A Grand Weekend – Grand Teton

Over the past two seasons, I've dabbled in climbing.  Started off with sport climbing and progressed to what is known as alpine climbing. Combining the endurance and long days of hiking with the more technical aspects of rock climbing, it is an activity that is physically challenging but rewarding.

And the culmination of two seasons worth of climbing? Summitting Grand Teton.


Grand Teton is a classic of mountaineering.  The range with its jagged peaks and huge vertical relief looks like something a child would draw.

This past August,  my friends Mark and Mike along with  myself again attempt to reach the summit of Grand Teton.

This year, the weather gods would cooperate. We would be well rested. Everything that could go right would go right! 

Why alpine climbing? Because it is a different way to enjoy the outdoors. Another way to explore and experience the mountains. And because most hikers don't climb and many climbers don't like to hike, the mountains approached by alpine climbing tend to be relatively uncrowded. 

The weekend started with as trip through Colorado and up to Wyoming through the Great Divide Basin.

The wide open spaces recalled my trip from 2006. I think of how in a few hours I am able to cross what took me several days on foot.  Even in an air conditioned car with a cold drink, the large expanses seems to overwhelm the senses.  It is an area that is harsh but seems to have a beauty all of its own. 

As I passed on, though, my thoughts turned to what was ahead. Not the high desert of Wyoming, but the mountains. 

Just outside of Rock Springs, I made a truck bivy on BLM land and the following morning made my way to Grand Teton National Park.

With some time to use before Mark and Mike showed up, I decided to do a quick hike to Taggart Lake

More of a moderate stroll, than a hike, it does feature wonderful views of the mountains beyond the pretty lake.


Shortly after the hike, I made my way a few minutes down the road to the employee housing.  One of someone's friend's is a seasonal ranger in the park and was gracious enough to let us use the place for the weekend.

Mark and Mike showed up shortly after.   After a quick dinner, we stated to get ready for the following day.

Gear was gone over. Ropes checked and equipment readied.


A gorgeous sunset was a fitting view to be head before the summit attempt.

At "Oh-God-0300" the alarms went off, coffee was made and breakfast eaten.

Arrived at the trailhead and made our way up the trail by the glow of our head lamps.

Up the canyon we went with the mountains ahead of us.

The alpenglow of the morning light lit up the mountains in a dramatic way.


As the morning progressed, the sky tuned into a more intense blue. Not a cloud was in sight.  The weather gods were smiling!

We reached the technical portion and started our way up the Upper Exum Ridge. There other more direct ways to the summit; but this classic climb has the advantage of being in the sun most of the day and is a gorgeous ridge walk.

At this point, we reached where we turned around last year and enjoyed the views to Middle Teton.


The technical portion has started.  Shortly after the start, I took my first "whipper".  Plunged 10+ ft down a 1700' drop. It was 'exciting' to say the least….  Ahem. 🙂

From Summitpost.org. Yikes! Good thing I had great climbing partners and was tied in!!! 🙂

After cracking a few jokes about "losing my mountaineering cherry"  (Kids, ask your parents what this means..), we continued on up he technical sections. I am still fairly new to climbing, so we made steady if not particularly fast progress. 

We made up time in the sections where it was more scrambling than climbing (no ropes!)

Mark in the Wind Tunnel

Eventually we roped up again and continued the technical portions.

Mike scoping out the route ahead

The three of us made it to the summit. Some quick summit photos were taken.

Myself, Mike and Mark at the summit


The summit marker. It's truly official!  Photo courtesy of Mike McGurkin

A nice rest spot was found out of the wind and in the sun. As Mark predicted, we did not want to leave.

But climbing to the top of a mountain is only half the journey. We still needed to descend.

Mark insisted I take one last group of photos at the summit. I must confess I like how the shots turned out!



We descended to the rappel station. And waited our turn for the descent. Even the views from the rap station were wonderful though.

Photo courtesy of Mike McGurkin

The loose rock proved to be rather dicey in parts and made the going slow.

After a couple of hours or so, we reached the lower saddle and made it to the popular social trail descending back into the canyon. 

The sun was striating to set and our head lamps were again turned on.

"Real" trail was reached and better progress was made into the night air.

At 11PM, the vehicle was reached. We tired, a bit exhausted, hungry….but alive with a feeling of accomplishment.

Grand Teton was summitted.

Many people may climb this mountain every year.

But my first 'real' technical climb of a mountain is something I will not forget. There is a reason why Grand Teton is a classic. It is visually striking from all angles and the views from the peak itself show a seemingly never ending chain of snow covered peaks in the distance. Anyone who loves the outdoors and the mountains will relish the feeling of being on top…and never wanting to come down.

All these thoughts went through me tired as I was.  A fortunate visit to the late-night window at Wendy's provided perhaps the best-tasting Frosty I've ever had (and my first time at a fast food place in several years!).

We reached the cabin back in the park and collapsed.

The following morning we went to the Chuck Wagon Restaurant just outside of the park in Moose, Wy.

A leisurely pan cake breakfast was consumed while sitting outside with the mountains in view.

At Dornan's. Photo courtesy of Mike McGurkin

Enjoying the food, the company and the view, none of us were in any rush to leave. It was one of most enjoyable 'sit-around-and-do-nothing' days I've had in a while!!

Eventually I had to leave and return to Colorado.

Mike and I split the driving and made our way back to Boulder.

Another 'grand' weekend was had.

Will I do more alpine climbing? For sure. Esp with companions as patient and instructive and Mike and Mark.  Thanks guys!! 🙂



Note on photos:  These photos were taken with a Canon A1200 P&S camera. A simple P&S that has received some excellent reviews.  My DSLR takes better photos of course..but it does not fit into my pants pocket! 🙂


Route info and maps

Summitpost has excellent info on Grand Teton and the actual route we took on Upper Exum.

Post Climb Nosh

Wendy's in Jackson was open until midnight via the drive through! 🙂

Say what you will…but overly salted fast food chased by a Frosty tasted like manna from heaven when noting else is open and you are HUNGRY! 😉

However breakfast at the Chuck Wagon the following morning was much better. Just outside the park entrance in the 'town' of Moose, the sourdough pancakes with many cups of coffee hit the spot. Sitting on a bench and gazing to where we climbed the day (night!) before also proved to be the perfect ambiance.

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Mark Thomas
Mark Thomas
12 years ago

Nice write-up Paul! It was good times all around!

Devin Quince
Devin Quince
7 years ago

I love the tetons, spent many a years guiding and climbing up there.