August 16, 2013. Kyle McKenzie and Roger Roots, both of
Montana. Patrick Murphy joined us on the
trip down from Montana, but Patrick had to do some work in Jackson so he was
unable to join us on the Teewinot climb.
The Grand Teton is one of the
world’s most magnificent peaks, and it is surrounded by peaks that are almost
as astounding. Among these is the Grand
Teton’s smaller cousin Teewinot, which stands in front and to the right of the
Grand from the most common photo perspectives.
Teewinot comes to such a sharp point at its top that it is sometimes
mistaken for the Grand Teton itself when visitors gaze up from the Jenny Lake
Unfortunately, Teewinot does not get
the credit it deserves. At 12,330 feet,
Teewinot would easily be the most sought-after summit in almost any other
mountain range. But its position in the
shadows of the Grand Teton robs Teewinot of its place in the sun. During this trip I often encountered seasoned
Teton climbers who had climbed the Grand from numerous angles and had summited
Moran, Middle Teton and several others.
But few of them had ever tried to climb Teewinot, and many of them
shrugged it off as a scramble undeserving of their efforts.
Our trip began in the Lupine Meadows
Parking lot at 9:30 a.m. The trail begins at the north of the parking lot and
takes a rather direct route straight up the front (west) face of Teewinot. The trail is good up to about 11,000 feet
except for a section near the waterfalls where it breaks up a little. Kyle and I made good time up through the
switchbacks to the tree line. It is a
steep trail in many places.
Shortly after passing the two large
standing monuments known as the Idol and the Worshipper on our left, we found
that the trail was fading and becoming broken.
The trail disappeared as it passed up and over stretches of stone. By the time we reached the 11,000 foot mark,
we had lost the trail and found ourselves clambering up segments of steep rock
to the right of what we later identified as the traditional route.
We then encountered two climbers
from nearby Rexburg, Idaho who informed us that the proper route was even
farther to the right. These two guys had
tried and failed to climb up a steep gully on the right side of the face but
were now attempting to scale an even steeper crack further to the right. The “beta” offered by these two gentlemen was
confirmed by two descending climbers pointing and yelling from a distance below
us. The lower guys shouted that we should
go past the gully and climb to the top by way of the same route farther north
which the Rexburg guys had identified.
The guidebooks we had consulted
indicated the mountain could be climbed without any rope, anchors or climbing
gear. However we had already ascending
some mid-class-5 pitches, and the crack we were directed to was even more
technical. We sensed something was
After enjoying a snack, we each
tried the crack or its nearby rock features.
I managed to spider up fifty or sixty feet or so before I announced to
everyone below that I was giving up and turning around. It took several minutes for me to safely
descend back to a place where I could stand.
From here, Kyle and I decided to
attempt to summit Teewinot by way of the steep gully or chimney that the two
Rexburg guys had tried earlier. (The
Rexburg pair parted company with us and seemed to be in mood to give up and
descend.) It turned out that Kyle and I
were able to climb farther up than the Rexburg guys had apparently gotten, and
by the time we reached the 11,500-foot level (or so), the mountain was becoming
less steep. At times we did find
evidence that earlier climbers had passed through the same route. For example, there were some old-style pitons
and slings fixed on some of the chimney pitches. But it was clear we were not on any general
or normal route; either that or the guide-book descriptions of Teewinot as a
steep scramble were quite inaccurate.
Teewinot comes to a sharp peak at
its top, and the summit of Teewinot is barely wide enough for one person to
sit. Each of us took turns sitting on the
peak while the other took a picture.
Behind us was the monstrous rock edifice of the Grand Teton itself, and
we had a great view of Mount Owen and other points deep in the Tetons.
I am grateful for the fact that I
had worn blue jeans and leather gloves on the climb. (Kyle was wearing shorts, and her legs were
badly scraped during the ordeal.) In my
experience, blue jeans are vastly superior to the shorts and mountaineering
pants worn by most climbers. Not only
are jeans slightly thicker, but their fabric is more coarse, which provides
greater friction on steep rock or snow.
Of course, in rainy or wet conditions, the superiority of blue jeans
fades to nothing.
Upon beginning our descent, the two
of us noticed another route down. Upon
checking it out, we quickly realized it was the “real” trail or at least the
route followed by most Teewinot climbers.
This route clings to the large snowfield at the center of the front face
and breaks off toward the summit from the right of the snowfield. We had apparently missed it because it
contains a few stretches where climbers must negotiate their way over some
large boulders, and we must have seen these rocks as unlikely routes as we came
To our surprise, we met up again
with the two guys from Rexburg, who had not given up and who had stumbled on
the correct route after they left us at the steep gully to the north. We were proud to report that we had summited
by way of the more difficult route they had abandoned. The Rexburg pair were still going up when
Kyle and I were going down.
Kyle and I made our way gingerly
down the scree field at the bottom of the snow until we rejoined the trail we
had come up on. From there it was a nice
downhill repeat of the route up. We were
glad to get to the Lupine Meadows parking lot by about 5:30 or so. There we were rejoined by Patrick Murphy,
also of Montana, who was surprised we had made the trip so fast.
Teewinot is not only one of the most
beautiful points in the Tetons. Among my
many adventures in life, I would place this one in the top 100. Facts worth mentioning: the word Teewinot is
a Shoshone term meaning “many pinnacles.”
At one time, it is believed, the Shoshones used the term teewinot to
apply to the whole Teton range. At 12,330
feet in elevation, Teewinot is the sixth tallest peak in the Tetons. If the Mountain were in my home state of
Montana, it would be the 14th highest peak in the state, ahead of
Mount Hague (which I’ve climbed).