Monday, August 1, 2011

Hanging Canyon/Cube Point Adventure - The Tetons

On Tuesday evening, after a touristy day in Yellowstone, I was itching to get into some real climbing.  Our new friend and bunkmate, Ying, was packing for his 5 day trek across the Teton Crest Trail.  I have to admit I was a little jealous of his impending adventure.  This trek was his big reward to himself for completing his residency in Vascular Surgery at John Hopkins.  Very cool guy.  I was able to give him a few tips on mountaineering, and am still eager to hear how his trip turned out.   Our other roommate, Chris, was planning to meet Ying for a day or 2 on the trail after he finished his bridge game in town on Thursday.   How cool is that...?  These guys didn't know each other more than a couple days, and they were connecting for an adventure.  A little bit of trail magic was happening at the AAC Climbers Camp.  You gotta love it!  I'm gonna miss that place.

After listening to their conversations over a couple days it became apparent to me that Chris had spent some time in the Tetons.  In fact, he had spent the whole summer there as well as parts of previous summers.  He was also a very smart guy.  He was a retired Actuarial and was working part-time on a Phd. in mathematics.   I started asking Chris for some beta on moderate climbs in the lower elevations, and he gave me some ideas.  I got fixated on climbing Cube Point since it seemed easy enough for someone who hadn't really climbed since falling 100 feet and shredding his femur.  OK, the statement may not sound normal to a normal person, but try to see my logic.

It also sounded short enough that we could make it a relatively easy day and still have some time to prep for another assault on Middle Teton.  Chris agreed it sounded like a reasonable plan, but mentioned that Cube Point is hard to find.  I asked if he had climbed it.  Not only had he climbed it, but he guaranteed he could lead us to the start of the climb.  Terrific!  We had plenty of gear and ropes to climb as two parties of two.  I figured I would rope up with Chris and Pam and Goat could team up.  Cool!

As it turns out Pam decided to opt out on the climb in preference to an easier day hike.  So, Goat, Chris, and yours truly, took the boat shuttle across Jenny Lake and started up the trail into Hanging Canyon.

After making our way around some downed trees, we started making progress toward the Ribbon Cascade.  Here's a shot of the very impressive waterfall.

Goat was moving well and the trail was easy to follow.  Before long, however, we hit snowfields.  Woof!  We didn't bring ice axes or crampons!  Damn!

Not to be thwarted, we pressed on with careful kick-stepping through the softening snow.  The slope was not too steep, and we were able to avoid a lot of the snow by skirting the edges.  I broke a long, dead branch in half and gave Goat a piece, so we could use it in the case of a self-arrest situation.

The canyon was beautiful, and the sky was pure blue.  Life was good!  We spotted Cube Point and quickly made our way towards it up in the canyon.  It was a beautiful sight except for one thing.  There was a steep couloir full of snow leading up to the base of the climb.  Double snot wads, Batman!  I thought perhaps it wouldn't look so daunting from up close, so we got as close as possible by clambering up a boulder field.  There was about 30 feet of snow between us and the next rock protrusions and then it got even more interesting.  We waffled back and forth for a bit....I started kick stepping up the slope.  It was going easy enough, but what if I ran into a problem?  Goat was not comfortable with the situation, and I was in no position to risk re-braking my leg.  With an ice axe, I would have gone for it, but the axe was back at the ranch.  We decided to chalk it up as a scouting mission and continue up into Hanging Canyon for more reconnaissance.

We cruised across some snowfields, clambered up some sketchy rock, and delicately stepped along a snow bridge.  As we crested the top of the next ridge, we saw a beautiful sight.  Ramshead lake and Lake of the Crags were sitting right in front of us and right below the Ramshead.  Nice!

We took some time to bask in the sun, check out the views, and grab a bite.  Then, I set up the camera to take a few shots of the three Musketeers.

Note the Ram's head rock feature in the background.

All-in-all it was a great day!  We explored new territory with a new friend and enjoyed the beautiful weather.  We finished early enough to prep for our assault on Middle Teton, and didn't extend ourselves to the point where we tapped into our energy reserves.  We had time to eat, pack, and prep for an early alpine start on Middle Teton.  Goat and I were forever grateful to Chris for sharing the day with us and presented him with a Traprock 50K glass as a token of our appreciation.  Life is, indeed, good!