Before we could start
the approach a troll in a ranger suit stumbled out of the bushes.
He saw the tools of the alpine trade and asked "So where
can I scrape you guys off of this afternoon?"
This guy was about five feet tall with a dirty beard down to
his chest and a tin coffee mug almost as big as he was. I respected
him immediately and not because of the ranger suit. We told him
our plans and he wished us luck. My day was off to a good start:
Derrick had diarrhea and a ranger troll was on our side.
The four-mile approach went quickly, the packs were light and
the conversation heavy (women and climbing). Soon, The Snaz came
into view. The route ascends a shallow dihedral in the center
of Cathedral Rock. The ten-pitch line was first climbed by Chounaird
and Hempel on August 4, 1964. Today most climbers rap after the
seventh pitch due to the loose conditions of the final two-hundred
The first pitch went quickly, as did the second and third. I
was feeling comfortable in the mountains and climbing with a
helmet and pack felt better than climbing barebacked with quickdraws.
Sorry to all you sporto's, but I've seen the light.
It was the fourth pitch that made me the man I am today. This
pitch consists of an awkward roof, followed by seventy feet of
5.9 off-width and finishes, amusingly, with another considerable
roof. By the time Derrick had started up that pitch, an older
couple from Seattle had caught us. It seemed to take Derrick
an uncharacteristically long time to lead it, but I was busy
talking with the fifty-year old couple with whom I shared the
ledge. They were incredibly trad, I think I saw her eat sunscreen.
Anyway, Derrick rigged the belay and soon I was negotiating the
first roof, pack and all.
The first roof went fine, but it soon became evident that I had
never climbed off-width. I grunted a lot, and at some point I
was probably cursing my parents for conceiving me, but I never
fell out of the crack. Oh yea, and the fifty-year old woman from
Seattle was leading it at my heals. By the time I climbed out
of the off-width to the second roof, no jug was big enough. I
couldn't have held onto monkey bars at that point. I took a little
break, then pulled the roof and waited to puke.
After the fifth pitch dark clouds were creeping down the canyon
and my ego had no problem calling it a day. We rapped down with
a few rain drops and arrived at the car two hours later. By then
the August sun had burned off the clouds and it was hot. We felt
dusty inside and out. On to Jenny Lake.
There is a small pebble beach on the eastern shore of Jenny Lake
where tourists like to swim, especially during the warm days
of August. As far as I knew, Derrick and I were the only climbers
at the beach that day. We had every right to get naked and go
swimming. This is not to say that only climbers can swim naked-everyone
should do it-it's just that people who have just climbed part
of The Snaz are more likely to take advantage of this right.
After swimming that evening, Derrick and I were in a rule-breaking
mood and as sleeping in the parking lot bushes was against the
rules, it seemed like the right thing to do.
The plan for the next day was to get an alpine start (4 a.m.)
and do the Upper Exum Ridge of the Grand Teton in a day. At eleven-thirty
that night I was still awake in my bag, listening to the shouts
of joy from people coming off the trail after completing whatever
route they had been on that day. My mind raced under the stars,
and thinking back, the ambition to stand atop the Grand Teton
was what started me climbing. There is an Ansel Adams picture
of the Teton Range in my parents living room and much time has
been spent staring at that photograph. I would look at it and
imagine myself on the left skyline of the Grand. Laying in my
bag I realized that in four short hours that is exactly what
I would set out to do. It was not a stretch to think that the
next day of my life would be one of the more important ones.
I woke up to pee and realized it was time to go. Ten minutes
later Derrick and I were on the Garnet Canyon trail, eating breakfast
as we walked. The enormity of the day set in and I was grateful
for the darkness that concealed the forbidding route. From the
trailhead, one must gain 4800 feet in seven miles to arrive at
the lower saddle between Middle and Grand Teton. As we reached
the boulder-field that is the entrance to the hanging Garnet
Canyon, we could see spots of headlights making their way up
the final thousand feet before the saddle. Those people had a
three-thousand foot head start on us, as they had camped in the
Meadows above the three miles of switchbacks Derrick and I had
just finished. I felt like shit. Out of gas and out of breath.
I made Derrick stop. At the stream running through the Meadows
I dropped iodine pills into my water bottle as I ate sardines
on a blueberry bagel. Ten minutes later I felt like Superman.
Two hours later we were passing those headlights, and by 8 a.m.
we had reached the lower saddle. I won't even try to write about
the sunrise that morning, go see it for yourself.
The next three hours of my life were three of the best. The Upper
Exum Ridge (II 5.5) starts on a ramp called Wall Street and then
climbs a series of cracks and chimneys composed of immaculate
granite. We soloed fifteen hundred feet of low angle rock and
reached the summit at 11:30 a.m. Ten people shared the summit
perch with us that morning.
The descent was amusing as we all started down together. Within
a family group of seven, only two knew how to rappel. Derrick
and I whizzed down the lines ahead of that formula for trouble,
then took naked pictures on the Upper Saddle.
Before the rain came, we were on level ground, seeing how many
guided parties we could catch. By 4 p.m. we were in the parking
lot, shouting with joy, just as those parties had done the night
before. My dream had been realized.
More naked swimming then heavy rain came and Derrick and I had
no place to stay. We lounged under an awning for a few content
and high hours. The storm raged in the peaks. At seven that evening,
we saw the wet and tired family group finally reach the parking
lot. Derrick and I laughed as we watched them stumble into their
cars, then realized that the joke was on us. They probably had
a place to stay that night and we didn't.
It was still storming, so we drove around looking for cover,
legal or not and definitely free. In true trad fashion we chose
the underside of a bridge. We slept in the sand, highly illegal
and very exhausted, accompanied by two disturbed Ravens.
I awoke the next morning thinking I had two more days to climb,
but a call home revealed that my beautiful grandmother, Rosemary
Powers, with whom I used to do things like watch The Price Is
Right and stuff turkeys, had passed away. Nineteen solo road
hours later, I was in Minnesota with my family. Grandma's are
always more important than climbing.
During my drive home I had much time to reflect on the previous
two days. These were my thoughts: as climbers we realize the
importance of things like swimming naked and sleeping under bridges.
We break laws that need breaking because we climb mountains that
need climbing. If people take offense at our nakedness, or our
rudeness, or even our stench, it is only because they wonder
what it would be like. They will wonder, when they look at their
pictures of the mountains, what it is like to be on the summit.
This is what I learned during my forty-eight hours in the Tetons.
And that you climb better if you eat sunscreen and have trolls
on your side. Peace to all climbers and my Grandma.