The Grand Teton
Second highest peak in Wyoming (after Gannett Peak)
Straight up iconic.
Joey & I met almost exactly one year ago in the Wind Rivers. He had just completed a solo summit of Gannett (can you say badass?) while Virginia & I were ending the second leg of our 200-mile Wyoming trek (okay, again – badass!). We hiked the last several miles out together, filling each other with various adventure stories. At the trailhead he offered us a ride into Pinedale & we exchanged contact info, vowing to stay in touch.
I always knew I would climb mountains with him some day, but the reality of it didn’t sink in until about a month ago when he told me he was headed north & asked if I was interested in climbing some peaks. He casually threw out The Grand & I agreed with blind enthusiasm. This was a mountain I grew up admiring & photographing, one I always felt called to climb but never quite knew I was capable enough to.
The seed was planted in fertile soil. Watered with eagerness, nourished with Wim Hoff breath, strong daily yoga/dancing & walking practices, this alpine wildflower finally bloomed!
We warmed up with a 12-mile ascent up Mount Rearguard a couple days before. This peak is one of the tallest in the Beartooths at 12,204 feet, no defined trail most of the way, 99 false summits, and a serious challenge. This, paired with a solid rest day swimming in Yellowstone Lake, napping in the sun, hydrating and eating delicious food, proved to be a recipe for successful & strong mountain climbing ahead.
Fiona, Joey & I woke at 3am after light sleep & shooting star night sky dreams. The dark drive to the trailhead was a mix of emotions, anticipation, a desperate trying to stay zen like with Indian flute & drum tunes blasting. We hit the trail around 4:15 with headlamps illuminated & sauntered through the sleeping forest & along the smooth switchback trail up & up & up. Spirits were high & everyone seemed so determined that we started at an aggressive pace which soon slowed down, silently repeating the mantra “please let us get up & down, safe & sound.”
The orangey golden sliver moon rose before the sun, who followed slowly. Bloody morning glow turned to dawn turned to day as we make our way up Garnett Canyon. The Middle & South Teton lit up a pink explosion as the trail went from smooth dirt to rocky to a boulder scramble to an avalanche deposit snow field. Rock steps led up the right canyon wall along a steep waterfall & I felt more energetic & focused & capable than I have on any other hike. Maybe it was the preparation or the adrenaline or the Osha Root, who knows!?
After another boulder field, there comes a short rock climb section I momentarily froze & freaked out on. I am not much of a rock climber, so this was relatively new territory to me. Also, have I mentioned I was wearing Walmart running shoes a size & a half too big that I happened to find on the sidewalk one day & decide were appropriate to wear for this? YEAH. Deep practiced breaths continually brought me back & eased the way all day.
Fiona had dropped & stashed her pack by now because it was far too heavy to continue carrying up, leaving Joey & I as the porters for our few necessities. She had almost given up by this point, but the lack of weight gave her spirit a lift to carry on. We finally reached the lower saddle & stopped for a snack break while Huckleberry Joe pointed out the route we would take to the upper saddle.
The trail from there is loose & rocky & a random weaving of several different trails. We encountered another small but scary climb challenge over a large boulder & through a crack. This was the only point we used rope assistance & it was simply looped around one wrist as a security blankey more than anything. It didn’t seem so bad as soon as we were over, but my confidence was still lacking at this point.
At the upper saddle we had a few more bites, water, and changed into climbing shoes & helmets. The view from here is vast & steep & awe-inspiring to say the least. I could feel my heart beat in my tingly belly reminding me – I AM ALIVE. The cliffside close proximity of death is a great awakener. One wrong move… don’t even think about it & definitely do NOT look down.
Captain Joey led the way as an absolute steady, supportive, encouraging guide. We moved slow & with great intent. With each solid hold & strong pull up, I felt my confidence & trust in the mountain expand exponentially. The holds are abundant & easy to find & I felt as if this mountain truly WANTS to be climbed. My body seemed to quickly acclimate to the movements required & found ease in the long stretches & the balance & the breath necessary to climb gracefully.
We reached the summit hand in hand in hand at 1:30pm, joined by a group of jovial climbers from Chile, Cali, Colorado & beyond. We shared congratulations, chocolate covered espresso beans, the last of the water, ecstatic laughter & the most incredible view. Sunny blue bird sky perfection above, vast Wyoming landscape below. We could have stayed there forever, but we knew the “easy” part was over.
One of my biggest fears ever is going down. And that is true whether interpreted literally or symbolically, physically or mentally. I prefer going up, the highs & the climb… I do not like the descent. Not being able to see where I am going, having to look down & trying not to look DOWN, the downward pull of gravity that is great until you fall… all of those things… not my fave! However, I felt more confident by this point – I did get all the way up there after all – and willed the way beyond my fear.
Again we took our sweet time, making each movement a goal in itself & keeping three points of contact on the rock at all times. The constant & instantaneous decision-making of mountaineering exercised my mind as the movement exercised my body. We cheered wildly at the upper saddle, proud of all of us for not just making it down, but improving in every aspect along the way. We mindfully scrambled our way down the slick slope, trying our best not to send loose rock below. The lower saddle greeted us with a lightness of knowing we would actually make it!
However, back around one of the boulder gardens, I felt perhaps too cocky & a little tired & was moving too fast without enough focus & slipped on a rock. I fell. Hard. Back hitting the rock, sending my helmet into my spine & knees splaying out in opposite awkward angles producing an immediate excruciating pain. I laid there writhing, cursing, trying to breathe it out for a few moments while Joey & Fiona rushed to me thinking the worst. Joey later told me he imagined having to carry me out or needing rescue & spending the night. But I heard nothing pop or crack, and didn’t even consider not walking out. The initial rush of pain subsided & we began walking again at my pace, seven miles still remaining. The boulder hopping & stair-stepping was not pleasant at all & I had to really focus on each step, not putting too much pressure or angle on my right leg. And for the first time all day, my mental state took a dive. I was dragged down into negativity, self pity, absolute hatred for the rock obstacles & stayed there for a long mile or two.
When I paused to look around at days last light illuminating Garnet Canyon & the crystal rushing water & the grand peaks above, I felt an immense gratitude fill my heart & make my step lighter than ever. Once the trail resumed to a flat, mostly even surface I was able to maintain a steady pace & we cruised down in spaced out silence. At the three-mile mark, we began talking & joking & singing again, trying anything to make the last bit seem less interminable. The sun set & a headlamp was turned on just before reaching the near-end marker of log steps. We held hands again as we crossed the threshold into the parking lot & collapsed at our vehicles at 9:30pm. There was a half bottle of pinot noir in my car, so we passed it around & saluted to our success, to the mountain, and to the beauty of suffering in style.
“Although I deeply love oceans, deserts, and other wild landscapes, it is only mountains that beckon me with that sort of painful magnetic pull to walk deeper and deeper
into their beauty.”