Climbing the Grand Teton: The Local Mother of all Hikes

have wanted to climb the Grand Teton for many years. It took lots of experience and prep for me to be ready. This spring and summer, I have been hiking nearly everything local in order to be ready for my trip, focusing on steep climbs. I used a training plan, much like I would to prepare for an endurance race. I put a lot into this, and I wanted to be ready. The Tetons are one of the most spectacular places on the planet, and I feel it’s a privilege to be able to walk in them.

So, if you are inspired, and you want to climb the Grand and you are asking yourself if you can do it, this is how you should start. Go to Grand Teton National Park and hike around. Get out of the parking lot and away from the lake shore and really see the park. See Hurricane Pass, the Death Canyon Shelf, Paintbrush Divide, and Alaska Basin. Do the Garnet Canyon trail and go through the Boulder Fields up into the meadows. The next step would be climbing to the saddle between the Middle Teton and the South. From there you can look down into Icefloe Lake. If you get to that point, you can climb the Middle, via the Southwest Couloir.

Summiting the Middle can be done without ropes or harnesses, but there are some steep snowy areas that are much safer with crampons and an ice axe. If you have climbed the Middle and you are still happy and comfortable, that is the time to ask yourself if you want to climb the Grand.

I am an experienced hiker, and I didn’t do this one on my own. I got some help from Jackson Hole Mountain Guides. They did a great job, and I loved working with them. There are a few specific reasons I needed them. While I hike all the time, I am no pro at vertical rock climbing, and I don’t have the gear. The Grand is way more complex than it looks from a distance. There are at least 50 routes you could take, and you have to ask yourself if you know which one you’re going to be able to climb. There were hills and valleys, rocks and pillars, and all of them had names! It was a complex mountain on which to find your way.

Our first day, we started at the Lupine Meadows trailhead and climbed into Garnet Canyon. It’s a pretty good climb, but spectacular, and I recommend it to anyone, even if you are not able to climb one of the peaks.

We stayed for three nights at Corbett High Camp, which is nestled into a cozy boulder field. The guides said that this camp has been there for 50 years. There is very little in the way of vegetation up that high. The views are stunning, and I enjoyed staying there. We spent our second day learning to rock climb. It was really helpful for me, and I learned so much. The instruction and practice increased my confidence on the actual peak ascent. If we were looking at a hard place, I thought, “You can do it!  It’s just like what we practiced.”

The third day was our summit day. We got up at 2:00 a.m. and were on the trail by 3:00 a.m. I spent the day with guides Joel Enrico and Hannah Trim. They did an excellent job taking care of us. Joel knew every single rock on that mountain and he led us safely to the top. We worked hard to follow all his instructions. If he said “Go up that way,” we went. There were some places that were really scary, but our guides kept us safe.

Everyone has heard the advice, “Don’t look down!”  After doing this climb, I need to add to it. Don’t look up or down. If you look up, then you think, “I can’t climb that,” and if you look down you think, “AHHHHHHHHHH!”

We took the Pownell-Gilkey route. It took us about 5 hours and 15 minutes to reach the summit, and it took just as long to get down. We were keeping a close eye on the weather every minute. Lightning, rain and hail are dangerous on the high peaks, and the terrain doesn’t allow you to make a very quick get-away. You still need to come down carefully and methodically, even if you’re in a hurry. There is a long rappel on the way down, at least 100 feet. It was awesome. We got back to camp about 1:00 p.m., and by 3:30 p.m. a storm had moved in. We were fine, but our weather window was pretty small and I’m glad we made it back safely.

Our fourth day, we bid a fond farewell to our Boulder Field camp and hiked back down to the trailhead. It took about four hours and it was beautiful. I felt very satisfied, and very excited that I was able to achieve my goal.

The Grand is a spectacular tower of rock. It’s hard to comprehend how big it is, and how vertical it is. It was a challenging climb, but I loved it, and I can’t wait to climb it again!

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