I went out on this adventure at the invitation of my friend Nate, whom I had met through my buddy Brig (who I called Shnig…for reasons unknown). Looking back on it, it was probably somewhat of a hair-brained idea.
We were in school and so the only time to really make the climb was over Thanksgiving break. I was dating Brenda at the time and she didn’t have a good feeling about it. I of course dismissed that. We got into a debate about the merits of safety, of marriage, of toning down the risk when you have a family, of whether or not I could ever make a responsible decision and all that.
One somewhat humorous/retarded detail was that I was talking on the phone with my mom, in front of Brenda, as to whether I ever wanted to get married and how it would just be like shackles and all I could see for myself was subsistence living such that I had just enough to travel around the world from mountain to mountain, adventure to adventure etc. Brenda of course was listening in on the whole conversation and thinking, “Man, what nerve of this idiot. I gotta dump this guy…” Not sure how or why she didn’t.
So, Brenda tried but failed to talk me out of heading out to climb the Tetons.
The climb was ill-fated from the beginning.
Nate was psychotic behind the wheel. I was actually thinking this to myself as he was whipping around these mountain corners in the route from Logan to Jackson. There was black ice all over the place and I was surprised by the erratic nature of his breaking, thinking he would know more about snow/ice driving than to hard-break on black ice.
Well, I guess he didn’t know more. We hit a piece of black ice. We spun around and did a 540 through the middle of the road. My eyes were open. I saw the guard rail go past once. Go past again. Oh, there’s the side of the mountain now! I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. I saw the world spin as if in slow motion. A new experience for me to be sure.
We both looked at each other in disbelief of our good fortune at not lying at the bottom of the river! We started busting out laughing. I don’t think we could think of any other appropriate reaction.
We hadn’t thought about a hotel. So, we camped in Nate’s car, but it was actually quite comfortable as we burned a tank of gas by leaving the car idling, pumping out luscious warm air. It was -10 degrees outside, but we were cozy.
The next morning we woke up late, started late, arrived at Grand Teton National Park late and started hiking late. We left the previous night late as well. Ha! We were just late. Luckily we were friggin’ fast hikers. We booked it up that mountain. We started hiking about Noon and made it to top of Garnet Canyon by about 3. We did that portion in snowshoes.
The Grand Teton was one of my favorite climbs of all time. It was crazy from the start.
We found a sweet boulder, dug out a pit behind it and pitched my tent in the pit. We were super well protected from the wind coming down mountain. We cooked our food inside the tent and our body heat, from working like dogs to build the snow pit before it got too late, plus the burner and our breath, we figured, pumped out the heat inside the tent to around 20 degrees, while it was -20+ degrees outside. That was awesome.
We started out the next morning around 6am. Boy did we underestimate how long it would take to go from Garnet to the summit. At least we didn’t start late. So, I had the map of the route in my pocket the whole time, but we were so confident we remembered/knew the route that we didn’t bother checking it! We went up some couloir, based on a mis-reading of a landmark that was totally wrong. It was an extremely steep and very tiring mistake. It dead-ended at a cliff band. Just below the cliff band, as I was digging my crampon into the snow for traction, I opened up a crack to expose a crevasse. My heart was pounding. It was only about 2 feet wide, but wide enough to fall through or to trip me up and send me headlong down the couloir. Then my crampon, attached to my boot, started coming loose. I’m not gonna lie, I said a prayer. It worked. I got the crampon on enough to secure to the boot and step over the crevasse and make my way down.
It was uneventful from there on until we reached the saddle. We took some sweet pics as we looked down into Jackson on one side and into Idaho on the other.
We made our ascent up the peak. It was basically like two long couloirs. I’m not even sure how we made it up, it was so incredible steep that we were mostly on all fours. We hit the top of one of the couloirs, a dead-end at a cliff band and saw that we needed to free climb across to our left and up to get on top of this cliff-like rocky outcropping. Holy cow that was so stupid. We had ropes, harnesses, all the climbing gear, but because we were way off route, there was no way to secure the rope. Plus, we figured it was just a little “side-step and up”. In the middle, I realized that it was a very real possibility for me to lose my grip and just not stop falling until I had a very unpleasant landing a few hundred feet below. I said another prayer. It worked again.
Once on top and entering into the second couloir, I could feel it in my bones that we were close. I started picking up the pace as the excitement built. Pretty soon I was almost running up the incline, despite being crazy sauce steep. Funny that I still had enough wits to starting thinking to myself, “At nearly 14,000 feet, I remember that article saying the human lungs should start feeling the effects of hypoxia, how come I’m not?” I was a little disappointed as I wanted to see what hypoxia felt like.
Nate was ahead of me. He hit the summit of the Grand Teton first. Then he called down, half yelling, half laughing, “Yo Bird, Ha ha, we climbed the wrong mountain dude!! We climbed the Middle Teton! I guess we were supposed to go Right out of Garnet canyon!” I almost fell backwards down the chute when I heard that! Heck, I’m laughing as I write this. Sure enough, I got to the top and saw the Grand towering above us. At least it looked cool enough for me to imagine what it would have been like to climb it.
We didn’t enjoy it long, as we realized time was running out. Luckily, it was glacial descent the whole way down and we glissaded at lightning speed. We had left our headlamps at base camp and weren’t about to get caught on the side of the mountain in the dark. I almost flew off a cliff at one point as I couldn’t stop! I was digging my ice axe in as hard I could, like a rudder/break, but the expected deceleration wasn’t quite forthcoming…until about the very end. I said a prayer of thanks that time.
When we got to basecamp, we decided we would just hike out at night. The idea of physical exhaustion didn’t really occur to us in our mentally weakened state. So, we climbed from 6am to 6am, with a total vertical of ~9,500 to ~13,000, Garnet to Middle Teton, and from 13,000 to ~6,500, for a total of 10,000 vertical feet, plus our 1,000 foot detour up the wrong couloir. I’ve done more in one day, but the steepness, the deep snow and the three couloirs just made this a more taxing, arduous and time-consuming journey.
We slept in our car again, from about 6am to 9am. It’s illegal to sleep in your car in the parking lot there, in case you were wondering. We didn’t know that, but were soon to find out.
At about 9am we figured we better be on our way. We hadn’t driven more than 2 miles down the road before a deer jumps out and we smash right into it. Unbelievable. I again was not wearing my seatbelt. Again, unbelievable. I never learn. Nate’s car gets towed and fixed. He drops me off at the bus station as he heads up to Big Sky, MT to ski.
I arrived in Logan bus terminal in the middle of a blizzard. I drove half-awake from Logan to my buddy Eric’s house. It was night-time and Parley’s was off the hook. I couldn’t see two feet in front of me. I almost drove off the side of the road. So, not only did I almost fall through, go over and fall down some cliff while climbing, I also almost drove off a cliff. Me and cliffs were tight that trip.
What’s that? 6 chances for death to take me? But death failed every time.
The next morning, Eric and I woke up and went skiing at The Canyons. The adventure never ends.