Tag Archives: Wyoming

Trip Report: Wyoming 2014 Part 2 – Grand Teton

I was able to take two weeks off of work for this summer’s big trip, so after a week in the Cirque, there was an entire week left to play in the mountains before heading back home! (If you missed Wyoming Part 1, you can go back and read it here).

The Tetons, silhouetted against the night sky. Photo: Seth Iverson

The Tetons, silhouetted against the night sky. Photo: Seth Iverson

After our hike out of the Cirque, Seth and I drove into Pinedale, WY, found a nice little hotel, and spent a day doing laundry and recovering. We met two guys who were in the middle of hiking the entire Continental Divide Trail, and we saw a rodeo, complete with Mutton Bustin’, my new favorite rodeo event (tiny kids riding sheep = awesome).

Then, up to Jackson we went to meet up with our friend Fred. Our objective was the Grand Teton, via the Owen Spalding route. Seth and I actually climbed the Grand two summers ago (that report is here). That was a guided climb, via the Upper Exum Ridge. This time, we wanted to do it on our own, and Fred agreed to join us! The weather forecast showed a perfect, two day weather window that matched our summit plans exactly. A relief, after being rained out in the Cirque the week before!

The Approach – Trailhead to Lower Saddle

The approach to the Lower Saddle, where we would camp the first night, is brutal. I’m not going to gloss over it, it’s hard. I had, apparently, blocked it out of my memory. We had more weight in our packs this time, carrying our own ropes, gear, tent, etc, so that added difficulty as well.

The trail begins on the valley floor, at Lupine Meadows Trailhead, elevation 6,732 ft. Over the course of six miles, you hike up to the Lower Saddle, at 11,600 ft. That’s nearly 5,000 ft of elevation gain. There’s very little relief, and it’s a mental and physical challenge just to get to the lower saddle.

Heading up Garnet Canyon. Photo: Seth Iverson

Heading up Garnet Canyon. Photo: Seth Iverson

We were feeling good. We heard of a few bear sightings along the trail, but made some noise and didn’t encounter any ourselves. A couple miles in, I was dealing with a painful spot on my hip where my backpack was resting. It had bruised badly the week before in the Cirque and I had hoped a few days of rest would help. Seth came to the rescue and fashioned a piece of his foam sleeping pad to reduce that pressure point and it allowed me to forge ahead.

Our camp at the Lower Saddle

Our camp at the Lower Saddle

About 3/4 of the way up, somewhere around 10,000 ft, I began to feel some signs of mild altitude sickness. Nausea, weakness, headache… I had spent the entire week before between 9,500ft and 11,000 ft, so it didn’t make any sense to me. I had only been back down to 6,000 ft for a few days, so I felt like I should have been fine. We continued on, set up camp on the Lower Saddle at 11,600 ft, and hoped that some rest and a night of sleep was all I needed.

The three of us had dinner, prepped for the morning, rested up. Seth was feeling strong, so he went up and explored the couloir, our final approach to the technical climbing on the Owen Spalding route. When he returned, we were able to talk with the park rangers about the approach (the rangers have a little hut up in the camping zone, and were a great source of information). We felt that we were in a great place to start in the morning.

Mountain shadows over the valley

Mountain shadows over the valley

The Lower Saddle itself is worth the trek. I’ve camped there twice now, and it’s definitely the coolest place I’ve ever spent a night. It sits between the Middle Teton and the Grand Teton. On one side is a view of Jackson Hole, 5,000 ft below. On the other side looks out over a few smaller mountains, and Idaho stretching beyond. We had perfect weather. No wind, no clouds, not too cold… and it happened to be not only a full moon, but the *supermoon* that night. While the sun set over Idaho to the west, the supermoon rose over the Jackson Hole valley floor to the east. It was truly a sight to behold, and a magical evening on the mountain.

Supermoon rising at sunset

Supermoon rising at sunset (on the left)

Fred watching the sun set over Idaho. Photo: Seth Iverson

Fred watching the sun set over Idaho Photo: Seth Iverson

The Climb – Grand Teton via the Owen Spalding route

Our alarms were set for 3:15, with plans to leave camp at 4:15. Some parties headed up as early as 3:45, most without even turning their headlamps on, because the moon was so bright (did I mention that conditions were perfect?).

That morning I still wasn’t feeling well. Nausea, no appetite, headache, and some dizziness as well. Mild altitude sickness is what we suspected. I had been planning this climb with Seth for over a year, we had done all of the prep together, studied the route a million different ways, talked through it over and over. We had planned to share leads; Seth would lead the first pitch (belly roll and crawl), and I would lead the chimneys that followed. A big part of this trip for me was not only summiting, but leading. Leading some pitches, leading the team.. it was really important to me.

After I forced some oatmeal down that morning, the three of us had a final check-in. I wanted to climb. My symptoms were mostly just uncomfortable, and a nuisance, not severe enough to be dangerous. We decided that all three of us would climb, but Seth suggested that if I was feeling at all dizzy, it wasn’t a good idea for me to lead. It was a decision not just for me, but for the team as a whole. I knew he was right, I knew that it was the best thing for our team of three, and I agreed. That was tough. Seth would be leading all of the pitches.

We headed out of camp at 4:15 and began our ascent up the moraine and into the Col, guided by our headlamps and the bright moonlight. A couple of hours later, we were at the first pitch of the Owen Spalding route. The infamous traverse that includes the “Belly Roll” and the “Crawl.” The climbing is very easy, but very exposed as well. An unprotected fall would mean a long drop into Idaho. Seth led the way and brought Fred and I over after him. Several parties lined up behind us, and we were glad that we got an early start!

Looking NW from the start of the Owen Spalding Route. Photo: Seth Iverson

Looking NW from the start of the Owen Spalding Route at sunrise. Photo: Seth Iverson

After that traverse was a short chimney pitch, the “Double Chimney,” and then an option to either do an exposed traverse or climb the “Owen Chimney.” We opted for the latter. The Owen Chimney was my favorite pitch of the climb. Oh, how great it would have been to lead it…. Seth did an amazing job, though.

Climbing the Double Chimney

Me at the base of the Double Chimney. Photo: Seth Iverson

Fred giving me a hip belay

Fred giving me a hip belay. Thanks, Fred! Photo: Seth Iverson

Above the Owen Chimney was Sargeant’s Chimney. Most people were climbing up a chimney to the left, but we climbed the chimney on the right, which definitely had some 5.6 or 5.7 moves in it. We learned later that we had taken the ‘true’ Sargeant’s Chimney, but now days most people take the easier variation to the left.

Above this last technical chimney were some slabs meandering back and forth, and then a patch of sunlight above. The first sunlight we had seen all morning, as the whole route is in the shade (and COLD because of it!). Seth offered for Fred to lead us to the summit. Fred couldn’t believe we were there, and I distinctly remember that feeling the first time we climbed it two years ago. We made our final steps up to the summit into the warmth of the sun, and enjoyed the view. We had done it!

Fred leading the final steps to the summit

Fred leading the final steps to the summit Photo: Seth Iverson

On the summit of the Grand Teton. Fred, me, Seth.

On the summit of the Grand Teton. Fred, me, Seth.

Twenty minutes on the summit, and it was time to head back down. We roped back up and started working our way back down the slabs. One short rappel down Sargeant’s Chimney took us to the big rappel, a 120 ft. mostly free-hanging rappel. We triple-checked everything and Seth headed down first, followed by Fred, myself, and a guy we met who had just free-soloed the Upper Exum route.

The rappel was more intense than I remembered, maybe because we were on our own and not with a guide this time. I quadruple checked everything, then checked again. The first 30 ft. walk down a face, and then the bottom comes into view, and the rope ends are WAY THE HECK DOWN THERE. Then the wall falls away, and the last half is free hanging. Exhilarating is a mild word to describe it.

After the rappel, the technical parts of the day were over. We made our way back down the col and arrived back at our tent on the lower saddle mid-afternoon.

Heading back down the col to camp. Photo: Seth Iverson

EyeofNeedle

Fred at the Eye of the Needle. Photo: Seth Iverson

Seth going through the eye of the needle.

The three of us had lunch (I was finally able to eat a full meal for the first time that day), rested briefly, packed up camp, and began the long descent. We had a camping permit for the Meadows, about halfway down, but when we got there we decided to book it all the way back to the car. Our totals for the day were 2,000 ft of ascent, 7,000 ft of descent, and approx. 8 miles total. We arrived back at the trailhead at 9:30pm, making for 17 hours straight of physical activity. We were toasted.

We headed into Jackson for some pizza, and called it a night.

The wrap-up

We climbed that mountain, a two day ordeal with route finding and technical climbing. We did it on our own, and we did it well. I feel immensely proud of that. It was a mental challenge, it was a physical challenge, and it was also a challenge of confidence. Can we actually do this? Having climbed that same mountain previously with a guide, I knew I could physically do it, but having a guide makes it still seem magical and mysterious somehow. Going on our own, doing the planning on our own, making sure we had the necessary skills, the fitness, studying everything over and over again, talking through scenarios and what-ifs… and then actually putting all of that into practice and doing it… and succeeding…. was empowering. And it took a lot of the magic away. I want to do MORE.

With that being said, I grappled quite a bit with the disappointment of not leading. Because I wasn’t feeling well, Seth led every pitch. It was awesome that he took the lead when the time called for it. I am grateful to him for that, and to have such a strong leader on our team.  I had wanted to lead with him, though. And, even though I was involved in all of the prep and the decisions leading up to that morning, circumstances changed, and plans changed. I didn’t feel well, and Seth took my leads. For weeks afterwards, I struggled with a feeling that I didn’t contribute in the way that I wanted to. Instead of Seth and I co-leading, Seth led, and Fred and I followed. Even though we had successfully climbed the Grand, and we did it fully on our own, without a guide, I didn’t fully meet my personal goals. I felt that I had failed somehow and struggled with that quite a bit.

It’s been nearly a month since our summit, and I’ve had a chance to work through that disappointment and come to terms with it. I still believe that we made the right decision, based on how I felt that morning. When you’re part of a team doing something dangerous like climbing a mountain, every decision is about everybody, and not just about one person. The decision for Seth to lead wasn’t about me. It was about the safety of the team. And it was the right choice.

I’m so proud of the three of us, Fred, Seth, and myself, for our work together as a well-functioning team, and for our successful summit of the Grand Teton. It was an amazing experience, and I am so glad that I got to share it with two incredible people.

As for my personal disappointments? I’ll be heading to Boulder, CO with Seth for my birthday weekend, and I have plans to lead the *crap* out of some flatirons. Seth has already said that he will gladly follow. Wish us luck.

Summit Selfie! Seth and me.

Summit selfie! Seth and me. Photo: Seth Iverson

Trip Report: Wyoming 2014 Part 1 – Cirque of the Towers

Bags packed and ready to go!

Bags packed and ready to go!

Standing in the trailhead parking lot, I realized that I had never been on an actual backpacking trip before. I had camped, yes. Hauled heavy backpacks, yes (full of climbing gear, mostly). This time, though, once we left the parking lot, we wouldn’t be returning for five days.

Our packing had been meticulous. We had separated our food by meal, labeling each in its very own ziploc bag, to make sure we didn’t bring more than we needed (I had no idea how heavy food is!). We packed well. I used everything in my pack except for 2 items of clothing, which turned out to make a fine pillow. Still, with the addition of climbing gear, those packs were not light.

We were hiking into the Wind River Range, from the Big Sandy Trailhead. Our first destination was Big Sandy Lake, about six miles in with minimal elevation gain, so a nice easy start. We had our eyes on Haystack Mountain for our first objective. Then we’d hike back into the Cirque of the Towers. Shark’s Nose, Overhanging Tower, Tiger Tower, and Pingora were all on our list.

Here’s the report, and some pretty pictures:

Big Sandy Lake/ Haystack Mountain:

Home sweet home, at Big Sandy Lake

Home sweet home, at Big Sandy Lake

Day 1, we hiked the six miles to Big Sandy Lake from the trailhead and set up camp. It was a lovely little campsite. The lake was near, so lots of water nearby. We treated all of our water, especially here, since it’s a pretty well-used area, and a lot of folks have their gear brought in on horses. Bear precautions were taken the entire trip. We hung our food and smelly things and ate away from the tent.

From Big Sandy Lake is a beautiful view of Haystack Mountain. It’s a monolith of solid rock that dominates the landscape to the east of the lake, and there are quite a few routes on it. We had dinner, fought the mosquitos, and gazed at Haystack.

Haystack Mountain, over Big Sandy Lake. Photo: Seth Iverson

Haystack Mountain, over Big Sandy Lake. Photo: Seth Iverson

The next morning we woke up to rain, and it continued raining for most of that day. No climbing for us. Seth and I donned our rain gear, and hiked over there anyway. We scrambled up onto the shoulder of the mountain, stopping before we got to anything too technical.

Shoulder of Haystack Mountain. Photo: Seth Iverson

Shoulder of Haystack Mountain. Photo: Seth Iverson

The view from the shoulder of the mountain was beautiful, and surprisingly high above the lake. Even though it was a pretty wide area of low-angle slab, it felt fairly exposed and way the heck up there. The hike and scramble up to the shoulder was worth it for the view. Next time we’ll, hopefully, be able to climb all the way to the top.

We spent one more night at Big Sandy before packing up and heading up to our next destination.

Cirque of the Towers

From Big Sandy Lake is another 6 mile hike up to the Cirque of the Towers, our main destination for this leg of the trip. The morning rain stopped just in time for us to pack up our tent, and held off until we were set up in the Cirque. Very kind! The hike up to the Cirque is more involved than the first six miles to Big Sandy. A few sets of switchbacks, some steep sections, some pretty mellow sections, and a couple of boulder fields, especially if you take the climbers trail. That climbers’ trail is shorter, but the boulder field is kind of a pain with heavy packs. Thank goodness for trekking poles!

Mount Mitchell. Photo: Seth Iverson

Mount Mitchell and War Bonnet, covered in clouds.. Photo: Seth Iverson

The last pass before entering the Cirque is aptly named “Jackass Pass,” and after that, the towers come into view in all of their glory. What a beautiful place! We found a nice spot to set up camp, with a view of Pingora Peak and Wolf’s Head right outside of our front door.

Cirque of the Towers. Photo: Seth Iverson

Cirque of the Towers. Photo: Seth Iverson

Weather in the Cirque turned out to be even more finicky than down at Big Sandy, with the added factor of 2000 ft towers blocking any view of anything heading our way. After our arrival, for example, we headed up to scout the approach for one of our climbs. The sky was blue with a few puffy white clouds floating through. At one point about 30 minutes into our scouting hike, we turned around to see that one of the peaks was quickly being enveloped by a dark, ominous storm cloud. A few minutes earlier, that cloud had been nowhere to be seen. It was as if it had just materialized, right there. We booked it back down the mountain (I’m pretty sure I’ve never gone through a boulder field that quickly in my life!) and just as we crawled into our tent, it began hailing. *phew*!

Rain, rain, go away!

Rain, rain, go away!

The next day we woke up to low, stagnant clouds covering the mountains. We had breakfast and headed up the trail with our gear, hoping that the sun would burn the clouds off. At one point, the sun sent a brilliant spotlight from the east, shining through the greyness of the thick cloud cover in the Cirque. It was a sight to see!

Spotlight of sun on a grey mountain

Spotlight of sun on a grey mountain

But alas, the clouds were stubborn and moved back and forth like a seesaw for most of the morning.

Overhanging Tower, our climb for the day, is back there in the clouds.

Overhanging Tower, our climb for the day, is back there in the clouds.

Heading to Lonesome Lake

Heading to Lonesome Lake

 

We eventually gave up and went on a hike to Lonesome Lake instead, spending a nice, relaxed lunch by the lake. A lovely way to spend our time.

 

Lonesome Lake

Lonesome Lake

An afternoon hailstorm came through camp once we returned (again, very nice of it to wait). At that point, we gave up hopes of climbing and spent the evening drinking whiskey on a rock at our beautiful campsite and reminiscing about life, adventures, and good friends.

Cirque of the Towers, War Bonnet. Photo: Seth Iverson

Cirque of the Towers, War Bonnet. Photo: Seth Iverson

That night, the sky cleared, the moon came out, and it was a picture perfect night in the Cirque. We once again packed our climbing gear and set our alarms for early the next morning. We would head up the trail to the base of our climb unless it was actively raining when we woke. With the sky clearing up and the beautiful night that we were witness to, I thought, for sure, that we’d be climbing the next morning.

We woke to a downpour.

Seth and I cooked breakfast under a nearby tree, waited for the rain to pause, and stuffed our belongings back into our packs for the 12 mile hike back to the car. The rain, once again, was kind enough to pause for our hike.

Seth hiking out of the Cirque

Seth hiking out of the Cirque

So, we didn’t get any climbing in, but I did go on my very first backpacking trip. We spent five days and four nights in the Wind River Mountains, went on a few day hikes, and it was just plain gorgeous. Cell phones didn’t work, I got to spend some quality time with my husband, we saw some friends out there… all in all a great few days in the mountains.

The mountains of Wyoming continue to amaze me with their beauty. The Winds are rugged and raw, and it takes some work to get back there. Definitely on my list to go back and see more. Maybe next time we’ll even get to use our rope and gear.

Keep an eye out here for Part 2 of our trip, the Tetons! Camping at 11,600 ft on the night of the supermoon was a nice touch.

Trip Prep: Wyoming 2014

Just a quick post here. Our trip out to the mountains of Wyoming is approaching, and the prep has begun! We’ve been physically preparing for a few months now; practicing our trad climbing and getting into good physical shape. Now we’re close enough to start packing!

Cirque of the Towers, Wyoming

Cirque of the Towers, Wyoming (photo courtesy of Seth)

This trip presents a few challenges on the packing front. We’re heading into the Cirque of the Towers in the Wind River Range and will be in the backcountry for about five days, miles away from the trailhead. Weight adds up quickly, especially when you add a rope and climbing gear to the mix, so we’re examining everything, looking at what can be used for multiple purposes, what we need for survival and emergencies, and what’s more for comfort. For example, we’ve opted for a tent (not a super-necessity, but awesome to keep the bugs out), but are passing on camp pillows. Rolled up clothes work just fine. Yes to sunscreen, no to dry shampoo (my hair is going to look *amazing*). Yes to coffee. Definitely yes to coffee.

The same went for our climbing gear. As fairly new trad leaders, we tend to take along more gear than we need. For this trip, we did a close examination of our rack and got it down to something reasonable. Still quite a bit of weight, but much lighter than it was.

Seth's homemade tether

Seth’s homemade tether

A bit of homemade gear innovation by Seth: he made tethers for our nut tools out of parachute cord. We like to have our nut tools attached to something so we don’t drop them off a cliff and have been using long slings up to this point, but the slings tend to get caught on stuff and tangled in the rest of the gear. Seth has fixed that. Pretty awesome.

After the Winds we’re heading up to the Tetons, at which time our team of two will become a team of three. So, we made some team prusiks for the occasion (in the season’s hottest colors, of course). Shiny new prusiks are awesome and fun, and when used correctly, they save lives.

Team prusiks. Wyoming 2014.

Team prusiks. Wyoming 2014. Not shown: two more team prusiks.

On the food front, we’re portioning out meals day by day before we pack them, with a bit of extra just in case. This will, hopefully, help us to avoid packing too much and save some weight there.

Very little in the way of clothing changes, mostly we’ll just have layers and rain gear and plan on wearing the same thing for 5 days. We’ll be a stinky pair by the time we come out of the Winds. Luckily, we’ll be heading straight up to the Tetons, and the showers of the AAC Climbers’ Ranch. Yay for showers!

We’re reading up on routes and getting beta. I’m brushing up on my weather knowledge (Seth got me a nice little book about reading the weather), and things are lining up!

On a related, but not-related note, this trip will be a step into new territory for me. It’ll be my longest time in the backcountry, completely reliant on what I take with me. It’ll be my first time camping in grizzly bear country (most of the grizzlys are in the north part of the range, but a few have migrated south, which is where we’ll be). And the climbs on our list, although in the easy to moderate range, are not small. We’ve chosen alpine trad routes, just what I like. They’re tall and exposed, and I know they will challenge me and push me. I’m definitely stepping out of my comfort zone, and I know that I’ll learn a lot as a result. I’m nervous and looking forward to it, all at the same time.

Any other pack weight advice you can offer for 5 days in the backcountry with climbing gear in tow? Gear innovations? Tips and tricks? I’d love to hear them!