After a hot, mostly flat, nearly 5hr, post-Speedgoat 50K drive from Salt Lake City to Jackson, Frosty and I suffered through the downtown tourist traffic (such novices! take the side streets to skirt the masses!) and headed directly to Teton Mountaineering where, with nary a pause, I dropped $40 on A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range (3rd Edition), justifying it as a birthday present to myself. The cashier quipped, “Getting the bible, eh?” I didn’t need to, but I like books and I like mountains, and this book is an exemplary nexus of the two.
UPDATE 8/23: Andy Anderson just took 59 seconds off Kilian’s time … the Grand FKT stood for 29 years until finally surpassed by Kilian, which only lasted for 12 days!
The opening sentence of this fine tome’s Introduction–”Almost everyone who has done any mountain climbing in the United States sooner or later visits the Tetons and ascends one or more of the high peaks.”–pretty much sums up my reason for making the trip. I had four days between Speedgoat and the Outdoor Retailer Show back in SLC, so the Tetons were the obvious choice.
With its striking 7000′ of relief from valley floor to the Grand summit, the eastern front’s complete lack of foothills, and heaps of quality crystalized rock, the range has been attracting people of a vertical persuasion for quite some time, well before the first undisputed ascent of the 13,770′ Grand back on August 11, 1898. Indeed, the guidebook continues its definitive tone with: “There is perhaps no climbing area in the country that can match the Tetons for general mountaineering of an alpine nature with excellent rock and moderate snow.” It seems Ortenburger and Jackson are as in love with the range as guidebook authors should be.
Good ideas have a way of attracting good people, and spending time in the Teton Range is no exception. While chatting with Kilian in Utah, I found out he was planning a quick trip to Wyoming as well, and we planned on meeting up for some running and summits. Kilian was a little later leaving SLC as he had to wait for his videographer friend Seb Montaz to arrive, so I set off early Monday morning from the Lupine Meadows trailhead with plans to ascend the Grand.
Alas, my lack of knowledge with the area and general impetuosity got the better of me, and when I arrived at the Meadows camping area at ~9400′ I accidentally chose the more exciting-looking saddle–the low point between the South and Middle Tetons that still had a substantial lingering snowfield–instead of the correct route to the Grand, which bears to the north side of the Middle Teton. By time I realized my mistake I was too lazy to descend the 2000′ back to the Meadows, so I simply continued on for a tag of the Middle Teton’s still suitably iconic summit. Nearly back at Lupine Meadows after a little over 3hr on the mountain, I crossed paths with Seb and Kilian heading up (it was nearly noon!), with plans for some extensive filming on the Grand. (Despite my telling them of my route-finding mistake, they made the same exact mistake, but didn’t ascend as high and persevered for a casual summit of the Grand, making for a very long day indeed.) That evening, we reconvened at the trailhead, dipped in the river for a quick bath to wash the day’s salt off, and had a moonlight dinner picnic on the shores of Jenny Lake.
Tuesday, Kilian and I went for a proper recce of the Grand. Kilian had his eye on Bryce Thatcher’s venerable roundtrip speed record of 3:06:25, dating from August 26th, 1983, so some route familiarization was in order. The Grand is one of those peaks that, by its sheer imposing profile, practically begs to be climbed. And, once climbed, it remains so inspiring that it must be scaled again. Eventually, as humans are wont to do, this sort of integration with a place naturally leads to wanting to do the same thing over, but this time fast.
I find that the kind of relationship with the land that is necessary for going fast–whatever speed that means for the individual–requires a level of intimacy that is ultimately one of the most rewarding experiences in the mountains. Sure, certain macro-level views and vistas may be missed in the midst of a time-trial-type effort, but the micro-level intensity of attention needed to go quickly offers up an at least equally-satisfying connection to one’s surroundings.
Bryce’s record happened a long time ago (1983), and at the time he was experiencing some competitive back and forth with a contemporaneous mountain runner–Creighton King–who only 16 days earlier had set the record at 3:30:39 (and only 11 days before King shredded the downhill at the Pikes Peak Marathon in a then-fastest and still-nearly-unmatched 1:15:46 to move from 4th at the summit to champion at the finish line). Last summer, Idaho mountain runner Luke Nelson took a worthy shot at Bryce’s time, and came up with a 3:33:02. At the time, I was recovering from a broken leg, but mentally took note: Next Summer.
And then, last month, mountain runner Rickey Gates went to the Grand–with Luke in tow–and after a recce or two, blasted a 2:06/1:13 for a 3:19 roundtrip. When I saw Rickey the week after his run on the Grand, he was slightly concerned with whether the giant, oozing scrape on his shin was becoming infected. Rickey’d carried an ice axe with him on his attempt, running to the snow field above the Meadows before hacking his way straight up to the Lower Saddle, stashing the axe, and then retrieving it on the descent before clearly taking an aggressive glissade back down.
My run up and down the Grand with Kilian–beyond being simply a fantastic day out with a like-minded individual–was more of a fact-finding mission than anything else. We were slated to do some filming with Seb in the boulder field just below the meadows, so there would be no true legitimacy to any times we posted on the day. It would, however, give each of us a first-cut feel for what was possible on the mountain.
On my run down from the Middle the day before I had located what I assumed to be the “old climbers trail” that Luke referenced in his 2011 run report, so on our way up the switchbacks I showed Kilian this line and suggested that this would be the best way to go in a record run. We ran to the boulders (Platforms) at what I would call a casual training pace (reached in 42:25) before stopping the watch and taking ~30min to shoot some video with Seb. After the short film shoot, I started my watch again and Kilian and I continued up the mountain; it took a while to get the legs back into a nice climbing groove after our extended break.
Above the Meadows the trail becomes a little less carpet-like, but there is still a very well-established route to the Exum Guide tents at the 11,600′ Lower Saddle. There was only a small snowfield just below the headwall, and Kilian and I didn’t step on any snow during the entire ascent. We did eschew the fixed line at the headwall for a couple simple 3rd-ish/4th-ish Class moves to ascend to the Lower Saddle (which we hit in 1:28).
Above the Saddle the route enters a jumbly gully of boulders and ledges that we navigated with more than a few mistakes. I led the way and set the pace (mostly because I’m not as fast as Kilian and because Kilian was busy taking some short clips of video, unbeknownst to me for most of the day), but it seemed a lot of time could be made up through here by sussing the most efficient line.
At the Upper Saddle (reached in 1:54), a few parties of heavily-equipped climbers were milling about, but we simply stepped past them in our running shorts and shoes and engaged the more technical last 700′ of the mountain. While certainly spectacular and airy, I found Broadway on the East Face of Longs Peak to be a bit more impressive than either the Belly Roll or Crawl and the Chimneys above there seemed to be on par with the 5.4-5ish climbing found on the Kieners Route on Longs; I never felt at all insecure.
Kilian and I reached the summit at 2:05:10–not including our film stop down below–and I stopped the watch again for a few minutes of savoring the expansive view, the perspective, and our tandem effort. Again, the quantitative purpose of this particular outing wasn’t to chase any records, but simply to gather some data on how fast this thing might go. Leaving the watch running for extended, deliberate pauses wouldn’t have been helpful in that respect.
After some sight-seeing (mostly lots of Grand Traverse scoping) and an obligatory summit-shot, I re-started my watch and Kilian and I started down. I initially led us down to the top of the standard rappel, which was a bit funny, but we eventually made our way back down the chimneys and ledges to the Upper Saddle (2:16) where we bumbled our way down the gully to the Lower Saddle (2:32), mostly trying not to kick rocks down onto the parties below us. From there to the bottom it was just a simple trail run–punctuated with a short, obligatory glissade below the headwall–back down to Lupine Meadows for a 1:17:55 descent.
The next morning, I wanted to head up the Grand again before having to drive back down to SLC, but some early electrical storms in the high peaks had different plans, so I was relegated to a couple of laps on Snow King before hitting the road to Utah.
Since then, there’s been a flurry of activity up in the Tetons. Dakota Jones–a fellow aspirant at combining running and climbing–is currently there. He’s tagged the Grand a handful of times in the last week and scouted Teewinot and Owens before spending a (very long) day in the Wind Rivers (which he boldly proclaimed, “better than the Tetons”) with 2010 Hardrock 100 Champ and scrambler extraordinaire Jared Campbell.
And Kilian has returned, as planned. Just a couple days ago–after a couple more recce runs, one of which apparently included Swedish mountain runner Emelie Forsberg completing the roundtrip in a likely women’s FKT of 3:51–Kilian took the record deep into the sub-3hr realm with a 2:54:01, much as I expected he was capable of doing. There is some discussion as to which route exactly he took and its relative legitimacy, but to me, it’s fairly simple: Kilian got up and down the mountain under his own power faster than anyone else ever has, and that’s inspiring. As any record does, it redefines human potential, it motivates a desire for growth and improvement, and it leads the way for anyone paying attention. All of these things are fairly vital in the scope of human experience, and I, for one, can’t imagine a more magnificent setting in which such efforts could be conducted. Here’s to many a more summit views for anyone who’s interested.
This just in….Tony Krupicka demolished the Record on Gannett Peak a few days ago. The highest mountain in Wyoming is normally done in 3 days; it is remote and requires glacier and rock work. The previous best was 12 hrs 39 mins and he did it in an amazing 8:46! ~Blog post and photos soon.