PreparationMountains: Grand Teton (13,770’)
Route: Lupine Meadows TH (6750’) to Eye of the Needle (~12500'?) and back
Elevation Gain - 5800’ (approx)
Roundtrip Mileage - 14 miles (approx)
Thanks to Ben / Carl / Marc for their great trip report on 14ers.com. They saved us a lot of time on route research.
Forecast at 11598ft - 8-11 and 8-12-10
Pictures from our own attempt may be useful although we didn’t summit. These may show you what to expect over the next few days. This was my first attempt on a peak outside Colorado and I absolutely loved it. I enjoyed studying the subtle differences in weather pattern up there.
My family worries that I am reckless so I wanted to write this report for reasons other than merely a conditions update. To ease their minds I wanted to provide brief insight into the preparation and risk evaluation that go into most trips. I also wanted to record the route for next time while it’s still fresh in my memory.
In June Brad and I had blocked off this weekend for a Teton attempt. He’s probably way fitter than I’ll ever be from his college swimming / biking background. We’d climbed together a few times and he doesn’t flinch at the level of trad climbs that I’m comfortable leading. We’re still ironing out communication difficulties on climbs and Brad thought a pair of radios would make things safer… plus, if not for climbing communication we could at least transmit family guy quotations into space disrupting invading aliens’ radio signals [Buttscratcha?].
Close to the date of the climb, the forecast at 11,600’ had looked promising on radar with the depression being replaced by a high pressure system and good weather on Saturday…
Despite the 30% rain/snow forecast for the night of Friday the 13th, no accumulation was expected. As a result we packed no snow gear and found later that the 30% resulted in 4” fresh snow between the lower and upper saddles. This resulted in a verglass layer covered with a dusting of snow. A pair of crampons and an axe could’ve made the difference. However, hindsight is 20:20… the night before I was confident in my decision to leave those at home, considering them a 6lb addition to my pack that already weighed a third my bodyweight at 50lbs (I need to work on reducing pack weight). This is a picture of my rack… quickdraws, doubles, slings, cord, small aliens and cams to 0.75” and a 3” and small stoppers / tricams.
My rack for the Upper Exum: Way too much gear
I’m a beginner at trad leading, therefore, for haste on the route and to minimize time spent contemplating how to use a piece in a spot not meant for it, I carried a fairly elaborate rack. Additionally I carried a 60m 10.2mm dry rope, rock shoes, radio, helmet, poles, spare belay device, spare headlamp and batteries, ten essentials, jetboil, emergency bivy kit (bivy sack, dryer lint firestarter, matches, handwarmers, mittens), first aid kit, sam splint (will replace this next time with duct tape and use twigs en route for a splint if needed), raincoat, wind layer, food and water (2 ramen, 2 sandwiches, caramel coated peanuts, 4 trailbars, 6 gu-shots, a candy bar, 3L Gatorade and 1L protein shake). Brad carried a 60m 7mm gauge rope to use together with mine for the 120ft free-hanging rappel on the return. He reduced my load by carrying my protein shake and some extra food. On the ride up and from the TH, the Grand looked fairly sinister…
The Grand from Moose Junction
The Attempt and Return
We slept for 2.5 hours (I only slept a few minutes from over-thinking the route all night) waking intermittently to the sound of increasing rain. We figured that if Ben and his ski-mountaineering speed demons had completed the route in 13 we should be able to do it in 17-18 with our senselessly heavy packs. We allowed 20 to be safe and planned to begin hiking at 1AM at the latest, rain or no rain (more to minimize the risk of nightfall on the return than a fear of thunderheads which doesn't seem to be as much of a concern up North). Luckily the rain stopped at 12:30AM and we rose, ate and began hiking at ~1. We reached ~8200’ at ~3AM. At the moraine field we missed cairns under weak headlamps and wasted a lot of time and effort traversing up-slope and clambering over SUV-sized boulders. Luckily we saw a group of 3 headlamps worn by locals following a strong climbers trail near the creek and altered our own course. Later in the day we noticed that there’s a ~200 yard stretch of weak trail over boulders following which it strengthens again and parallels the creek to climbers left of garnet canyon. Past the moraine field and campsites the trail begins switchbacking up a dirt / boulder slope. At the top of the series of switchbacks, the trail surmounts a rock rib and follows it to the headwall with fixed ropes. There are some morainal campsites here. The headwall was still dry when we climbed it.
Fixed ropes on the Headwall as seen during our descent
We arrived at the lower saddle at ~6:30AM and saw a good number of tents, the Exum guides’ cabin and gear stash, etc. We also saw a decent amount of snow covering rock. It was fairly cold and ramen was mandatory. We saw an inversion
Looking down Garnet Canyon at an inversion
And the upper mountain from just below the saddle…
Looking at the Upper Mountain - Photo (c) Brad Cunningham
We took an hour long break at the saddle and noticed that several climbers from the meadows / moraine campsites who had hiked alongside us had decided not to continue any further. At about 7:30AM we decided to head up to the needle and check out the scenario for ourselves and met several guided groups and others returning after making it to different points on the OS route.
Heading up from the lower saddle
On the way to the needle
Skirting the needle
The guides we spoke to had strongly discouraging remarks to share about our route (Upper Exum). I can see how Wall Street and the Wind Tunnel could trap and maintain ice.
Verglass over rock
We headed around the needle and approached a chimney filled with chockstones that supposedly leads up to the eye of the needle. This was socked in with snow and ice. I free-climbed a small portion of it and decided that in the absence of crampons the chimney could require a rappel for Brad to descend it which would mean leaving gear. I scurried back down and we went climbers left up the gully a little further and investigated a 30 foot high boulder with fanned cracks through it that would lead us to a ledge that was on the same level with the top of the chimney. This would require a rappel to descend as well. Easier options were all iced over and could’ve been easily descended with crampons. We saw another group of three placing pro and ascending the chimney. At the top they found sketchy conditions, left a sling/biners and rapped back down. A couple Exum guides by the fanned rock told us about the OS route above the chimney. Perhaps it was doable, but without crampons it would take several risky hours more than initially planned.
Sketchy terrain for crampon-free mountain boots
We decided to bail a little after 9AM and turned around. It was not worth the risk. The mountain was melting fast with sun hit and it is possible that it’ll be in condition (at least the Upper Exum which gets more direct sun) again this coming weekend if more snow doesn’t fly.
Upper mountain on the return
These mists seem to surround the mountain fairly often…
Mists surround the peak
The descent went pretty quick and we were back at the car with plans to return as soon as possible. It’s our belief the mountain will still be there. A Wyoming sunset rounded off the trip pretty nicely on the way home.
A Wyoming sunset makes an old 3.1MP SD200 POS camera look good