The Grand Teton is a popular objective in Alpine Climbing with over 6,000 feet of prominence and 2,000 feet of technical rock climbing if you tack on the full Exum Ridge. The natural beauty of the mountain makes it an absolute classic. However, if your top priority is sustained quality climbing, you may want to choose a different route. We went car to car in 16 hours and 15 minutes, including an unexpected swim in a stream.
We camped at the Colter Bay campground the night before and headed for the trailhead at 1:15 am, arriving at Lupine Meadows an hour later. Making it to the lower saddle is easy, even in the dark. The trail to the Meadows is well marked and there are signs at every junction. When you reach the Meadows, the Grand is not yet visible, instead you will see the aptly named Disappointment peak. We headed up the steep hill from the Meadows towards the lower saddle and crossed the boulder field. We reached the saddle and topped off our water at 6:15 am. From there we hiked past the Black Dike and began scrambling to the base of the climb. We had decided to simul climb Lower Exum and had three micro tractions with us for a little added security. We took off in beautiful weather and began climbing. None of the pitches were particularly difficult or memorable until we reached the Black Face, which in my opinion is some of the best 5.7 climbing ever and is followed by an enjoyable hand crack that leads to the top of Wall Street. We reached Wall Street around 10:30 am just as the sun hit. We basked in the sun for a little while and refueled before setting off for the summit.
The Golden Staircase (the first pitch of Upper Exum) ends at a nice ledge that we then traversed across to the Wind Tunnel. The Wind Tunnel is aptly named and makes communication difficult because of the noise created by the wind. Upon exiting the tunnel, there are only a few slabby pitches to the summit. Although we simul climbed all of Upper Exum, upon reaching the summit we agreed that a rope would not be necessary if we were to climb it again. The summit of the Grand Teton is truly spectacular and makes the 7 mile approach worth all the knee pain. We chose to descend through the Sargents Chimney rappels while some locals down climbed past the Sargents Chimney and beat us to the start of the rappels that take you to the upper saddle. We then picked our way down from the upper saddle to the lower saddle and rested up for the long hike back to the car.
My partner had carried an ice axe to the lower saddle and was able to glissade the snow field from the lower saddle down to the Meadows. I had not brought an axe and thus stayed off the snow. The axe was a great call and he beat me to the Meadows by almost an hour. His only mishap was when he reached the Meadows camping area and fell face first into a stream, which made me feel a little better, but not much. The hike from the Meadows to the car seemed like it was never going to end. When we finally reached the cars we both agreed that food was in order.
Climbing the Grand was an amazing experience which I highly recommend to anyone looking for an adventure. It requires a wide range of backcountry and climbing skills and is truly a unique way to spend your day. While the climbing itself may not be classic, the mountain is as classic as they come.
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