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.


Gayla Wright said...

Another great adventure. Loved reading it. Even enjoyed reading about the tuppy heads that you had to deal with going up and down this amazing climb. There is no doubt in my mind that you, Bill, had to have been the most experienced climber there. Not only that, you had to have had more smarts then anyone else. Could say you should be the lead guide of all, but that still would have frustrated you no end. Know Derek must be fully aware of all you are teaching him. He is one lucky guy to have you as a partner on this, but especially as his dad.
Feel like I have been on both theses climbs I have read. You are an amazing writer, Bill. You take your reader with you as you write.

Love you, Nana

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