2012-08-11 thru 19 Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks

I’ve been wanted to go on a climbing vacation out West for a while.  In springs of 2010 and 2011 I went to Red Rock outside of Las Vegas, but in 2012 the opportunity didn’t present itself to return to that venue.  As I’ve progressed in my rock climbing I’ve become more interested in alpine climbing.  Probably because as I’ve gotten better, the longer, bigger, more committing routes have become more accessible.  This coupled with my interest in getting out into nature away from the hoards of people who frequent crags.  I love the Gunks and Rumney is fun, but being up on a wall with only a few other like-minded individuals around (at most) is very appealing.  Coping with the challenge of the approach, route finding, weather, the decent, and yes, the climbing itself too, is a strong draw for me.  

My professional career of engineering poses interesting problems and finding solutions to those problems is rewarding.  However, being up a few pitches looking for the route, figuring out where that next piece of gear is going to go, or the climbing is so comfortable that you don’t really care; looking up at the sky, feeling the wind, the temperature, and deciding if you should keep going is very satisfying.  I guess it is just problem solving of a different sort and being an engineer I’m predisposed toward that. …


 

 

I’m writing like I’ve summited a hundred alpine peaks in all seasons and conditions.  Obviously I haven’t–yet.  Like many things in life alpinism, for me, is relative.  If I’m working near my limits of skill, dealing with situations that arise, making good decisions that is what I’m looking for–even if it is considered an “easy” climb.  I’ll never climb Naga Parbat or something similar, but people that do are seeking the same thing, just their skill dictates more lofty arenas where they can meet those goals.  Climbing the Grand Teton via a well traveled route, the Direct Exum, puts me in my arena.

Enough waxing poetic and philosophical.  I brought up the idea of climbing in the Tetons after seeing a video of a couple, the Smiley’s, attempting to climb all of the 50 North American Classic Climbs.  The Tetons looked like a pretty sweet location so I posed the question to Chris about planning a week out there.  We were slow in moving on the idea but eventually we planned a trip in the middle of August, which incidentally is a good time to time to head there.  Much of the winter snows have melted so many of the popular routes wouldn’t need an ice axe or crampons to negotiate.  Not that this would make a route less fun, but this would be both Chris’ and my first really big alpine objective–the biggest to-date would probably have been the Whitney-Gilman.  Neither of us had hiked over 10,000 feet so we weren’t sure how’d we do with the altitude–not to mention the scale of this type of climb as well.  Lack of snow/ice travel would lighten our packs and speed our ascent.  If you’ve read anything about climbing in the mountains you’ll have heard the mantra, “speed is safety.”  

Working for a large company such as UTC is good in some cases, like when they have a free upgrade to Delta’s Silver status which gets me and anyone else in my party free checked bags.  Or like when I find out Ben is willing to drive us to NYC less than 12 hours before our flight and I can just cancel the rental car with no repercussions.

Plane tickets worked out so that we’d leave on Saturday around lunchtime and land in Salt Lake City in the afternoon.  Why Salt Lake?  Well there are easy flights on Delta between NYC and SLC and it was far cheaper to rent car and drive the 5 hours from SLC to Jackson, WY than it was to get another flight leg to bring us there were we’d still need to rent a car.  The only thing we would have saved was time and gas, both of which we could afford.  The other reason is if we flew into Jackson and the weather happened to be crappy it would limit our options of places we could escape the weather.  From Salt Lake there are dozens of destinations within our reach if weather was bad in Wyoming.

Day 1 – Saturday

After landing from a mostly uneventful flight we picked up the rental car, a Ford Focus, we quickly started heading north towards Wyoming.  As Chris drove I readied the Fiesta’s stereo to pair with my phone’s Bluetooth so we could have good tunes throughout our trip, radio stations be damned.  Well it took about 5 minutes of fiddling to figure out that the Fiesta we had didn’t have Bluetooth–sigh.  Last time I had one of them I did have Bluetooth but I guess Avis has different trim packages in its cars.  While the car did have a auxiliary line in which we probably could have purchased a cable for, we were more interested in getting to Wyoming so we resigned ourselves to the mercy of the FM and at times AM airwaves for the duration of the trip.  In retrospect we should have stopped at Radio Shack and grabbed a cord.

The West is such an amazing landscape as viewed by someone from the Northeast.  There are a few reasons, 1) trees, 2) green, 3) open spaces.  Numbers one and three are related in that if you don’t have trees you probably can see for a long way and gives you a better impression of vast space that is out there.  New England could be claustrophobic for someone who’s lived in Wyoming their whole life.  The greenness is just what the weather has dictated plants look like in each area.  We get a fair amount of rain compared to the West, as a result we have lots of green bushes, tree, grasses and such.  The West, no so much.  It is still beautiful just in a different way.  On our drive from SLC we had plenty of time to spy these differences.

As we worked farther north we passed more conservation areas and recreation areas with camping.  All of looked like beautiful areas, at least from the headlights of the car since it was dark at this point.  We debated rolling into one of these campgrounds and grabbing a spot to sleep for the night rather than heading all the way to Jackson.  Ultimately the desire to just get to our destination overcame so we kept going.  We rolled into Jackson and headed towards a camping area about 10 minutes outside of town, called Curtis Canyon, figuring we could find a spot and then leave before the Rangers came around.  We’d only be there for 6-7 hours so why have to pay, right?  We took two laps through the small camping area before realizing that there weren’t any spots open.  The campground was on a dirt road up a small mountain to the east of Jackson.  On our way in we noticed there were a few small rouge sites off the road, all with cars in them.  We decided to continue on the road past the campground in the hopes that we could find a spot for ourselves.  It took us another mile or two up the road but we found a nice little site next to a stream.  We backed in, tossed the ground tarp, sleeping pads, and bags down and went to sleep.  The weather was supposed to be nice so no need to break out the tent and everything.  Sleeping under the stars was great, we even saw some of the Perseids meteor shower.  The down side was there were numerous points during the night when some kind of rodent decided to run across our ground tarp and near our heads.  This resulted in a disconcerting sound of feet scurrying followed by a brush of fur on our noses as they ran by our heads.  Can you say hantavirus?

Day 2 – Sunday

I enjoy arriving at a climbing destination at night; there is a better surprise in the morning when you get up and, boom there’s the mountains.  I had this same experience when I visited Joshua Tree NP last year.  The Tetons were much the same.  From our camp, which was quite a bit higher than the valley where Jackson is, we could see the Tetons beautifully.  The Tetons are a striking set of mountains not only because of their steep faces but because they shoot up from a perfectly flat valley floor on the eastern (Wyoming) side.

Packing up camp we headed into town to get some breakfast and supplies.  Our first attempt at breakfast was at a place with a line out the door and onto the street.  While the place must have been good we kept walking around the block to the backside off of the main drag.  Here we found a nice little restaurant with some great breakfast items and it had no one waiting.  Our bellies full we headed out for some camp fuel, which required quite a few stops to find the size/price we wanted.  Groceries weren’t quite so bad since there was an Alberson’s in town.  We stocked up on all the food we’d need for the new week and headed to the American Alpine Club Climber’s Ranch to get a couple beds for the next two nights.  

Lodging and supplies complete we headed to the Jenny Lake Ranger station to talk with them about what camping areas might be open and a few other details about the Exum Ridge climb as well as the logistics of the hike and camp in.  I haven’t spoken with many rangers about climbing but these were quite helpful.  They were knowledgable about the routes and the backcountry camping situation.  I highly recommend stopping in to chat with them if you have the time.  On the recommendation of one of the rangers Chris and I headed across Jenny Lake via the awesome shuttle boat to do a quick afternoon climb of Baxter’s Pinnacle via the South Ridge (5.9+).  This point of rock is one of the few crags in the Tetons, at least if you are mortal and don’t have wings on your feet.  The climb was a great warm up to what we’d be experiencing in the coming days–good rock with lines generally heading up aretes with lots of exposure.  

On our way back down the trail we spotted a male elk about 10 yards off the trail.  He was pretty big and was sharpening his antlers.  Unafraid of humans he let a number of people scamper by on the trail without aggravation.  We celebrated our first route in the Teton’s back at the Ranch over beers and homemade burritos.

Day 3 – Monday

Backcountry camping permits are required in Garnet Canyon because of the popularity.  These can be reserved many months in advance or 24 hours ahead.  Luckily not everyone reserves early.  We headed to the Jenny Lake Ranger station at 7am to wait in line, which put us number six or seven.  They don’t open until 8 so we brewed up some oatmeal and made sandwiches for the day.  We were lucky and were able to get two nights at the Moraine camping zone, which is at the foot of the Middle Teton glacier.  This spot put us at the second to last camping area, but afforded some shelter from the wind at the Lower Saddle.

Since we were coming from sea level it was important that we try to acclimatize ourselves for a few days before heading up Garnet Canyon to attempt the Grand.  While 3 nights isn’t a ton it should provide us some improvement so we don’t get any symptoms of altitude sickness.  During the days it is a good idea to hike up a ways to stress your body into doing the chemical changes necessary to perform in a lower oxygen environment.  We were happy to fulfill this by heading back across Jenny Lake via the boat, which cuts out about an hour of hiking from Jenny Lake.  Heading up the same trail as the day before we went a few miles in to a very popular route called Guide’s Wall (5.9+).  This five pitch route was similar to the South Ridge from the day before except longer and more difficult, though the grades were the same.  Luckily there weren’t too many people on route.  There was one party ahead of us but we weren’t really bumping into them at belays so it wasn’t a big deal.  

We opted for the harder variation of pitch 4 which makes the grade 5.9+ instead of 5.7.  This pitch is a great finger to hand crack.  It is a bit steeper than Reppy’s Crack at Cannon and was definitely more difficult.  I was able to push through the pain and get to the belay without any trouble.  Chris was a champ and made it aside from one short hang on the rope.

While climbing the 4th pitch we were amused by an older climber seconding P4 but doing the crack through the roof.  The only problem was that section was way out of the his range.  He flopped around and tried aiding through for 20 minutes.  Eventually he traversed left under the roof, then back right to get the gear.  Since we were getting to the rap anchors on P5 at about the same time we decided to pair up ropes for the 4 double rope raps required to get back to the ground.  It was too bad we did this since Chris had hoofed up our second rope in a pack only to not need it.

On the hike back down canyon we again spotted some wildlife, this time a bull moose with full velvet on his antlers.  Like the elk he to was relatively unconcerned about the hikers snapping pictures when they walked by.  Once back at the Ranch we cooked up some dinner and got everything in order for our hike up Garnet Canyon the next day.  Thanks to my new custom Cold Cold World Ozone pack which I purchased specifically for this trip my pack came in at 37.5 lb and Chris’ around 42 lb.

Day 4 – Tuesday

Most people summiting the Grand do it via the Owen-Spaulding (5.4) route which is more of a scramble for the large percentage of it.  It only has a few exposed technical section, which many people rope up for but many people solo as well.  The route is very popular since it is guided and can be done by anyone with good fitness and a guide/requisite rope knowledge.  Climbing via Garnet Canyon usually involves an overnight, though if you are superhuman you can do it in less than 3 hours car to car, not bad for 7.5 miles and +7000ft of elevation.  Our trip was to be two nights; the first day to hike in, the second to summit, and the third day to climb another smaller route on our way out.

The day started early, about 4am since much of our stuff was packed all we had to do was eat a little something and toss the stuff in the car.  We drove over to the Ranch’s trailhead which cuts over to the main trail up canyon.  The first 3-4 miles of trail winds through forest, prairie, and scrub.  Dry and not brilliant green like back East but still beautiful.  Much of the trail had wildflowers still.  As the elevation increases the well spaced tall skinny pine trees taper into shorter wider and scrubbier pines.  The many switchbacks eventually brought us deeper into the canyon and the sides closed in and up.  A little while longer we reached the main drainage out of the canyon and with it the boulders started.  Beginning at the Platforms tenting area traversing boulder fields becomes the norm.  The trail at times is difficult to follow since there are no blazes.  But since it all goes up it isn’t difficult to just take the path of least resistance and find the trail once across the boulders.

We reached the Meadows camping area which is one of the most beautiful alpine places to camp.  Water is rushing and plentiful.  The water then brings green plants and lots of yellow and purple wildflowers.  It is an amazing spot surrounded by rocky peaks and snowfields.  Though we didn’t get a chance to stay here I would highly recommend it from an aesthetic standpoint.

Moving slowly higher–the altitude certainly was slowing us down–we passed the Petzoldt Caves camping area.  This spot is also very nice.  Similar water and green, just a little steeper ground.  The caves are actually man-made under boulders with windbreak walls.  Also a really neat place to stay I imagine.

Still higher we reached the foot of the Moraine, which is a huge jumble of boulders, gravel, sand pushed into place over thousands of years from the glacier.  The spots here were difficult to see except for the tents being pitched in them.  Most of them are small flat areas of ground with small windbreak walls.  The first half a dozen areas we came to were all filled.  Since we were tired we hoped that someone would be packing up but not wanting to wait all day we pushed on.  Thankfully a good feeling made me look up and over a long pile of gravel to see an awesome flat spot with two parties packing up.  The area was at the base of a large wall and was mostly very fine sand which made for good sleeping.

Our total time to the Moraine, including stops, was 5.5 hours.  Not a fast time at all, but not far from book time.  After setting up camp we had some time to kill so I decided to head up to near the Lower Saddle to get an idea of what the approach would be like in the dark.  To reach the Lower Saddle from the Moraine there is a rocky headwall with a couple of fixed ropes to assist.  While the ropes aren’t necessary since it is easy scrambling, it is nice to have the rope there to go faster.  After heading up this I sat down to catch my breath, which was becoming quite short, and took some pictures of the Exum in the lowering sun.  It matched up well to the pictures I’d printed out before the trip so I was pretty confident in our ability to find the start of the climb the next morning in the near dark.

Back at camp we opened up the bear canister, required in Garnet Canyon, and pulled out dinner.  Prior to the trip we spent a fair amount of time trying to figure out how to lighten our packs as much as possible.  Having a rope, rack, harness, helmet, bear canister, etc all add up pretty quickly.  Food and water is also very heavy.  Water wasn’t a big deal since we could get some from the glacier.  Food on the other hand took some research.  Chris found a good site called backpackingchef.com with recipes which we could dehydrate ahead of time and then use just boiling water in a freezer bag to bring back to life.  This reduces the need to actually cook anything and therefore clean anything.  Once the meal is done, just zip up the bag and clean up is over.  Our chosen meal was the chili.  We boiled water and poured into the freezer bags and waited about 10-12 minutes for perhaps the best backcountry meal I’ve ever had.  It was quickly finished and an awesome calorie filled, tasty dessert of a Snickers bar….or that’s what I thought.  Turns out the celebratory Snickers had been left in the car.  Disaster!

Day 5 – Wednesday

Summit day.  We woke at 4:00am and cooked up some oatmeal and dried fruit.  The sun wouldn’t be rising so we worked by headlamp.  Our stuff was pretty much packed the night before so we were on the go at 4:35.  I’ve gotten to not eating breakfast in the morning during a climb/hike since it is quicker just to get moving.  In this case however, we’d need a lot of calories so we opted to eat some in camp rather than carrying them.  We worked up the headwall and through the braided trails of the Lower Saddle passing tents along the way.  It took about 30-35 minutes to get to the Lower Saddle from our tent.  We continued on the trail, getting sidetracked on side trails at times.  Though you can’t lost up were since you can see everything, at least sort of by headlamp, the trail isn’t as well defined as you might expect given the traffic.  Weather was cool, in the low 50’s but comfortable.

As we reached the black and banded rock near the start of the Exum we were able to turn off the headlamps.  While the sun was still below the horizon, the alpen glow lit our way.  In a little less than 2 hours we reached the base of the first pitch.  Here we expected to meet the headlamps we saw in front of us, which we did.  Gentrye and Ryan were just heading up P1 coming all the way from Texas.  We made friends since we’d be joining them at the belays for the next few hours.

Rather than describing the pitches in painstaking detail, I’ll give some highlights and the beta which I compiled from Mountain Project, the Ortenburger & Reynolds book, the Rossiter book, and any other random posts on the net.  Use at your own risk.

On the ridge the wind picked up because of the exposure and we put on hats and jackets.  P1 had some fun chimney moves with a squeeze at one point which got Chris stuck and he had to take his pack off.  P2 was quick scrambling not much to note here.  Hand crack was good.  Took off my gloves to climb since the terrain got more vertical than the previous two pitches.  I think we got off route a bit on P3, perhaps moving too far left?  We never saw the sandy ledge with 10ft spike.  P4 was exciting and cold.  At this point we were still well in the shadows, though the sun had been up for a bit.  The wind was also stiff, perhaps 30mph gusts.  All four of us were bundled up in about all the clothes we had.  While P4 was exciting, at least the start, it isn’t on route.  The beginning of the pitch we did was a low angled ramp formed by an offwidth crack.  The ramp isonly about 8 inches or less so not quite enough to stand on because of the bulging nature of the rock above it.  There is protection at the beginning and at the end, nothing of worth in between.  This required slinging our packs from our harness and crawling/inch worming while stuffed into the crack so as not to spillout over the healthy drop to the left.  At the top of the 20 ft ramp is a sling around a chockstone.  From here we worked up and right with much drag to just below where we should have ended for the P5 belay.

P5 is the beauty pitch.  The first four pitches are somewhat enclosed on at least one side.  The route gives little feeling of exposure to this point, except for the ramp we did and the sort of exposure you might feel looking out a window in a tall building, airy but comfortable because of some enclosure.  P5 does away with that and pushes you onto the blunt edge of the ridge.  The black rock tilts back to almost vertical and nothing on either side of you gives you a “holy crap I’m a thousand feet above the glacier on an arete” feel.  To augment this is the fact that we finally got into the sun!  I didn’t do the crux pitch quite right.  For some reason I didn’t go right enough and ended up on a harder variation, perhaps 5.9.  While 5.9 is typically not to hard for me, I found this pitch quite exhilarating.  Only moderate protection, wind, exposure, altitude, all got me pumped but I made it to the belay free.  One of the best pitches I’ve climbed.  From P5 we headed up one more pitch to Wall Street, which is the delineation between the Lower and Upper Exums.  We got here around 11am

Starting up the first pitch of the Upper Exum we got passed by a team moving quickly up the Lower Exum.  They had just caught us as Chris left the belay on P5.  The moved unroped on the Upper.  This section is much easier and not exposed until near the top and I can see why two competent climbers could move quickly unroped.  We opted for a shortened rope, and simul-climbing between logical belays.  This allowed us to go about as quick as our lungs would allow.  By this point I was feeling the altitude, and I could see Chris had been for a while.  Neither of us had acute mountain sickness symptoms but we were short of breath and would get lightheaded if we bent over and stood up too fast.  Because of this the Upper Exum, which is a long route, took us longer than I thought.

We scrambled up for an unknown number of pitches and passed a party climbing just the Upper.  The second was on his first outdoor climbing trip!  Seems like a little committing for a first outdoor trip, but to each his own.  They were fully pitching everything out so they moved slowly.  The Friction pitch passed easily for me, I’m pretty comfortable on this difficulty and running it out didn’t bother me here.  We went into the V-pitch which is one of the exposed sections.  Even this can be dulled down if you stick to the groove, but why do that?  Get a good piece in and peak over the edge on the left straight down 1,000 feet.

Continued slow scrambling eventually brought us to the summit.  The weather had been very dry for the preceding weeks and we had the benefit of clear albeit smoky skies which allowed us to summit.  Had the weather followed more typical afternoon thunderstorms we would have bailed at Wall Street without being able to summit.  All told we summited at 4:15pm, Aug 15, 2012.  We weren’t the last people to summit that day though.  The noobie climber and his leader summitted about 30 minutes later and weren’t able to get down to the Lower Saddle without being benighted.

Beta (post climb comments in italics)

Lower Exum

P1 5.6 135ft:  Climb chimney chockstones (over then under) exit right to pedestal/ledge.  Or after a few feet of right traverse, head back into chimney capped by large chock and climb left wall.

P2 5.6 150ft: Up left to crest and over to left side.  Dihedral and crack to just alcove below step.  Possible exit left to Wall St Coulior.

P3 5.7 100ft:  Move belay to base of hand crack.  Follow crack up and left, then back right at wedged block in crack to pull onto lower angle rock.  Belay sandy ledge w/10ft flake/spike (detached).  Can combine with P4.

P4 5.7 65ft:  Up V chimney w/wide crack to tunnel.  Around tunnel either L or R to to short crack and ledge at base of Black Face.  We missed this pitch somehow and got into ramp offwidth crawl which was awkward and heady but not difficult.  There was a white sling around a chockstone at the end of the ramp.

P5 5.7 110ft:  Up right passed piton then right of two cracks 8-10ft apart to alcove w/detached block.  Belay at fixed piton & cam?  Staying to the left will put you into 5.9 territory, fun but pumpy!

P6 5.7 110ft:  Jam up flared handcrack to pin then right to another crack and up to Wall St.  Possible to avoid by going left at belay to easier ground.

Upper Exum

Belay as necessary.

  • 60ft up Golden Stair.  At tower go right (E) one rope length.
  • Up either side of chimney & blocks 150ft to base of steep gully (Wind Tunnel) which goes up and right.
  • Climb gully 150ft.  Continue right then back left to crest and exit to boulder ledge at base of Friction pitch (out of sight).  Do not follow gully to end, if so go up and crest out via chimney above Friction Pitch.  Use double crack system on right edge of wide crest to ledge.
  • Friction pitch 120ft, up 15ft from belay then left to two black knobs.  Up and slightly right to groove and then belay.
  • Scramble up and right across black rock gully to small notch.
  • Continue scramble on right side of crest (300ft) and cross over left to V-pitch (Open Book).
  • V-pitch, left corner (150ft) to bench to tower.  Left leaning crack (Petzholdt lieback) to left and then back right to crest.  Use jam crack to ascend next tower.
  • Follow crest to summit.  Possible variation on west side of summit to knife edge.
  • Decend via O-S.  Skip the Sargents Chimney rap, it sucks!  Rope catching potential, hard to get into, time consuming.  Not worth it.  The main rappel is very comfortable to do with a 70m from the slung rock anchor.  Going from the bolts would proably also be easy, just head to rappeller’s right as you get to the bottom.

The decent also took more time than I expected.  The Owen-Spaulding is the decent and it is a little ambiguous if you didn’t come up it.  We eventually made it down to the Lower Saddle after much braided trail hopping.  Getting back to the tent was great.  Tent to tent we were 4:35am to 8pm.  An arduously long day, made a success only because of good weather.  Primary improvement would have been aerobic training before the trip.  Living at sea level also sucks.

Our dinner for that evening was decidedly less appealing than the night before.  My dehydrated chicken, veggies, spices and brown rice didn’t come back to life.  The brown rice was pretty hard still.  In my tests at home everything worked fine but I had some kasmati rice instead.  We went to bed tired and a little hungry.

Day 6 – Thursday

Thursday was supposed to be another big day.  We were to do Irene’s Arete (5.8) which is a beautiful knife edge arete on Disappointment Peak.  While eating breakfast we pretty much came to the conclusion that we were wiped out and decided to just hike out and leave Ireren’s for another day.  Disappointing indeed because it is such a classic from what I’ve read.  We packed up and said goodbye to our marmot neighbors and headed back down canyon.  As we approached the Caves and Meadows we heard pikas along the trail and once in a while got to see one scurry through the rocks at blinding speed.  You know you’re in alpine country when you see marmots and pikas.  Oh I guess steep rock, snowfields, and a glacier also clue you in.

We took our time on the way down and got back to the Climber’s Ranch in about 3.5 hours.  As we tossed the packs in the car it was an unspoken question and answer that we’d be going for pizza and beer at Dornan’s before cleaning up.  We wouldn’t be the first, last, or messiest climbers to ever walk through their doors.

Pizza was decidedly disappointing.  Living in New Haven, where some say the best pizza in the country is, really jades you.  I found Dornans to be undercooked and limpy.  Chris proclaimed he’d be eating Modern Pizza shortly after getting back from the trip.  The beer on the otherhand was tasty and we polished off a pitcher.

Back at the Ranch we cleaned up and lounged, basking in the “yeah we summited yesterday” altitude.  We found out that the leader of the team who summited after us had a pretty crazy story.  After getting down from the the summit to the Lower Saddle, quite slowly, they had to get some climbers to bring them down to their campsite at the Moraine.  Seems that they had forgotten or purposefully left their headlamps out of their summit packs–crazy.  Once back to their tent they packed up and headed out, since their plan was to summit and hike out the same day.  They headed down the trail but got to the boulder field near the Cave/Meadows area and couldn’t find the trail in the dark, even with lights at this point.  So they decided to bivy  between the boulders until first light then head out.  Awesome first rock climbing experience for the second, eh?  Wouldn’t be surprised if he never steps into a harness again.

Day 7 – Friday

Early Friday morning, 4am, we woke up and started heading towards Yellowstone in the dark.  The idea was that we were pretty much done climbing in the Tetons, mainly because of the long approaches.  Our flight out of Salt Lake was Sunday so we had a couple days worth to kill.  We headed north and dodged a few elk on the sides of the road, but not much else.  Apparently no one gets up as early as we do to head to Yellowstone.  Just as dawn was starting to break we got to the park and got to Yellowstone Lake.  This afforded us some awesome views of the sunrise.  

I’ve never been to Yellowstone, though it probably is the most famous National Park.  My family didn’t take many trips via plane when I was young and I saw plenty of the northwest corner of Maine, but not too much else.  Being able to hit two National Parks in quick succession was nice.  

At the overlook we came to on the lake there were a couple thermal areas just off the road.  It was very strange seeing steam pouring out of the ground.  Signs told us that we should stay behind the fence lest we fall through and become steam cooked.

Our less than one day trip to Yellowstone was a tourist’s view of the park.  We were ok just driving to all the normal touristy sights.  The longest excursions out of the car were to walk down the Old Tom’s path near the big waterfall in the “grand canyon of Yellowstone” and around the Noris gyser area.

The waterfall was impressive especially with the low light from the morning.  There is A LOT of water coming over that thing.  The Noris Gyser area was quite impressive and the cheapest way to feel like you are on another planet.  Gysers, strange yellow and orange water and mineral deposits, fermaroles, terrible smells, bleached white earth, aquamarine bubbling pools.  I cannot imagine what it must have been like to first come across these sights as you bushwacked through the forest.  Amazing.

Our trip to Yellowstone was quite short and by early afternoon we were headed out the West Entrance to make our way south towards Salt Lake.  I was able to tick of Montana on my “states I’ve visited” list.  Nothing interesting to report other than country roads with 70 mph speed limits.

5 ish hours later we rolled into Salt Lake and to Alex’s house.  He’s a friend I met through Jesse.

Day 8 – Saturday

Unfortunately Alex banged up his shoulder and wouldn’t be able to climb, but he did give us some good ideas and the phone book sized guidebook for the Wasatch range.  We grabbed the book, some snacks, water and drove up Big Cottonwood Canyon to Steort’s Ridge (5.6).  This fun climb is like a baby version of the Whitney-Gilman and is finished up in 4-5 pitches.  Clean rock and good exposure and only 10 minutes from the car, pretty freaking awesome.  The temps were predicted to be in the 90’s so we headed out of the east facing cliff of Steort’s to another area around the buttress an in the shade.  Here we played around on some 5.8s and one 5.10- sport route.  Even though the temps were approaching 90 it really wasn’t too bad because we were in the shade and the humidity is so low.  We finished up the morning at Lone Star Taqueria, I highly recommending it if you are in the area.

Day 9 – Sunday

Our flight out back to NYC, where Chris’ wife would pick us up, wasn’t until 5 in the afternoon.  This gave us some more time to get a little more climbing in.  Alex highly recommended Pentapitch (5.8).  The approach is a little longer than the one the previous day but still pretty easy overall.  If you’re interested the July 26, 2012 comment on MP about the approach is spot on.  No other beta required.  The route is typically done, despite the name, as three pitches.  The first on its own.  The second and third combined, and the fourth and fifth together.  This was our plan.  

I started up the low angled slabby terrain.  The first and second pitches have interesting layback moves for your hands and smears for feet. The laybacks are from short seams that just eat up nuts.  I kept climbing and misjudged the end of the first pitch.  As I neared the end of my 70m rope I realized I was well into the second pitch.  I made an impromptu tree belay and brought Chris up.  We were only about 20 feet from a big ledge so Chris just scrambled up to the ledge.  We checked our notes, and yup we were at the top of the third pitch.  The fourth pitch takes a little bit of faith since it looks like completely blank slab, no bolts.  After about 20 feet up a nice ramp leading up left appears and it has gear.  After a little was you get to a set of chains.  Clipping the chains I leaned over into the finger crack and fished in my new black Alien.  Stepping into it I headed up and it was 30-40 ft of awesome locks and jams then to the top of P5.  So in the end we did Pentapitch in 2 pitches + 20 ft scrambling.

We packed up and even though we probably could have done something else we decided to head out.  On our way to the airport we stopped at the Red Rock Brewery and had a late lunch early dinner.  Nothing special happened on the flight home.  Arriving in NYC we were greeted by Lisa Car Pickup service and whisked away back to West Haven.

Overall this was a great trip.  Being in the mountains, alpine wildlife, and classic climbs was really great.  Chris as always proved to be a good climbing and travel partner and I wouldn’t hesitate to go on another trip of this magnitude again.

Next up my fourth National Park this year.  Yosemite in October…

Tetons Pictures

Yellowstone Pictures