Mission: Try to hang with Brenton Reagan of Exum Mountain Guides for 2 days in the Grand Tetons.
He had thrown down the challenge to me 2 years ago at the Outdoor Retail Show in Salt Lake City. "Come out to Jackson Hole, let me show you what we do for a few days". He had repeated the challenge this year. I knew that Exum was one of the most respected Guide services in North America. I knew that the Tetons contained difficult routes. This was exactly the kind of thing I love dropping into. I had to go. So this year, I took him up on the offer. We would attempt a 2-day, alpine style assault on the Grand Traverse, a route that contained some of North Americas most challenging and technical alpine terrain.
I had carved out some time in early August for the trip. It would be difficult for sure as I had a compressed schedule, with 1 day to acclimatize and 2 days to complete the route. There would be no warm up or practice climbs, we would jump straight into it.
I arrived in Jackson Hole on Saturday August 4, 2012 in the late afternoon. The drive from Jackson Hole Airport to Teton Village, revealed a bustling heavy summer crowd that ranged from climbers, hikers, mountain bikers and kayakers, to large groups of Harley riders, cowboys, families in RVs and everyone in between. Jackson Hole,WY is a mecca for just about any type of outdoor recreation you can think of.
Grand Teton National Park is home to some of the most beautiful mountains found anywhere in the world, and some of the best alpine mountaineering in North America. Exum Mountain Guides is among the oldest and most respected Mountain Guide Services in North America. Exum's AMGA certified guides are in a league of their own when it comes to leading clients on truly inspiring and challenging adventures. Exum has been guiding clients on the "Grand" longer and with more summit success than any other company.
Check them out here- http://www.exumguides.com/
With only a day to adjust to the altitude since arriving from VA at sea level, I decided to spend Sunday drinking water and going for a short hike on a nearby trail just to get loosened up.
I met up with Brenton at 1:45 AM Monday morning, for the drive into the park. After a quick stop at Exum's office, we arrived at the Lupine Meadows parking lot at about 2:30 am, and began the job of finalizing our gear. We divided up the tent and climbing gear, cinched down our packs, turned on our headlamps, and were on the move by 3:00 AM.
The summit of Teewinot was our first goal, but to get there required gaining approximately a mile's worth of altitude. We hiked through the darkness initially on a small well marked trail, later encountering steep switchbacks that slowly gave way to rock fields and class IV scrambling. I was already feeling the effects of the altitude, but kept pushing and reciting my mantra for this trip, "Don't stop, don't fall". We set a robust pace and I was glad that I had chosen the type of training I had been practicing for the past few months. Even so, I had to ask him to slow down just a bit a few times. Exum's guides can move fast and light in the mountains. Eventually, as we neared the summit and the first signs of daybreak began to appear, we dropped our packs and Brenton tied me in to a short rope, and we set out for the summit. We tagged the summit of Teewinot at about 6:30 AM, and from there the view in all directions was spectacular. 1 down, how many to go?
Dark clouds approached from the Southeast (seen behind me in the above picture), and revealed evidence of what local forecasters had predicted as a 40% chance of showers for Monday August 6, 2012. Soon, we were taking cover next to a rock wall, wearing all of our Gore-Tex as we waited out a 30 minute rain storm. We contemplated turning back, but saw no lightning and soon the rain ended. We decided to push on.
The rain made the climbing slow, and a little treacherous for the next few hours as the overcast skies slowed the drying out of the extremely exposed and challenging terrain between the summit of Teewinot and Mount Owen. "Don't stop, don't fall". We continued our slow push to Owen. Down climbing, rappels, exposed ridges, ice ax and snow to the Koven col. A fall here, would not be good. "The Summit of Mount Owen is one of the most difficult summits in the park, by it's easiest route", Brenton said as we tagged it and started our down climb. I was feeling the effects of little sleep and a rush to 12,928 feet, "Don't stop, don't fall".
The rain and resulting slow climbing meant that a 2 day Grand Traverse probably wasn't going to happen, combined with my short time at altitude, our progress wasn't fast enough to go for the traverse. I was physically and mentally crushed after 13 hours of hard climbing on day 1, still moving and climbing, but probably not fast enough to make it over the Grand before dark. We decided to bivy on the West Ledges, between Mount Owen and the North Ridge of the Grand. It was a good call, I needed to recharge. This mission was now a 2-day Cathedral Traverse, and we still had one full day of very challenging climbing ahead of us on the Grand.
At the bivy site on the West ledges, unreal view. We arrived with about 8 OZ of water each, and no snow melt to refill. Brenton rapped into the Gunsight notch, chopped snow with an ice ax, and climbed back out so we would have snow to melt for water. Much appreciated!
A night's sleep at near 12,000 feet was exactly what I needed. I woke up feeling stronger. Day 2 would be heading toward the summit of the Grand, via the North Ridge and Italian Cracks. Some GU, a little cheese and salami, and snow melt water for breakfast and we were moving again.
The first of 11 pitches on the way to the summit.
AOG Individual Capabilities Enhancement (I.C.E) training with Exum!
"Don't stop, don't fall" Climbing through this section required total focus and control. Little margin for error and no place to fall. 2-man team, over 13,000 ft high on an alpine mountaineering route means relying on your training, physical condition, equipment and each other.
Summit shot on the Grand, 2 day Cathedral Traverse.
Climbing with Exum is unlike any other experience, because they are unlike any other guide service. They will put you in the middle of real adventure, and you will come away with new or renewed skills, and a sense of achievement that will leave you wanting more. Brenton, one of Exum's most experienced guides, is also involved with XMS3, Exum's Military and Special Operations Mountaineering Programs. You will not find a more advanced or relevant training program anywhere that will prepare your unit or team for the dynamic challenges of conducting tactical operations in an alpine setting. Check out XMS3: XMS 3- Mountain Systems Safety Survival
This was a tough 2 days. I arrived in Jackson Hole with one day to get ready, and found myself being truly tested from the very beginning. Capabilities stretched, skills enhanced and new friends made!
This trip is accessible and achievable by anyone willing to put in the preparation and training. The summit of the Grand is within your reach. Exum specializes in 1 or 2 day summit climbs. Contact AOG to find out how I planned for this trip, or contact Exum if you are ready for the challenge!