Grand Teton, North Face (attempt)

By: Richard Whipple | Climbers: Richard Whipple, David James |Trip Dates: August, 1998

Photo: Steve Doorn

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First I picked up David James at the airport and we drove up to the Tetons. It rained hard the day we got there, but the next day was bright and sunny. We got an early start, thinking we could make First Ledge that day (we knew there was a bivy sight there) but we ran into some troubles right away. Crossing the bergschrund wasn't too bad, but the snow had melted low down from the start and getting up the first 40 feet of the climb was more exciting than I planned. I had to chimney between the ice and the rock and hand jam the same to make my way up. The route was overhanging and dripping wet with absolutely no pro. By the time I made it up to the traverse that went left over to the route it was obviously getting to be too late. The weather seemed to be turning bad so we decided to bivy on that ledge, knowing we could make a quick escape if we needed. We had just enough room and flatness to be comfortable.

I showed David how to drape the tie in ropes so if it rained, it wouldn't run straight into his bivy sack. We watched the weather all night and it again cleared early in the morning so we headed up. Things were going fine, with me doing all the leading and David struggling up the pitches as second. He was carrying a ridiculously heavy pack. I knew we weren't going fast enough and tried to prod him a little. I then got off route twice going up the wrong chimneys to the First Ledge and having to come back down. I was aided by someone else's retreat anchor on one off-route section, so I guess I wasn't the only stupid one. We finally made it to First Ledge after negotiationg the dripping wet and slippery chimney, not to mention the stinking dripping bird/bat shit. We found our bivy sight without too much trouble and decided to settle in and go for the top in the morning. David was one heavy boy with that big pack and I had to tension him many times during the day with less than adequate anchors. This was starting to wear on my nerves a tad.

The next day we started up the ledge, which was frozen consolidated snow. I had fairly soft boots, light strap-on crampons, an aluminum ax, and no pro so it was an exciting few hundred feet but we moved up without incident. Then it started to snow. I moved up the pitch off the first ledge, which turned out to be partially verglassed, partially water ice and partially rock with all the holds filled with snow. I got good pro so wasn't too worried and did fine. The next pitch up to Second Ledge was an easy slab, but had no pro and was somewhat encumbered by the snowstorm. This was the scariest pitch of the climb.

On Second Ledge we again had to climb hard consolidated snow with a bit of front pointing. (I later had my toe nails turn black from kicking into this stuff). The wind had also picked up by this time and had become a gale out of the West. I felt like I was freezing to death, especially at the belays. David was still moving too slow for my own taste. At Third Ledge David called it quits and wanted off.

We rapped back to Second Ledge and started to do the escape around to the Owens-Spalding. I proposed we finish on the North Ridge, but David vetoed that. The escape route didn't seem clear to us at that point and the wind was just ripping us. I had been shivering for several hours now. We traversed around the west side of the mountain and had to downclimb some stuff and then up some mixed ground and finally we got to a gully with some rappel anchors. Across the gully was rock covered with ice. We didn't know if this was the right place or not, but it was looking scary so we decided to bivy there and think about it over night. I needed the warmth of my sleeping bag right then and did not feel very good about leading off into some unknown place. In the morning I felt better, and decided to try rapping into the gully and then climb across the ice covered rock. That pitch and then another and we were on the Owens-Spalding. So much for that climb. We walked out on a beautiful sunny day.