No. 2 - Bouldering Burnout - Wild Iris Media

No. 2 - Bouldering Burnout

I convinced my husband, Mike, to join me for the three pitch Owen-Spaulding Route (5.4) on The Grand Teton. The fourteen mile trip covers 7,000 feet of vertical elevation gain and stands at an altitude of 13,770 feet. Summited by thousands each year, it’s a right of passage for budding alpinists. The route is traditionally completed in two days with a bivvy, but we opted to do it light and fast in a day to avoid hauling gear.

Who wouldn’t want to climb that?

Labor Day weekend arrived. We spent a short night “bandit camping” at the Lupine Meadows parking lot. I rolled out of my sleeping bag at 2:30 AM, retrieved my climbing pack from the roof box and almost cried. It was 40 degrees and my pack and clothes were soaked from a leaking water bottle. I realized my headlamp was also dead, and I thought we would have to retreat. Like usual, Mike came to the rescue. He had extra dry layers and an emergency headlamp. I changed, made a quick cup of coffee, and headed for the trailhead in the dark. We pushed past the winding switchbacks, startled “bears” (deer), smooth granite boulder fields, and pristine meadows as dawn began to peak over the valley. After five miles in the dark, we thought we could see the pointy “summit” of The Grand!

The “summit” at dawn.

Our food choice was laughable. We didn’t want to risk hunger, so we packed an entire pizza, two energy bars, some energy blocks, and two Red Bulls (for Mike, of course)! By the time we made it to the second scree field, we realized that the actual summit sat a full mile or two beyond. The pizza sat heavy in our stomachs. Our heads were light with elevation, and our packs felt like they were filled with rocks. Weather was moving in. Guided parties were retreating. Do we push on?

Clouds building in the distance.

Mid-morning brought hurricane force winds over the lower saddle. I could barely stand upright. I was beginning to wonder why people did this for fun. And how do people run this thing in three hours? We pushed to the upper saddle. The climb was hidden behind fog and clouds. We passed more retreating parties as we moved across the saddle to look at the base of the climb.

View of the Lower Saddle from the Upper Saddle. Mike’s orange helmet is visible below me.

The technical climb looked easier than I thought. I was reassured, but wanted to hurry to beat the weather. We decided it would be faster and easier to solo. The traverse had a huge ledge for hands, but was short on feet. I tenuously smeared with thousands of feet of exposure below. We both easily completed the traverse, but my heart beat a bit faster. The chimneys felt secure and I was stoked. I was more relaxed climbing than hiking!

Shivering mid-route, I realized that we were seeing things very few see. These are views I’ll remember for the rest of my life.

We briefly pulled into the sun and snapped a summit selfie. I was relieved, but we were only halfway there.

Summit selfie. It looks more pleasant than it was.

Thunder quietly rumbled in the distance, so we didn’t waste any time finding the rappel station. A few missteps on the way down had us back at the moraine as it started to rain. We increased the pace to escape the exposure.

The meadows between rain showers. We probably didn’t need to filter the crystal clear runoff.

By the time we made it to the switchbacks, our glycogen stores were depleted. I could barely move my feet. I was jealous of the fresh, bright-eyed backpackers on their way to a starry night of camping. Finally after “thousands” of switchbacks, we could see the trailhead in the distance. Victory beers awaited!

-Abby Mills for Wild Iris Media

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