Grand Teton National Park
Mike Sullivan, Andy Grieder
Beginning when Steve Janus cancelled
the LAM trip last summer, this was my
fourth attempt to climb in the Tetons. All the frustration of having the
first three trips fall apart made the success of this one taste far more
I met Andy at his home north of Denver on Saturday morning. Eight hours
later we pulled into the Jenny Lake complex to apply for a bivy permit
at the backcountry office. Our first objective was to climb the Complete
Exum Ridge on the Grand Teton. We also held hopes of climbing Irene's
Arete and Baxter Pinnacle - if the weather and our stamina held out for
the four days we had available to climb.
Because of our late-afternoon arrival, the choice bivy site at the Lower
Saddle was already filled. Instead, we got a permit for two nights at
the Moraine (about 800' below the Saddle), and consoled ourselves with
the fact that we wouldn't have to lug our full packs up the final
headwall of Garnet Canyon to the Saddle. (Check the archive for Steve
Doorn's description of his climb of Upper Exum in August 97.)
We settled in for the night at Antelope Flats - an area of National
Forest along the eastern edge of Jackson Hole, with stunning views of
the entire Teton range. We sorted gear and cooked dinner as we watched a
beautiful sunset over Mt. Owen. A short while later, a crescent moon set
directly into the profile of Exum Ridge, and the local coyotes burst
into song. Yow! I took it as an excellent omen for our climb.
At dawn, a lone bison wandered through our campsite as we loaded gear
into the car. We drove back into the park as the sun lit up the peaks
with pastel alpenglow. A short while later we pulled into the Lupine
Meadows trailhead to Garnet Canyon.
The Garnet Canyon approach is famous for being a mother-steep hike, but
the incredible scenery provided plenty of diversions. The wildflowers
were dazzling, with large fields of lupine, paintbrush, and yellow
columbines. We reached the snowpatches at the foot of the moraine around
noon, and the heat and awesome scenery made us take frequent breaks as
we worked our way up the northern fork of Garnet. We found a great camp
near the very top of the moraine site, slung our tarp between two
volkswagen-sized boulders, and threw our bags and bivy sacks underneath
for a nap in the shade. Later on, we scrambled up to the base of Lower
Exum to do a little bouldering, check out the views, and - most
importantly - to scout out the approach.
That evening, Andy and I were lucky enough to witness an incredible
spectacle just as the sky grew dark. Within a few minutes, thousands of
large moths came out from beneath the boulders of the moraine. The
fluttering of their wings filled the canyon with a unique and amazing
sound. We took several photos, and every flash lit up the night air with
countless numbers of dazzling sparkles as each moth reflected the
strobe. We dubbed it the Teton Moth Rodeo. It ended abruptly as a sudden
rain shower made both men and moths scramble for shelter.
It rained off and on all night, and we were completely bummed by the
spattering raindrop noises on our tarp when the alarm sounded at 4 AM.
Andy turned the alarm off and I dejectedly went back to sleep. At about
6:30, a brief glint of alpenglow on the Middle Teton made me bolt out of
my bag. Things were still dank, gray, and foggy, but we decided to do
the approach and see how things looked from there. We left our camp at 7
and were racking up at the base of the climb at 8. (The previous day's
recon easily saved us over an hour of fumbling on the approach.) The
weather was still marginal, but it looked pretty clear over Idaho, so we
took off. The sky was completely blue by the time we finished the third
We did a seven pitch variation of the route, which never got harder than
5.7 in difficulty. Except for a brief V-dihedral, there was ample
opportunity to place gear. Just above that, the "Black Face" was one of
the most memorable pitches I've ever climbed. The rock striations, the
holds, and the views were all equally beautiful. We topped out onto Wall
Street at noon, having taken only about 30 - 40 minutes per pitch. We
unroped, stashed the rack in our pack, and started out on the Upper
Exum. It was wonderful rock, and the sensations of moving quickly and
confidently up this airy ridge were delightful. We passed a half-dozen
roped teams on our way up; at these places we picked alternative lines
to keep the ridge from feeling too crowded. We finished up on "The
Horse" variation, and reached the top at 1:15. The route was over way
We stayed on the summit for an hour ... T-shirt weather, photos,
high-fives, checking out all the famous names carved into the summit
boulders, etc. Some faraway thunder eventually convinced us to bail, so
we scurried down to the rap anchors on the Owen-Spalding route. After a
brief minute to contemplate the top of the Black Ice Couloir, we headed
down past the Lower Saddle to our camp. Five minutes after reaching our
tarp it began to rain, then hail, then flash and boom. After a two-hour
pounding, the sun came out to illuminate a brilliant double rainbow
curving over Garnet and touching down at the bottom of the Middle Teton
Glacier. Oh man...
We hiked out on Tuesday morning, and blew off our idea of climbing
Irene's Arete on the way down, since we were feeling a little
overcooked. We spent the day feasting on ice cream, calzones, and salad.
Another afternoon boomer rolled in and we checked into the Climber's
Ranch for the night.
The dawn brought more fog and wetness, but we figured the weather would
repeat the familiar pattern. We caught the 7 AM ferry across Jenny Lake
and hiked into the fog towards Baxter Pinnacle. We holed up in a
relatively mosquito-free clearing and waited two hours for the weather
to improve so that we could even see where the pinnacle was. The rising
mists provided some jaw-gaping scenery, with low clouds snagged among
the forested slopes and rock spires. We puffed up the brief and steep
approach to Baxter, which is supposed to be four pitches of 5.6 capped
off by a 5.9+ pitch up the summit block. We combined the first two
pitches into one, and threw in an optional 5.8 crack for some variety.
The 9+ moves on the final pitch went pretty easily, thanks to some good
beta we got at the Ranch. I felt that the balancy 5.7 lieback stretch up
above the crux was actually a little more exciting to lead.
After returning to the car, we bailed out of the Tetons and headed to
Vedauwoo, to split up the long drive home and hopefully get in a few
more climbs in the morning. That afternoon, we saw a funnel cloud in the
middle of a huge thunderstorm south of Lander. Interesting...
We arrived in Vedauwoo about 9:30 PM, and just barely got the tarp up
when the rain hit. The next morning was cold and drizzly. We figured we
had pushed our luck far enough, so we headed home - still savoring the
sweet taste of our Teton experiences, and making plans for next time.