Sunday, September 28, 2014

Teewinot and Buck Mountains, September 24-25, 2014

Two Days and Two Tetons

I heard the Elk bugling before I got out of the truck and the next morning my windshield was covered in frost. It was late September and I was trying to salvage what was left of the summer with a quick trip to the Tetons before winter took over.

It had been a long, hot, uneventful summer, with too much giving, not enough taking, and I needed a couple of days in the mountains. The plan was to drive to Jackson Wednesday morning (from Bountiful), arriving early afternoon, hike Teewinot, descend in the dark, sleep in the truck at Lupine Meadows, rise early on Thursday and hike Buck Mountain, drive home Thursday evening. A quick hit on two beautiful Teton Peaks. 

The Wasatch are great, but they're not the Teton's. Yes, I'm blessed to live at the foot of the Wasatch, they are very close to home and offer almost an instantaneous respite from the crap down in the valley, but that is also their downfall, too much humanity nearby. The Tetons also get crowded, but nothing approaching the mule train you see slogging up Timpanogos or to Lake Blanche. The Wasatch offers one of the largest rises from its base of almost any mountain range in North America, 6,250 vertical feet from draper to the summit of Lone Peak for instance, but the Teton's handily beat the Wasatch relief; the Grand Teton rises over 7,070 vertical feet above the Jackson Hole, with much fewer people and no foothills to speak of, which is so prevalent along the Wasatch.  
Teewinot Mountain (12,325 feet):
Teewinot is the huge mountain southwest of Jenny Lake, rising nearly 5,600 vertical feet in just over three miles, in one direct line to the summit. Combined with the Grand Teton and Mt. Owen, the three peaks that form what is known as the Cathedral Group, with the Grand and Owen rising higher over Teewinot's west shoulder. Teewinot gets less respect that either the Grand or Owen, largely because it is lower and it's summit is easier to tag, but it also has a long history of accidents and rescues due to hikers thinking it is just that, a hike and not a climb. It shouldn't be taken lightly. The 'Dog' route comes with steep slabs and exposure. 

We (me, Brett) didn't start hiking until 3:30, almost too late to get up and down safely. The sun sets at 7:00 and I didn't want to be down-climbing in the dark, but we went up anyway. We didn't drive all that way for nothing. We heard the bugling Elk until well above timberline but didn't see them until the descent when theirs eyes reflected eerily the beam of our headlamps. The hike up the Apex switchbacks steeply and endlessly through dead Whitebark Pines, but the steepness offers quick movement up the mountain. Sounds counter-intuitive but it's true, the steeper the trail that faster you climb. By the time we emerged for the forest the shadows of the Grand, Owen and Teewinot were stretching far across Jackson Hole. Brett is smarter than me, he knew the sun would be set well before we could get down, so he opted to wait where the technical stuff begins. I climbed upward, questioning why I was going up, it seemed risky, but the thought didn't turn me back.   

Still in the sun. We started hiking at 3:30PM, which meant we were racing sunlight to the summit. This is Teewinot from lower Apex.

Old avalanche debris at about 9k elevation. 

Zoomed view of upper Teewinot, from 3k feet below. 

Full view from the top of the approach ridge called the Apex.

Upper Teewinot. The route follows the right side of the dark trench, then, just below the upper snow patch below the huge notch, the route veers right up a hidden gully to the summit. The route is rated as 4th class, which in Teton-slang means it could be anything form a flat stroll in flip-flops to crap-your-pants-exposed 5th class climbing. I found three cruxes on Teewinot, which I'd rate as 5.5-5.6, with some minor exposure. In comparison, each crux is a bit more technical, albeit less committing, than anything on the Upper Exum of the Grand Teton, which is rated at 5.4. Yeah, I thought it was tougher than climbing the Upper Exum, just shorter. The cruxes are slabby, bulges that might be better compared to the West Slabs of Mt. Olympus, which is rated at 5.5. While Teewinot is easy, I'd say it's a bit trickier than the West Slabs due to double fall lines and sloping angles. Seems like there are a lot of under-clings and side-pulls which could make the holds obvious to the casual hiker. But quibbling over low grade rock ratings only reveals me as an old, rusty climber. My point is this: the popular rating of Teewinot can be misleading. It's big, slabby and feels exposed due to the valley thousands of feet below your toes. Sometimes exposure can fool the mind into thinking its more difficult than it really is. I know folks who can climb 5.12 in the gym, but would cry like babies on this face.   

Climbing Teewinot without protection was not an issue. It was fun, easy climbing with manageable exposure, but I was nervous about down-climbing in the dark because, if off-route, there are some big drop-offs. I set my drop-dead turn around time at 6:30PM. I reached that upper snow patch at 6:30 and kept going, reasoning that I could always bivy for the the night if it was too dark to down-climb.      

Snow, to last until next summer.

Jenny Lake from timberline. The mountain shadows moving too quickly and I'm still too low.

The towers of Teewinot: the Worshiper and the Idol.

Jenny Lake now consumed by the shadows of the Grand Teton, Mt. Owen and Teewinot.

The Worshipper and the Idol getting smaller

Topping out at 6:40, just before sunset. This is the view north across Cascade Canyon, Mt. Moran and Jackson Lake. 

Big shadows across Jackson Hole.

The Grand Teton from the summit of Teewinot.

Teewinot has the most exposed summit I've ever touched (it's the steep spike in the sun). It drops thousands of feet into Cascade Canyon and I've never had the guts to stand up on that thing, at lest unroped. But who wants to take a rope all that way?  

Last of the sun, view SE across Jackson Hole.

Me, all smiles on the summit, but feeling panicked about the down-climb in the dark. 

Sun now set between the Grand and Owen.
I stayed on the summit about ten minutes, waiting for a sunset shot of the Grand and Owen, but the photo didn't turn out the way I hoped, and I lost about 10 minutes better used descending the slabs. I down-climbed as fast as I dared, hoping to get off the exposed slabs before total dark or else it meant a cold bivy high on Teewinot. I had a headlamp but I needed long range views to avoid getting off-route, which could mean down climbing to dead-end drop-offs which are found all over the east face of Teewinot. The headlamp offered short views, not nearly long enough to chart the full course.

As I descended, I could barely see Brett sitting on a rock down by the Worshipper and Idol, two rock towers about mid-way down the face. Periodically he'd flash his headlamp as a homing beacon. It was strange but the twilight seemed to last longer than normal, it kept hanging-on unnaturally, allowing me to descend through the technical slabs before total dark. I finished the technical part just as everything turned black, reaching the hiking trail just in time, where the headlamp offered ample light.

Brett at timberline just after sunset. Jackson Hole Airport lights far below.
Teewinot is big, but it looks small compared to the Grand, Owen, Middle and South. I've climbed them all and Teewinot is great for an afternoon hike, but shouldn't be taken lightly. The guidebook rating might suggest an easy scramble but it has some sections with steep rock and deadly drop-offs. Perhaps the light rating is the reason for so many rescues on Teewinot?  It is not a mere foothill hike. And don't be fooled, it is bigger than the major peaks in the Wasatch.

We descended Teewinot, arriving at the truck at Lupine Meadows in the dark, just before 9:00PM, and cooked dinner while listening to the bugling  Elk. While eating a small fox ran up looking for food. A man and a women in a neighboring car, who had just pulled in to listen to the Elk, thought that fox was a bear and they left. Funny.

We slept the night in camper-shell of the truck, listening to the Elk, who never shut up. Very cool, until about 1:00AM and it's too loud to sleep. Stupid Elk.

Teewinot and Buck vs. the Wasatch:
  • Teewinot Mtn: 5,600 vertical rise in 3.1 miles;
  • Buck Mtn: 5,138 ft. vertical rise in 5.5 miles;
  • Broads Fork Twins via Stairs Gulch: 5,588 ft. vertical rise in 3.5 miles. Very similar to Teewinot in terms of steepness but my vote goes to Teewinot for it's more technical rock and exposed line. 
  • Lone Peak via Jacobs Ladder: 5,600 ft. vertical rise in 5 miles, a much 'flatter' hike than Teewinot but similar to Buck, but the whine of I-15 easily heard 6,000 feet below is a HUGE strike against Lone Peak.
  • Mt. Timpenogos via the Timpenooki Trail: 4,390 ft. vertical rise in 7 miles. PFFFFFFT! Don't even try to compare! Go shopping at City Creek on conference weekend instead! It'll be less crowded than hiking Timpanogos.
  • Mt. Olympus West Slabs to South Summit: 3,700 ft. vertical rise in 4 miles. This one is similar to Teewinot in terms of technical rock and exposure, but has less vertical, and its summit is much lower in elevation. Plus it comes with the nasty itch of the 'Wasatch STD', that being the whine of I-215, 3,000 feet below your toes. Plus the view sucks: the sprawl of Gotham from horizon to horizon. Yeah, the Tetons have a few issues, like 737s flying below you while on approach, but the Tetons don't have the huge population at its base as do the Wasatch.

Buck Mountain (11,938 feet):

Brett, crossing the meadow after leaving the Death Canyon trail, headed toward Stewart Draw and Buck Mountain.

View SW across the approach meadow on the way to Buck. The big wall is Death Canyon.

Dead Whitebark Pines, overlooking Jackson Hole.

Upper Stewart Draw, a glacial cirque with huge boulders transported by ice and deposited throughout the drainage during the last ice-age. It's one of the most beautiful places I've been.

Upper Stewart Draw.

Buck Mountain. We climbed the East Ridge (right side skyline), at least Brett did. I went most the way up then opted for the East Face. The East Ridge was easy scrambling, nothing too technical, but required lots of hands and feet, very similar to Teewinot but with bigger exposure. The tough part is dealing with the big exposure off the north face. HUGE drop-offs just off the ridge over the north face of Buck. If you get too close to the edge there is almost always an easy way around (below the ridge crest) to avoid those drops, except for one notch in the ridge about 300 feet from the summit.  It required a short down-climb to a narrow stance of about a foot wide, and with your toes hanging a thousand feet over the north face of Buck I got spooked and opted out while Brett made it look like a walk through 25th Street in Ogden (he's a good climber, me? -  not so much). With no gear (ropes or pro) and spooked, I down-climbed the ridge and ramps over to the face (through the snow patch seen above) and scrambled straight up the center, meeting Brett on the summit.  In my defense I haven't climbed anything tougher than the landscaped rock wall in my back yard this year.

For the descent we both then downclimbed the center face. 

Glacier polished granite and Static Peak (11,303 feet).

Static Peak  (11,303 feet) and Timberline Lake, still with ice in late September.

Ice-flows on Timberline Lake.

Brett above Timberline Lake.

Heart of the Tetons, view from the East Ridge of Buck Mountain. Teewinot (my high point yesterday) is the peak right of the Grand Teton (center, with snow running down from summit).

Zoomed view of the Grand Teton from the East Ridge of Buck.

Brett on the easier/non-exposed part of the East Ridge of Buck.

I couldn't stop gawking at the Grand! 

Huge exposure off the north face of Buck.

Brett headed for the notch, where I bailed and went for the face.

Brett on the summit of Buck Mountain (11,938 feet), view south.

View east from the summit of Buck. Timberline Lake far below.

Me on the summit of Buck, still kind of pissy for bailing at the notch of the East Ridge. Real men don't bail! North view and the Grand Teton. 

Partners on Buck. At least we'll have light for the down-climb.

Static Peak and Timberline Lake, sparkling in the noon-time sun.

A tank, full from this weeks rain, but too scummy to drink (I was out of water by this point).

Brett descending toward the moraine on the rim of the Stewart Draw cirque.

We surprised a black bear and her two cubs during the descent. Here the cubs can't decide to climb or descend. Their momma is behind the trees to the right.

Fall in the Tetons. Beautiful!

1 comment:

  1. Just a couple of clarifications for those interested in whole story...

    I was too slow to keep up with Owen on Teewinot. At about 6:20pm I saw Owen disappear through the V-notch on the East face. By 7:00pm I was still well below the V-notch and headed down to recover a bit while I waited for Owen to return from the summit. So there was no use of wisdom, only age and too much couch time determined my course of action.

    As for the Notch on the East Ridge of Buck, it was not difficult, Owen just talked himself out of doing it. A perfectly reasonable decision on his part - if you do not feel good about something you should make the right decision for you, not someone else. As for me, I did not have have the strength to down climb the East Ridge and reclimb the East Face. I was stuck with doing the Notch, or going home short two summits. I did not want to miss both Teewinot and Buck so I put my mind on the task at hand and climbed through the Notch.

    Ultimately it was a most excellent trip and I am grateful that Owen thought enough of me to include me. Owen is a great partner, even if he did murder a little deer with his truck on the way home...