lower Saddle around 7am, this is all from memory so the times may not be completely accurate.
I had a 70 meter 8.4 rope for the rap, harness, helmet, climbing shoes and lots of water, food and rain gear... my pack was pretty heavy.
I believe I was at the Upper Saddle around 9am and as I made my way through the saddle, I noticed large tents that were part of the Exum Guides program which are apparently staples on the mtn in the summer months.
I also noticed 2 guides and 3 clients making there way down the Saddle. The clients looked disappointed and I learned they attempted the Owens Spaulding but the route was WAY to icy so they had to retreat. I asked the Guides what they thought about the Upper Exum Ridge and they said if there was a route to do, that would be the one because it gets a lot of sun but I could tell they were sizing me up and encouraging me to only do it if I had a lot of experience... rightfully so, I think they probably don't want to see to many people soloing the Grand. Like the author, I dumped a fair amount of food and water at the Upper Saddle and proceeded to Wall Street.
About an hour later I was walking across Wall Street. Doing the final traverse of Wall Street was pretty scary. The good news is if you fall here, it's over, your not going to break a leg or have any chance of suffering, your dead, the drop off looked like about 1,000 feet. I attempted the traverse 3X but retreated back each time because my pack was heavy and it was super windy. I decided it was time to put on my climbing shoes but even than I wasn't feeling solid! I thought about breaking out the rope... but evaluated the traverse and noticed there was a ramp about chest height, which had undercling/lieback potential. I tried it and it went and although the grade "may" be a little harder than the traverse that was slightly lower, I felt more comfortable doing it this way.
After Wall Street, the climbing was just as challenging but not as scary because the exposure was less, but still serious. As I climbed, I noticed a party of 5 above me and this eliminated navigation for some time. I caught up to them and they graciously said I could pass. It was 2 parties being guided by 2 Exum guides, the clients were super nice, excited and having an amazing time but the guides seemed annoyed that I was soloing...
I reached the top around noon and had the summit to myself for about 20 minutes. I sipped scotch and felt very, very fortunate to be toasting to my father who passed away 14 years earlier on this day. Having a Blue Moon to boot, was the "icing" on the Teton!!!!
The descent wasn't as straight forward as I thought it would be so I was very deliberate and methodical in my navigation. The rappels were a little tricky because there was a ton of ice and the ledges were slick. I was back at the Climbers Ranch around 7pm.
I was fairly fortunate because I never got lost and the weather was fantastic all day!!
If you set out to solo the Grand, make sure you keep a close watch of the weather report. Speak w/people who have climbed it, guides, staff at the Climbers Ranch and definitely consider hiring guides. If you do solo it in a day from the Climbers Ranch, I HIGHLY recommend starting early and NOT starting the hike at 7am. Glad to hear the Author made the trip successfully but starting this late will only increase your risk of failure.
Yes, that must have seemed unreal, Brian...glad you and your party weren't harmed in the storm.
The helicopter short haul process is awe inspiring...inserting eight rangers on exposed ridgeline at 13,000 feet...late in the day...evacuating five injured climbers and Erica's body before dark was a phenomenal performance. <snip>
Did you attend the success celebration in the Lower Saddle hut after the rangers had climbed down a few hours after dark?
Yeah, it was unreal. It rained that morning at around 5am and we had an extra night planned anyhow. So, with a juicy sky we sat out the day just chillin' as neither one of us liked the look or feel of the weather that day especially 'cause we had plans for a longer route. Went up early the next day and ran into the rangers till doing cleanup. I've been hammered by weather enough in the Tetons that I've gotten pretty conservative with it.
Honestly never seen the likes. How they plucked so many so quickly was really amazing. The weather was pretty poor right after the lightening strike (which was a weird deal in itself...the sky wasn't that dark, and, there weren't that many clouds around). Windy, spitty. Finally cleared up around 6 or after and they got everyone off just before dark. Watching that final trip leave was daunting (given the load we could see hanging below, we knew what was up).
We chatted with the rangers and guides on the Lower Saddle, but, they really had their hands full and we wanted to stay out of their business for sure. Leo was like frickin' superman. My partner knew Renny from ski patrol in Utah and I worked with his brother for years... Given the guides and rangers we've known over the years, it always seems like old home week up there.
Someday I'll scan my slides. Got a bunch of photo's of the scene up there.
He was always grumpy/pessimistic/unsupportive when I talked to him... Course I was a cocky 20 year old kid asking crazy questions about skiing crazy stuff.. so I think I was just getting the.. YER GUNNA DIE and I'm gonna have to pick up the pieces treatment from him. Plus I worked for Genet.. don't think he liked them.
As a great man once said, it is better to be stupid and say nothing.. than to open my mouth and remove all doubts. Sorry to everyone offended by my trip report. I didn't expect it would piss so many people off. Good luck to all of you!
I was just out there a few months ago, camped under a talus rock in a field below the grand. It was an awesome place but a hard hike in with camping gear. Also the routes were covered in verglas that day, ie invisible ice. I heard some climbers walk by at about 4AM, but they bailed once they got to the verglas. My soloing days are over, but wearing a harness enables someone to rescue you if things go wrong. I once got into trouble 3 pitches up while soloing, and would have clipped a bolt and just waited for another party to rescue me, if I'd had that option. In apline places I've soloed with a rope coiled on my back, then been able to rappel. Down-soloing can be pretty scary, particularly if you haven't climbed the route before. The good thing is that is that you pay more attention to your foot placements since you're looking down all the time. All that said, the Grand has also been recommended to me as a solo, if you're up to it.
I have a funny story about doing the Owen-Spaulding. First, you do the belly crawl pitch. Yes, while easy, it is right over the Black Ice Couloir and VERY exposed and cool. I was guiding my wife, who hadn't climbed much. It was sometime in the 90's. I hadn't been there in 15-20 years or so, but had already done much harder routes there. So I was essentially guiding my wife.
The route was super icy, probably because it was October. I put in pro on the Belly Crawl to protect her during the traverse, although, yeah, it is easy. The scrambling above was harder because I believe that I was in running shoes, and the cracks were full of ice. You had to stem around the ice. Not hard, but I see how you could slip in retrospect. I just ran it out. Too easy for pro.
After the summit we went down to the rappel. It is overhanging and requires 2 ropes, but drops you right down into the saddle. It had been 20 years since I had done the Grand, so I didn't remember that it was a 2 rope rappel. Only having one, I had to leave it, but it was an old piece of junk. I tied it off at the bottom so it wouldn't flap around and get stuck like litter on the mountain. I figured that I had just left a free rope for someone. The rope had actually been shat all over. I had loaned it to a buddy who soloed Cosmos, and he got the shits while on an aid lead. He had to drop trowsers and go all over the rope and his gear. I got the rope back in terrible shape, but it was fine for the O-S years later.
Nobody was on the mountain but us that day. Again, it was late in the year, but the weather was perfect. A crisp autumn blue sky day.
I did the rap because I didn't want to down climb the O-S with it being so icy, and my wife was pretty much a non-climber. I rigged a carabiner brake and lowered her.
A little while later, Allan Bard died guiding the O-S. It seemed incomprehensible to me. I had used to guide in the Pallisades for Allan and Doug Robinson in my early 20's. We used to just flake the rope and tell the client to keep it running free, with no knots, and just solo everything on easy routes, but careful to put in pro to protect them on traverses and such. I'm sure that Allan was doing this when he fell on the O-S. I loved Allan, like most folks did. His death was a great loss for us all. He was sooo funny.
The Grand is much more serious than, say, the Swiss Arete on Mt. Sill. It isn't the difficulty, it is just the mountain. Getting down is the hardest part. Both routes are so easy that they are hard to rate (I mean how do you rate a 5.5?).
Anyway, I'm glad that we had a rope, and I was quite experienced. I just hadn't paid attention to the decent in the guidebook.
As for Teton ratings being soft, I think this is baloney. Certainly the Ortenburger guide isn't. I haven't seen the newer guidebook.
I led my first 5.8 in the Tetons when I was 16, and it was, looking back, a damn hard 5.8. It was on one of the pinnacles or spires. I can't recall the route name, but I remember the pitch. It would have been solid 5.9 in Josh or Yosemite. I did the complete Exum, East Face, and a bunch of other routes on that trip with my childhood buddy. We were too young to buy beer!
The Tetons are an incredible place to climb. It is so beautiful. It is alpine climbing, and that is way more dangerous than doing Swan Slab. You have weather, rockfall, and occasional icy conditions to deal with, and by the time I did the O-S with my wife, I had done many hard routes in Chamonix.
I loved the Tetons. It was one of the places that I learned to climb. The Ortenburger ratings damn sure weren't soft, though.
Anyway, that is my O-S epic story. As to the OP, yeah, he did leave out the part where he got rescued!
In an attempt to stave off further erosion of classic Teton nomenclature, it should be known that there is no “Belly Crawl” part of the OS. There is, however, a “Belly Roll”, and the “Crawl”, or “Cooning Place”, two different parts of the traverse out from the Upper Saddle.
It would be sad to see another route bastardized, such as has happened to the Exum Ridge. Up until that book by Roper and Steck, the ridge in its entirety was called the Complete Exum, or, the Lower Exum if you only went to Wall Street. Now of course it is the hackneyed “Exum Direct”. Ugh.
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