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