From most vantage points, Teewinot Mountain sort of blends into the background of the higher, "Grander," Teton summits. Even looking at the peak from due east, with the massive east side sweeping an uninterrupted 5,600 feet from valley to summit, the mountain just looks like a subsidary ridge of Mount Owen or the Grand. However, from the northeast--the famed "Cathedral View"--Teewinot stands out starkly, fantastically: an asymetrical pyramid of tremendous stature, cliffs, pinnacles, buttresses standing sharp against the sky. In part it was this view--glimpsed many times along Park roads over the years--which inspired me to climb it, along with the knowledge that the view from its summit must be all the more tremendous. In this respect, I was not to be disappointed.
The night before my jaunt was spent driving around Grand Teton National Park searching desperately for a place to camp, an open campground, anywhere that had room for a poor, itinerant young Montanan with a featherweight wallet. I eventually settled on the Signal Mountain Campground, a poor choice, with the only open spot being a hideous gravel tray sandwiched in between a sea of RV,s and pickup campers. I turned in late that night to an auditory cacaphony of screaming kids, barking dogs, and the usual assortment of campground noises. Needless to say, I slept poorly.
I didn't even need my watch alarm to wake me up...I had been checking the time more or less every 30 minutes between brief periods of slumber. I packed up my spot by headlamp (therefore avoiding the $12 camping fee...yes, I'm a bad person, so kids don't try this at home) and was on the road by 5:15 or so, headed south. The Cathedral Group was an awe-inspiring sillouhette against the gray morning sky, although I wished I had hung on a touch longer so I could watch the morning alpenglow illuminate that famous trio. Even at this early hour this late in the season (and on a weekday), the Lupine Meadows parking lot was nealy full. I parked at the near end, an unmarked, unnofficial trailhead. While the trail isn't signed, it isn't difficult to find or follow. It winds around boulders, through a few aspen groves, and then climbs in earnest toward the Apex up a seemingly endless series of switchbacks. Toward the base of the switchbacks, just above the final aspen glade, I passed a trio of women headed up: an Exum guide with her charge, as it turned out, making efficient time at a pleasant pace. As I had spent all summer doing long hikes as part of a grizzly bear project, I was in pretty good shape so I bombed past them (making sure to give a pleasant greeting which was enthusiastically returned) and on up the switchbacks which I surmounted in a very short time (though I do recall sweating copiously through my shirt), not even stopping to rest until I had reached The Apex, a pine-covered knob at treeline below the real climb up the east face.
The path from here gets incredibly steep and rocky as it approaches the Idol and Worshipper, two large rock towers standing out from the face. It then crosses in and out of the east couloir, which was nearly free of snow this time of year, zig zags up small cliff bands, and traverses grassy ledges for a thousand feet or so. The route (when snow free) is easily followed, as multitudes of climbers over the years have tramped a definite up the mountain, well marked in tricky spots with cairns. There was only one spot that really got to me, and this was just above The Narrows, a pinched spot high in the couloir blocked by a large chockstone. I ascended partway up a slab to the right of the chockstone, got gripped, retreated, tried farther to the right, got cliffed out, retreated, went up the slab again, got freaked again, went down into the couloir, tried to scale the chockstone (covered with dripping moss...no good there), went up left of the couloir, threw in the towel mentally, then went "Ah, hell with it, I've come this far" and scaled the slab I had tried in the first place. This is the easiest route, pretty obvious, and while the climbing itself is not difficult, the expsoure in this one spot was enough to get to me. I've read various accounts on this and other websites, and opinions as to the severity of these two or three moves seem to vary. Some rope up, some don't, some who didn't wish they had, others don't even mention it. If I did this climb again, I doubt this little pitch would affect me at all, but it is something to bear in mind.
The remainder of the climb was fairly easy--just a bit of loose scrambling. I arrived on the narrow summit ridge just north of the summit, a massive, overhanging boulder that leans over the sheer north face. I must admit, I didn't stand on the actual tippy-top, being content to merely hug the summit boulder and admire the view straight down into the abyss. Far more awe-inspiring was the view toward the Grand's north face, and the tremendous shadowed wall of Mount Owen falling away into Cascade Canyon. Overall, it took me four hours to reach the summit, with a good hour spent futzing around in the Narrows trying to locate the easiest route up.
Downclimbing the slab, with my eyes darting constantly between my feet at the rocks fifty feet or so below me, sent a nice dose of adrenhaline through my circulatory system that served not only to warm my legs and arms (which had become somewhat chilled in the cold September wind on the summit), but gave me the shakes as well. As I perched on a ledge just below this section, I spied the three women I had passed that morning, now in the process of roping up. The guide looked up, saw me sitting there, and asked, "You okay?"
"Oh yeah," I replied, as nonchalantly as I could. "Just don't want to knock any rocks down on you guys."
When I climbed down to them, the two clients (both ladies from LA) complimented me on my accomplishment of attaining the summit alone. I wished them luck, then set off down the now sunbaked mountain face toward my car, visible nearly 5,000 feet below, shimmering in the afternoon heat.
From what I've read, Teewinot appears to be one of the most oft-climbed Teton peaks, on account of its accessibility and ease of climbing. Sure enough, on this weekday morning well after the major tourist season, I ran into quite a few people on the trail below the Idol and Worshipper. However, the pleasant and enthusiastic friendliness that everyone ( and I mean everyone) I ran into displayed made this more of a positive happenstance than something to be griped about.
In conclusion, an extremely worthwhile and spectacular climb, no matter what your ability.
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