In 2016 Bryan and I climbed the Grand Teton car-to-car in winter conditions. It took a few tries.
“Are we being too soft?” I shout to Bryan, sitting feet away from me. Snow flurries howl around us. The little bit of ramen broth in the bottom of the pot at my feet has already frozen.
“What?” He shouts back. The wind blows harder. Our tracks punching down the steep snow slope to our hunched shelter rock a few hundred feet below the Upper Saddle on the Grand Teton are disappearing rapidly.
“Soft! Are we being soft?” Numbness creeps into my butt and I wiggle frozen fingers.
“Probably,” he shouts after finally hearing me. “But lets get the fuck out of here.”
This was our first attempt at climbing the Owen-Spaulding route on the Grand Teton in winter in a day.
“I think I see some blue sky!” I’m standing at our high point on the Upper Saddle on the Grant Teton. We are in the center of a lenticular cloud wrapping the last thousand feet on the Grand Teton; winds are a constant thirty and gusting to fifty. The only technical climbing on the whole seven thousand feet of the route lies right in front of me. I’m racked up, roped up, and ready to go; another gust of wind rips up the gully to my left and almost knocks me off my feet.
I groan and swing warm blood into my slowly freezing extremities. I watch the time creep to 9:36 AM, counting the minutes I’ve been standing in the exact same spot: 24. I look down at Bryan a few feet below, hooded and huddled in the snow hole he dug for himself in the ridge. The wind is too high to climb safely. We could probably make it up the technical sections without being blown off the mountain, but executing the required rappels on the way down would be way more than either of us wanted to manage.
For a second I think, how unfair! We did absolutely everything right — we were diligent about our breaks, nutrition, and hydration and we blasted through the approach to the lower saddle feeling fit and strong. All of that only to be shut down on the last bit of technical climbing by some freak weather on an otherwise perfect day.
And then, I laugh. At the absurdity of thinking anything I do has any remote significance to the mountains. I am small, and today I lost a bet with the skies. We start our descent a little after 10:00. Pizza and beer and friends at camp to tease us make the situation good.
This was our second attempt at climbing the Owen-Spaulding route on the Grand Teton in winter in a day.
On the third, it went. This was one of the few times I have done a big approach more than once, which comes with its ups and downs: the five miles into Garnet canyon were a bit more of a drag, but we moved faster knowing every twist and turn through to the base of the Upper Saddle.
The internet beta-spraydown for Tetons routes is truly impressive. I made the mistake of reading a photo-annotated account of a winter climb of the Owen-Spaulding — It seemed like every small boulder on the route was a named feature. “Was that the Belly-Roll? I think that was the Belly-Roll!”
We ended up simul-climbing the route to the summit, confused by how trivial the climbing seemed, even given the ice in the chimney pitches. On our first trudge up the Garnet Canyon trail we ran into a local girl who said, with a disgusted expression on her face, “You’re climbing the O-S? Yuck!” Standing on the summit then, finally, we both remembered her reaction and had a good belly laugh. After climbing it, our commitment to such an objective felt foolish. We stood in the snow and laughed some more.
Hiking more than twelve miles on flat trail in mountain boots for the third time that week was a joy I was ready to be done with. We were both relieved to be out of our boots and done with our short affair.
“Whew,” I said at the trailhead. “Glad that’s over with. Let’s go do something else. “