Thursday, August 30, 2012

Guys Trip 2012--The Grand Teton

To any readers I still have I apologize for my lengthy hiatus.  Losing a dear family friend (Lola) took my blogging mojo and only a guys trip could get it back.

The Grand Teton, a mountain that needs no introduction.  Even by it's easiest routes it is a technical mountain.  Its jagged 13,775 feet of rock make it perhaps the most famed mountain in American mountaineering.  We had vowed to come back after a failed attempt of the Middle Teton four years ago.  This time the plan was simple.  A one day summit starting up the peak at 2:00 am and hopefully finishing by night fall.  We carried all the gear necessary for 12 pitches of technical climbing that would be required for the Upper Exum Route.

One of the bonuses of going back to the Tetons was having a chance to go back to Alpine WY and visit my favorite restaurant The Cheeseburger Factory.  Theirs is a burger you don't forget easily.  None of the guys had forgotten it either and everybody was stoked for a return trip.  

On the drive up there we googled the Cheeseburger Factory.  It was no surprise to see that it had 11 reviews and every single one was 5 stars.  The 5 hour drive was long as we salivated at the thought of what was ahead.

I took this picture of my meal back in 09 and when I posted it on my blog originally I had been accused by some of photoshopping it.  It is a beautifully proportioned burger, but I would never sink to photoshopping.
Here is the group prepped for a joyous reunion of Man and Burger.

You can imagine our disappointment as we got to the door and saw the place was empty.  Not empty of people, out of business.  To say I was bummed was a huge understatement.

When the adventure started it was dark and unfortunately dark again when it ended. 

This is what most of us saw for the first four hours of the hike.  If you can't tell, that is the back of Rhett and it looks like he might be texting as he hikes.

Towards sun up I got ambitious and started leading the group.  As the sun fully rose I stopped to look around and realized I had led the group up the wrong wall of the canyon.  We had climbed about 700 feet that we were going to need to descend and re-climb.  

I then got the pleasure of breaking this news to the team one by one as they caught up to me.  Bram smiling before the news.

Bram's reaction after.
I could have been lynched and had it been later in the day maybe I would have, but everyone either laughed it off or cussed it off depending on how tired they were.

Bram found his smile again for this picture as he was the only member of the group who had summited the Middle Teton.

Soon enough we were back on track and to the fixed ropes before the Lower Saddle.
The first time I saw this picture I thought that couldn't be me, the butt is to big.  Unfortunately it is me and my "powerful" rear end.

Rhett on the lower saddle.  At this point we were two hours behind our planned schedule and starting to have doubts as to whether we could pull the Upper Exum off with the large group we had.  It was here that Danny decided he had enough.  He was doing the whole thing cold turkey.  We were all impressed he did as well as he did. 

 The rest of us started up towards the technical climbing ahead.

Nobody in the group wanted to summit more than Bram, but he was not having his best day.  He was sick and coughing and sounded horrible from the very beginning of the hike.  He was obviously not himself.  At this point he begged the rest of us to leave him.  He gave us some malarkey about how he was slowing the group too much and sabotaging the chances for the rest of us to summit.  None of us believed it or wanted to go to the top without him.  If it wasn't for Bram the guys trips would have never began.  
Luckily I know Bram's weakness.  You're probably thinking....Kryptonite, actually it lies in his inability to turn down any challenge.  I pointed to a large rock high on the mountainside ahead of us and said, "Just see if you can get to that rock in under an hour."  That was all the coercing it took to get Bram to keep going.

At this point we decided to save the Exum Ridge for another day and just take the easiest route up the mountain the Owen Spaulding Route.  This would not require us to rope up until the upper saddle where there is only about 600 feet of climbing left.  The climb to the upper saddle is a bunch of scrambling.  Though it looks exposed in this picture if you stay on route it isn't too bad, of course we didn't but we managed eventually.

Finally making it to the upper saddle.  Rhett definitely on his phone this time.

This is the rope up spot where the technical climbing begins.  The first pitch is the famed belly crawl pitch, however it was backed up with a group of climbers already on it.  I had read about an alternate route that the guide book called a "spicy finish" to the Owen Spaulding.  It was a vertical crack that started just to the right of the belly crawl, it had the same wild exposure but more difficult climbing.  We talked it over  and decided we felt like the team could pull it off.  I was lucky enough to get to lead the pitches.  I had Bram and Roman on my rope.  Rhett and Rocky followed us with Rhett leading their pitches and Rocky cleaning off the gear.      

This is me heading up the first pitch.  I put in one piece of protection and kept climbing and before I put in my second piece of protection the guys yelled up to me that my first piece had fallen out.  Don't worry we had a solid anchor that Roman was belaying me from but still it isn't how you want to start your technical climbing when you literally have thousands of feet of air below you.  

This is Bram topping out on the first pitch.  I sabotaged him by telling him to drop his climbing shoes on the way up and I would let him use my climbing shoes when we got to the technical climbing.  This would have been fine on the regular route but when we opted for the "spicy finish" and I was leading I reneged on my promise and left Bram to climb in his boots.  

Bram is still all smiles despite being sold out by his best friend.

This picture doesn't look like much but I titled it, "Living the Dream."  Yes my dreams are probably different than yours.  There are four of us uncomfortably crammed in a little belay station with Rocky still waiting to come up.  Webbing is running every which way from the anchor I had built. Notice the chalk on Rhett's hand and the overhang above us that we were going to have to traverse out around.  Not to mention we were over 13,000 feet.  It felt like legitimate mountaineering and I was contributing as a leader.  I was living the dream.  

The next move was the crux of the climb.  The traverse out onto the face wasn't that far but there were almost no foot holds and the crack was awkward to hold with nowhere to put your head.

It felt like a solid 5.9 move. 

Pulling back out onto the face was glorious.  Look down and there was air forever below you and above were big holds and easy climbing.  

This is Rhett coming up the next pitch.  

Roman with Bram on belay.
This pitch took forever because with the wind it was impossible to hear from one belay station to the next.

Rocky making his way up the last pitch.

Topping out on the technical portion.  There was actually one more pitch of 5.4 climbing but in the interest of time we elected to put the rope away and solo up that.

Three hundred feet later we were celebrating on the summit.  Unfortunately our celebrations were cut short as we saw a thunderstorm approaching.

We had to make two rappels to get safely off the summit and wanted to do it before the storm got to us. We didn't make it in time and it started hailing on us right as we started the 2nd and more technical rappel.  

I was surprised to hear that Roman and Bram had never rappelled before.  They picked a fine time to learn.

The hike down was as long and miserable as they usually are.  Rhett had a few more chances to check his phone.   
We made it down at 10:00pm for a 20 hour round trip.  Not setting any records but goal accomplished none the less.

The whole team the next morning with The Grand in the background.  What a blast.


Rocky said...

Another true epic!! Well worth the trip home from Thailand. Who knows, maybe next year we try an epic Asian style. Either way, already looking forward to next year. Thanks for the post!

Mindy said...

Great post and pictures Rangi, Glad you are "living your dream".

Rachey Elder said...

So glad you are back! Hopefully for good this time. That was an insane guy's trip! You guys are a bunch of animals. Love all the pics. Awesome post Rang!

Jared B. said...

AWESOME! EPIC! UNFORGETTABLE! Words don't do justice to my feelings about the trip - one that I would have never completed if it weren't for the best buddies any guy could hope for. I was the reason we were "two hours" behind schedule 1/6th through the trip, which delay only kept increasing despite the fact the guys carried all of my gear and share of equipment from the 700' detour (I was the one cussing at the detour - not laughing it off - too by the way) to the top. Not many buddies would be as patient, kind and selfless as the Smart/Boyakin clan. The bottom line is if it weren't for me, the group would have pulled off the lower and upper exum routes and been back before dark. Thanks again guys - hopefully someday I'll be able to pay back my debts.

Lastly, I've always known that Rang could be anything he wanted to be. My vote is that he become a writer/photographer for Outside Magazine once he's tired of teaching.

cheryl said...

I can't believe I missed writing on this blog. It is so scary to me. I'm so glad I don't see these things before you do them. This was quite the epic trip. That is one awesome mountain! Proud of you all, but hope you pick something a little less epic next time.