Saturday, August 29, 2015

Longs Peak Project - Month Eight: Backing Off

2 a.m. is an uncomfortable time to awake, but it was what I deemed necessary to get on the Diamond ahead of the hordes. I was off by about an hour and it made all the difference in the world. Instead of a pleasant ascent of a classic route in a spectacular position, I ran into fear, near death, and a hasty retreat.

Charlie and I met at 2:30 a.m. in north Boulder, as usual. We also met Buzz, who was doing a cool Continental Divide Traverse, starting with Longs and then gaining the divide via Pagoda and Chiefshead and then heading south. Charlie and I started up the trail at 3:32 p.m. and passed a few Diamond parties on the trail. Then we passed one at Chasm Lake. Two more at the cave bivy. Then we got to the top of the talus below the snowfield below the North Chimney just before another party. Above us was a complete shit show.
Leaving the car at 3:30 a.m.
I don't know what caused so many parties to be in the actual gully instead of on the slabs to the left, but I suspect it was because at least some of them didn't bring any traction and couldn't climb the rock-hard snowfield directly. They then had to traverse in from the right, along the moat/bergschrund and they just headed up the awful, loose gully. Others might have just followed the party above. Maybe none of them had been up to Broadway before. Maybe they had and just didn't care how dangerous they were to any parties below them.

There are scores of climbers, maybe hundreds, with more experience on the Diamond than I. I've been up the North Chimney probably fifteen times, in five different months. I know Roger Briggs has been up it more than a hundred times, so I'm far from an authority. Last year, Mark and I passed seven parties while we climbed it. I had climbed up it just eight days before, as well. Never have I seen anything like what was going on above me. These climbers were bombing rocks down with incredible regularity. Friends on the Red Wall, arriving later than us, said they constantly heard, "Rock!" ring out from the east face.

Rock fall is a danger in alpine climbing, no question. But it is possible to climb the North Chimney without knocking a single rock down, while roped up. It takes care, though, and caring. It seemed that no one above gave a damn about possibly killing the climbers below. When a couple of rocks just missed Charlie and I, I yelled up something, I forget what. The response from above was a cavalier, somewhat cheerful, "Welcome to the Alpine!" Whoever said this is an asshole of almost inconceivable dimensions. I yelled back, "NO! It doesn't have to be like that!" First of all, who did this guy think he was talking to? I'm no Roger Briggs or Conrad Anker, but this wasn't my first alpine climb. And to be so cheerful about nearly killing people is pathological.

As soon as we got to the snowfield, we pulled on our helmets, having already heard rocks whiz by. While pulling on my harness, a rock the size halfway between a golf ball and a baseball somehow bashed into my head, right next to my eye. I went down in a heap, with a cry of pain. It took awhile to understand that it wasn't life threatening. Charlie checked me out and I gradually recovered and took two Advil. We continued to gear up and Charlie started up the snow in his Microspikes with a rock to chop some steps. Then we heard, "Rock! Big one!" I panicked, trying to run, but not knowing what direction to run, as I couldn't see it. I should have looked up, but I was afraid of taking it in the face. The other climbers there did look up and said, "It's on the right!" I was running that way and changed direction back towards them, running into them. A rock the size of a microwave oven careened by within ten feet of me. I was more than rattled. I was terrified. I took a big breath of the air and screamed as loud as I could, "FUCK!!!!!!!!!!" I wanted to thrash every last climber up there. I probably couldn't thrash any of them, but I was enraged. I was nearly killed and it seemed like they didn't give a shit up there, judging from the frequency that they were raining rocks. Not being able to see these rocks coming definitely contributed to my fear. It was just too dim for me to see very well.

Charlie, in the middle of the snowfield, says, "Bill, do you want to just go climb something else?" Despite the crazy situation, I hadn't thought of giving up the climb just yet, which is insane, because I should have recognized the situation for what it was: life threatening. This climb, one that I had done eight days before, wasn't worth dying for. This was no Shark's Fin on Meru Central and I was no Renan Ozturk. I was thinking more about not wasting the early wake-up, the long hike in the dark, but Charlie brought me to my senses. "Yes, good idea, Charlie. Let's get the F out of here." After coiling the rope, I retreated down the talus to the shelter of a bivy behind a large boulder. It felt good to get out of the death zone. Soon we were re-packed and heading back the way we had come.

I knew one of the climbers above, Wade. I don't know how he knew it was me that got hit, but he yelled down, "You okay, Bill?" How did he recognize me from that distance in that dim light? He had arrived thirty minutes before us and he and his partner had soloed by two teams. Someone mentioned there were ten climbers in the North Chimney, so I guess other teams followed them up.

Charlie and I retreated down to the bottom of the Camel Cutoff, a talus-filled weakness in the wall connecting Longs Peak to Mount Lady Washington and ascended that up onto the north slopes of Longs Peak. We couldn't climb the Cables Route since we had already climbed it in March. Luckily I knew another route near by: Mary's Ledges. This is a seldom-climbed, four-pitch 5.6/7 that is a few hundred feet to the right of the Cables route. It goes up an impressive buttress. Homie and I climbed this route back in March of 2002.

At the start of Mary's Ledges.
We hiked a ways over and then stashed some of our gear and one pack - stuff we didn't need for an easier route. We'd be descending the Cables Route, so we'd pick it up on the way down. Then we made our way to the base of the route and geared up.

Heading up Mary's Ledges
We decided for me to lead, as I'd done the route before, and to simul-climb the four-pitch route as a single pitch. This forced me to made judicious use of slings to keep the rope drag to a manageable level. This was a challenge with two hundred feet of rope out, but the route is also run-out so decided not to shorten the length of the rope. 

As I ascended the route I clipped a couple of ancient, rusted pins and we also found two rappel anchors. That was curious. It must have been from climbers who couldn't find the normal Cables descent. We cleaned them up.

This was the most people I'd ever seen on Longs Peak - the most on the summit, the most in the Trough, the most on the Home Stretch and the most cars in the parking lot lined down the road. It was so crazy I couldn't look.
Once we hit the upper Keyhole Ridge we could look down into the Trough and it was quite a sight. It looked like a line of ants headed to a picnic. Just like on the Diamond and would be on the summit, I saw more people in the Trough than ever before. All with good reason, though, as the weather was stellar and Longs Peak is a great place to be in that weather, even when crowded...though not nearly as good as when you are all alone.
Eight months down, four to go.
We didn't linger on the summit that long, maybe fifteen minutes, before the crowds drove us down. We rappelled once at the Cables Route because, why not? I had the rope on my back and my harness on. We paused at Chasm View to look at the situation on the Diamond. No one was very high up wall. My buddy Wade was on Ariana and still on the second 5.9 approach pitch. A D1 team might have been highest - on the third pitch. Two or three parties were on the Casual Route, but the highest party was just halfway up the third pitch. We had some consolation in our decision to abandon the Diamond in that we'd have probably been stuck behind two or three really slow parties.

We cruised back to the car via Jim's Grove and the usual shortcuts, arriving after 8h17m. Eight hours and change is our most frequent time on Longs Peak. Eight months down. Four to go. Next up is going to be the Keyhole Ridge from Glacier Gorge. I'm having ankle issues as I write this and it will need to improve some or that's going to be a long, painful walk.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Diamond with Anton

Like Mark Oveson last year, Anton Krupicka had a burning desire to climb the Diamond and once again I was their primary partner. I very much enjoy being in the position to mentor someone else and followed the same Eldo training program with Anton as I did with Mark. We started with some moderate routes like the Bulge, Wind Ridge, Calypso, and Reggae. Then we added some tougher routes like the Green Spur, the Yellow Spur, and T1.9. Then we did some link-ups and some simul-climbing before working on some 5.10’s. Because the Casual Route has a squeeze chimney, I like to climb Grand Giraffe beforehand. Grand Giraffe is much tougher than the squeeze on the Casual Route. Because the Casual Route has lots of hand cracks, I like to climb Blind Faith beforehand. Blind Faith is much tougher than the Casual Route.

With Mark we also did some great alpine training routes including the Petit Grepon, North Chimney to the Chasm Wall Traverse, and the Red Wall. This year, with Anton, we didn’t bother with the additional alpine training and instead made plans for the next good weather day. Of course as soon as we did this then the weather turned against us. We ended up putting it off from Monday to Friday and met in north Boulder at 2:30 a.m.
Where's Anton?
If you are going to climb the Casual Route on a day with a good weather report and you don’t want to be behind many parties, you need to go very early. While it is generally a good idea to get up and off this wall early in the day, this has nothing to do with the speed that your team can climb the Diamond. This has to do with how many other teams will be ahead of you, how slow they go, and the difficulty in passing another party. The real solution to this problem, the only one, really, is to “harden the F up” and climb another route on the Diamond. That’s a fairly tall order though, as the Casual Route is rated 10a and the next easiest route, Pervertical Sanctuary is 11a. The Casual Route is really quite amazing. The Diamond, when viewed from pretty much any vantage point, but especially so from Chasm Lake, is very intimidating. It’s amazing that a free route at the relatively moderate grade of 10a exists on that wall, but it does and it attracts lots of aspirants. That coupled with a reasonable climbing season that is only two months long and with many of those days either too cold, too windy, or too stormy, the good weather days are a race. A race that isn’t necessarily won by the fastest but by the earliest. While some, like myself, prefer to sleep in my bed and get up at 2 a.m. many others bivy at the base of the wall and some, including a party on the day of our ascent, sleep on Broadway - four pitches up the east face via the North Chimney.

Simul-climbing up the North Chimney
In the parking lot, we met our first Diamond climber -- a guy who was headed toward D7. This route is mostly not too hard, but the crux is 5.11d. More importantly, they would not be a rival for us, though we didn’t want to be behind them on the North Chimney approach either. We were hiking by 3:30 a.m. and within twenty minutes we hiked by Mike Schlauch and his partner. They were headed for the Diamond as well, but he didn’t say what route. 

We got to the base of the North Chimney in just under two hours, my fastest approach ever. There was a good reason for this: Anton. He’s a professional trail runner / mountain adventurer. The key word there is “professional.” His level of strength and speed is a step above even my fittest, toughest other partners. The obvious, vast disparity in our fitness levels had us splitting the loads accordingly. Anton carried the rope and rack and I carried…I think a water bottle. And maybe a jacket. I still got dropped once we hit the talus around Chasm Lake and Anton kept the same pace as he did on a smooth trail. 
Anton completing the traverse on the second pitch
The small snowfield leading to the North Chimney was rock hard and we donned our Kahtoola Microspikes for less than two minutes, yet they were crucial minutes and kept us safe. No one else was in the chimney, but we knew there was a party above us, as we had seen their headlamps on our approach. We doubled our single lead rope and I led upwards. When I drew the rope tight, Anton started climbing. We simul-climbed the North Chimney as one pitch and arrived on Broadway at 6:20 a.m. Here we found Andy and Andrew. They were waiting on the team above, Mark and Abbie. Mark was already leading the second pitch and yet the Andys were both still on Broadway. Hmmm… I asked them if they had climbed the Diamond before. Nope. Did they anticipate any trouble with it? Nope. Cool. 

And then we sat on Broadway for an hour. Andrew led up the first pitch, found Abbie still at the first belay and then just sat there for fifteen minutes waiting for her to clear the belay instead of just setting up a belay below her. Andy would repeat this behavior on the next pitch. It was maddening. But Andy and Andrew were super nice, cool guys and so were Mark and Abbie. All four were very competent climbers, but no one likes just sitting there and not moving, least of all me. 
Belaying at the start of the long corner pitch
When Andy followed the first pitch I was right behind him and set up a belay below them. Andy just had to grab the gear and go, right? Anton was probably most of the way up the first pitch before he took off. When Anton arrived we waited another 45 minutes for Andrew to leave the belay. I told Andy about an alternate belay in the slot above where Mark and Abbie belayed, but he apparently was not comfortable setting up his own belay and needed to have at least some gear there. Both climbers would use the fixed gear and add their own, which is very reasonable, but they’d take ten minutes to set up a belay. I set up a belay in under a minute. Admittedly, I’m pretty quick at this. 

Andy and Andrew were climbing with two 70-meter, 10mm ropes. The leader was just dragging the second rope. They did this because they weren’t sure if they’d rappel the Diamond or go down the North Face. When Andy led off on the second pitch, he forgot to trail the second rope. Andrew had to coil it and put it on his back. This took awhile and when he tied it on, the top coil, which should be high on his upper back, was below his butt. When I saw that, I knew he should pass.

I followed Andrew up the second pitch. Thirty or forty feet above the belay he had to clip into a piece and re-do the rope on his back. Duh. I did the traverse a bit higher than normal to keep clear of Andrew and this way it is considerably runout, but not any harder. I set up my cramped belay in the slot below the wide section and called down “on belay” to Anton. I silently willed Anton to climb fast enough to get to the belay before Andrew, thirty feet below me at the fixed belay, would start leading, as I jammed the slot completely. Unfortunately, Anton had a long way to go and wasn’t even to the traverse by the time Andrew started to lead up towards me. We got “up close and personal” as he climbed over me and up the third pitch. To his credit he was nonplussed and very solid. He did a great job climbing this awkward slot on the outside edge.

When Anton got to the belay, which is a hanging belay, we were on the verge of a full-on cluster. Anton was a bit put off by the position and full-on hanging belay. I could tell he was a bit nervous when he asked, “You’ve got two bomber pieces for an anchor, right, Bill?” Thankfully everyone involved was calm, solid, safe, and did their jobs efficiently. As Anton and I re-racked, the lead rope kept snaking up through us as Andrew finished off the pitch. I soon started up the same pitch, taking great care to keep all my gear out to the right of Andrew’s gear. Climbing this pitch with the extra rope in my way made this a bit more delicate, but I climbed fast, as I wanted to complete this pass by the end of this next pitch. 
Anton at the top of the corner pitch
We never explicitly discussed passing. I just climbed up behind them and then above them and set up a belay. This is the way passing should be done in such situations, I think. Ideally, you don’t want either party to stop climbing. No one likes to sit and waste time and good weather not moving. If both parties are competent and the climbing reasonable, there is no reason why both parties can’t climb the same pitch, at the same time. This is not widely done, but on the most crowded routes, I think it should be accepted. The key is that both parties must be very solid and very experienced to avoid a giant cluster.

Andrew, once again, had set up his belay at the fixed gear on the ramp below the long dihedral. They had discussed going to the upper belay so I was surprised by this, but then realized that the upper ledge that I use, in the dihedral itself, doesn’t have any fixed gear and the Andys don’t do belays like that. At least, apparently, if they can avoid it. From their ramp belay I don’t think a 60-meter rope will reach the next belay ledge. But, as stated, they had 70-meter ropes.

Andy had to climb over Anton at the slot belay and in doing so a burrito that had just been in a back pocket on his pack, fell out and onto Anton, who caught it. After taking a few bites, Anton put the burrito in his pocket and gave it back to them at the third belay, thereby earning us some karma points. Anton arrived at my belay only a couple minutes after Andy arrived at the belay below and I was geared and ready to climb well before them. Andrew, clearly conceding the pass now, looks up at me and says, “Okay, Bill, I want to hear ‘off belay’ in two minutes.” I told him I’d do my best.

I fired up the 190-foot 5.8 corner at all possible speed. We were in the shade now and the crack was quite cold. My hands went nearly numb and I was worried I’d slip off and take a huge fall. I slowed a bit and made sure I wasn’t taking any chances. It probably took me ten or fifteen minutes to lead the pitch. At the top I found Abbie. She was belaying her husband Mark who was maybe halfway up the crux pitch. Abbie was super nice, as was Mark, and she was three months pregnant and feeling it. She had a heck of a time with the dihedral below and she wanted us to pass her before she did the crux pitch. That was a nice gesture, but it was silly, since Mark would be done with his lead long before Anton arrived at the ledge. 

When Anton arrived at the ledge he said he felt like he was warming up the entire climb. He never fully got into the groove, as he was distracted somewhat by the rushing and the passing and the cluster belays. Finally, now on the crux pitch, he’d be able to relax and take his time.

I geared and started up the crux pitch after Abbie. I caught her in no time and offered her encouragement as she struggled up the pitch. In the 5.9 fingercrack/stem section she fought long and hard to remove a small cam and couldn’t do it. I said I’d take a look. Mark called down to just leave it. She moved on. I got it out in less than three seconds. I think she was crux-ing a bit. 

When she removed her pack (she was carrying the exact same Patagonia pack that Anton was carrying), she dumped her chalk bag on me. I thought it was more of the ice that had been regularly dropping from high on the face. In the chimney, I pushed up her pack as she climbed. I told her to relax and rest between struggles to move upwards. At the crux hand jam near the end of the pitch, she had to hang on the rope a few times, but she made it to the belay. I was right behind her and set up a belay from three cams just below the fixed belay. I had Anton on belay before Abbie was even off belay. I gave them the retrieved cam before Mark took off on lead.
Anton exiting the chimney on the crux pitch
While Anton followed the crux pitch I watched Mark and then Abbie climb the last traverse pitch over to Kiener’s. Mark was going to belay halfway across the traverse, probably because he wasn’t sure how to finish the pitch. I called over directions for him to climb up onto Table Ledge above him. He thanked me and moved on up to finish the pitch.

Anton did great on the crux pitch, though he was moving a bit slower than normal for him. I thought he might come off on the 5.9 section because of this speed, but he was solid the entire way and said he never got pumped. Our training climbs had done their job well. In fact, at one point I think Anton was going to downrate the route, but decided 10a was right. Obviously he’s climbing very strong.

Since I was already hanging below the normal belay, I figured it was easier and quicker for Anton to lead the last pitch. Since it is rated 5.8, I thought Anton would dispatch it easily. But, this pitch is confusing and a bit devious until you have it wired. It goes down and up and the finish isn’t obvious and a bit intimidating as it looks unprotectable. Anton, in fact, did a solid, safe job leading this pitch. He also balked about going up to Table Ledge and I had to urge him a couple of times to go up. 

While Anton was leading, Andrew climbed up to just below me. I was going to try and hold the pack and the loops of rope out of his way, but it was going to be tough to do that and belay Anton at the same time. Andrew decided to just wait, as I was sure Anton would be finished quickly. This didn’t turn out to be the case and, in retrospect, I should have just led this last pitch to get us completely out of the way of our trailing party. We both froze a bit waiting on Anton, but it was no big deal. I’m sure Anton would climb the pitch twice as fast on his next ascent, now that he knows its secrets.

When Anton put me on belay, I was moving in thirty seconds, just pulling the belay anchor. My hands and feet were wooden, but I knew the moves and dashed across, anxious to reach the sunlight basking Kiener’s route. When I got to Anton, I just kept moving across the ledge and up to Kiener’s proper, where we unroped and stowed all our gear. Fist bumps and high fives were exchanged when Anton joined me. It was 12:30 p.m. We were on top of the Diamond. The weather was still great and I was finally warm. 
Doing the last technical moves onto Table Ledge
The slog to the top of Longs Peak, always tough, seemed especially hard. The last time I was covering this terrain was when Charlie and I did Kiener’s after biking up to the trailhead. I was crawling then, just like I crawled here. The only saving grace was that Anton was behind me! That’s right. I got to the summit before the indomitable Anton Krupicka! Am I going to be joining the international ultra-running circuit? Hardly. I think Anton was already updating Facebook or Twitter or Instagram or all three. At least he was taxed on the summit hike as well.

We topped out just past 1 p.m. and soon Mark and Abbie joined us. They had missed the sneak-around move at the top of Kiener’s and roped up a direct finish. They wanted to follow us down the to the rappels and I said, “That’s cool. We move kind of quick, though. There are cairns and you generally descend straight down for a ways and then cut hard left over to the eye-bolts.” Mark tried to keep up with us for a bit, but Abbie was way behind and he had to stop, but he got down far enough where I could yell up to him when I got to the eye-bolts.

When I did get there I was a bit surprised to see an ice-encrusted Cables pitch, but I was horrified to see Anton downclimbing it! I’d have got the rope out and rapped it except that the rope was descending this pitch in Anton’s backpack. I focused my attention and, sure enough, it was possible to carefully downclimb around all the ice…barely.

Once down to the talus, we could completely relax, except that I had a hard deadline to meet my wife in Lyons by 4:15. This didn’t entail running, thank goodness, as neither of us (that’s right, neither of us) wanted to do that. Not with the loads we had. We stopped at Chasm View to cheer on Stefan and Brady. Stefan was in the midst of onsighting the 12b Hearts and Arrows (put up by Chris Weidner and ?). Brady crushed as well. They were still 300 feet from the top of the Diamond, but just below Table Ledge (which is just a seam where they were on the right side of the wall). Climbing in that section of the wall you’re forced to climb the complete Diamond. I’d only done that once before when Stefan hauled me up D1. I’ve never done the direct finish to the Casual Route (two more pitches up to10c), but I need to man-up and do that one of these days.

We hiked out at a nice pace. Anton let me lead the way and that allowed us to stay together. I was thankful for that. We got back to the car at 3:25, thereby doing the roundtrip in 11h55m. I think that is my fastest Diamond time. At least my fastest unsupported time. I’m sure Stefan and I were a lot faster when we did the Longs Peak Triathlon but I had so much help from Homie and Mark Oveson that I’m not sure they didn’t carry me up the Diamond.

It was a super fun day, despite the crowding. Andy, Andrew, Mark, and Abbie were all very solid climbers and super nice people. Meeting them more than made up for the frustration of waiting. I got to Lyons just five minutes before my wife arrived to pick me up and drive us to Grand Lake for a nice weekend.

So, I’ve now climbed Longs Peak via eight different routes in each of the eight months of this year. My Longs Peak Project partner, Charlie Nuttelman, has done Longs nine times, by eight different routes, but not yet in August. We are committed to doing a unique ascent each month as a team. Hence, I’m going back to the Diamond later this month with him. I hope we have as nice conditions and meet people as nice, but it would be okay to be the first party on the wall…

Monday, August 03, 2015

G-3 Summit Conference, Third Summit: Granite Mountain

Granite Mountain and its glorious East Ridge route

Granite Mt: Third Summit of the G-3 Summit Conference

Derek drove us north into Yellowstone Park and then east out of the park. We followed a serpentine labyrinth of small Wyoming and Montanan roads. I wanted to get a hotel in Cody, Wyoming, but the entire town was booked due to great westward migration of Sturgess motorcyclists. We got a late dinner at a McDonald’s in Cody and met a cyclist there that was riding his bike from Alaska to Argentina. Right on!

We eventually got so tired that we pulled over on the side of a 2-lane, 70mph state highway and slept just a few feet from the roadway, using our car as a barrier. As we blew up our sleeping pads, at 11:30 p.m. on a desolate road, the first car by slows down and puts down their window. Uh oh, we think, we’re busted. Nope. The driver, an older guy, just asks if we’re okay. I say “Yes” and that we’re just so tired and trying to get some rest. He agrees that rest is good and drives on. A short while later another car comes by, this time going our direction and at 65 or 70 mph. They zip on by but a couple minutes later they double-back. It’s two women and they also ask if we’re okay. They stopped, turned around on the highway and went the opposite direction they wanted to go to make sure two strangers were okay. Montana is such a cool state…
Our bivy the night before hiking into Granite Mountain - luxury!
I slept until 5:30 a.m. It’s light out at that time. I packed my gear and rustled Derek. He packed his gear, hopped in the car and fell asleep again. I drove the remaining confusing miles to the Mystic Lake Trailhead, arriving there at 7:30 a.m. or so. I’d spend the next four hours, laying out our gear, packing it up, making breakfast, making lunches for two days, getting the rest of the food together, etc. while Derek slept. I knew we weren’t going to try the mountain in one day with such a late start, so I wasn’t in any hurry, but it eventually got pretty hot. Derek did become fully conscious by 10 a.m. or so, and we started up the hot trail at 11:45 a.m. - what my buddy Opie could call an alpine start.
Above Mystic Lake on the approach.
While I was sitting in the parking lot waiting for Derek to reboot, I noticed a group with ropes and ice axes and went over to say hi. I figured they were headed for Granite Peak as well. Sure enough, they were. Jim and his three boys had been planning a 2-day approach, but weather concerns on Tuesday had him change to a 2-day roundtrip, like us. This was going to be Jim’s third try. He told me, “Most people don’t get this mountain on their first try.” He was a nice guy and wasn’t patronizing me. I told him that we hoped to piggyback on his “Third Time’s the Charm” attempt. These guys got started a couple hours before us, carrying much bigger packs. In fact, everyone we saw going for Granite carried packs about 50% larger than the ones Derek and I carried. Sure, we have skills that allow us to go lighter, but I honestly feel it is mostly due to laziness. I didn’t want to carry the gear up there.
Derek at the top of the switchbacks and about ready to leave the trail and head up onto the Froze-to-Death Plateau.
Another party of four climbers walked in. They had failed on an attempt on Granite. Why? They got lost on the Froze To Death Plateau and couldn’t find the mountain. A GPS is a very good tool for this mountain. I recommend it. They told us that there were lots of mountain goats up on the plateau. This turned out to be true.

I saw three separate parties carrying sidearms. The first was after I’d taken a photo of a team of three getting back from a couple of days in the wilderness. They were unloading their gear into the back of a pickup truck when I heard a series of “chik-chik” sounds. I turned to see one of these guys loading an automatic pistol. With the ubiquitous mass shooting stories in the news, my fecund imagination had him turning to the parking lot and picking off as many campers as possible. I wondered how I’d protect catatonic Derek. He wouldn’t be able to allude the shooter. He’s too big now for me to carry and dodge bullets. Then I realized he was unloading the gun and not loading it. It was still a bit unnerving. 
Checking my GPS on the Froze-to-Death Plateau
Two others strapped sidearms on their waist before hiking up the trail. You don’t see this much in Colorado. I’ve never seen it before. I asked one guy if it was for bears and he said, “It’s just for whatever. We have bear spray too.” Hmmm, I wondered. If these guys are packing heat to protect themselves against bears, Derek and I are going to be vulnerable. We didn’t even have bear spray. 
Our first look at Granite Mountain!
Granite is rated from 4th class to 5.7 depending upon who rates it and the route you take. I figured we’d find the best way and that Derek and I could safely climb up down at least low 5th class. We knew the “Snow Bridge” was small and had steps across it, so we didn’t bring an ice axe or crampons. We also didn’t carry a rope, harnesses, rappel devices, a rack or helmets. We did carry bratwurst, however. That’s my secret weapon: sausage. It used to be just Vienna Sausages but now that Charlie has leaked my secret I’ve had to up my game to Bratwurst. I’m safe revealing that here since hardly anyone reads my blog.
Our high camp and our furry neighbors.
The first 2.5 miles climbs up 1300 feet to a ridge above the dam-created Mystic Lake and then descends down to its shores. There was quite a bit of traffic along this trail as the lake is a beautiful destination and the creek below it is nice as well. At the three-mile mark we turned up Phantom Creek Trail #17 and its “24 Switchbacks from Hell”. I counted 28 and they were actually quite nice, despite climbing 2400 feet in three miles.
Granite Mountain from the summit of Tempest Mountain
We caught and passed Jim and his boys after two hours of hiking. They were taking a break by the side of the trail. At 2 p.m. near the top of the trail, we took a break of our own to eat some lunch. We started moving again just as Jim’s group caught us. We wouldn’t see these guys again until 10 a.m. the next day. We left the trail just passed a huge, five-foot-tall cairn where the trail crests the great escarpment it had been climbing. We ventured off onto the trail-less tundra and talus of the Froze-To-Death Plateau. Despite the name, we brought our minimal sleeping bags. People get lost up here. It’s very difficult to route find, as everything looks the same and it is quite vast. We hiked for four more miles across this plateau, guided by the GPS maps I loaded onto my phone. The GPS app I used goes through battery power like Derek goes through a 20-piece Chicken McNuggets, but this time I brought my power brick and the correct cable. Even with these maps, I didn’t use them that much and relied mostly on dead reckoning, as it was broad daylight. Still, I made a slight mistake and went around the wrong side of one of the peaklets on the plateau. It probably didn’t add any distance or effort, but was different from the cairned route.
More goats at the Granite-Tempest saddle
After five and a half hours, apparently our limit when doing an approach, we became fatigued. We had arrived on the slopes of Mt. Tempest, though a ways down from the shoulder descent, and found a nice, rock-ringed campsite. We decided this was high enough. We’d come ten miles and the entire distance to the peak was supposed to be just twelve miles. Just after we threw down the packs, we noticed a group of three a bit further at another campsite. We hiked over to them to see what was up.
Fun scrambling low on the East Ridge
These three had just returned from Granite, at 5:30 p.m. They didn’t start for the peak until 10:15 a.m. They apparently overslept. I’ll say. They were super friendly and told us they made the summit in just three hours. This was great encouragement for us in that we were not camping too low. This group took four hours to return from the peak. I figured we’d be faster, though they didn’t use ropes either. They finished packing up their packs and walked back to our campsite with us. They were going out tonight and knew they’d be hiking in the dark, but it didn’t seem to bother them. One of them had done the peak before and had through-hiked the entire Appalachian Trail. Right on!
Crossing the dreaded snow bridge
The three climbers left us and Derek and I were alone in camp…but not for long. When the first goat approached us, we thought it was cool. He came out of nowhere and headed straight for us. I had peed a hundred feet away from camp and it didn’t take him long to find that spot and start licking up my purged salts. Then, we spotted four more making their way across the talus to us. Moments later we had nine goats around us, frequently walking straight at us to within a couple of feet. One that did this to me was a female with a young kid trailing close behind. In this instance, I had just peed a short distance away, specifically as a gift to the goats, but it walked right by it and up to me. I know how protective mothers are of their young so having her and her baby so close to me was a bit unnerving. All mountain goats, at maturity, have long, sharp, curved black horns. If this goat lowered its head and came at me, it could do considerable damage. At a distance of two feet, I’d have little time to protect myself. What could it want? I’d already peed for it. Was it expecting to be hand fed? I’d have probably tried such a thing if it would have appeased it, but I didn’t have any food to spare. The goat would stare right at you. I’d read that you aren’t supposed to lock eyes with a predator, like a wolf or a bear, as it will be perceived as a threat, but what about a goat? I didn’t want to back down. This was my home now, at least for the night. I picked up a rock to defend myself, but never needed it. Later that evening I went to pee and four goats surrounded me, all two feet away. They never acted aggressive toward me, except for the proximity and stare down, but they jousted with each other almost constantly. We could clearly see the hierarchy there, from the big male to the matriarchs, down to the teenagers and the babies.
Derek leads the way on steep, solid, 4th class terrain.
After another thirty minutes another group of five goats approached. Our group turned to confront them. I thought we were going to see a goat rumble, but they meshed fine, with the usual displays of dominance that amounted to just running a few steps at the offending goat. So now we were surrounded by fourteen goats. When the sun went down we went into our tent, but the goats just closed in closer, roaming over our rock walls. I eventually gave a yell to shoo them away a bit. In the morning they were gone, but we’d see them again.
Fun stuff!
Following Derek to the summit.
I set the alarm for 5 a.m. but then snoozed it for ten minutes, causing us to leave camp at 5:42 a.m. instead of my targeted 5:30. Derek gets ready so fast that I get up 20 minutes before him to make a cup of coffee and eat a bit for breakfast. Derek just puts on his shoes and he’s ready to go, as he can’t really eat much right away. 
Just below the summit
We made the shoulder of Tempest in about 25 minutes and descended from 12,100 feet down to the saddle at 11,450 feet. We were finally on Granite Peak and ascending the East Ridge. We found another group of five goats at this saddle and they also came within a few feet of us. They will run from a human if they make sudden movements or move too quickly toward them, but they don’t seem to have much fear of humans and certainly an affinity for them. 
Completing the G-3 Summits!
We used my rotating leader strategy here on the climb, for the first time. We’d switch leaders every hundred vertical feet. Most of the initial going was 2nd and 3rd class and cairns marked the way pretty well, but there were still choices to be made and I wanted Derek to start making some of them. The real climbing started past the Snow Bridge, which consisted of seven steps on snow and was trivial. This section gets such attention in the route descriptions and I know it can be much more significant, but I had a hard time imagining how it could be much of a problem. The notch is just too narrow to ever be very many steps.
Downclimbing one of the crux sections
Once across that we started up a series of fifty-foot 4th class chimneys on really good rock. From here on up the climbing is interesting and engaging and involved. The route description we had was quite good and the route is littered with frequent rappel anchors to guide you along. Derek wanted to lead all this and my plan was for him to lead it anyway, as I wanted to act as a pseudo belay below him. I know this isn’t a real belay, but it still made sense to me. If he was going to fall and die, I wanted him to take me with him. If I was going to fall and die, I didn’t want to take him with me. But we never felt in danger here. We were solid. We were careful. We were attentive. And we thoroughly enjoyed the climbing and route finding problems presented to us. I felt the crux climbing might have been some low 5th class moves. That’s still within our comfort range, but I wondered how Jim and his three boys were going to do on such technical, complicated ground with four on a rope and not very experienced or fit. We made the summit two hours after leaving camp. Having experienced perfect weather almost all the time, the summit was windy and chilly. It was still before 8 a.m. and the sun was too weak in its battle against the wind. We signed the summit log, took photos, and started our descent.
On the summit of Tempest with Granite Mountain behind
We carefully reversed the complicated route back to the saddle. On one difficult stemming section I dislodged my iPhone from my armband and it fell! I knew it was going just a moment before and couldn’t let go with my hands or I’d fall too. It bounced a couple of times, but stopped just ten feet down and my giant, clunky Otterbox case did its job - the phone was unharmed. Thank you giant, ugly case.
The Goat Whisperer
We laboriously trudged back up to the Tempest shoulder via the marked route. I contemplated heading directly up the ridge to the summit of Tempest, but didn’t because I wasn’t sure Derek wanted to join me for another summit. That was silly. We turned upwards and walked up the relatively low angle talus slopes of Tempest. On the summit my GPS watch read 12,514 feet. The actual elevation is 12,470. Montana has 26 12ers and we’ve now climbed two - Tempest is the 8th highest. We could see quite a few others from the summit of Granite. If I lived in Montana, I’d definitely want to climb all of them. They are all located in the Beartooth Mountains.
That's a nice looking animal.
We hiked back down to the shoulder and a bit below there we met Jim and his boys coming up. We speculated whether they’d be carrying their tents or not and when we saw the size of their packs assumed they had them. But they didn’t. Even when they go light for the summit, they go heavy. 
Baby goats
Jim saw us descending from Tempest and asked, “Granite and Tempest both already?” Yes. “Wow, you guys are fast.” I agreed that we were, mainly so that they’d know not to expect the same result. I said, “We do this stuff all the time.” He asked, “How often?” “Weekly.”

He asked our advice on what their strategy should be. We recommended that they leave most of their gear at the saddle and go fast over and back. I hope they got back to their camp, which we never found on the way out. Jim had mentioned getting lost on the plateau, despite being up here before. He didn’t have a GPS. At this point it was only 10 a.m. so they had about ten hours of daylight remaining and that should have been sufficient.
Derek performing his ritual icing less than a mile from the trailhead.
We got back to our camp before 10:30 a.m. and immediately started to pack up. Within a few minutes the goats started to arrive and by the time we left at 10:50, we had nine goats around us. We bid our furry friends good bye and headed out. We reversed the Froze to Death Plateau in 100 minutes and were taking a lunch break at the trail when two women approached with massive packs, ropes and ice axes clearly visible. They took one look at us and our puny packs and asked, “Out for a day hike?” I said, “We climbed Granite today. We’re out for a two-day hike.” They didn’t seem impressed. They looked like they were out for a week with what they were carrying. Maybe they were putting up a new route on the North Face? Right on.

We pounded out another five miles and took a 30-minute break to soak our feet and legs in the icy creek. Derek loves this and can endure the cold with ease. Not me. I’d put my feet in for as long as I could stand the pain and then pull them out (About 20 seconds, but I did push for one 1-minute-long suffer fest). 
On the summit of Granite Mountain - the last of the G-3 Summits. What a trip!
We were driving out of the parking lot at 3:45 p.m. My original plan was to just drive a couple of hours to Billings and get a hotel for the night. We could order a pizza, watch a movie and relax. The next morning we’d drive the remaining eight hours home. But, in classic, hardman-Derek style, he slid behind the driver’s wheel and pounded out the entire drive home. I offered support mainly in the credit card arena, for fuel for our vehicle and ourselves. And I wrote this report. We got home at 1:10 a.m. It was hard to believe we’d climbed the highest mountain in Montana that same day (sort of).

The G-3 Summit conference turned out to be a huge success. We spent six days climbing or approaching these mountains. All six days had perfect weather. We covered 90 miles of hiking and about 22,000 vertical feet. I’d checked off a couple of mountains that had been on my list for a long time and I did it with my son. I’m incredibly blessed to be doing these adventures with Derek and I hope he feels the same way. 

Saturday, August 01, 2015

G-3 Summit Conference, Second Summit: Grand Teton

Grand Teton: Second Summit of the G-3 Summit Conference

Our luck with the weather continued at Grand Teton National Park. So much so that we could afford a rest day to try and heal/desensitize Derek’s giant heel blisters. This kid is tough when it comes to blisters. If a certain Phoenician friend of mine had blisters like these, he’d hospitalize himself. Derek rubs a little dirt on them, wraps ‘em up with some tape and says “Let’s do 7000 vertical feet tomorrow and bag the Grand in a day.” Where does he get this ambition?

We got the last two bunks at the American Alpine Club Climber’s Ranch and felt fortunate. We were not. But before our personal hell, we borrowed a couple of bikes from the ranch (free!) and rode 5.5 miles to Dornan’s for a huge BBQ dinner, which we ate outside with incredible views of the Tetons. After dinner we rode back to the ranch, showered, and were watching a movie on our laptop when the devil incarnate walked in.
The AAC open-air, communal eating/gathering area
At 11 p.m. our two cabin mates entered, slamming the cabin door, and quickly bedded down. Within minutes, seconds maybe, the snoring shook the entire building. The big male sounded like a growling bear. The woman, like a hissing raccoon. It went non-stop for next two hours and nearly drove us crazy. We played Derek’s iTouch as loud as it could go in an attempt to drown out the cacophony. It was as effective as trying to put out a forest fire by spitting on it. Eventually I yelled “Roll Over!” It was so loud that he did stop, but only for a few minutes and I failed to get to sleep in the brief time window. Derek seemed even more bothered, as he did whine about this. I couldn’t blame him. It probably would have killed my wife. I seriously thought about just taking my pad and bag outside and sleeping by my car. I’d have done it, but I was worried that his growling would attract all the bears within a 5-mile radius.
Derek on String Lake, enjoying the view of Mt. Moran
The next morning I let Derek sleep until nearly 9 a.m. because I don’t think he started sleeping until 5 or 6 in the morning. I made myself a couple of cups of coffee in the outside breakfast area and enjoyed the suns warm rays. After eating, we headed back to Dornan’s to rent a canoe. We recreated the approach paddle to Mt. Moran that I’d done twice before (for the CMC Route and the Direct South Buttress). We spent a lazy day padding, sitting in the lakes, reading on beaches, and watching a uniquely colored bear foraging for berries right next to the approach trail for the CMC route on Moran. This bear’s body was very blonde, but his head was completely black, almost like he had burnt his face in a forest fire. It was striking and beautiful. We floated off shore with three other boats for 30 minutes or more just hoping to catch glimpses of this bear. We did, but wanted more. We wanted him to come down to the shore and show himself off, but he was most interested in eating. I can identify with that.
Heading up the trail to the Grand with light packs
After returning the boat, we drove into Jackson for dinner and a movie. We chose the movie based on the showing time (Mission Impossible - surprisingly good) and the restaurant based on the quality of its AC. We rejected a Mexican restaurant immediately after seeing that both its doors and windows were open. We settled on Subway (delicious). While waiting for the movie we packed our gear for the next day. We’d take our minimal harnesses, a 60-meter 7.8mm rope so that we could rappel down, three slings and one biner of stoppers, plus a bunch of water, food, and clothes.
Derek above the moraine and at the base of the fixed lines leading up to the Lower Saddle
We had no trouble in our new cabin (we had to move to another one, thank god) and the alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. We packed our sleeping gear and drove to the Lupine Meadows Trailhead, where we ate some breakfast and packed some final details. We left the car at 5:20 a.m. using my phone as a light. We only needed it for ten minutes or so and didn’t want to haul headlamps. My phone was along merely to serve as our second camera.
Downclimbing the wall with the fixed lines on the descent
We caught and past a sizable group doing Middle Teton and then two fit guys passed us (aghast!) headed for Middle Teton. Thankfully, we passed them back when one stopped to dump and when they caught us again at the Meadows, we passed them for good when they stopped to refill their water. That was smart, but we carried all our water right from the car. We didn’t have a purifying system with us and there are hundreds of people in this drainage every day.
Derek reaching the Lower Saddle after hiking up 5000 vertical feet. Just 2300 to go.
A runner, wearing a decent-sized pack for running, passed us. We’d see him again as he descended from the Grand. He claimed making the top in 2.5 hours. I wondered what he had in his pack. Maybe a thin rope to rappel on? I know he did Owen-Spalding, but didn’t catch whether he down climbed it or not. Later that day, as we descended from the Upper Saddle, we’d see another guy running the peak. Right on! 

We hiked continuously to the Lower Saddle, getting there in 3h20m or so. We took a five minute break to eat and then continued to the Upper Saddle, only five hundred feet below the summit. The climbing up to here was just class 3. People were all over this mountain and I feared a jam at the Owen-Spalding “Belly Crawl” pitch. I powered ahead of Derek on the upper section to try and get in front of, first, a party of six, then a couple, and then two chicks. At the base of the rappels I found four guys gearing up. I went on by and over to near the start of the route. My mistake was not going clear to the very start. 
A fun scrambling variation we took on the way to the Upper Saddle
I pulled out my jacket and my hat, as it was now cold. I pulled out the rope and flaked it, but Derek was carrying our extensive rack and minimal harnesses. I should have just tied the rope around my waist and ran out the rope while Derek put on his harness. But I didn’t and I really regretted that. 
Middle Teton from high on the Grand Teton

These four turds clogged the pipes for scores climbers trying to get to the summit of the Grand. This shouldn’t be allowed. I don’t care how crappy a climber you are, but if you are going to climb the Owen-Spalding route on a weekend, you must let other parties pass you and you should be adept at passing other parties. Just because some turds start hiking at 9 p.m. the day before (I don’t know that these guys did that but a subsequent party we met this day did), they can’t determine the fate of everyone else who “should have gotten up earlier,” according to these jerks. The approach to this route is 6500 feet and there is no viable option to climb around these two pitches, at least at anything close to the 5.3 rating of this route. We met four chicks that had done the “Picnic” up to the Owen-Spalding. That means they biked from Jackson to Jenny Lake, swam across it and then hiked up 6500 feet with ropes and rack. They were understandably pissed to see a 2-3 hour wait. They even turned around because of the clog. All that work, biking, swimming and ascending 6500 vert, and they are stopped by incompetent, prideful dunces. (This was one woman’s third try at the Picnic!)
The Belly Crawl pitch on the Owen-Spalding route
If you ever see this guy in the mountains...woe to you
Derek and I could have passed both parties of two and cost them zero time. You might think I’m exaggerating about zero time loss. I am not. These guys were buffoons! The leader of the second twosome didn’t know to say “Off belay,” which I prompted, and the he asked, “Do I pull in the rope or do you (the follower)?” You can imagine how frustrating this was… In the time one guy took to re-tie his boots, I could have led the first pitch. This isn’t a joke. After the first party went, you'd think the leader of the second party would be right on the follower’s tail and they made comments to this affect, yet the second was long out of sight around the corner and Shoelace Schmo is still double-knotting his Five Tennies.
Waiting to start the Owen-Spalding route
When I arrived at the Upper Saddle no one was in sight on the Owen-Spalding. Yet, after waiting an eternity for the first party to do the first pitch, the second leader gets out halfway to a huge ledge and says he has to stop because the other party is held up about a third party above. This might have been true. But these guys take 5-10 minutes to set up a belay anchor. I took zero minutes. Why? Because it’s a humungous ledge and I just stood there. The climbing to there is trivial. I think I could do the Belly Crawl pitch no-handed. Seriously. There is no crawling necessary, though they did do that. The second party follower looked at the rope running sideways for thirty feet with no gear but no difficulty greater than 3rd class and said, “Whoa! That would be quite the pendulum fall.” Fall? I thought. It’s a wonder these guys didn’t rope up at the Lower Saddle. 
On the summit with thirty other people
But, again, it has nothing to do with their lack of climbing ability. It was their selfish nature that denied us passage for 45 minutes while they did next to nothing. When I finally got to follow the second party out to the end of the Belly Crawl pitch, I went around the corner further and even started up snowy/icy terrain before I thought better about it. Back I went to find both parties  at the belay dorking around doing I don’t know what with no team in sight above them. I was visibly exasperated. I said, “I thought you were being held up by another party. No one is holding you up now. What are you doing?” They said, “We’re trying to safe.” I said, “What were you doing for the 15 minutes you’ve been here, supposedly waiting on this other invisible party?” I didn’t actually say that, but they said, “If you and your son want to solo on by, then go ahead.” I don’t know if he expected me to take him up on that, but I swarmed up by them in seconds, saying, “Thanks,” but knowing they thought I was an asshole, while I knew them to be the true assholes. 
Derek finishing up the last (of two) rappels.
Above I found a couple of other parties, but with plenty of belay options. I moved up and right and threw a sling around a horn and brought Derek up. I wanted to get him away from those clowns as quick as possible. I didn’t want them taking out their wrath on him. The other parties weren’t good climbers either, but they were reasonable, nice guys. I climbed an icy corner to their left (stemming around all the ice) and passed both parties. Before I left the belay, Derek was a bit confused by my tactics and just wanted to be clear on what I was doing and what he was supposed to be doing. He says, “So…no belay and no gear, right? I just stand here?” Yup.
Having our "summit" at the base of the rappels
On the ledge above, I met the leader of the second party and he was concerned about the ice in the final chimney. He suggested I fix his rope for him and that way everyone could climb up  at once and move faster. Now here’s a guy thinking about not being a problem. A guy trying to make sure everyone has a chance at the summit. I swarmed up the chimney above, avoiding all the ice. Since Derek and I were climbing on a doubled 60-meter rope, he had to simul-climb with me for about 15 meters. In the four pitches I led, I put in two stoppers, but we failed to carry a nut tool (oops) and Derek had a bit of trouble pulling both of the nuts. He asked for suggestions at one point, but he figured it out in less than a minute. 
Downclimbing back to the Upper Saddle
Derek trailed the other climber’s line and a locking biner. There were parties queued up to rappel down this same chimney and I explained to these climbers what we were doing. One of these parties was a four-man group of MSU students. They were the ones that started at 9 p.m. the previous day. As soon as Derek clipped in the rope we moved on up the mountain. The climbing was third class now and I coiled the rope over my shoulders and followed Derek to the summit.
Scrambling back down to the Lower Saddle
The day was absolute gorgeous with no clouds and incredible views everywhere. There was no wind and it was warm in the sun. Yet, we didn’t even sit down. The summit was swarming with climbers, including a couple of huge (6-8 climbers) guided groups. The Exum Mountain Guides equip all their climbers with matching orange helmets and are easy to spot. The guides are pretty good, but don’t move their clients at anything close to the speeds that Euro guides do. Perhaps because Euros never seen to guide a group this large with only one guide. I let Derek decide what he wanted to do, but he probably picked up vibes from me that I wanted to descend. I was feeling trapped here. Trapped by so many incompetent climbers all clogging my descent access. I didn’t trust any of them to be safe and even though we could have safely spent hours on top, I wouldn’t have been relaxed. It was just too crazy. I didn’t like it. We snapped some photos and turned to descend.
Derek negotiating a small icy patch on the way to the Upper Saddle.
We scrambled back down to the top of the icy chimney and found two of the 4-man MSU group were still there. I asked the last man down if we could bum a ride on their rappel lines and he said it would be fine. He clearly wasn’t the leader so I told him to ask the rest of his group and give me a thumbs up if it was okay and that it was no big deal if they wanted to pull their ropes. These were all very nice guys, but they were inexperienced and incredibly slow rappellers. They each put on a prussic back-up knot and then laboriously slide it down while rappelling. This is a reasonable back-up, but when the rappel is only 120 feet and it ends basically on the ground, I deem it unnecessary and Derek and I didn’t use it. 
Descending back down into Garnet Canyon
They were game to have us come down on their ropes and Derek and I both both rappelled and I pulled their ropes and coiled one of them in the time it took just one of their team to do the rappel. We were now in front of one of the big guided groups that was descending. The guide noticed this and told us to grab one of three ropes he had stashed on the ledge and go fix it at the next (and last) rappel. Sweet. I took a rope and quickly descended to the bomber 2-bolt anchor at the top of the last rappel - a vertical cliff that ends with a free-hanging line. In less than a minute I had the line fixed and zipped down it to the ground. Derek followed and we had escaped the trap.
Derek icing his legs at the base of Mt. Moran the day before our climb
We took time to eat and relax here - basically made it our summit break. It was only third class from here back to the car and we could pass anyone, anywhere, so I was now relaxed. We commiserated with the four “Picnic” ladies and chatted with our new MSU friends, as they slowly joined us. We never saw the four guys that has caused the jam on the Owen-Spalding route again. I was sure they would be in the chimney by the time we were descending it. That they were not in view even on the pitch below that was ridiculous. There was a huge line of at least ten climbers waiting to do the Belly Crawl pitch and those four A-holes were causing that and multiple parties were turning around because of it. I will never do the Owen-Spalding route again, unless I’m soloing it, where I can pass at will. But hopefully these four were a total aberration and this isn’t a usual occurrence.

Derek and I had a great descent back to the car. We chatted with every party going up. We frequently got kudos for our speedy ascent from the trailhead and this was Derek’s first experience with such praise. He loved it, especially because there were times when he felt like he was barely moving. He’s learning that getting up mountains fast is more about efficiency and constancy of movement than about raw speed. We even stopped to take a “Climbers’ Noise Survey” on iPads by two Portland State University students. One of the questions related to what I felt about the crowds on the peak and the other climbers. While I couldn’t stand the four clogging the route, everyone else, everyone, was great. I like having routes to myself and I like being able to move at my pace and to be safe from other climbers, but I also love meeting other teams and chatting with them and learning from them. I realized that, in general, I didn’t mind all the other climbers on this route. As long as I can move by them, it’s fun to see and talk to them. If you don’t like that, than you shouldn’t be climbing the Grand Teton via the Owen-Spalding or the Upper Exum. There are plenty of mountains where you can get solitude. This isn’t one of them.

We got back to the car after more than 11 hours on the move. We were strong and moving quickly the entire way. We jumped in the car and drove back over to the Climber’s Ranch to take showers and reorganize the car. Then we headed for Granite Mountain in Montana.