Grand Teton North Face one day round trip
Grand Teton: Direct North Face (August 20, 1994) written 8/21/94
A couple of weeks ago, a fellow climber, Bruce Becker, remarked that he and a mutual friend, Chuck Odette, were scheming an ascent of Grand Teton's North Face on Saturday, August 20th, in a one day round trip from the parking lot. This route was traditionally climbed in three days. However, Chuck had climbed the route before and was now more challenged by the prospect of completing the route from car-to-car in a single day. After a decade of climbing dozens of routes in the Tetons, the North Face of Grand Teton remained a fascinating enigma that kept luring me, wanting to know it's mysteries, it's challenges, and it's weakness. A few months ago, I knew I had to surpass previous challenges in order renew the excitement of mountaineering which began to seem mundane on many of the easier routes. Anticipating the climb of the Direct North Face, IV, 5.8, brought back a level of excitement I hadn't felt since climbing the North Ridge of the Grand Teton in 1990 and Huascaran Sur in Peru, 1989.
The very conservative local climbing community in which most are content to continue summiting by the easiest routes made finding a partner willing to take on the North Face hopeless. I decided to post to INTERNET's Newsgroup "rec.climbing" hoping to find a reliable and adventurous climbing partner. I received two responses, Allen from Utah, and Ellen from California. Since Allen responded first I began to make plans for our climb. Allen indicated that he had climbed the route before and would only consider repeating the ascent in a one day car-to-car trip. I said, "Your on!". Coincidentally, his desires matched the rest of us, to ascend and return in a single day.
I had never even met Allen Sanderson and was planning to climb the North Face of Grand Teton with him. However, in the years when he was the Northern Rockies regional representative for the Access Fund and I was president of Friends of City of Rocks, our many phone calls and e mailings gave me an intuitive sense of trust in which I could sense with unshakable optimism that Allen would be an excellent climbing partner which through the course of the climb proved to be true.
During mid-week, before the climb I spread out all the possible gear I might possibly take on this climb, realizing that a one day attempt would require going as light as possible with absolute minimal gear, yet not forgetting anything vital to a safe climb. With a crevassed glacier and bergschrund to cross, a nearly 3,000 foot high granite wall, and rappels, a diversity of gear was required. I ended up selecting my expedition pack with a harness, figure 8, sticht plate, helmet, rain clothing, pile jacket, polypro top and bottom, light weight hikers, rock shoes, power bars, Gatorade/Gatorlode (electrolyte/carboload drink mixed), a small camera, crampons, ice axe, and a partial rack to supplement Allen's rack and 60 meter 9.8 mm rope.
Friday, I registered the four of us by telephone and anticipated the climb enthusiastically. That evening just after dusk in Lupine Meadows Trailhead Parking Lot, Allen arrived from Salt Lake City, Utah, Bruce from Idaho Falls, Idaho, Chuck from Logan, Utah, and myself from Rigby, Idaho. By 10 PM we were all sacked out for a brief sleep before a full moon trek to the Teton Glacier. I had decided personally that to conserve energy I would leave before the rest and hike more slowly to be fully rested at the start of the climb, which turned out to be reasonable choice. I mixed a gallon of Gatorade/Gatorlode on Friday and drank about 2/3 of it that night. Upon awakening at 1:30 AM, I consumed the remainder to insure I was completely hydrated and carboloaded. Within 20 minutes, I was prepared and left for a moonlight hike up the 19 switchbacks on the east side of Disappointment peak, a traverse on it's north ledge just beyond Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes, scrambling up the boulder field of the Teton Glacier and down onto the glacier. Allen left at 2:30, followed by Chuck and Bruce at 3:30.
When I got to the glacier I looked back to see two headlamps on the North ledge of Disappointment Peak, realizing it was Chuck and Bruce about 1-1/2 miles behind. Then a few minutes later a headlamp flashed on and off much closer, on the terminal moraine of the Teton Glacier. I got out my headlamp and flashed it on and off in that direction realizing it was Allen, travelling by moonlight, signalling that he was back there and my signal to let him know where I was. The full moonlight was adequate to see for travel but impossible to see others in the darkness at a distance. A while later, I heard Allen's voice on glacier, I responded, but we couldn't see each other until he got on the glacier and I saw his silhouette against the blue-gray reflection of moonlight on the glacier. I then walked down to meet him halfway from where I was. We continued up the center of the glacier travelling with crampons and ice axes. The glacier's upper and lower sections were divided by a steep area with many crevasses. This section, several hundred feet high was harder, older ice while the flatter areas held newer snow which gave firmer footing with crampons. As I neared the top of this section around daybreak, my crampons slipped on the hard surface and I began skating backward unable to self arrest with my ice axe on the rock hard ice. Finally, my left leg fell into the edge of a crevasse stopping me abruptly from a long fall to the lower section of the glacier. Meanwhile, Allen indicated his anxiety, as he had envisioned me shooting past him onto the lower section of the glacier. As it was my knees were bruised, swollen and bleeding and both hands covered with small cuts, torn fingernails and some fingers were numbed from smashing on the ice. I pulled myself together, continued to ascend to where two crevasses crossed the glacier and a Z-shaped bridge seemed the only way across. We roped up and belayed across the bridge to the right then back left. We worked out way up the right side of the upper glacier on more firm footing of snow covered glacier, then traversed to the left side approaching the base of the North Face. Chuck and Bruce decided to avoid the steep section of the glacier and to move onto the east end of the face near the Northeast Couloir and traverse ledges to the main gully leading into the North Face. I located a spot in the bergschrund at the top of the glacier where Allen and I could easily leap from the glacier to a large boulder onto the North Face which was now warmed by the morning sun.
Once on the rock face at 8 AM, we changed into rock shoes and I began to lead the first couple pitches of rock wondering where the route went which seemed obvious from the glacier but more difficult to discern up close with limited visibility as to what lay above with vertical and overhung walls abounding. Once above the steep lower pitches, Allen led us into the same gully as Chuck and Bruce who by now had attained the same level on the face due to more moderate climbing from the east.
One moderate pitch led to a traverse to the Guano Chimney. The traverse was nearly unprotectable with nary a crack to be found on fairly easy terrain. Finally arriving at the Guano Chimney (5.6), it was obvious that the name was very appropriate as the rock looked like the floor of a chicken coup covered with bird droppings and making some footholds slimy, a very unforgettable lead!! Above the Chimney I was elated to find we had finally arrived at the First Ledge, the widest, longest ledge on the North Face.
Bruce and Chuck made good time on the ledge and were out of sight ahead of us. Allen and I traversed the ledge which angled up to the west and found some interesting friction climbing and luckily melting snowfields to fill our water bottles. While on the ledge we were pelted by a rock shower with rocks eerily buzzing from their high speed, with impacts sounding like explosions, leaving a smell like burning gunpowder. I was very glad I had a helmet on and held my pack above me to give more protection. While resting on the ledge, we heard booming rumbles from the glacier below as large sections of the steep portion on Mount Owen, to the north, slid off onto the lower glacier shattering into smaller chunks of bright white snow and ice.
At the west end of the First Ledge we arrived at an exposed cove for the belay up a 5.7 crack, then face climb to the Second Ledge. I led the crack climb finding it quite interesting and very exposed with nothing but air below. Allen led a balancy traverse to the Second Ledge, which was traversed right to the west to reach a low angle chimney followed by a short left-facing dihedral with crack and face holds leading to the Third Ledge. Traversing right again led to the Pendulum Pitch (5.8).
Allen offered the lead to me, but by now I was tired, sweaty, cold, shivering and mildly dehydrated. I suggested he go for it. Even following the pitch was strenuous with a combination of fatigue, cold, and high altitude. The holds on the vertical section of the pitch had water running down them making it slippery. The horizontal traverse which followed was the most strenuous part of the climb (especially with a heavy pack on) with a ledge that disappeared and turned into a roof with a horizontal hand jam crack traverse with the best finger jam holds I think I have ever seen. There were adequate footholds below the traverse which was again an airy space with the glacier thousands of feet below. The belay for the pitch was in a small protected cove was on the Fourth Ledge.
On the Fourth Ledge, which was the narrowest and the steepest, another rightward traverse led to the Traverse into the "V" at the top of the North Face. Allen led out of the cove which was very narrow and had an overhang making it awkward to move as he had to lay on his right side to keep his pack out of the way and push himself along with his feet on tiny edges. On top of that, it was probably 60 feet out that a protectable crack allowed him to set protection for the lead. Allen led the "Traverse in to the V" pitch. The crux of the pitch was a balancy foot traverse with little or no handholds. From there it was a scramble to the summit arriving at 6 PM, exactly 10 hours to the minute from when we started the face that morning. From there we descended and completed the Owen Rappel into the Upper Saddle, descended to the Lower Saddle and started hiking out. By the time we reached the Meadows camping area it was travel by moonlight again. All of us arrived by moonlight at the trailhead between 10 PM and midnight, too tired for anything but sleep.
The next morning, Bruce and Chuck left to get breakfast and agreed to check us out at the ranger station, where Allen and I stopped to chat with rangers anyway. Allen and I decided to feast on a good breakfast at "The Bunnery" in Jackson and then travel home. The climb had been a pleasant success and seemed to whet the appetite for more long mountainous faces. Would I do the route again? Yes!