Sunday, August 7, 2011

Middle Teton (Part 2) - Summit Bid

OK, the long awaited conclusion to the Middle Teton assault:

After being thwarted by the weather gods on Monday, we did Yellowstone on Tuesday and Hanging Canyon on Wednesday, and then pulled ourselves together for another go at Middle Teton on Thursday.

On Wednesday evening, we went into Jackson to grab a bite to eat and pick up some last minute provisions.  I needed some tie-wraps to make some DIY anti-balling plates for my crampons, flip shades for my glasses, and Goat needed a few things as well.  After getting what we needed at Kmart, we grabbed a quick bite at DQ (it actually wasn't too bad - I had quesadillas).

By the time we got back to camp, I was fading fast.  I was tired and dehydrated from our day in the canyon, but still needed to pack and fix my crampons.  Additionally, we had to put all our gear in the rental car because we had to switch rooms at the Climber's Ranch in the morning.  Ugh!

I patiently worked on my anti-balling plates and hoped it would fix the problem.  I cut plastic panels out of a quart milk jug, trimmed them to fit, poked holes in them, and strapped them onto my crampons with the tie-wraps.  See photo below.  Notice the "nutritional facts" label on the rear plate!  :-)

They actually worked out very well.  I can send more detailed info if anyone is interested.

Anyway, I finally got packed and ready to go, but was drained from the effort.  There was doubt in my mind about my ability to log the mileage, but figured I would see how I felt when we got up at 4AM.
Our plan was to get on the trail by 4:30 as we figured it would be a 8-9 hour effort round-trip.  We wanted to be off the summit before noon to avoid any potential bad weather.

We got up a little before 4, quickly ate breakfast, and jumped in the rental car to drive to the trail head.  Chris had told us that we could save some time hiking in from the Lupine Meadows trailhead, and we wanted every advantage possible.  We got to the trailhead at about 4:40AM.  Goat played around with his GPS gizmo for awhile, so we didn't actually get on the trail until about 4:50.  Woof!  Starting out 20 minutes behind schedule was not great, but we felt like we had some buffer in the plan if things went smoothly.

Goat let me set the pace.  Like most alpine starts, there isn't much talk.  We walked quietly by headlamp and tried to conserve energy while making good time.  I kept up a steady pace at a level I felt we could maintain for the day.  I knew we would slow down when we hit the snow, so tried to make time in this section leading up into Garnett Canyon.  It's about 4.5 miles to the Meadows if I recall, and we got to the first real snow at about 6:45 or so.  We quickly put on our gators and grabbed our ice axes, but knew we could manage without the crampons for awhile.  Note: We were both wearing Salomon light weight goretex hikers which were perfect for this terrain.   We also traveled somewhat light with water for the first section, so stopped for a few minutes to fill our water bottles just below the Meadows.  Goat brought his new ultraviolet light tool to purify the water.  We didn't get sick, so I assumed it worked.  Gotta love technology!

By the time we arrived at the Meadows, it was a hair past 7, and I was pleased with our effort.  We could see a couple of climbers in front of us.  We were making time on them, but had to stop to put on our crampons.  I continued to set the pace up through the steep snow couloir, and we were quickly up past our previous high point.  As exciting as this was for us, I knew we still had a long haul to the top.

We hit a big boulder field at the saddle, and it seemed to go on forever.  Have I mentioned how much I hate boulder fields?  I don't know what it is, but I can't move very quickly in them.  I didn't like them before the accident, and now I REALLY don't like them!

Anyway, we eventually got through it, and made it to the top of the saddle.  The view of Icefloe Lake was fantastic!  This lake is the highest lake in the Tetons, and it is a sight to see.  This picture does not do it justice.

We were at 11,000 feet, and I think it was around 9:30AM.  We had plenty of time to get to the summit, but the task ahead looked intimidating.  There was A LOT OF SNOW!  We could see the obvious path, but seeing it and doing it were two different stories.

Since Goat had limited experience on snow slopes, I took the lead.  I kick-stepped using a combination of french technique and front-pointing...trying to be very deliberate in my movements.  Goat followed suit, and we made it through the first steep section without much trouble.  The question was, "How do we get back down that thing?"  This question would hound me each step of the way to the top.  We had no rope, so we needed to rely on our own abilities to get down the thing.  Gulp!

We saw climbers ahead of us going up another steep snow slope.  To the left was a band of rock.  I assumed the folks in front knew the best approach, so followed their lead.  Halfway up the snow, Goat decided to try the rock.  I was concerned about loose rock, so stayed on the snow.  Besides, I was near the top of the section.

We rested briefly in a rocky spot in between the snow slopes, and Goat said he was continuing up the rock.  The team of 4 plus 1 in front of us did a nice job kicking steps, so I opted for the snow.  It was smooth traveling, but still un-nerving on the snow.  I was worried about Goat and could not see him.  I yelled out, and he said he was fine.  In fact, he was doing better than me.  I was exhausted and fading fast.

I felt like the Tour de France climber who leads the way up the mountain for the team captain.  I was spent, and Goat was getting his second wind.  We got to the narrow gully, and I was pleased that we were near the top.  However, I was stressed from the loose rock and also couldn't stop thinking about how we would get down safely through the snow.

After peeling off our crampons, we made the final push to the summit.  It was great to make it to the top, and Goat surprised me with the CCM flag!  Goat thinks of everything!  Good man!

After a few summit photos,

we found a sunny spot just off the summit to grab a quick bite to eat before attempting the descent.  I was anxious to get down the steep stuff, but knew we needed our energy.  Most accidents happen on the descent, and I didn't want Goat or me to be another statistic.

We passed an older guy coming up as we started our descent.  He read my mind as he said, "I don't know how I'm going to get back down!"  Yeah, I know...

We made quick work of the rock gully, and then put the crampons back on.  Goat was moving faster than me as I was being a bit tentative with my repaired leg.  I wanted to be absolutely sure of every step, and I wasn't fully trusting my new leg/hip.  Goat kept saying how easy the rock was on the ascent, and I decided to give it a try on the descent.  He was right!  There was a well marked trail with fairly solid rock, and I kicked myself for not taking it on the way up.  Lesson learned!

Anyway, I was very happy to get down through that steep section.  Here's a shot of South Teton on the other side of the saddle.  Some folks do both summits in a day, but one was enough for me.

There was one more steep snow section to cross before we got to the saddle.  Goat was nervous about it since there was no way to avoid it.   I was less concerned as I knew we could safely self-arrest in that section without going over a cliff.

As luck would have it, the sun softened the snow enough that we could plunge step all the way down the slope.  No worries whatsoever!

At the saddle, we ran into Andy, a red-bearded gent from Minnesota who we saw near the summit.  We chatted with him a bit, and he decided to join us for the walk back to the Meadows.  He was camped there, and made an early solo effort that morning.

After getting through the dreaded boulder field, we had a blast glissading down the snow slopes.  At one point, I slipped on my butt and just rode it down to the bottom while using my ice axe for braking.  The others followed suit, and we had a grand old time!

Life was great!  We took a break to enjoy the sun and eat some food.  A Marmot must have smelled our food because he came charging and glissading over the snow to come check us out.  It was a hoot watching him.

At the Meadows, we bid farewell to our new friend, Andy, and started the descent of Garnett Canyon.

Before we got too far, Goat had one more surprise.  He wanted to take a picture at Grover's resting place.  No need to get too alarmed...we are talking about a muppet after all!  However, it is also Euroman's trusty companion and superhero sidekick.  Legend has it that Grove I perished in the frigid waters of Garnett Canyon.  The rushing waters were too much for him, and Euroman could not save him.  We built a temporary memorial and took some photos to mark the occasion.  There were a few onlookers who shared in the moment with us.

The descent down to the trailhead was peaceful and satisfying.  My leg was a little sore, but we felt good about our achievement.  It was a team effort, and we were happy with the result.

We drove back to camp, soaked our legs, showered, and ate an early dinner.  I think we were in bed by 8pm or earlier.

Chris, our new friend from camp, came by to see how our trip went.  He was happy we were able to summit, and we chatted for a bit.  He was off early in the morning to meet Ying on the trail, so we said our good-byes and then it was off to bed.

Friday would be our last day in the Tetons and for once we didn't have an agenda.  Hmmm....what would tomorrow bring?   One never knows....