We’ve really missed swinging tools and haven’t ice climbed since Bozeman back in January. So we opted to get in some ice climbing at the seracs of Mt Baker. The approach was quick and, although we found over 10 tents at the Heliotrope Ridge camp, we found plenty of room to climb. All the folks camping were part of classes so they were mostly practicing rope travel and not on the vertical ice.

The ice is blue at this point, but the walls still aren’t particularly high. Maybe 25ish feet. We climbed to the upper seracs on the first day and climbs some of the tall fins. Easy to access with W1 climbing to approach the walls which were W2-3. The next day we stayed on the lower glacier and climbed the same big wall we used last year. Fun overhang! Probably W3.

On August 16 Damien and I packing up our camp in the South Fork after climbing South and Middle Teton. Our next objective was The Grand. We descended down the talus of the South Fork, cut above the meadow at 9,300 feet to meet with the creek flowing below Spalding Falls. We crossed the creek and met up with the Trail being careful not to step on any alpine flora and remain on the rocks. The route up the North Fork is not a boot path like the South Fork. It is actully a trail completely with switchbacks, albeit steep at times. We hardly noticed though even with our heavy packs. We were distracted by a chance meeting with Jimmy Chin on his way to solo The Grand Teton via Owen Spalding with his friend. we were wondering if we would run into him! Its always great to run into your heroes in the backcountry.

After the switchbacks the trail curved deep into the North Fork passing over a creek below the Ranger tents. The tread then vanishes in some large boulders. We climbed through the boulders and easily regained the trail which had a sign indicating the start of the moraines camp. We decided to take a nearby camp with a windbreak at 10,800 feet. There was  a nearby “cave” in the boulders as well that we toyed with staying in. It had multiple rooms and had some work done on it for sleeping. However, after by bear spray fell into a crack and I had to borrow deep in the “basement” of the cave to retrieve it and Damien contemplated the possible presence of spiders, we decided to stay in the tent unless the weather got bad. At this pint we had no idea what the forecast was since we hadn’t been in the front country in three days. Jimmy had said it was supposed to be nice though. We figured he knew what he was talking about!

After setting up camp we headed up the trail to check out the lower Saddle and Scout the Owen Spalding route. Enroute Damien turned off the trail about ten minutes from camp to where water was visibly running on the glacier to the left to filter. There is no water access further down as it flows under the rocks. Here the water run funneled down the track in the glacier ice. We continued up the easy to follow trail to a headwall. There was an orange handline with knots to ascend this class 4/5 rock. About 2/3 of the way up one must move to the second handline outside of the chimney and out onto the wall. There is a blue bandline when one tops out for extra safety until the trail moves away from the thin ledge. We ran into Jimmy and his friend again as they came down from climbing the Grand.

From the top of the headwall there are several different paths intertwining, but they all lead to the Lower  Saddle. The Lower saddle is at 11,600 feet and is rather broad. Middle Teton is on the left and the Grand rises up on the right. There are several camps, a trickling water source and two guide tents. We could see that the couloir to the Upper Saddle would be complicated as it appeared to be a huge maze of rumble. We would have to study tge route hard that night before turning in. Ascending the couloir to the upper saddle was known to be a route finding challenge.

We descended back down to camp and went to bed way before the sun went down. We planned on an early start… and at 1:38am, Aug 17,  we were on our way back to the Lower Saddle once more.

Once on the lower Saddle we followed good trail on the right until about 12,250 feet to the base of what known as the Black Dike. There is descent trail to follow here and a few cairns. Stay to the left of the small tower known as The Needle. The real difficulty occurs when the trail seems to just run out and a wall rears up in front of you. This is the crux. At this point you will see a rock with a 2 foot horizontal black “ribbon” across is. This left here and traverse right over some class 4 terrain  (you may need to crawl a bit) to a small ridge. Then descend a bit and find “The Eye of the Needle” which is a little tunnel under some boulders. There seems to be nowhere to go after coming out the other end, but look left and you will see a short but scary class 4 hand traverse called “the half belly roll” From here one can ascend straight up over one of the various trails to the Upper Saddle at 13,100. As you near the Saddle though be sure to aim for the right side of the saddle. If you go left, like we did, you will end up on top of this hump that cannot be down climbed easily to reach the start of the Owen Route. We had to downclimb about 250 feet and then climb back up to the right. Our route finding was not exactly easy as the couloir is a maze. We did a fair amount of asking for directions from the guides and took a few wrong turns. The real crux is getting from the traverse to the Eye of the Needle. Once through the Eye of the Needle and half belly roll its pretty straight forward.

Damien and I tied up at the base of the Owen Spalding in some light snow that didn’t last long. We used two 37 meter twin ropes which worked out great. Less length to manage, good rappel length and less weight. We simul-climbed the first pitch. Though on the route there really are no formal pitches. Its kind of do as you wish. Damien led the entire route since speed was of the essence in case of an afternoon storm and switching would take too much time. The OS begins be traversing left past the prayer flags. There is an airy step over a flack on the ledge followed by the famous  Belly Roll. Basically the ledge system is blocked by an overhanging rock with a squeeze space just big enough for the climber to shimmy through on their belly with half their body.. the other half is off the ledge fully exposed to a shear drop off. Airy!

After that there is some straight forward class 5 moves. Damien built an anchor on a flat area just below the “crux” 5.5 move called the Double Chimney. Thw name is no longer accurate as this used to be two chimneys, but the divider flake has fell over about 60 years ago so now it is more of an open book kind of chimney. About this time some clouds rolled in and it began to hail. The temperature also dropped quite a lot. Multiple hail cells would pass over us as we climbed the rest the route.Luckily, we like climbing is less than optimal weather. Its kind of our trademark.  It was difficult for Damien to jump into the chimney, but easy for him to climb out. it was the opposite for me. I’m small and can scramble into anything, but climbing out requiring some awkward stemming moves and pulling up on less then bomber handholds. Good pro though for this move.

The route continues to be exposed, but still relatively low fifth class. Damien belayed me in from the beginning fo the catwalk, which is an exposed ledge that circles around right to the base of Sargent’s Chimney. Sargent’s Chimney is low class five, but not really protectable. We stayed roped up for it, but it really didn;t matter since there was no pro placed. There are definitely some exposed moves. At the top of Sargent’s we untied. From here we scramble up the path of least resistance veering left over brown rock and slabs to the summit. A trail runner who stopped his watch at 2.15 hours came up shortly after us. I have no idea where he timed it from but it was impressive regardless. It was 10am and we’d been climbing for 8.5 hours! But we we had made it. we’d made it through hail, snow and wind! We had trained all summer and it had led to success at 13,776 feet! Words cannot describe how happy we were to be on the summit of the Grand. But of course we were only halfway done.

We reversed route back down which unfortunately meant we had to down climb the class 5 Sargent’s chimney unprotected. It was somehow fun though. At the base of the chimney we walked skiers left  along the wide ledge and down a few steps to where there is a cord wrap station (protected bye a fire hose oddly enough) and a bolted wrap station right next to it. We used the cord rap station since it was slightly lower. We would not be able to see the bottom of the rappel which made things a bit intimidating. I went first and found, to my delight, that this was the most fun rappel I had ever done!. There are lots of overhangs, the last one be particularly long as you lower yourself in mid air. Of course this is along where the ropes chose to get tangled and it was tedious getting out the twists as a hing in space. Still the best rappel I’ve ever done!

We coiled up our ropes and prepared to descend to the Lower Saddle. The sky was getting more menacing looking and sure enoguh we heard a clap of thunder halfway down the couloir. Some rain began to fall as we traverse the half belly roll, but it didn’t last long. We managed to find our way to the Eye of the Needle, but discovered there were two tunnels. we took the wrong one, note that the  correct tunnel is the the right as you come down. Down go through the tiny squeeze hole on the left like we did! We had to climb back down the the right tunnel. A guide pointed us in the safest way down to avoid rock fall from above climbers. Basically the idea is after doing the traverse following the needle stay to skier’s left.

Thunder was heard in the distance, but it never arrived at the Grand. We descended back to our camp and crawled into our tent just as a steady rain began to fall. We’d done it. We’d climbed all three of the Tetons: South, Middle and Grand!

We hiked out of the moraines the next day. It was a sunny day and it seemed like all the little critters were out on the trail feeding. They didn’t move at all as we passed! However, an hour after we arrive back at Lupine Meadows Trailhead thunder rolled over the Teton Range and the mountain were engulfed in lightning, clouds and rain. The weather window was over. We had somehow timed everything perfectly!

 

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August 15 called for 20% thunder in the afternoon. Typical Teton forecast. We decided to start our ascent of Middle Teton at about 5:30 am to avoid any chance of being on the mountain anywhere near the afternoon. Lightning just isn’t appealing for a climber. We climbed back up the the saddle at 1400 pretty easily in the dim light following carins and the boot path we were familiar with from climbing South Teton the day before. See the South Teton report for details on the approach.  After reaching the low point of the saddle (do not cut off to the right until reaching the proper saddle or you will end up on slabby cliffs), we turned right and followed a very distinct booth path along the ridge of Middle Teton and across a broad alpine meadow to the base of the large SW Couloir. The couloir had a descent boot path and is class 3 the whole way up (about 900 feet of scrambling). Beware of loose rock especially in the middle of the couloir when it begins to narrow. Staying right will keep you on less steep rock.

The true summit is on the left upon reaching the upper ridge. There are a few different options for reaching the summit block ranging for class 3 to 4 with a few exposed steps. Our way a was a bit airy, but not tricky. The view of The Grand is electrifying from the summit of Middle.  The Owen Spalding Route is completely visible and we could see climbers on the Lower and Upper Saddles.

We reversed route back down, but ended up taking the wrong trail after crossing the alpine meadow at the bottom of the couloir. We ended up descending the step snow that covered the slabs to the right of the saddle. Not the advised way down, but we made it work. Anther fun climb in the Tetons… now for the Grand!

 

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Our entire summer’s climbing trips and backpacks this season we’re specifically geared to double as training for our biggest adventure of the season. Our goal with the Triple Tetons: South, Middle and Grand. We had secured permits for 4 nights back in January and prepped by climbing lots of volcanos to get elevations and a bunch of extra long backpacks to get in shape for the mileage and weight we’d need to carry. Between the bear vault, technical climbing gear and food for five days our packs weight about 55ish lbs a piece. We were physically ready and now it all depended on the weather. Could we get a five day window without the infamous afternoon thunder storms of the Rockies? The answer would be YES!!!!

We set up our front country base camp in Colter Bay to secure a place to stay once we returned on Saturday. Then early in the morning on Sunday August 14 we started up the trail a Lupine Meadows just as the sun began to rise. We sang a chorus of “Hey Bear!” as we switch-backed up through the trees and into the high meadows overlooking Taggart and Bradley Lakes Below. The air was cool and the forecast called for a mostly clear day with no storms. We ran into no bears in the low country and were relieved to be out of the main bear territory when we turned at the second junction toward Garnet Canyon.

Almost immediately we were greeted view views of the talus filled canyon and the towering  rocky, masses of the Tetons. We reached Garnet Creek and the Platforms Camp  before noon. At this point the trail vanishes into a field of gigantic boulders. We didn’t find any cairns to mark the way and it was cumbersome to balance of giant packs while jumping and climbing over the massive boulders. Luckily the boulder hoping didn’t last we and we followed a good trail along the  creek to The Meadows Camps at 9,000 feet.

At the Meadows the Canyon splits in the South and North Forks. For South and Middle Teton we turned left onto the South Fork. There is a maze of boot paths through the talus and scree leading up the South Fork. They all lead to the Saddle between Middle and South, so basically the idea is to pick the path you like best. Beware of rockfall though. There are several camping areas on the South Fork. We opted to camp on a pretty grassy ledge with a stream at 9980 feet. It is the first campsite area and there are two camps with windbreaks. We found that the windbreaks didn’t do anything since the wind seems to roll right over it slamming into the tent anyway. We set up camp and looked up. The saddle was at 11,400 feet. There was still plenty of daylight left. Our original plan had been to climb the South Monday and then the Middle on Tuesday before moving to the North Fork. Making Tuesday the heavy day was not really optimal due to th early start the Grand we require on Wednesday. We decided to move things around and climb the South right away. We left camp and headed up to the Saddle.

Again there are many boot baths through the moraines. They are easy to follow and carins were now present to mark the route. Mostly the way veers to the right side of the canyon going over one hump after another with the saddle seeming to new come into view. It is easily at least a two mile walk/scramble to the Saddle. There are some windbreaks in various places along the way and at the saddle. Water availability varies.  The key is make sure to go to the lowest point of the saddle before starting up the route.

After enjoying the scenery of Iceberg lake below and expansive views of Idaho we began climbing up the NW Couloir. The actual Couloir is hard to make out from the Saddle as it looks like one rock face near the top of the slope. But looking closely one can see there is a couloir in-between just above the permanent snow slope. This late in the season an ice axe and crampons was not required. We headed up talus on a vague trail until reaching the top of the ridge near the snow field. Then we followed an exposed class 3/4 route along the top of the slope on trail and rock to reach the couloir. Once in the couolir is was relatively short class 3 scramble to the upper ridge. Here were turned left and followed the broken  ridge easily to the summit of 12514 Feet.  The views from the top are expansive and the Grand can be seen Towering over Middle Teton!

We descended easily and headed back to camp. The next day we would climb Middle Teton.

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Not a typical weekend for us. Damien wanted to take a rest day before our big trip coming up so we planned on doing a one day trip. The objective was Sloan which can be done as a leisurely two days or intense 1 day climb. However, circumstances would change the plan. The route to Sloan was a alot less of a trail than we expected. It was decent until after the multiple river crossings. After that the ribbons and tread pretty much faded out and we found ourselves thrashing through devils climb and scampering over a maze of fallen logs. It was pretty clear after about 45 minutes of bushwhacking that in such conditions the summit would be be very attainable in a day, and getting back in the dark through this terrain would present a large challenge. Luckily it was still early enough to switch gears and head off to plan B: Mount Pugh.

After driving further down the Mountain Loop Highway we finally got on the trail at 9:40am. I’ve climbed this mountain once before, but it was new to Damien. Lots of people label it as scary and technical. But I tend to disagree. It certainly one of the most mellow scrambles I’ve ever done with minimal exposure. Maintly its just long (11 miles) and big elevation gain (5300ft). The longest and most mind-numbing section of the trail is the first 3.5ish miles which switchbacks very very gradually up through the forest, passing a lake at about 3200ft (turn left at the T intersection here). I stress here that the grade is extremely gradual and for a climber used to going straight up it can be very agonizing.

Eventually the forest gives way to an open basin granting some gorgeous views of the valley far below and Stujack Pass above. The grade steepens here as it switchbacks through talus and across steep meadow slopes carpeted in the wildflowers to the pass. But it is steep not nearly as steep as climbers trail.  From the top of the Pass views of Whitechuck and Mount Baker abound, but 1500 feet of climbing stills awaits. After a few more switchbacks the tread follows a “knife-edge”. That’s how it is described and it is the part that scares a alot of folks. I’m not sure why as you don’t walk on top of the edge, but on a fairly wide trail just below it. Its extremely secure and I wouldn’t label it as exposed. At the end of the knife edge there are a few quick class three steps to the rock wall. You’ll recognize there area since you’ll see a steep gully before. The trail is nor clearly visible, but if you stay on top of the ridge and walk to the rock wall you’ll see there is a straight forward class 3 ramp hidden away. From here follow the  clear trail (open also marked by carins) up steep terrain mostly covered in heather to the summit which always seems to be over the next hump, but never is. Luckily the spectacular views off a distraction!

The summit is brood and wide with plenty of space for multiple groups, but we were the only ones there. Remnants of the old fire tower are still there. Clouds were moving in and out over the summit giving it a very alpine feel while still affording us some clear views. We lingers for about 45 minutes before descending the same why we had come. And yes, the forest switchbacks down felt like they would never end!

 

 

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Perfect weather window so why not go on a conditioner to the summit of Mt Rainier? I say conditioner because, well, attempting Rainier was to condition for the high altitude of climbing in the Teton Range in two weeks. So basically Rainier was training this time around, but we also really wanted to not just summit the crater rim this time, but to also get to the very tippy top “Columbia Crest”.

There was computer glitch in the reservation system for Mt Rainier National Park this year so all permits were walk up. At the last second Damien decided that instead of taking a 1/2 day off from work he would take a full day. He wanted to camp outside the Wilderness Office to make sure we had the best chance for getting a permit (and hopefully he would be able to get one without the entire climbing party being present). I would be available to drive over early afternoon just in case there was any issue the rangers issuing a permit to just one party member.  Damien’s Black Friday Technique of sitting outside the office in his camp chair  with his Ipad at 5am and waiting for them to open at 7:00am worked. He secured a permit for Ingraham Flats! I drove out after work to meet him and sleep! We would start our day before the next day technically began. At 10:30pm!

By 11pm we had our packs shouldered and we were walking up the pavement from Paradise. After some star gazers yelled at us for messing up their night vision with our headlamps as we were trying to locate the trail we finally moved away from civilization and onto the dark slopes of Mount Rainier. We like to approach Rainier in the night for two reason. We like to avoid the powerful sun rays that bake the trail and snow slopes to Camp Muir by traveling after sundown. The other reason is so we can arrive to basecamp in the morning and spend the rest of the day sleeping in preparation for an extreme alpine start. We moved surprising well through the night. Normally sleep deprivation gets to me on these star-lite approaches, but for some reason it wasn’t as difficult and although my pack weight upward of 50lbs I didn’t seem to notice that either. I guess training was paying off.

The thr sky was painted with pastel colors as the  sun began to rise. We were at 9000ft by then and looking at Camp Muir ahead which never seemed to go closer no matter how much we walked. It always seems to be just right there, but it never is until you’re 100ft away! We did eventually climb up the steps to the alpine basecamp at around 7:00am. Damien immediately settled down for a nap. We han’t stopped much during the climb up. I was pretty hyper so I talked to a RMI client for a bit. Our journey for the day was not yet over though. We still had about another 1000ft to climb.

After Damien woke up we roped up and began to cross the Colwitz Glacier to Cathedral Rock. The crossing was well maintained with an obvious beating trail as usual thanks to the hard work of the guides. There was one step/jump over crevasse, but nothing more exciting than that. The snow level was up pretty high, but the rocky scamper to the top of Cathedral Rock Ridge was still rather tiring and unpleasant. I’m not the biggest fan of scrambling over loose volcano crud in crampons. I don’t think it was more than 600ft though. From the top of the ridge we continued to climb across the Ingraham Glacier. We passed areas were the glacier was broken up pretty good, but one had to step over a few thin cracks until we reached Ingraham Flats: a flat sheet of ice with no crevasses and our basecamp.

It wasn’t very crowded and we found a nice pre-dug platform secluded off to the side and away from the other private climbers and guided teams. We spent some time melting water and eating oatmeal before putting up our tent. By the time we were all done it was about 10:30am. Clearly that is bedtime! The rest of the day was spent napping, filtering water, enjoying the view and snacking. We needed to be ready for our alpine start… and when the alarm rang at 9:45pm we were ready.

We were the first team to leave camp at 10:45pm. We crossed  glacier though some broken up ice and seracs toward the Disappointment Clever. There was only one short ladder more than 3 ft across that had just been set earlier that night. In fact a whole long of route work had been done by the guides earlier and we were the first ones on the freshly shoveled revised route up. The claim was that the DC route was in the best shape its ever been in history, I think the statement is correct. We followed the tread until reaching the base of the Cleaver. We stepped onto the loose volcanic rock and unroped making it easier to scramble up the rockfall hazard of a feature. The trail up is well marked with flagging this year and pretty easy to follow, but its still not fun to climb. Luckily the route doesn’t stay on the spine of the cleaver, but goes off to the side and follows snow up for the final 300 or so feet. That was a nice surprise.

Roped up again we continued to follow the track. Unlike last year when the route traverse seeral miles to the left before going back right to gain the crater rim, this years route pretty much straight up. A good path was cut into the glacier and it zigged zagged directly up and over several huge and very steep slopes. There were 3 different places were clips were available in the snow for a running belay due to the steep grade, but I;m not sure they wee really needed. We were trailed for a bit by a soloist, but we let him pass us. Still no other teams caught up to us. We could see them below though, huge conga lines of guided teams. We took a quick break at 13,000ft, but other than that we pretty much kept moving. Even when we finally crested the Crater Rim  we didn’t pause. Damien  walked straight across the crater. Last year we had stopped climbing at the rim which is considered a summit, but not the technical high point. We had severe altitude fatigue due to breathing in cooking stove fumes in the Muir Hut (no one went outside due to the 80mph winds last year) and the smoky air for the forest fires. This year both of us felt great and getting to Columbia Crest (the true summit) was a big goal for us.

We reached the base of the final climb before sunrise, but a small glint of pink was on the horizon. We unroped and made the final climb over the pumice to the true summit with 3 soloists. We were the first team to summit that morning at about 5:00am! It was windy, about 30mph, but no unbearably so. The expansive crater was just beginning to get illuminated in the blue dawn light and the lights of Seattle twinkled in the distance. We were on top of Washington on the most perfect morning! And then Damien looked at me with an intensity I had never witnessed before. And, well, I knew immediately what was about to happen. There on the mountain that more than any other mountain in WA is a symbol of determination, fortitude, perseverance and shear beauty he proposed. I cannot imagine a more perfect moment in the mountains…and of course I said yes. well what I said was “Damien I would love to marry you” to which he clarified “so is that a yes?”

Newly engaged we retreated from the windy summit to the shelter of the large rocks near the summit register about 40ft below where the soloist we hanging out. The ground was actually warm there from the thermal activity. Columbia Crest is full of smoking fumeroles, but it surprisingly did not smell of sulfur. Huddled together we all watched as the colors of the sky grew more vivid and finally the sun peaked out over the horizon and illuminated the frozen glacial world around us.  We had arrived to the crest at the perfect time.

We stayed until the guided groups arrived and things began to get crowded. Then we roped back up, crossed the crater and began the descent. It a bit annoying trying to pass all the teams going up, but luckily I was so enamored with the view and being engaged that I didn’t bother me much. Last year we hadn’t been able to see much due to all the forest fire smoke. But this time were were able to see far and wide  as far as Jefferson in Oregon! And Little Tacoma which is as big as Mt Hood looked so tiny below us! We were back at camp at about 10:30am. Most folks descend back to Paradise the same day as their climb, but we preferred to stay on the mountain and had a permit for an extra night. We spent the rest of the day visiting with some other climbers, making up for lost calories and napping. The winds had picked up so we secured the tent more our pickets. It held up well, but it always does. No noise and not flapping from the BD Eldorado!

High winds battered the camp throughout the night. Probably 40mph gusts. Teams still began to depart camp at around 11pm. We woke up to watch their headlamp light ascending the Clever. Its always a beautiful sight. It was cold the next morning when we woke up to watch the sunrise. Another display of beautiful colors. We were reluctant to leave, but after some hesitation and procrastination we packed up camp headed back down to Paradise.

The descent was much nicer than last year. We didn’t enter a cloud of smoke this time around and were weren’t totally exhausted. In fact we both felt rather energetic! As it turned out, Mt Rainier was the easiest mountain  we’ve climbed this year. I guess we’re doing something right with our training!