Active Life List: Climbing the Grand Teton

Our 4:00am alpine start is dark, cold, and windy, but were ready to launch. Everyone has their ropes, climbing gear, helmets, and day packs filled with warm clothing. Time to leave the relative comfort of Jackson Hole Mountain Guides high camp and head into the unknown, on an ascent of the Grand Teton!

My clients have put lots of energy into getting this far. They have spent months getting into shape, handled the logistics involved in planning a summer trip to Jackson, WY and collected the necessary clothing and gear. Finally, having arrived at the JHMG office two days ago, theyre ready to climb.

Everyone looked squeaky clean and eager to get started when I met my three clients, so we drove to Grand Teton National Park and headed up the trail. I made sure that we started with a pace that everyone could sustain, for the hike to High Camp is rigorous and long, and we were burdened with lots of great food and clothing. The saving grace is that all the camping and climbing gear is already up at campwe just needed to get there by dinner! Our team was doing well with the rigors of hiking at high altitude. Six hours later we arrived, with all three of my clients breathing hard and ready to call it a day.

Day two began with a relaxed breakfast in the large dining tent, then on to a few hours of practice on the rocks. Gary had not climbed before, but the father-son team of Mike and Aaron had done some bolted climbing near their home. I made sure we all understood the basics of harnesses, helmets, and the figure-8 knot to secure oneself to the rope. We practiced some movement on the granite boulders peppering the High Camp area, then graduated to some roped climbs.

Gary was a bit apprehensive with the heights, but gradually became more confident with the safety systems and his own ability. We learned more about the techniques required for tomorrows climb, and tried some longer routes. The day ended with a climb of the Watchtower, a pillar with a spectacular view and airy rappel. Aaron loved the rappel and wanted another, but we needed to rest up for tomorrows endeavor.

Soon after our 4:00am departure, we make our way in the glow of headlamps to the Lower Saddle. Theres a bit of anxiety but, once atop the 11,600 Saddle, our first hurdle is cleared. A hint of pink shows in the eastern sky, and spirits revive. We continue towards 13,000 and the Upper Saddle, but there are there are exposed sections to negotiate, and the altitude is definitely a factor. We overcome these challenges with a slow but steady pace, and the occasional insurance of our climbing rope in a spot or two. The views keep getting more spectacular, everyone is doing well, and we reach the Upper Saddle and the base of our technical climbing route in good time. After a quick snack and a few warm layers of clothing, we rope-up and begin the Pownall-Gilkey route!

Well climb the route one at a time, stopping on ledges where everyone can regroup. The route is challenging for beginner climbers, so I put Gary behind me where he can get coaching from above and below. Heading out, I arrive at the first ledge and yell down ON BELAY, GARY! Soon I see him as he slowly makes his way up towards me. Aaron and Mike follow quickly; they definitely have a bit of experience, and it shows.

We repeat the process. While a bit chilly in the shade, the sun lures us to the final ridge. An hour later we complete the last scramble find ourselves on the summit. Its 10:00am and my climbers cant believe that they made it so quickly! After the much-deserved trophy photos and more food and drink, we carefully head back down the mountain. I know my clients will never forget this adventure. Theyre a bit more battered and definitely not as clean, but they are definitely happy campers!

Guides and Outfitters
There are two companies that are licensed to guide climbs in Grand Teton National Park: Jackson Hole Mountain Guides and Exum Mountain Guides. Both are very highly regarded, offer similar programs, and provide safe and excellent service. However, we prefer JHMG because of its high camp that is situated on a sunny, protected moraine below the Lower Saddle. Its spacious kitchen tent comfortably seats eight and feels like The Ritz after a long day of climbing. They even have running water, thanks to a tap pipe that serves ice cold glacier runoff, and offer their clients a bit more privacy and protection from the wind with tents spread out among the boulders.

Jackson Hole , Wyoming is the gateway to Grand Teton National Park, offering a unique blend of gentrified mountain chic, dirtbag cool and cowboy kitsch. Despite a plethora of housing options, book well in advance because rooms fill up during the summer season. Our favorite property is The Alpine House Inn & Spa, located on a quiet, shaded street just off the main drag. Owned and operated by two former winter Olympians, this Scandinavian style inn welcomes climbers and hikers. Most rooms have fireplaces and balconies, but you might be spending more time in the sauna or whirlpool after a long day in the mountains. Breakfast, included with the cost of your room, is the best in town.

Sue Miller is a senior guide at JHMG, with over 100 ascents of The Grand to her credit.

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