I remember coming home and sitting on my bed trying as hard as I could to explain to a friend what I just did. I was 19 or 20 years old. I had just spent 5 days successfully climbing and reaching the top of Mt. Rainer in Washington state. As a young midwestern-er this was life changing. I struggled for a while trying to explain the landscape, the chaos, the beauty, the incredible attraction to waking up crazy early and walking up the side of a frozen volcano. And how I desperately wanted to do it again and again.
Fourteen years later, countless climbs, summits, failures, and geographical changes I find myself once again struggling to explain my last trip.
In April I called up my friend and super guide Gary Faulk. I met Gary while living in Durango and climbing with the crew from San Juan Mountain Guides. Like myself Gary was originally from Chicago and somehow headed west. I booked a guided trip with Gary through Exum Mountain guides located in the Grand Teton National Park and secured the chance to to to accomplish one of North Americas toughest mountain traverses. Instead of explaining the entire trip here is the greatest article I have found about the entire trip - HERE
This trip for me was not ever going to be about taking photos. The main objective was to complete the traverse, just Gary and I. The first day went just about as perfect as things could be. A wake up at 2:30am, strong coffee and a short ride to the trail head. After a solid and steep tail we hit the first snowfield running. Strapped up the crampons and front pointed our way to the start of some perfect scrambling. The first sunrise around 11k feet was as nice as one could imagine. We summitted Teewionot, sat across its knife edge peak, gave a quick fist bump and went on our way to Mt. Owen. Some interesting rappels brought us down to the Coven col. Then up to some awesome alpine climbing to the summit of Mt. Owen. Some selfies, a bit of soaking in the breeze from Idaho and some time to stare at the North face of The Grand which quickly led to the climb down to the col again. Since the north face of the Grand was now in winter conditions we had to change the route up by climbing the east face of the Grand. Which meant we needed to descend into glacier gulch. As Gary put it "the shit part of the trip" descending into the glacier meant crappy scree and not a perfect route to get down. Basically, hell on knees and feet. We eventually made our way to the glacier and finally got to our little bivy site on the moraine of the old glacier. From our start of the route that morning till we stepped on our bivy site was 14-1/2 hours of non-stop climbing. A solid alpine day!
I am pretty sure I feel asleep around 7pm, and I mean sound asleep! We woke around 5am, started the coffee and breakfast and were climbing again by 6:50am. Strangely Gary noticed some very small and wispy clouds coming over the Grand, (foreshadowing). At 8:50am we started our first pitch of real climbing. At 12,300' we needed to navigate the first "molar tooth" of the grand. I was standing on a nice little 8" wide ledge while Gary started the first pitch. As Gary climbed out of sight the first obvious signs of "weather" rolled in. One minute later the hail started. One minute after that the thunder started. Then more hail. Then, lighting.....Crack.....BOOOM. Having a storm roll in 1000' above your head is....well, like having a storm 1000' above your head while standing on a ledge as wide as 2 of your feet belaying someone that you cannot see anymore and are trying to figure out what to do next. Gary came down to our little ledge and we laughed pretty hard, I think I stole a line from "Anchorman" and said...."Well that escalated quickly!" In truth, there was little chance of getting struck by lighting, we were well protected and in the mountain. Which is why we laughed it off. Unfortunately we had no idea what kind of weather was in store for us. Climbing the east face meant that we could not see west, where all the weather came from. So we descended back down. Things cleared up for about 10 min. Then just as quickly brewed up again and covered the summit in clouds......The climb was over.
We descended down through the incredible valley. I decided not to think about the trip being shut down and instead enjoyed everything around. The flowers, the streams of perfect water, the trees, a good climbing partner and friend and thicker air. One thing I have learned about attempting to climb massive things is that they are not going anywhere. I have failed on 3 of my last big climbs, Mooses tooth, Alaska. Mt.Bona, Alaska. And now The Grand traverse, WY. But those mountains are still there for me and everyone to attempt again. Climbing mountains is the understanding that failure is expected but trying, hoping, working as hard as you can for that one small chance things stay clear, stay in control only then is success attained. (Whoever said nothing is learned from climbing mountains?) Plain and simple, The key is to be ready for that one chance the mountains let us climb them.
I want to thank first and foremost my incredible future wife Ashley for helping my train, keeping my head on straight and supporting me without question with yet again another trip. Thank you! Gary Faulk - "Adventure Capitalist" for being a solid, solid, solid guide and great friend. My grand mothers for answering my phone calls when I drove into the park and called them way past their bedtimes. And my parents for being just as excited as I am for every single one of my endeavors. And last, for the United States of America when it was the incredible governing body that created the National Park System. There is SO MUCH history in this park, and so many people made this park what is it today, and to them I say from myself, from my nephews and nieces that will one day (hopefully) see this amazing piece of land.......Thank you!