Trip Report
Middle Teton – a Love Story
Monday April 3, 2017 8:27am
There is no question that Grand Teton is the grandest mountain in the Teton Range. That being said, Middle Teton has been for me over the years, like little baby bear’s porridge – just right. For all of the climbing trips to the Tetons, and grand adventures on numerous peaks there, I have probably spent more enjoyable hours doing a greater number of routes on the Middle than on all other peaks in the range combined (although more epics on the Grand, to be sure). Often I was following in the footsteps of folks like Peter Lev, Yvon Chouinard, Fritiof Fryxell, Albert Ellingwood, and Jack Durrance – heros all.

The object of my desire.
The object of my desire.
Credit: Nick Danger
Love and lust.
Love and lust.
Credit: Nick Danger
My what lovely glaciers you have.
My what lovely glaciers you have.
Credit: Nick Danger

My first date with this lovely mountain occurred late summer of 1973 when a climbing partner from Colorado Springs finagled a ride for us to Idaho Falls on a moving van if we helped unload the moving van. From there it was a short hitchhike over Teton Pass and a stroll up into Garnet Canyon. After the required newbies epic on the Grand we headed over to the northwest couloir on the Middle. It was a bluebird sky day and the ice itself glistened light blue and shiny, smooth and cold to the touch, vaulting upward into the sky at 60o for many hundreds of feet. No route finding issues here like the ones that had so recently vexed us on the Grand, just a clear blue highway of ice to the summit. I was so smitten. Although this was only the second time I had ever climbed ice and half my equipment was borrowed, I wanted to have her first and my partner graciously gave me the lead. So we ran it out pitch after pitch with one screw midway and another for the belay for hundreds of feet. After about four pitches of bliss and only one pitch from the top I broke the tip off my borrowed Chouinard “Zero” axe right at the last tooth in the serrated point. Well, that’s certainly less than optimal! Good thing my antediluvian hinged Stubai crampons are made of sterner stuff. (Seriously, I think those cramps were army surplus from the Wehrmacht alpine troops who fought in the Caucasus in 1942.) My partner graciously led that last pitch to the summit while I followed along with just my alpine hammer (which I would break some years later on another ice climb – different story though). That very first summit day on Middle Teton left me smitten for life, both with the Middle Teton and with ice climbing – face it, I was damaged goods from that point forward.

The northwest couloir on Middle Teton.  In this image there is snow on...
The northwest couloir on Middle Teton. In this image there is snow on the ice but on the day we climbed it, it glistened in all of its blue alpine icy goodness.
Credit: Nick Danger
The northwest couloir from the lower saddle.
The northwest couloir from the lower saddle.
Credit: Nick Danger

John Ferguson and I would return to the Tetons every three or four years throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s and would always schedule time for Middle Teton. On our first trip we could not refrain from doing the dike route, which stared down at us in our camp and taunted us into making a commitment.

The dike on Middle Teton staring right down on us, daring us to commit...
The dike on Middle Teton staring right down on us, daring us to commit to the relationship.
Credit: Nick Danger
There would be no route finding issues on this one.
There would be no route finding issues on this one.
Credit: Nick Danger

To get to the start of this climb we needed to deal with the snowfield and wannabe bergschrund at the base of the east face. Since we were wannabe alpinists, we were perfectly equipped to deal with the wannabe ‘shrund. Actually, this allowed us to indulge in our latent Walter Bonatti fantasies pretending we were real alpinists doing real alpiny things (Take THAT virtual reality glasses). Beyond the ‘shrund the black dike was awesome climbing at an easy grade (probably 5.5 or 5.6). We swung leads going up the dike because that’s what gentlemen do, they share the good stuff. Although these pitches start out fairly easy and get easier as they angle off higher up, there are a bunch of them and it was good to make progress. By and by we surmounted the dike pinnacle and descended down to the notch betwixt us and the main summit. Fortunately we were wearing the right footgear for crossing the narrow snow ridge. Unfortunately the only ice gear we had for safely crossing this was my alpine hammer, which was about as useful as teats on a boar. If one of us slipped the other one was gonna hafta just jump down the opposite side, but it didn’t come to that. After a suitably alpiny scramble up to the summit we enjoyed watching the weather debate with itself about what it was going to do for the day. Another requited tryst was in the bag.

John scratching his Walter Bonatti itch at the base of the dike route.
John scratching his Walter Bonatti itch at the base of the dike route.
Credit: Nick Danger
Yer loyal scribe leading off on the first pitch of the dike.
Yer loyal scribe leading off on the first pitch of the dike.
Credit: Nick Danger
John enjoying his share of the good stuff.
John enjoying his share of the good stuff.
Credit: Nick Danger
Gingerly crossing the snow ridge between the Dike pinnacle and the mai...
Gingerly crossing the snow ridge between the Dike pinnacle and the main summit of Middle Teton. Things got a little dicey at the far end of the traverse where it gets all pointy and narrow.
Credit: Nick Danger
John enjoying the summit while the weather enjoys its debate.
John enjoying the summit while the weather enjoys its debate.
Credit: Nick Danger

Over the intervening years John and I would go back to do the Ellingwood Couloir, the Chouinard Ridge, and the Southeast Ridge, all routes on the south side of Middle Teton. Each of these routes provided good wholesome mountaineering content, each in its own way. For the Southeast Ridge route (5.7 or so) we approached in running shoes and changed into rock shoes for the climb itself. The rock climbing portion of this day was just a total hoot. However, getting to the rock across the hard snow in the couloir at the base of the climb while wearing running shoes was the first crux of the day and felt a bit sketchy at times. At the top of the rock climb we once again faced crossing the snow ridge in slick-soled rock shoes with no ice axes in hand. This was undoubtedly the psychological crux of that route for us. Spooky is the technical term that describes it best and we ended up straddling the snow for the last 10 feet of the traverse. The day we did the Chouinard Ridge was one of those moody, cloudy days where bipolar weather toys with the emotions, although it never really did us wrong. This time we were shod with appropriate footwear, armed with ice axes, and the traverse to the summit block was no big deal. Yes, they CAN be taught! The year we did the Ellingwood Couloir was the Teton year of no summer. It was July and it snowed on us, a lot! The weather wasn’t bipolar, it was just polar. I have summited 14’ers in Colorado in the middle of winter in better weather than we had on the Middle that day in July. Still, it was a full value day on the mountain. There is just something about couloirs that feels so righteous, like we are manly men doing manly things in a manly environment (with appropriate apologies to the many women mountaineers who can well and truly put my butt on the bus). Value was added by the descent down the glacier route. With so much snow and so little visibility it made no sense to us to do the scramble across the saddle and up the summit block, so we didn’t. However, stepping over the side of that saddle in steep deep snow to start our descent was spookier than anything we had confronted ascending the Ellingwood Couloir. Once over the edge and committed to the descent we were once again in our alpine happy place.

John near the top of the Chouinard Ridge on a day with bipolar weather...
John near the top of the Chouinard Ridge on a day with bipolar weather.
Credit: Nick Danger
John on the summit, the mood of the weather has improved slightly and ...
John on the summit, the mood of the weather has improved slightly and she seems less likely to throw a fit in our direction.
Credit: Nick Danger
Descending the glacier route through the maelstrom, back in our happy ...
Descending the glacier route through the maelstrom, back in our happy place.
Credit: Nick Danger
The glacier route in more clement conditions.
The glacier route in more clement conditions.
Credit: Nick Danger

I was never forsaken by the Middle Teton, it has always been faithful to me and ever mindful of my needs. It never judged even when it was moody. I doubt that it will think ill of me when, in my dotage, I appear less often and pay less attention to it. That being said, the Middle Teton will always be near and dear to my heart.

  Trip Report Views: 2,706
Nick Danger
About the Author
Nick Danger is a ice climber from Arvada, CO.

Comments
FRUMY

Trad climber
Bishop,CA
  Apr 3, 2017 - 08:30am PT
TFPU nice
i-b-goB

Big Wall climber
Nutty
  Apr 3, 2017 - 08:38am PT
The Middle way is always good, Cheers!
Mark Force

Trad climber
Ashland, Oregon
  Apr 3, 2017 - 09:07am PT
Good stuff! Thanks for taking us into the mountains. Am inspired to get to middle Teton.
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
  Apr 3, 2017 - 09:12am PT
The Middle is one of my fav's...I think I've done 5 or so different routes with a few more on "the list".

Not done the Dike route. Hear tell its a good 'un!

Thanks!



rgold

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
  Apr 3, 2017 - 09:59am PT
A lovely ode to a lovely peak.

I spent a lot of time in the Tetons years ago, but somehow never did much on MT. The only route I've done is the Buckingham Ridge, which was a very nice outing as I recall.

Who's done some of the North Face routes so beautifully alpen-glowed in the picture just above?
AKDOG

Mountain climber
Anchorage, AK
  Apr 3, 2017 - 11:28am PT
Thanks for the report
nice motivation to plan another trip to the Tetons
I am sure the glaciers and snow fields have changed since your first trip
Ezra Ellis

Trad climber
North wet, and Da souf
  Apr 3, 2017 - 12:30pm PT
Lovely mountain for sure,
Thanks Nick!!
SteveW

Trad climber
The state of confusion
  Apr 3, 2017 - 07:52pm PT

Great stuff, Nick.
Thanks for sharing!
tradmanclimbs

Ice climber
Pomfert VT
  Apr 4, 2017 - 03:45am PT
the dike looks amazeing
Gnome Ofthe Diabase

climber
Out Of Bed
  Apr 4, 2017 - 03:57am PT
Grand!

( stoked to see it)
crankster

Trad climber
No. Tahoe
  Apr 4, 2017 - 06:26am PT
Nice report - thanks!
mike m

Trad climber
black hills
  Apr 4, 2017 - 07:14pm PT
Very nice.
Mungeclimber

Trad climber
Nothing creative to say
  Apr 4, 2017 - 07:20pm PT
Very alpiny report!!

TFPU
Nanobody

Trad climber
Fresno, CA
  Apr 5, 2017 - 09:45am PT
Very nice! Always psyched to see alpine TR!
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