Skip to Content

Rock Climbing : Articles : Trip Report : Grand Teton Solo

Grand Teton Solo

Submitted by floridaputz on 2010-03-10

Rating: 12345   Go Login to rate this article.   Votes: 20 | Comments: 29 | Views: 19785

by Tim Shea

All Images by floridaputz.

Rockclimbing Article Image1_large
No snow this year
No snow this year.

Only a small patch of snow could be seen on the Eastern slopes below the summit of the Grand Teton. From the valley below, my eyes scanned the range back and forth, looking for more. The color seemed sun bleached and washed away like a pair of faded jeans. Fires burned below the great hulk of Mt. Moran. Their unpredictability threatening to chase us out of the Grand Teton National Park.

Rockclimbing Article Image2_large
ACC Climbers Ranch
ACC Climbers Ranch.
Rockclimbing Article Image7_large
Fires burning
Fires burning.

We hoped for the best as we got back in the car. We were headed to the AAC climbers ranch, perched below the menacing glare of the Grand Teton. After stopping in Jackson, it seems the Tetons have become the playground of the rich and famous. A simple climber like me? Not worthy. I was totally surprised that the best view in the house is courtesy of the American Alpine Club's climber’s ranch.

Rockclimbing Article Image3_large
The Grand from the Climbers Ranch
The Grand from the Climbers Ranch.

It seems anyone who goes to Grand Teton National Park cannot resist the lure of the Grand Teton. Climber and neophyte alike look up at her and remark, “I have to climb that.” We are drawn to her like the lonely sailor who is charmed by a beautiful barmaid, only to wake up shanghaied and indentured as a servant at sea.

Many worthy climbs await the alpine climber. The climbs on the Grand are not the only objectives. Many great climbs on the other peaks exist. But sooner than later the Grand becons, her smile irresistible.

The line at Jenny Lake's backcountry ranger station already had three people when I arrived at 4:00 am. Climbers of all sorts vying for backcountry permits to access prime camping spots to launch their climbs or hiking trips. By the buzz in line it sounded like most were heading for the Grand Teton. It was late August, but there was still a chill in the air this morning. As the morning light came, so did the clients for the guide services, arriving from their fancy Jackson Hole digs with their gourmet coffee in hand. We managed to get a permit for the moraine camp below the lower saddle. Perfect, for our planned climb of the upper Exum Ridge.

As we hiked in from Lupine meadows we passed all sorts of interesting people. Some suffering, some proud. Hundreds of day pack toting tourists passed us on their way back down the mountain. Most had summited via the Owens-Spalding Route with one of the guide services. The hired porters carry all their stuff up. They spend the night in a Quonset hut on the upper saddle and are awoken for an early summit try. Whether they make it or not, they then hike all the way back to the valley. Conquerors or dejected lovers. They return back to the bars and gift shops of Jackson Hole.

Rockclimbing Article Image4_large
Moriane camp
Moraine camp.

As we got higher, we passed no less than three tents blown down the mountain in ruin along the trail. I was a bit shocked by this, not realizing how this could happen. We arrived at the moraine camp to tents of every color. Pitched behind their fortresses of rock to protect them from the ever howling wind. Up here only the strong survived. I quickly realized why the tents were blown down the mountain. “Oh I see,” I remarked to my partner. "The dumb asses left their tents improperly secured when they left to climb and they blew away!" What a drag to return to camp and find your tent gone with all your stuff blown down the mountain. “Come to me," the beautiful bartender says. "I won’t harm you.”

We set up camp among the vast sea of sailors. The line of lovers waiting for a shot at the beautiful bar maid. We spent the rest of the day watching a never ending procession of climbers, hikers going up and comming down the trail. I absolutely could not believe how many people were on the mountain.

I noticed an odd man camped next to us. He was wearing wind pants and a tee shirt even though it was pretty chilly. He looked like a plumber, huge gut, and the crack of his ass showing like the Grand Canyon. A gap of 5-6 inches showed between his pants and tee shirt. He was red from the wind and cold. He was alone. Eventually, he came over and announced that he was going to solo the Owens-Spalding Route. “What kind of climbing experience do you have?” I asked.

“Well”, he said, “I made a solo attempt on Mt. McKinley a few years ago, but I did not make it to the top.” I thought to myself he must know what he is doing if he tried to climb Denali. As he continued to speak I became quickly convinced he had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. He had no rope, or any other climbing gear. His boots and clothes were unmistakably K-mart purchased. His climbing plan was to follow someone else up to find his way. “Sorry we are taking another route," I said, nixing any plan he had of going with us. I realized he was a love drunk sailor about to be shanghaied.

That night, as we hunkered down in the tent, I told my partner laughing, “No way will he ever get to the top!”

Rockclimbing Article Image5_large
Exum Ridge
Exum Ridge.

A 4:00 am start... headlamps stretched from the moraine camp all the way to the upper saddle, like ants in search of food. Climbers of all types make their way. The lights leading the way like an illumanated serpent. It was windy and very cold. There was no movement from the Sailor's tent. A quick power bar and off we went. The wind at the lower saddle was blowing strong at about 50 mph. We did not find relief from it until we got past the needles eye and found Wall Street, the entrance to the upper Exum ridge. We took our time, the climbing simple and enjoyable. We explored and reconnoitered the mountain on our way up and got to the summit well before noon. It was clear, so we hung out with the many others on the summit for a long time.

Rockclimbing Article Image6_large
Grand Summit looking East at Tweenot summit
Grand Summit looking East at Tweenot summit.

Just as we were ready to leave I looked up, and there, to my total surprise, icicles grown from his nostrils, in thin wind pants, a tee shirt, and a pull over wind breaker was the love drunk sailor. She promised him I thought. Obviously, he was near hypothermic -- blue in the face and frozen. The others on the summit treated him like a leper. I let out a big congratulations and laugh, tickled pink that he had made it. I love to be proved wrong like that. I asked him why aren’t you celebrating! You just soloed the Grand Teton!

With great difficulty, face frozen, he slurred, "Yeah but how do I get down?"

Well to be honest, I figured he was a big boy and if he got up he could probably get down. So off I went to the decent chimney, either a down climb or rappel. Waiting in line to rap, the Sailor caught up with us. Now as people were coming up and going down the gossip about our blue faced mountaineer emerged. One group said “I can’t believe he made it. We thought he was going to die.” All the other climbers had one thing in common; they wanted nothing to do with this misfit.

I took off a layer and told him to put it on. I pitied him, he was frozen. I said, “Dude, you can rap down with us.”

The other climbers seemed repulsed by him. “I don’t know how to rappel," he mumbled.

“OK Dude, I have some webbing. I’ll tie a harness on you and I’ll get you down past the rappels.”

“NO!” he shrieked. “That would hurt my nuts!”

I kid you not. Half frozen and his biggest worry was his family jewels. After that comment, another group who was going to help just walked away.

I tried for 5 minutes to talk sense into him with no success. Refusing to rappel, I told him that he could try to down climb. He would have to down climb the way he came up. All the while other parties were coming up and going down. They all had one thing in common, avoid the sailor.

About 8 people watched as he was ready to step off the edge, facing out, frozen solid, to down climb to the Owen chimney or to fall to his death. “Dude", I said again, and he stopped. I decided a quick lesson in down climbing was in order. When you climb down face toward the rock that way you can try to stop yourself if you slide. I could not believe that no one else would help him even a little. They all stood there and said nothing as he was ready to hurl himself to his death. I rapped along with him so I could help him if he freaked. Somehow he clawed his way down the chimney and collapsed into a heap. Then I told him, “Now, you must reverse the rest of the Owens Spalding route, do the belly roll, and when you reach the upper saddle just hike back to camp.”

I figured he would make his way and maybe someone else would help him. We took the single rope double rappel and descended to camp. As darkness came that night he still had not returned. I lay awake listening for him until I fell asleep.

The next morning we broke camp and were ready to leave. I told my partner to wait while I checked his tent. I shook it and he groaned. I laughed loud and hard “Hey, you made it!”

“Yeah, barely. Never again.”

“I need my jacket back.” I said. He thanked me and tossed it out the door.

Beauty is irrisistable. Even more than money. It can be a mountain, a women or a dream. The smile from such beauty, can make you forget your common sense. Like the poor lonley salior, drunk and hopeful, who ends up thumped and dumped. You believed that she would never hurt you. The lust you follow might just get shanghaied!


Twitter  Facebook  StumbleUpon  Delicious  Digg  Reddit  Technorati

29 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
5 out of 5 stars It is nice that there are some people out there whom are willing to still help the unwanted.

I've not been in that situation of being the rookie in such a tasking experience. But I've found my self in your situation and have found more accomplishment in seeing the unwanted succeed, with alittle coaching.

I give you a rowdy hazah for your effort.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
annoying "literary" storytelling would be my comment if you're looking for a review
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
I thought it was just good writing. If you wont some crap storytelling, may I suggest harry potter?
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Fun stuff. The Climber's Ranch is the AAC, not the ACC (American Alpine Club).


-Brian in SLC
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
must have made all you "real climbers" up there with your thousands of dollars worth of gear and high tech fabric feel like a bunch of sissies. that's why nobody wanted anything to do with that guy. he made the summit sans rope, gear, experience, sporting pot belly and plumbers crack. ha!! good for him. if i climbed the owen spalding route, i'd solo it too. of course, i might wear a few layers.... but i'd definitely let the plumbers crack hang out.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
nice story, well told
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
5 out of 5 stars "Literary" implies that the writing has value beyond merely stringing words together. uzibear is correct that this is literary, but it says more about him than the article that he describes it as annoying.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Righteous that the dude had the fortitude to throw himself at it and that you offered assistance.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
5 out of 5 stars Ah, the sea, she can be a cruel mistress... the plumber guy sounds lucky, but he's not got one hell of a bar story. Could you post the links to some of your pics?
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
5 out of 5 stars It was very good of you to stick with him, I can't believe that the other climbers didn't. How could they live with that on their conscience, especially if he had fallen? Great story and lovely pictures too.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
A good story-- both for us to read and for you to live.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Very neat story...I find it interesting that many climbers believe that unless you have ten thousand dollars worth of gear you cannot be a climber. I have heard stories of Russian climbers on 8KM peaks with oven mitts for gloves and rebar for anchors. The spirit of climbing is not about the gear, its about the adventure. I enjoy thoroughly your comparison of this lonely climber with a sailor enamored by the seas. Great story!
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
I'd love to see a picture of the love drunk sailor
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Good story, and good for you. Thanks for posting.
Too bad so many people aparently think if someone isn't cool, he deserves to die.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
First and foremost...congrats on your Grand Summit!!! Awesome story! I met a guy very similar to that one while backpacking Avalanche Canyon to Snowdrift Lake in the Tetons. Middle aged, chunky amateur. Cheap tent and sleeping bag from KMart that we thought wouldn't hold up in the 60 mph winds, no bear spray, no water filter, and all alone. Poor guy thought he saw a bear that high in the canyon and freaked out for a while. But he made it back to the valley safe and sound. The trail to Avalanche is fairly unmarked and only those of us who live and work in the park really know about it, so we were astonished to see he made it home. And on another note, the Climbers Ranch is awesome. I live in the Highlands...the NPS employee housing in front of the CR. Love those guys living there.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
5 out of 5 stars Live in the area and plan on doing an ascent maybe this year. Go you! I know it's sometimes hard to want anything to do with someone like the lusty sailor. But there really isn't anything wrong with helping out someone over their head! I always offer advice if I can
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
RockMySocks, you really don't need a bear spray in the Tetons backcountry. Grizzlies are very uncommon, black bears are mostly around the Lupine Meadows trail where all the human traffic and food are. There was an article in the Backpacker magazine about the Avalanche Canyon trail - it got many backpackers into a trouble!
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Imagine what he could climb with proper gear and training...
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Thanks, great story, well written.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Great story - can't wait for another. Screw the critics - the internet and an anonymous user name make everyone hyper-critical and overly brave. Kudos for helping the sailor. Everyone has value...
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
5 out of 5 stars Thank you all for your comments
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Its one thing to not care about a guy like this, but another when he is going to risk lives of others downclimbing a high traffic route. Thanks for being responsible and attempting to have him rap with you.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
That guy did exactly what we "real" climbers dream of: he stepped out of his comfort zone, out of the predictable and safe, walked into the deadly unknown and, with a little help, survived. Maybe it will spur him on to become "one of us". Hopefully, he won't become an elitist snob in the process.
Two centuries ago, everybody pursuing the mountains was as ignorant as this guy, and never considered themselves in terms of "climber". A lot of them die, but being unimportant plebes, that wasn't noteworthy. They were animal herders, prospectors, hunters, plebes every one.
Then the rich and privileged "discovered" climbing and turned it into a discipline, categorized, described, compartmentalized it, and made it a separate and exclusive endeavor. When they started dying, death in the mountains became a big deal.
This guy isn't without his faults, pride and a haughty spirit, as the Good Book says, being the main things. But then, neither is (or was) Twight, Messner, Habeler, etc.
Cheers to the real pioneers, mate, and cheers to you for helping him a bit.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
good job. I live around here. now about an hour away, but i used to live where i could see it from my house. beautiful! the grand teton! woo! although, it's really not as crazy as it sounds. I know about 30 kids who have done this and about 50 old guys i meet have done it. Most people solo it partially or completely because it never really get's that hard, then they just rappel down. i think the hardest route on the whole thing has one 5.7 pitch. but still props. one day, i gotta do it. beautiful area.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Kudos for helping, but for those who readily judge the climbers that ignored him, keep in mind that there is real risk in helping a novice in alpine conditions. I can't say what I would have done, but I would certainly think twice before risking my party's safety for a reckless novice that was in over his head.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Right on, good to know some climbers still have a soul! I remember doing the Grand w/ my 2 pre-teen sons, miserable little excuse for a tent, no campground reservation so slept on rocky hillside w/ out pads, soggy tomato sandwiches, no flashlights, no guidebook. But w/ a rope, a few pieces of pro, and more balls than sense, we passed up tons of guys w/ their fancy gear & great planning. On the way down we were stuck in a thunderstorm w/ a crowd @ the rappel and a nice guy like you loaned my son a pair of windpants; I'll never forget that gesture. After the storm passed, one of the climber's rope got hung on a nearby spire. He was going to abandon it (it was a loaner & looked new!) but I climbed up to it & got it down for him. Sometimes rock climbing is more about heart & desire than technique, gear, & planning.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
I did the grant for my 57 b-day.I dident see any body like that there.But there was a guy that climbed past me in a speedo and
fanny pack.It takes all kinds.I love this country
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
This story sums up the scene on "The Grand"!

I have mixed feelings about this guy. Good for him I guess but he also could have killed himself and others if things didn't work out.

Yahoos should stay on the trail.
 More ArticlesArticle RatingsArticle CommentsProfile
Humanity first; you did the right thing. the ultimate human question we all ask is, "Are you there for me?" How many of us have made mistakes? How many times did we realize "man, that could have been baaad?" Turning away from helping someone shows who they are as people.
I climbed the Upper Exum last year, late season. In perfect condition, and downclimbed the OS in 2 hours unroped; although we did find both rappel stations (albeit the 1st one had that nasty crack underneath!). I dont recommend this climb to any newbie, but neither would I turn away from someone needing a simple coat or advice. Way to go

Add a Comment