The Grand Teton – Complete Exum, WY. [5.7] (13770′)
“Dah!” Zion is much too hot.
“I’ve got it and it’s on our way home – the Grand Teton!”
“Gasp,” she said, “Gasp,” I said.
It was by all means an impromptu decision, made on the cuff. For when the stars align, one chooses that which is most obvious. The stars being in this case, our proximity to the Tetons after a wedding in Utah, the unforgivable heat of Zion’s heat baked walls, and a near perfect forecast, and our own tenacity coming off the backs of three beautiful climbs combined with a retreat-like Jon Nellermoe wedding for recovery. Perfect ingredients for success mind you so then we packed ol’ twenty- year old Jellybean and puttered our way to Wyoming preparing for a mountain that turned me back once upon a time only by looking upon its snowy peaks. Mental preparation was critical!
How could one not convert to some sort of outdoor enthusiast upon arriving in Jackson? It’s as if Conrad Anker could be hanging out on a street corner, no corner in particular. Knowing of some of the prestige carried by the Exum guides, and also that this was their base in this historical climbing area made it all the more special. The excitement built as we visited the local climbing shop and beta mined, buying a guidebook in due course upon encountering one employee’s zest for life. I looked forward to returning to Jackson without anxiousness in my being.
Side note. One of the greatest misconceptions I had were generalizations about Rangers who had ticketed me before for stepping on a cauldron in Yellowstone. I did not like them and meeting the climbing ranger in the Tetons, of who issued our permits, changed everything. These guys were hardman-climbers, lovers of the mountains, and one of them Remy, who wrote the Teton equivalent to Becky’s guide to the PNW mountains, was a ranger himself. The Teton rangers were the cream of the crop by embodying conservancy in nature and in climbing, boldness, and I knew there helpfulness down low would translate into if necessary, aptitude and willingness up top.
We hiked up to the lower shoulder from ~6000 to 11650 ft during our day leaving in the late morning and leisurely hiking what seemed to be the longest approach of our lives. It sure was a beautiful, but I knew I was having trouble breathing since even at Tuolumne’s 9000 feet of elevation was not enough to prepare me for hauling a big pack over 11000 feet. We arrived to fine a full on gale at the shoulder, the gale reaching it’s upper limit speed in its definition. I was minutely distraught since there was a great chance that we would be turned around the next day on our limited time frame if the wind were too maintain it’s strength. It was reminiscent to the speed of the wind atop Mt Baker, if not more, making it the strongest winds I had ever encountered, so much so that it was impossible to do a reconnaissance of where our route would start. It was difficult to walk a few steps let alone pee without any significant collateral damage. Crawling into our bivies, we would wait for the morning to decide.
The night was long, the wind having made for a terribly noisy night, and at each arousal made me sure that any chance for summit bid would be denied. Pushing our bodies into the wind, we made it to the route’s base before the any dawn had arrived. It was pitch black, we knew not if we were at the right place, and the wind was relentless. I told Laura that we should be ready to pull the plug.
And when dawn did hit, we scrambled up a long ramp, I saw a crack and for some inexplicable reason, the wind felt as if it’s 60 mile per hour gusts had turned into a…. 55 per mile gust. Something told me that it’d be okay to climb and we racked up, put on heatless shoes with no degree of malleability and started up the first pitch in full alpine garb. This truly would be an alpine ascent!!!
Route finding was in a few sections difficult because the Granite was unlike Bugaboo or Squamish splitters. It yielded many possibilities with no distinct chalk marks. Knowing that I could be off route, and the very possible chance of thunderstorms that the Tetons are known for put me on edge for a long time. Then when hitting gold wall where the 5.7 lay, I didn’t imagine it to be what I consider the hardest 5.7 that I’ve ever climbed; good protection but not much, thoughtful, yet considerably tricky moves. Luckily, the favor of weather was on our side as the wind had become very bearable and had died down to a breeze with a few strong gusts. Therein finishing the headwall pitches we hit wall-street and became hopelessly lost wandering up the sea of granite and progressively became less sure about our position on the Upper Exum. Down climbing several routes we had climbed up on numerous occasions made me realize any more of this and we could be hopelessly stuck. We had been the only ones on the Complete Exum and those who were guided up the Upper Exum had reached their summit and continued down Owen Spaulding on the other side of the mountain. We would be alone. The altitude was starting to really tax the body also.
Suddenly, we saw someone far away on the ridgeline and knew that if we could reach that ridgeline albeit lost at the moment, we would be okay. A weakness in the mountain gave us a clue to how we would arrive and we started upwards, and finally when reaching the ridge, we saw a cairn, false summit, but joy nonetheless since we were back on route. But a bit longer, and we had reached the summit in Jubilation! ! ! We looked over to Yellowstone and saw the geyser’s producing oodles of steam and beyond that, plains of warmth and respite as far as the eye could see! We were alone on the summit, and the joy was short lived as the celebratory affair became replaced by getting off the summit. Lucky for us, a convoluted descent was offset by us hightailing it as fast as we could to the last party ambling down. One of the guys leading it had climbed Everest and his leadership gave me a sigh of relief.
It was 1a.m. when we hit the ground back at the car. I was destroyed! .. my body ached but we had done it as a team. WE MADE IT! We completed the Grand – Exum Complete on what started off as a whim. Although not a climb that I would put in my top ascents for climbing aestheticism, the mountain had produced many sets of complications I had never faced that made me stronger as a climber, and challenged my mind in numerous ways. In terms of mental challenge it produced; it is no less difficult and can be compared to the night spent on the Diamond on Long’s and the near death on the Bugaboo Spire. It feels like after having climbed this mountain though, that I get to be a part of a rich history and legacy that great mountaineers have left behind.
To celebrate – Snake River Brewing has(d)? one of the most delicious porters in the world J