Thursday, July 25, 2013

Grand Teton via OS in a day

Owen-Spalding route - 5.4, Trad, alpine, 3 pitches, 1560 ft., Grade II

The Owen-Spalding route, or OS for short, is the standard route to the summit of the Grand Teton.  Getting up to the beginning of the route involves hiking and scrambling up 6,400 vertical feet and 7 miles to the upper saddle between the Enclosure and the Grand Teton.  From the there, the route traverses south across an easy, albeit very exposed, ledge called the "belly crawl."  After the exposed traverse, the route climbs up through a couple easy (5.4) chimneys to the summit.

On any given day, you will encounter several guided groups on the OS route.  If you are up there early enough, you can just follow them to the top, but that means you have to wait in line.  If you are courageous enough, you can solo this route and down climb, eliminating the need to carry gear and rope.

I am planning on attempting (again) to circumnavigate Mt. Rainier via the Wonderland Trail (93 miles) in under 48 hours with friends, MD and KD.  So KD and I decided to try the OS route on the Grand Teton in one day for fun and for training.  14 miles and 7,000 vertical feet is a tough day for anyone and we were no exception.

We started hiking from the Lupine Meadows trailhead at 3:20 am in the dark.  We passed a pair of exhausted dudes carrying heavy loads down the trail around 4 am.  Apparently, they could wait no longer to get down.  We were moving quickly and we tried to keep talking to avoid any unwanted interactions with wildlife, despite being sleep deprived.  At one point, we saw a pair of eyes shining back at us from the forest.  I picked up a rock and threw it in the direction of the animal.  It didn't budge.  I can't speak for KD, but I was slightly nervous but I kept hiking towards it down the trail...bear? cougar? moose? deer? It was a deer.

Moonlit South Teton
Moonlight and sunrise mix 
KD posing in the moonlight, like usual
We hiked 4.5 miles and reached the meadow campground at 5 am.  We took a quick snack break and admired the mountains plainly visible in the moonlight. We continued up towards the lower saddle as the sun lit the landscape around us.  We reached the Moraine Camp at 6 am and the lower saddle at 6:45 am.  We filled our water bottles at the natural spring along the trail, just below the lower saddle and took care of some business (nowhere near the spring, of course).

Getting close to lower saddle
From this point, "hiking" is replaced by "scrambling."  We slowed down considerably in this section as we meandered up the gully towards the upper saddle.  KD, having come from near sea level, was doing great.  I had no excuses, having climbed several 11,000 and 12,000 ft. mountains in the recent weeks and sleeping at 5,500 ft. daily.  The scramble up to the upper saddle can get scary and sketchy if you get off route.

Scrambling up towards Upper Saddle

Looking down towards the Lower Saddle from the Upper Saddle
We reached the upper saddle at 9 am and took a long break.  I took a look at the beginning of the OS route and I also scrambled to the top of the Enclosure and got a great view of the entire east face of the Grand.  We decided to turn back at this point and make the long trek down to the trailhead.  We reached the trailhead around 2:30 pm. The entire trip took about 11 hours.

East face of Grand Teton - this picture shows the entire OS route.  There a couple groups on the route in this picture for scale.  

Belly crawl section
On our drive back we stopped at a delicious sandwich place in Jackson that KD found and suggested using Yelp. It is called Backcountry Delicatessen.  We, another guy in the store, and the employees, highly recommend it.  I just looked it up and apparently it is a small chain, with 3 locations in Colorado and this one in Jackson, Wyoming.  I ordered "The Grand," which I thought was appropriate for obvious reasons. KD ordered "Hot Springs."  We both loved the food.

Backcountry Delicatessen

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cirque of the Towers

Pingora: South Buttress (5.6 variation) Trad, Alpine, 3 pitches, 500 ft., Grade II
Wolfs Head:  East Ridge (5.6) Trad, Alpine, 5-10 pitches, 1000 ft., Grade IV

A friend of mine refers to alpine, high altitude climbs that have potential of being deadly and disastrous as "THE BIGS."  It's true, "the bigs" can be dangerous and downright scary, but most of the time they are aesthetic and rewarding.  The Cirque of the Towers is the definition of the bigs.

Cirque of the Towers from South near Jackass Pass

The Cirque of the Towers, located in the southern Wind River Range, are famous if you are a climber and unheard of if you aren't.  Hundreds of routes are scattered throughout the area ranging from class 2 walk-ups to 5.11 very committing routes.  Two "Fifty Classic Climbs of North America" are located on adjacent mountains within the cirque; Northeast Face (5.8+) of Pingora and East Ridge (5.6) of Wolfs Head.

My equally ambitious and available climbing friend and I left Utah for the Big Sandy Trailhead to do Wolfs Head and maybe another route in the cirque on Thursday evening.  We fish-tailed our way up at least 60 miles of dirt road to the trailhead, which we reached at midnight.  We packed our things and hiked in 6 miles to Big Sandy Lake in the dark in about 2 hours.  We were spooked by every cracking branch and sound from the surrounding forest but the only living thing we saw that night was a passive porcupine.

The following morning we were able to appreciate the surrounding scenery as we made our way up towards Jackass pass and into "The Bigs."  We meandered across the cirque and made our way to Cirque Lake where we set up our tent within a stroll of the beginning of several climbing routes on the surrounding peaks.

Looking south from near Jackass Pass over Arrowhead Lake

*We climbed in approach shoes

SOUTH BUTTRESS, PINGORA - 5.6, Trad, 3 pitches, 500 ft., Grade II
After taking a nap and resting from the hike in, we decided to go climb the South Buttress of Pingora.  We were at the base of the route within 30 minutes from Cirque Lake.  We climbed the route in 3 pitches in about 1.5 hours.

Pitch 1: I lead this easy pitch up a series of fun flakes and cracks over two large ledges just before the right-facing dihedral.  

Pitch 2: Brent led this pitch up a steep dihedral with several large cracks on the face, very fun pitch.

Brent leading 2nd pitch up right-facing dihedral
Looking at East Ridge of Wolfs Head from Pingora South Buttress

Pitch 3 (5.6 variation):  Downclimbed to climbers left to large ledge and then I led this fun crack to the summit block where we scrambled to the summit.
5.6 variation - final pitch
5.6 variation - final pitch

We spent an hour in the early evening sun on the summit admiring the views and the intimidating East Ridge of Wolfs Head.  We then rappelled down the route with a 60 m and walked off the south shoulder back to camp.  We were asleep by 9 pm.

Pingora summit

Heading down Pingora in the early evening

In bed in the cirque

EAST RIDGE, WOLFS HEAD - 5.6, Trad, 5 pitches, 1000 ft., Grade IV
We left Cirque Lake at 7 am and climbed up the sketchy approach ledges unroped to ridge by 8 am.  From there we roped up and began climbing the East Ridge.  The exposure was phenomenal and the climbing fantastic, the whole way.

We simul-climbed up the narrow, shallow ramp to the where the steepness increases dramatically.

Pitch 1: I lead this sustained 5.6 pitch up the crack on the East Ridge to a ledge where the slope eases.  Talk about having fun!  Brent then led and we simul-climbed to Tower 1.

"Scrambling" up the steep ledges to the East Ridge of Wolfs Head

Top of the shallow ramp

First belayed pitch up steep east ridge

Pitch 2: We down climbed the chimney to the south side of Tower 1 and I led the traverse around and up through the "slot pitch" to a big ledge.  There was not room for me and my pack so I took it off and shimmied through.

Simul-climbing low 5th class rock on ridge crest before Tower 1

Squeezing through tight "slot" around Tower 1

Pitch 3: Brent led this "Piton pitch" across a blank and exposed ledge and up a fun 5.6 crack.  This was the only point on the climb we wish we had brought climbing shoes.  Small foot holds, non-existent handholds, and thousands of feet of exposure below was enough for Brent to exhale audibly as he finished the pitch.

Brent traversing along the very exposed Piton Pitch

Me following the Piton Pitch 

Pitch 4: I led the pitch across the north side of Tower 3 along two parallel cracks and then up along the ridge crest.  This was a very fun pitch, well-protected, and very exposed!

About to climb the parallel cracks on Tower 3

Traversing along the Parallel cracks on Tower 3

Pitch 5:  Brent led this pitch on the south side of the ridge, where a perfect horizontal crack on a vertical face allowed us to climb across by smearing our feet and hand traversing to a chimney and squeeze.  Another excellent pitch.

Brent leading the hand crack traverse
After crawling through the tiny opening to the north side, we simul-climbed up easy terrain to the summit.  We were on the summit by 11:30 am.  We ate lunch, patted ourselves on the back, and rapped down the west side several times and then traversed south towards Overhanging Tower-Wolfs Head Col.  We were back at our tent at 2 pm.  It took 7 hours total from camp, we spent 4 hours on the route.

After the climb, we packed our things and we were back at the car by 7 pm.  Needless to say, it was a long day and we wanted some delicious food.  So we stopped and got a burger at a joint just outside of Farson, Wyoming called BIG D's COUNTRY BURGER.  The food was excellent and the chef took a lot of pride in not using heat lamps, talked up some random fishing rods, and an app called "Urban Spoon."  He told us it's a cool app on the world wide web where you can see what others have said about food in your area (He was shamelessly telling us to rate his restaurant and comment on ho good the food was).  As he put it, "For the fans, by the fans."  He meant well, but I don't think he realized that its the year 2013.  Regardless, I the food was good.

Summit of Wolfs Head

Cirque Lake, Pingora, and Wolfs Head

Cirque Lake

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Lower Exum Ridge - Grand Teton

Route: Lower Exum - Grand Teton Trad, 5.7, 6 pitches, Grade III
           Upper Exum, Trad, 5.5, 12 pitches, Grade II
Can't beat it
Brent and I left Utah Thursday evening with the intent of climbing the complete Exum Ridge on the Grand Teton.  We arrived in Jackson around 11 pm and found a place to camp for free in the national forest.  Friday morning we went to the climbing ranger station first thing and got a permit to camp at the lower saddle.  We packed our things, split the weight between our tent, rope, and climbing gear and headed up Garnet Canyon towards the lower saddle.

Hiking up Garnet Canyon
It took us 5 hours to get to the lower saddle from the trailhead.  We found a well-protected campsite with a great view of our intended route.  We spent the afternoon talking to the climbing rangers, eating chips and queso (Brent carried), resting, and watching Argo on Brent's iPod.  We were asleep by 9 pm.  

The Grand from Lower Saddle camp - Exum Ridge follows the shadow line to the summit 
Teton shadows from Lower Saddle
We got up at 4 am and were hiking by 5 am.  We were roped up and climbing the first pitch by 6 am.  I led the first pitch up a 5.7 chimney and it was chilly and windy!  Weather seemed like it would hold for awhile.
Me leading Pitch 1 up 5.7 chimney
Brent had very cold hands and had a hard time gripping the rock with his stiff, immobile fingers but he warmed them up and led the second pitch up a series of cracks and flakes to large shelf.

Brent leading 5.6 pitch 2 up a series of cracks and flakes to a big ledge

Big shelf at top of Pitch 2 with Middle Teton in the background

Looking east from Lower Exum Ridge
We now both acknowledged that a potential storm was in the distance and was coming in our direction.  We hoped it would miss us and continued to climb.  I led pitch 3 up an awkward 5.7 left-leaning crack.  At the top of the pitch, the dark storm clouds were 15 miles out and it was time to bail.  I belayed Brent as he quickly climbed the pitch and we rappelled onto a ramp to the top of pitch 2 that allowed us to walk off the route into Wall Street gully.  Luckily we were off the route and on fairly safe ground before the rain, snow, and thunder began.  We got back to the tent and feel asleep as the storm blew over.
Me leading weird 5.7 crack on pitch 3 

Currently scared, impending storm
Unfortunately, the weather remained unsettled the rest of the day so we did not make a second attempt and hiked back down to the trailhead, got a burger in Jackson, and drove home.    

Double rainbow on the drive home 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Accessible Uinta Peaks

The Uintas trend east-west and offer beautiful scenery, remote wilderness, and the highest peaks in Utah.  The Mirror Lake Highway crosses the western Uintas from Kamas, UT over Bald Mountain Pass down to Evanston, WY.  Other than this highway, access to most peaks is limited and requires several miles of approach hiking.  However, there is a handful of high peaks along the Mirror Lake Highway that are accessible within a day.

1. Bald Mountain (11,947 ft.) 
This is one of the more popular hikes in the Uintas, and for good reason. The peak is only 2 miles from Bald Mountain Pass along the Mirror Lake Highway and there is a well-maintained trail all the way to the summit.  Additionally, the views are spectacular in all directions.
Proof.  This is me over looking Mirror Lake from the top of Bald Mountain.

2. Reids Peak (11,708 ft.)
Reids Peak is Bald Mountain's western neighbor.  It is lower than Bald Mountain but it requires some scrambling and route-finding skills that the well-maintained trail to Bald Mountain does not.  You are unlikely to see anyone on this peak despite its proximity to Mirror Lake Highway.  Many choose to link up Bald Mountain and Reids Peak into a single day - and is very doable.     

3. Mount Agassiz (12,428 ft.)
Mount Agassiz is on the ridge line east of the Mirror Lake Highway.  This hike is 7 miles round trip and starts at the Highline Trailhead.  Follow the trail until you find a point where you are closest to the peak, where you leave the trail and head towards the east face of Agassiz.  It is a direct, difficult hike.  

4. Hayden Peak (12,479 ft.)
Hayden Peak is located on the eastern side of Mirror Lake Highway and has a rocky, nobby summit block.  There is no trail to the peak, which provides challenging, exposed scrambling.  Start at the Highline Trailhead off the Mirror Lake Highway and head due east (do not follow the trail) to a saddle on the south ridge and then follow the rocky ridge to the summit.  

5. Kletting Peak 

6. A-1 Peak

7. Notch Peak

8. Mount Watson

9. Haystack Mountain