Matt and Joanne’s Page

August 28, 2008

(Mis)Adventures in Grand Teton NP

Filed under: Climbing, Roadtrip — Tags: , — Matt Stamplis @ 7:35 am

Alright, another national park! We originally planned on staying a couple weeks here but we cut our visit short…but we still had some interesting moments, including some close encounters with the local wildlife.

Mountain scenery…Mt Owen and its reflection in Amphitheater Lake. The hike to the lake is 5 miles one-way, but we took a more interesting approach by climbing a route from Garnet Canyon (Open Book) to reach this beautiful area. At the nearby Surprise Lake we saw a guy in a bathing suit – he hadn’t jumped in the water but I was curious if he ever did. The water must be pretty close to freezing.

Irene’s Arete is a pretty cool route, a definite classic with lots of great variations to pick. From campground, the arete is pretty prominent. The hardest crux 5.10a variation is really wild because you have to cross this gap that has lots of air underneath (reminds me a little like the Mace but not as extreme). The move is well-protected, balancy but quite easy for the grade.

Open Book on the other hand was harder to spot even though the guidebook made it sound so prominent. Nonetheless, we found the route quite easily following direction from the guidebook. The best pitch of this route is pitch 2 and definitely the crux pitch: a 5.8 layback followed by a very nice long, sustain finger crack, lots of stemming and great pro. The final pitch has an intimidating 5.9+ grade but the move is more like 5.8, kinda weird and definitely not the crux.

We camped for 3 nights in the Meadows, a beautiful area surrounded by big peaks. While there we climbed a few shorter routes (Irene’s Arete and Open Book, mentioned above), but our big goal was to summit the Grand Teton via Exum Ridge. The Grand is the high point in the park and from many views around the area is the most dominant point on the horizon.

Joanne climbing “The Black Face”, the crux pitch on Exum Ridge. We were in the shade all morning and it was COLD (there was even some ice on the approach to the route). So we climbing as fast as we could. The rock here reminds me of some kind of chocolate/vanilla ice cream swirled together. Yummy….

We climbed so fast we didn’t stop for any pictures until….the summit! I may have lost count but I think we passed about 4 parties on the Upper Exum Ridge and the whole Exum Ridge took little over 4 hours to climb.

(Joanne comment) We did the lower Exum in 3 pitches, linking p1 and 2, p3 and 4, p5 and 6 together using a 70m rope. Not sure I would recommend this unless you can tolerate lots of rope drag :). Pitch 5 is the weirdest because the pro is thin and the route is not as obvious; you have to make sure you follows the piton. I went a little off at first and was looking at long distance, steep bulge with no pro so I came back down and angle right and found the right way after that. It was a relieve when I saw the pitons.

Upper Exum is so easy that we simul-climb most of it, belay 2 short sections and then solo to the summit, passing parties most of the time. Almost to the summit, there was a guided party of 2 and the guide was belaying a woman on this super easy section and I saw fear in her, she was gripping the rocks so tightly. In comparison, here we came behind her, no rope, I wonder what she’s thinking at that moment. Anyway, I didn’t want to climb above her until she’s not directly above me because if I were her, I would never want a soloist to climb above me neither.

When we got to the summit, there was already a guided party of 4 there, hanging out. The guy who took this picture was with a guided group. We couldn’t believe people would pay $1000 (or more!?) to climb this peak, especially on the easier routes on the mountain. With $1000 you could not only buy all the gear you would need to climb the Grand but also probably take classes to learn how to use it. But I guess not everyone has the time (or interest) in doing that. We spent about 2 mins on the summit and started to head down. They were surprised that we were not hanging out there like them. I guess summit is just summit to us, not that big of a deal after so many summits. Sometime I wonder if we are starting to take things for granted and not taking time to appreciate the beauty of nature. Oh well…the way I see it if I’m only half way there and I can never relax until I get back to the bottom.

Safe and sound on the Lower Saddle. Exum Ridge is the prominent ridge above and slightly right of Joanne’s head. We originally planned on camping here the night before our climb but instead we stayed down at the Meadows. This meant we had a longer summit day but it would have been a huge pain in the butt to haul all our heavy packs all the way up to this point. Not to mention the potential of getting hit by lightning.

The AAC Climber’s Ranch: the best place to stay in the park. $12/night per person was a bit on the expensive side for us but included showers and a bed so we stayed here 2-3 nights. Plus it was mega convenient since it’s right near the main trail heads and ranger station. During the evening, everyone gathers at the cooking shelter, making for a much more social dining experience compared to the typical campground. And despite the name, you don’t need to be a climber to stay here (though many are).

So what about these wildlife encounters we’ve alluded to? Well, there’s buffalo, moose, and elf all over the Jackson area so most visitors will probably see one of these. And then when we were hiking down from the Grand Teton I almost ran into a black bear who was eating berries. He didn’t even look at me and kept eating even though I was just 10 feet away. Joanne didn’t want to go near him so we had to throw rocks in the bear’s direction (not AT the little fellow) to force him to run off.

But our most interesting (and scary) encounter was on our way to do the Grand Traverse, a long route tagging the summits of most of the major peaks in the Tetons. We set off in the dark at 3AM, heading up the forested slopes towards the East Face of Teewinot Peak. About an hour into the hike we were going up an endless number of switchbacks when we heard some large animal moving in front of us. We shined our headlamps in front of us and a pair of eyes lit up. We made some loud noises and after a few seconds it closed it’s eyes and moved off. We figured it might have been a moose or a deer so we continued on our hike.

We hit another switchback and started forward when we saw the same pair of eyes in front of us. We made a LOT of noise but this animal was just hanging out, watching us. Finally after shining our headlamps in it’s eyes for a minute or so, it turned away. Alright, I figured, that’s the last we’ll see of him (her?). But after hiking another switchback, the eyes were back, maybe 40-50 feet away. I was starting to get a bit annoyed and a little bit unnerved. And it was then, as we were shining our lights on it that I got a glimpse of it’s tan-colored coat that I realized maybe it wasn’t a moose or deer but something potentially much more dangerous!

I’m no wildlife expert so I still can’t say with 100% certainty that it was a cougar but the signs seem to point to it. It’s eyes were in the front of it’s head, definitely a predator. It’s possible it might have been a coyote but from the quick glimpse I got it looked much too large. Too bad our headlamps weren’t brighter to give a definitive answer: We shone our lights at it for a good 5 minutes or so without it backing away from us. By this time we were understandably nervous so I thought it might be best if we slowly back up, and find a safe place to stand (not sit!) until it the sun began to rise.

During this whole time, we were creating a huge ruckus by yelling and banging ice axes together so I can’t believe this animal wasn’t annoyed by the noise. I figure it was mostly curious: if a cougar meant to attack I’m certain we wouldn’t have had any warning at all. This all threw a bit of a wrench into our climbing plans. We lost well over an hour waiting for the sun to rise and this encounter took a bit out of our enthusiasm. Joanne thought it was some kind of omen so we decided to turn around and leave the Tetons that same day. Our next destination?….a quick stop to see the amazing geysers of Yellowstone!


  1. i don’t think anyone would like to be looked at as potential food source, especially out in the nature… /shudder

    and ooooo looking forward to pics from yellowstone!

    Comment by Lil — August 28, 2008 @ 1:10 pm

  2. Yeah, can you imagine what the news headline will be? Climbers eaten by cougar during approach. It’s funny now but scary back then.

    Comment by joannestamplis — August 29, 2008 @ 3:30 pm

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