backcountry travel no boundaries tour 2001


photo by Bill Bonner

beep, beep, beep. The alarm on watch is telling me it’s 4:00am. We are at 12,000 feet, the lower saddle of the Grand Teton. The black morning starts cold and windy. By 5:00am the headlamps illuminate the beginning of what has come to be the longest, hardest, and most exciting day of mountain climbing I have ever experienced.

We watched dawn drip into the rock. A little group of headlights crawled toward us. They were headed toward the same route we were going to climb--or so we thought. The head lamps were, by this time, unnecessary. The only directions we had for our route were a few words and a picture in a Teton guidebook. But from what we read a 50 ft scramble to a prominent ledge seemed obvious.

We met a guided group of two Russian kids our age. They told us we were at the base of the lower Exum not the Petzodlt. We followed their route for 2 pitches, and from there we ended up downclimbing to what seemed like a great, simple, easy climb.

We were still in the shade and some fog was rolling our way. A bit of snow blew straight through our clothes and froze our slow fingers. After 2 more pitches, the cold gave way. Kris was amazed to hear that it had been 5 hours from departure. The next three pitches ended up being the best climbing and the hardest climbing I have ever done. The route quickly petered out into a few small hand cracks with a pretty exposed overhang. The rock also became crumbly.

Kris led, and by the overhanging crux, he was more than spent. Both legs were shakin' and each breath grew louder. He created a move using his head and shoulder to brace and try to put a piece in. I found that the head-bar move proved very useful to clean the nut. Two more pitches with great exposure ended our 5th class climb.

We had about 1,500 feet to scramble. Every now and then a glimpse of our Russian rivals climbing the Petzoldt route. The race to the top ended in victory for the 2 young Americans. A quick snap shot and some of Mary Jane’s dried mangos was all we could muster. I can only compare the view to being in an airliner. Talk about a bird’s eye view.

Later, we partnered up with a couple from the Bay Area. They were awesome. They also did the Petzoldt and said it was great. We tied our ropes together for the 2 rope rappel, and then started down the giant coulier. We were moving quickly to avoid head lamp use. In doing so, however, we went down the wrong way—1,000 feet the wrong way.

To make a very long story short, at 1:00am the next day we found the tent. The 21 hour climb, longest to date. Burnt legs. Empty head and full heart. Fun stuff. And now back on the road.