The first time I saw the Tetons I was amazed how such a rugged range could abruptly emerge from such a tranquil, flat valley such as the Snake River in the Tetons. Few views in this country inspire as much awe as the first view of the Tetons one gets from the distance. I felt the Grand would be a good place to get more trad climbing skills in anticipation for future climbs and a good goal itself. I was a little anxious about the long climb since I planned to climb it in one day car-to-car: was my training sufficient?
I decided to climb with Exum guides- the oldest guide service in North America (a perfect choice for a classic such as the Grand). After I entered the office trailer at Jenny Lake I was paired-up with Dave Carman, a co-chief guide. (I decided not to check-up on the climbing resume of my guide so I wouldn't be too intimidated until after my climb.) We left for Baxter's on the Jenny Lake shuttle boat for the short approach.
After a short hike we reached the bottom of Baxter's pinnacle- an almost hidden pyramidal structure viewed en-face from the lake depending on the time of day. We climbed behind two other Exum parties so we took our time getting ready. The climb consisted of 6 pitches, two near the middle were easy 4th class scrambles. The crux of the climb was the beginning of the final pitch with a tricky, exposed 5.8 move- somewhat awkward with approach shoes.
A lie-back above this led nearly to the summit.
Nearing the top
This was a nice prelude to our climb a few hours later.
After a short nap- I awoke a little before 2am, my wife dropped me off at the Lupine meadows parking area at 3am where I met Dave. We donned headlamps and left about 3:20. There was a new moon and it was pretty dark. We kept a good, steady pace (and good conversation) the whole way to the Lower Saddle which we reached about four hours later. On the way up Dave told me about a few of his climbs from before he became an Exum guide, and I was glad I didn't know about his Cerro Torre climb (most likely the second ascent) or his south face of Mount Hunter (the first ascent of this route) before my trip. It seems to me when you are with someone who doesn't have anything to prove the atmosphere seems to be much more laid-back, and this was the case with Dave. If you happen to get a chance to climb with Dave you will get to talk about a lot of great Teton (and other) history if you ask. His enthusiasm was great. We spent a little over an hour taking it easy at the lower saddle talking with other climbers and guides and getting our gear ready for the real climb itself.
Exum lower saddle camp Lower Saddle view of the Grand
We got rid of our headlamps and all other non-essential gear and donned harnesses, rope, protection, etc. Exum has a stash at the lower saddle which is great especially if you are making a one-day ascent so you can carry as little with you as possible. We scrambled over to Wallstreet with the protection of a rope. I could soon see why route-finding would be tough without a guide. Wallstreet looked pretty simple/straightforward at first until it narrowed at the end to almost nothing- I can only imagine what Glen Exum must have thought when he jumped it with football cleats for the first time!
Wall Street- tiny climber on the right is nearing the end of the Lower Exum
The climbing was not too difficult- maybe 5.4ish in some spots, but the exposure was there most of the time and pretty exciting. We met another Exum group that was doing the Complete Exum after Wall Street. Since we had plenty of time, Dave took me up a short pitch to the top of Carman's tower- maybe unofficially named (after his brother who climbed it with him when he wasn't looking). The next pitch of note was the "Friction Pitch" where a group from Idaho was trapped during a thunderstorm and was rescued with a heroic rescue by the Jenny Lake rangers a few years ago. This was the last somewhat tricky pitch before reaching the summit ridge.
The Friction Pitch Top of the Friction Pitch
The summit was small, but not as airy as I imagined. There was some grafitti on the top- some over 80 years old.
Paul was here Best seat in the house
We rested and enjoyed the views from the top. We didn't have any clouds all day. I could even see Yellowstone Lake despite the haze from several nearby forest fires. After about an hour on top we descended the Owen-Spalding route. We decided to downclimb rather than rapelling since I wasn't uncomfortable with low 5 moves going down. We did the "bellyroll" on the way. I was pretty tired by the time I was coming off the Owen-Spalding. We rested for about an hour at the lower saddle and had lunch. We had a pretty hot hike out, but after our break I felt pretty good and a little surprised I wasn't more tired than I was. We reached the Lupine Meadows parking area about 6:30pm- for a total of about 15 hours round trip. I got my one-day summit certificate and passed-out after a dinner at our cabin I only "picked-at". All-in all this wasn't the grueling epic I anticipated, of course, I had great weather and a fast guide. I recommend the single day climb if you are in good shape- you will be better rested in your own cabin or hotel anyway.