Climbing in Grand Teton National Park

Editor’s Note: Last week Seth Hogan explained about his college training in expeditionary studies and getting ready for his senior experience, an expedition to Grand Teton National Park This week, he tells about the time he and his partner spent climbing in the park.

I decided to travel to the Grand Teton National Park because I had never been there before, which made it exciting to begin with. In a more academic sense, I chose this area because of the geological features the park has to offer. For instance, the Tetons rose from two tectonic plates colliding and forcing up over 100 million years of earth. Many large vertical cracks were quickly filled with lava that cooled and left behind a very dense igneous rock in interesting patterns.

The plan for the expedition to the Tetons was to scale some historical climbs that summit the highest point in the park, the Grand Teton, and also some classic moderate climbs that the park has to offer.

The first day was very hiking intensive – 6.2 miles of hiking combined with an elevation gain of over 3000 feet. Including climbing and camping gear, my partner Andrea Wilson and I were carrying approximately 45 lbs. each during this hike, which, for me, made it the most physical day of the entire trip.

At night we found ourselves in the midst of a very abrupt storm with very little warning. We traveled our last 15 minutes in some very heavy rain and set up camp as quickly as possible in an unplanned but nearest appropriate spot and spent a damp night in the tent cooking and trying to dry out our gear.

We spent the morning moving slowly since our boots and gear were still wet, but it had cleared up and we seemed to be moving into solid climbing weather. The longest and steepest bit of the hike was over but we eventually broke down camp and reset it up in the area we planned on camping originally. We didn’t climb that day for multiple reasons; a late start and wet gear is never the safest way to start the climb but also it had rained so hard we were worried the climb would be sopping wet as well. So we spent a lazy rest day in a beautiful area of the jagged Teton Mountains.

The next morning was an early start and we were eager to get moving. We headed for our first planned route: the Upper Exum Ridge, named after Glenn Exum, the first ascensionist. This route was chosen because it is relatively easy, it gets to the highest point of the Grand Teton National Park, and has some moderately difficult route finding. This route is rated 5.5 and by today’s standard is considered to be an easy climb. The following day’s route, which was rated 5.9+, was a much more difficult climb by today’s standards.

The ‘+’ comes from a time when the rating system went from 5.0 to 5.9, with 5.0 being the easiest and 5.9 being the most difficult. Eventually, people began climbing harder climbs and would consider them more difficult, hence the ‘+’ which at one point in time was considered the most difficult climbing in the world. The 5.9+ section in our case was very short, approximately a 30-foot section, and well protected. A relatively short section of our 1,500 foot climb.

This, for me, was the best day spent in the Tetons. It showcased fun and safe climbing with spectacular views and drained me both physically and mentally.

The following day we took a well-deserved rest day with a bit of sleeping in and a small hike during the day. Only the gear that we brought with us, such as gear to build anchors that could be removed once we were finished, safely protected both of these climbs.

Although executing this trip solely based on my knowledge and research was a great leadership experience, this expedition has helped me most in the planning process of the overall trip. Managing risk, organizational skills and planning for rest days while leaving room for variables such as weather is something easily overlooked. In the future I hope to continue to expand these skills via the American Mountain Guide Association certifications so that trips like these may one day become my professional job.

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