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The Grand Teton

The Grand Teton towers 7,000 glorious feet over the Jackson Valley, topping out at 13,770' above sea level.

Chris was organizing an expedition up the Exxum Ridge with his brother, Chad, Chad's girlfriend, Carol, and Carol's brother, Brent, when he met Shaun atop Mount Timpanogos who was hiking there with Chris' sister-in-law, Tana.  Chris was looking for another strong lead climber since Carol was less experienced than the others. "Shaun climbs," Tana pointed out when introducing them. After a trial route in Rock Canyon, he was invited to join the expedition.

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Chad looks up from the base of the third pitch where the sun finally caught us

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Chad belays Shaun up the Black Face--the best pitch on the route

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Chris pauses to set pro high above the saddle between the Grand and Middle Tetons

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Chris finishes the Lower Exum

This ledge (Wall Street) was the finest spot on the mountain--roomy, exposed, scenic.

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Shaun belays Chad up the Golden Staircase, the beginning of the Upper Exum Ridge

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Chad on the summit with the Middle Teton in the background

The group hiked to base camp in the Teton Glacier Moraine in late August, an exhausting trip with as much as 44 pounds of gear on our backs. We cooked dinner, slept hard, then woke up, ate an unappetizing mixture of...I don't know what that was, hiked and scrambled to the shoulder between the Grand and Middle Tetons, began up toward the Grand then cut down across the scree to the base of the Exxum Ridge.  We scrambled up some ramps and began climbing as the sky began to grow light. Shaun and Chad took one rope while Chris, Carol and Brent made a 3-person team. Our fingers quickly grew numb, and we paused to warm them against our necks from time to time to stop the numbness from sinking in too deep where its hard and painful to recover from.

We climbed the first two pitches with numb fingers, but no one complained.   The "Grand Teton" was named by French trappers and means the "big boob." None of us wanted to earn that title.

The sun came up on the third pitch and put everyone in a better mood. Shaun held out his hands toward the light but felt no warmth.  The rock temperature changed noticeable, though, and made climbing easier and more pleasant. There's something about being able to sense what you're doing that makes you feel more like your fingers just might stick to the rock. The wind remained cold all day, but at least our fingers stayed warm.

While anticipating the climb, Shaun had talked about setting a few good pieces and intentinoally taking his first fall on natural pro with a thousand feet of exposure below his feet. In the shallow, flared cracks all the way up the mountain, he never found any placement he even wanted to lean on, much less fall on.

The climbing continually improved as they moved upward toward Wall Street, a ledge that intersects the Exxum and other nearby ridges half way up, culminating in the superb Black Face, immediately below Wall Street's spacious one- to two-foot ledge. Don't expect this to be a wonderful pitch compared to your favorite crack at the local crag, but compared to what they had climbed so far, this vertical face was beautiful and fun. Shaun climbed it first, placing gear every 15' or so, and Chad followed and unclipped the gear while leaving it in place for Chris to use for the second team.

Wall Street is a wonderful spot!  The ledge continues around in both directions, with a rather run out approach just before the Exxum for those who want to skip the lower Exxum and only climb the upper.  Skipping the lower, however, eliminates ALL good climbing!!! From here on up, it's an extremely simple 4th class alpine scramble, other than the altitude and the weather. It's great for beginners, intermediates and those who wake up on climb day with fear boiling away in the pit of their stomachs; but for the rest of you expecting an exciting and beautiful climb, know that you'll miss out on the best if you skip the lower.

Above Wall Street, Chad started up the Golden Staircase by setting a hex in a wide flair and ascending the friction pitch. Don't set your pieces too hard in that crack or you may not get them back. Plentiful crystals allow for a very secure bite.

While preparing for the expedition, Shaun wished the Grand could be just 40' higher and thereby be the highest point in Wyoming.  We continued up the mountain, Brent (who had climbed it several times before) pointing the way. By the time Shaun reached the summit in the thin air, slightly dehydrated with a pounding headache, he had decided it was high enough. We sat down for a rest and to take in the view. Summitting high summits rarely brings the expected elation of triumph. That more often comes later on reflection.

We summitted early in the afternoon and headed back to camp, tripping along the last few hundred yards in the dark.

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Chris makes his way down to the meadows


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Brent begins the trail skirting Irene's Arete, linking the meadows to the switchbacks on the lower mountain.


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West and Wewaxation at Wast!
Relaxing at the farm in Hamer, Idaho


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A real mountaineering family--Carol's & Brent's dad appeared in Sports Illustrated for climbng the Matterhorn in 5 hours back in 1954.

The following day, Shaun, Chris and Brent climbed Tepee Pillar, the sharp granite tooth along the southeast ridge of the Grand, while Chad and Carol enjoyed some R&R at base camp. We scrambled up a steep scree slope, past a guide camp, to the base of the Pillar next to the Otter Body glacier.

Brent's old guidebook offered sketchy route descriptions of three routes up this side of the pillar and said we'd be in serious trouble if we ever got off route on this, the more challenging east face. Throughout the course of the day, we managed to wander back and forth between all three routes, experiencing a fair share of the foretold trouble, which added several exciting moments and moves.

The first such traverse came on the third pitch (which we named Zig) and began with an enormous, 20' off-width flake that overhung nearly 10'. It was Shaun's turn to lead. "Anyone else want this?" he asked hopefully. Neither responded. "Okay, then."  He surveyed the flake, then wedged one arm and leg behind it and started up. It was much too wide to accept any pro, but too narrow to climb securely into. Half way out, he looked back at Brent and Chris. A fall here would swing him hard into the cliff below. Such a large fall with so little rope out would also provide a stiff jerk when the slack ran out. With nowhere to go but up and out, he inched along until reaching the end of the flake, which terminated mercifully in a sharp point. He pulled a sling from around his neck and one arm and slung it, clipping a biner to it and breathing more easily. An easy, loose traverse put them back on route up a beautiful, steep chimney.

Brent led the chimney, then he and Shaun took their places stemmed in a pair of chimneys at the top as Chris lead out, deciding to traverse back ("Zag") to a more auspicious crack.  This took him across some dicey friction, perhaps the toughest spot on the route. Brent followed, cutting back over the chimney where Shaun had been stemmed, waiting his turn.  When Brent got directly above him, he touched a 50 pound boulder and it started to slide "like it had ball bearings under it." Brent caught it with his toe and held on and began cursing.

"What's up?!" Shaun shouted over the wind.   A fist-sized stone dropped over the edge in response. Luckily, Shaun had moved to a less wind-exposed chimney two minutes before, after Brent had started up, and the rock sailed through empty space instead of giving him a good whack on the head.  Once he convinced Brent that he was well out of the way, Brent let go of the rock and let it slide, cautiously lifting the rope clear.

The boulder dropped over the edge shot straight down the chimney, striking a ledge at the base of the last pitch, over a hundred feet below. The explosion echoed against the cliff and brought people staggering out of the guide huts far below to peer upward and wonder what the heck had just come down. The wind filled with granite- smelling rock dust and blew back up to fill our nostrils. "At least you were wearing a helmet," Chris commented later. "Yeah," Shaun agreed, "I could have had an open-casket funeral."

Brent never recovered from the anxiety the "close call" induced. Half a pitch from the summit, more loose rock brought out the same nervousness in what would otherwise have been two or three easy moves. At that point, the day was growing late and we found a well-used anchor on the west face and lowered from station to station without walking the last 100' of 3rd class to the pinnacle.

We reached base camp again just after dark and hiked out the following morning. We gratefully loaded our packs into the van in Lupine Meadows and drove over the pass back to Brent's home across the Idaho/Wyoming state line. As beautiful scenery passed by the windows, I took a long drink of water and was surprised to find how long I could go without a breath. The air suddenly felt so thick.

We dropped Brent off at home, then continued on to his & Carol's parents home in Hamer, Idaho; north of Idaho Falls. Hamer is a tiny town with widely spaced homes and farms. We dug our own potatoes for dinner, and feasted on the best food I've eaten in my entire life (enhanced by the quality--can I use that word?--of Brent's cooking on the mountain. Just the thought still makes me laugh, but hey! it built character). The genuine, warm hospitality of that home struck a surprising contrast with my expectations of the expedition - I thought the moment of greatest glory and meaning would occur on the summit of one of North America's most beautiful and exciting mountains. Instead, a warm home and family suddenly seemed more rewarding and like a worthier life goal.  Call it delusions of Grandeur.

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