Under the cover of darkness, with headlamps to light the way, we hit the trail at exactly 4am for a full day assault on Middle Teton.
While following a dot of light along an unseen path, I couldn't help but think how this trail would be entirely new to me at the end of the day. Right now I could only make out the rocks on the ground and nothing of the trees and surrounding landscape. But the return trip, descending in the light of day (or the twilight of sunset if we were running really behind) the full beauty of the forest would be ours to behold-- all the trees, rocks and woodland creatures. It would be marvelous.
All of it would have to wait. Right now it was very damn early, each of us had a dot of light to follow and a mountain to ascend.
Earlier, on the drive from Jackson, Rom admitted to the rest of us that he was having intestinal issues. Specifically, diarrhea. A.K.A. "the shits."
Considering our plan was a long, one-day assault of the Middle Teton, this news was significant. The hike up to the saddle and rock scramble to the peak was estimated at 6 to 8 hours. There would be time spent at the summit-- pictures, eating, celebrating, et al-- followed by hours of descending and the return hike. A short day would be 12 hours, a long 16 hours. Either length of time was way too long when dealing with the Hershey Squirts.
Around three miles in, the sun emerged for its daily run across the sky. No more following a dot of light, thank god-- my neck was kinked. I pulled off the headlamp and stowed it away. Not long after, we crested a ridge and caught the first glimpse of our goal, Middle Teton. Moments later it was bathed in pink hues of the dawn.
A strange attribute of Middle Teton is the vertical stripe running up the eastern face. From a distance the stripe looks perfectly linear, as if man-made. An escalator to the top, perhaps? Wishful thinking. It is actually a hardened volcanic injection of magma from a time when this granite formation was still in its youth. Magma from below was forced into a crack, splitting the mountain in what must have been quite a spectacular event. Not to mention one hell of an earthquake. Millions of years of erosion later and Middle Teton is decorated with a well defined racing stripe.
I, for one, wasn't racing to the top. Nor was Rom. He was at the mercy of some serious mudbutt. Already he had run off the trail to crap in the forest. That was a half hour ago, so the next round was coming soon. (Magma from below being forced into a crack???)
As we entered an area called The Meadows, light rain began to fall. Storm clouds had been threatening over the western slope of the Tetons since before the sun came up, so we weren't surprised. Before the light rain turned to heavier rain, we found shelter in a crag between two boulders. We hunkered down, broke out some eats, and this little spot became our breakfast nook.
Each of us had purchased and made an inordinate amount of food. Rumor was this hike was going to be 16 hours total, and we certainly didn't want to go hungry, so our packs were overloaded with everything from power bars to homemade pita sandwiches. Chances are we could have survived a couple days without feeling the slightest pang of hunger.
Here's pics of Rom making food the evening prior...
The lower section, from the trailhead to the Meadows, was mainly established trial. The middle section, from the Meadows to the saddle between Middle Teton and South Teton, became inclines with loose tailus and boulder fields. The saddle didn't look that far off-- 3 or 4 hundred feet of vert. Or so it seemed.
Cresting what I assumed was the saddle, we encountered yet another saddle to the west. Topping out on that saddle, I was stunned to see yet another saddle. Now I've experienced many false summits in my day, but this was the first time I'd experienced false saddles. And this scenario was to be repeated a couple more times.
Part way up the middle stretch, Cody caught wind of something unsavory and blurted out, "Man, there's some skunk around here."
Adam and I stopped and turned our noses up, but couldn't smell the odor. "Is he talking about skunk the animal or skunk the weed?" asked Adam.
I shurgged. It didn't matter, because Adam and I still didn't smell it. Cody was perplexed, "How can you not smell it?"
Adam and I were in the lead, Rom in third position, and Cody batting clean up. There was brief discussion of what it might be, when suddenly realization set in-- Cody had gotten a whiff of Rom's severe case of Skunk-butt. Even here in the openness of a huge mountain valley, a cloud surrounded him. Like pigpen from the Peanuts Gang, Rom was burdened with an unshakable stench.
Or perhaps we were the ones burdened?
Eventually we made it to the real saddle. During the last 300 feet of vert, clouds to the west looked rather threatening and we had become concerned the weather might take a turn for the worse. However, in the time it took us to reach the saddle, the clouds subsided and the skies became favorable. Our quest for the summit could continue.
The view to the west was magnificent. The slope dropped off to a sizable lake, which still had sections ice left over from the winter. In the distance a ridgeline of uplifted, layered rock extended from north to south. A steady breeze of cool, crisp air rushed up the slope and over the saddle.
The scramble to the summit was quite enjoyable. The first part was a rock ridge with a severe drop-off of several hundred feet to our left, and a steep snow field to our right. Parts of this ridge demanded a bit of climbing, but nothing requiring gear.
The last several hundred feet of vert involved scrambling up a culvert-sort-of-crack leading up the southwestern approach of the granite peak. During this section I was unfortunate enough to find myself behind Rom for a short period. At one point I was eye-level with his butt in what can only be described as a moment of panic. Instantly I took evasive manuevers, choosing an alternate route and putting the pedal to the metal to blast past him. Oddly, my motivation at this point wasn't to summit the peak, but rather escape the stink cloud.
Further up the climb I came across a large rock/small boulder with huge patches of inlayed mica. It was zigzag of black and tiny mirror surfaces embedded in a light grey rock, which had broken away from a larger formation a long time ago. I found myself mesmerized and couldn't help but to reach out and touch it.
As I resumed the climb, I thought it was cool that I can still be suddenly overcome by something as simple as mica. What can I say... monkeys love shiny things.
A few minutes after 10am we made the summit. To the north was The Grand Teton in all its glory, while to the south was...well... the South Teton. The views all around were spectacular and the weather was beautiful.
Several others joined us, and before you knew it we had a party. Jeff and Jenn from Calgary showed up, followed by the University of Michigan gang of Nick, Jesse, and Kory. We broke out some food and cigars and celebrated the view, our small accomplishment, and just the feeling of being alive.
Pictures were necessary, so we took many. Below are a bunch for your viewing enjoyment...
I got off the summit pretty quickly myself (about an hour afterwards) while everybody else was in the midst of some drug infused rave party. Adam and I ran to the bottom, downclimbing along the sides so as to not dislodge any rock on any hapless travelers below us. I was running for my life from the inevitable storm Thor would be calling to us and strike us dead in one single blow from the heavens.
We waiting in the saddle for about an hour while nasty black clouds gathered to the southwest. Most of us were thinking, "Oh no. Where the hell is Rob?" Rom had caught us long ago, but there were no signs of any other pursuit.
Then it happened. We saw Rob sliding on his back down one of the incredibly steep snow fields about half a kilometer uphill from us. He was screaming, kicking his legs, and moving slightly slower than the speed of freefall. That moron, that fall surely would have killed him. Considering, that all that waited below the 100 ft drop was jagged rocks, he surely had to be dead.
Now that we had nobody to wait for, we moved on down, running down the boulder field from the impending wrath of Thor, pondering the future of the 4 AM crew without a reporter. Then we discovered, to our surprise, that the canadians we perched on the ledge above him getting ready for a glissade. They must have lowered Rob on their rope and he wasn't dead after all.
We continued running down the slope. It was raining now, and thunder was booming in the distance. We were high up, exposed, above tree-line, in a wide open field, just perfect for getting struck by lightning. But in the end, the storm passed over, everyone survived, and there was another reunion on the rocks below. Just another adventure.
RESPONSE POST: "ahh, yes... the Canadians"
Yeah... I stayed late at the summit party.
The 4am crew was far down the mountain when Jeff and Jenn, the Canucks, and I split the scene. The three of us took an alternate route down and encountered the snow field. They both had ice axes, whereas I did not. However, they had climbing gear, because they had done a technical route to the summit.
So Jeff rigged me up on an old-school style belay and I made my way out to the middle of the snow field. At that point, the 4am crew could see me getting ready to jump. I doubt they even knew it was me.
The first part of the slide was totally uncontrolled, mainly because I had 20 or 30 feet of slack. The slack allowed me to get past an area of rock below without penduluming back into it when the rope went taught. To the guys watching from the saddle it must have looked like I was intentionally trying to kill myself.
After the first 20 or 30 feet of utter chaos, the rope caught and I stopped. Apparently, the rest of the crew were so far away that they couldn't see the rope... which made the whole scene even that more surreal. Rom later commented that he couldn't figure out how I just stopped mid way.
Once I had tension, Jeff lowered me down on belay. Then he and Jenn followed via ice axe.