Middle Teton Three Days June 2014
A bumpy plane ride from Los Angeles landed me in Jackson Hole where my best friend Jeff picked me up from the airport on Saturday, June 14th. We had been planning an eight day climbing trip in Wyoming for months. We were set to go into the Wind River Range but the time commitment for the approach and the weather turned us away. Jeff had never been into the Tetons and he said that they have much shorter approaches. It was raining and the clouds completely covered the mountains. We drove to Lander where it was drier and mostly sunny until the weather started looking up. Wednesday, June 18th we packed our gear and drove three hours to Jackson where we saw plenty of fresh snow on the way at Togwotee Pass 9658 ft. We had a meal at a brewery then camped just outside the national park for free rather than pay $20/night for a campsite.
View of the Tetons covered in clouds from just below Togwotee Pass.
The next morning we woke up early to find frost on the ground and covering our tent. The temperature in the valley was a crisp 30 degrees and I was wearing every piece of clothing that was coming with me to the mountain. Apparently it can be colder in the valley than on the mountain because of the way the cold air sinks. We had our last meal at Dornan's which is on the way to the Jenny Lake Ranger Station. I highly recommend it for breakfast because the food is AMAZING and you can view the mountains. The menu features all you can eat pancakes which we planned for our return meal. Clouds were still covering the mountains but the weather was supposed to be clear Friday and Saturday
A large heard of buffalo early on a cold morning before all the tourists are out. The Tetons are still covered in clouds.
We did not have a final objective in mind until we talked to the ranger. There were three days two nights left until my flight back home. We agreed on a plan to camp at a popular area called Garnet Canyon for an attempt on the Middle Teton and potentially the South Teton. This route would give us the full Teton experience around the Grand Teton! The ranger required $20 for the backcountry permit and gave us a bear canister. Then went out to the parking lot to finish packing gear.
Jeff stopping for our first break near the creek in Lupine Meadows.
Exiting Lupine Meadows and heading up the mountain to Garnet Canyon.
Our packs at the Lupine Meadows trailhead weighed about 40lbs each. I carried the tent and the bear canister full of food and Jeff carried most of the technical gear including a rope and a few ice pickets we brought along just in case. The first two miles through Lupine Meadows is flat and we saw quite a few day hikers who were interested in hearing where we were going with our packs. The trail was extremely well maintained and we took our time stopping often for snacks, admiring the landscape, and meeting other hikers. We talked to another ranger who said an earlier party turned back because there is two feet of fresh snow in the canyon and they didn't have gear to go ahead! At this point we were excited for all the snow because we had our mountaineering boots, ice axe and crampons.
Jet-liner view of Bradley Lake and Taggart Lake in the Grand Teton National Park with the Gros Ventre Wilderness in the background.
Our first view of the Middle Teton from Garnet Canyon. We took the Southwest Couloir to the summit which is not visible because it's hidden behind the ridge on the left side of the mountain. The South Fork campground is visible on the saddle just below the large rock formation.
After navigating switchbacks and hearing of a bear from another hiker, Garnet Canyon finally opened up and the Middle Teton came into view. Jeff and I both wore our moutaineering boots for the approach and they worked really well from this point on. First there was talus, then snow as we crossed the creek over a snow bridge. Once you are into the fork of the canyon you can see the other peaks - Nez Perce, South Teton, Middle Teton, Grand Teton, Disapointment Peak. The campsite in the meadows was occupied so we continued up through soft snow for over half hour with our heavy packs. It was slow moving but we finally arrived at what we found to be the best campsite in the whole South Fork of the canyon. Snow was melted out on the rock. Views all around! A rock wall was built to secure and shield the tent from wind. Plenty of space for cooking. There was a waterfall coming down from the Grand Teton across the canyon. It's a potential clean water source but required at least an hour round trip and our legs were tired. Instead we melted snow with our new MSR stove called a pocket rocket. Word is that it has enough fuel for two people, five days, breakfast and dinner so we metled four liters of water from snow for the next day then started dinner. Just as our pasta finished cooking the MSR pocket rocket ran out of fuel. We were stunned. All remaining food had to be laid out so we could decide if we wanted to continue tomorrow. Between the two of us we had about seven assorted bars, four energy blocks, one packet of tuna, half a block of cheese, macadamia nuts, mango slices and eight packets of instant oatmeal. We could finish the trip and come down hungry. The night was spent admiring the alpine landscape and the airlines flying into Jackson down below. It didn't get dark until 9:45 when we retreated to the tent sheltered from the wind gusts.
Grand Teton view from our campsite. Spent time gazing at the spires pointing back towards the Grand. There is a steep couloir leading up to a steep face that caught our eye. Might be Ford Stettner.
Jet liner view from our campsite in the South Fork looking down Garnet Canyon.
The second day we planned to get alpine start but without an alarm set we woke up at 7:00. I devoured my instant oatmeal mixed with cold water and Jeff ate a bar. Without hot water we couldn't make coffee or tea. I happened to have a black trash bag to fill with snow and let sit in the sun for water and we did the same with every pot and container we had. Jeff and I both got new Black Diamond Sabretooth crampons and put them on in camp along with our gaitors, helmet and harness. There was about six to twelve inches of soft snow with hard ice underneath so our setup worked well. Getting to the top of the saddle took a lot longer than expected. It required navigating large boulder fields hidden by snow where you would posthole your entire leg if you weren't careful. We did our best to navigate on the mixed rock and snow until we reached the top of the saddle and saw Iceflow Lake. The view west into Idaho was covered with snow. The highest lake in the Tetons is beautiful frozen over with a glacial blue outline around the shallow edges. From camp it took us two hours and there we still climbing before the couloir. The alpine winds through the saddle and sun coming in and out of the clouds made this part of the climb difficult to regulate temperature. The supplies were limited with two and a half liters of water, five bars and a few energy blocks between the two of us.
Battling the fierce winds we finally arrived at the base of the couloir. There were a few snowballs sliding down the steeper snow but we continued on. There were two dayhikers behind us that started the approach from the saddle then turned around before they got close to us at the base of the couloir. Jeff and I had fresh tracks all the way! We took turns leading kicking in steps to the top. This was by far the most exhilarating part of the climb. We were grinning the entire time. The right side of couloir was the easiest because our crampons gripped the rock and ice below two feet of snow and you could hold onto the rock wall. The center of the couloir was like a swimming pool with soft snow. There was one point where loose rocks and a few tough moves prove challenging. We tried taking off our crampons because we were snowballing but this turned out dangerous when our boots would just slip on the ice below. Each rest break provided and opportunity to drink what little water we had left and admire the views of the snowy landscape over Idaho, Iceflow Lake and the South Teton. The very top of the couloir just ends with a straight vertical drop that separates the two summits of the Middle Teton. It was quite nerve-wracking because I didn't expect it. The thought of turning around early crossed our minds because the weather was warming up but we just accepted down climbing in soft snow. Jeff led the final section of the head-wall that was composed of mixed rock/snow/ice to the summit. It was so steep at one point that Jeff used the pick of his ice ax in one hand and punched holes with the other hand. Another notable move was a near finger crack hold that required a big leg stretch and shimmy on my stomach across an exposed rock in crampons.
Taking break at the top of the saddle on the approach to the Southwest Couloir. You can see the entire snow route leading up the peak.
Jeff at a rest spot on the Southwest Couloir with the views of Iceflow Lake, Idaho and the South Teton in the background.
Southwest Couloir filled with snow.
We arrived at the 12,804ft summit and my adrenaline was pumping. The plan was to spent fifteen minutes celebrating our victory and eating the last bar. As the third highest mountain in the Teton Range the views are spectacular. You are looking down at all the nearby peaks and looking across at the Grand Teton's Exum Ridge. Jackson Hole is visible in the distance and the other side of the valley. I ended up ripping a large hole in my gaitors by walking around on the summit in crampons taking pictures.
Grand Teton from Middle Teton summit.
Second summit of the Middle Teton and sweeping view of Jackson Hole.
The descent at the top was cautious and we took our time. The thought of roping up to climb down the icy head-wall was brought up (we did have rope and ice pickets) but we ended up making it safely without. I was also glad the other party of day-hikers turned around because the couloir mid-day was a sliding mess. Once we were "back in the saddle again" we glissaded on our feet at times and had one long and fast sitting glissade into camp.
Back at camp my black plastic bag filled with snow did provide any water because of a leak. However we were delighted to find our pot and bowls full of water that we rationed and continued to melt more snow with. We were too tired to walk to the waterfall nearby. The dinner of tuna mac and cheese without the pasta was still delicious and filling enough. A few more hours were spent at our campsite admiring the alpine terrain and the peaks at dusk. Before going to bed Jeff and I named Doran's for all your can eat pancakes the objective of the morning.
South Fork campsite at dusk with Jeff's bombproof tent
The third day we woke at 7:00, broke camp and started the decent. The decision was not to eat the cold oatmeal today since we would have pancakes in a few hours. The remaining macadamia nuts and mango slices were our grazing food for hiking down. The canyon seemed a lot more popular on the weekend and we saw several groups that said they were headed up to the Middle Teton. When we arrived at the Jenny Lake Ranger station we dropped off the bear canister and the rangers wanted to know if the South Fork campsite was cleared of snow. From there we hurried over to Doran's twenty minutes before they were closing up breakfast and ate several orders of pancakes, bacon and coffee. What a great ending to an adventure!
Thank you SummitPost users for your trip reports of the Middle Teton and helping us choose this climb. The route is non-technical but a strenuous climb to reach the summit. No rope or ice pickets were needed, just mountaineering boots, crampons, gaitors and an ice axe. We were really hoping for some steep snow and we got it on this trip. We also really enjoyed camping high in the alpine environment. Recommend spending two or three days on the mountain!
Teton Range at night after our climb. The Grand Teton is the highest in the center and the Middle Teton next to it on the left. Picture taken June 21st.