Thursday, August 2, 2012

Wyoming, Pt. 3: Grand Tetons and Devil's Tower

I've been back in Duluth less than 24 hours, and jumping back into "real" life is, as always, a little jarring at first (running water?  Carpeting?  Dishes that are actually clean-clean, and not just "camping" clean??).  The end of vacation went by in a complete blurr, but I'll recount our last days here before they turn into the happy lump of memory known as "summer vacation".  
After we excited the Cirque of the Towers, our bodies begged for true healing time.  We stopped for the first shower in a week at the Pinedale Aquatic Center, took full advantage of the hot tub, and ate a lot of burrito goodness at one of the local dives before heading up to Jackson, WY to get ready to enter the Tetons.  
We took a couple of days to be tourists in Jackson and Jackson Hole, visiting the Million-Dollar Cowboy Bar (where there are saddles instead of bar stools), grabbing our backcountry permit from the ranger station, and checking out the newest Batman movie during a particularly rainy afternoon.  After proper rest, we headed fresh and ready into the Grand Tetons!  We have an extremely careful process to pack our gear, of course:
I'm really glad we saved this hike until last.  It wasn't the longest hike we did, but in about 6 miles we gained around 3,000 ft of altitude.  Having the experience of hiking into the Cirque at altitude was a great way to make this hike not seem nearly as bad as it could have felt.
It was like the uphill hike that never ended, and it only got steeper the farther up you went.  This is us, still cheerful, before the going got tough. :)
We ended our day at the Petzoldt caves- actual caves that you can get permits to camp in!  I really liked our cave- it wasn't very tall, but it went back far enough that you could stretch out your sleeping pad and not worry about rain or wind.  We just had to make sure not to sit up too fast when we woke up, or you'd have a nice gouge in your forehead.
We shared it with a Pika- a high-altitude creature that made loud noises and looked like a small chinchilla.  Cute, but pretty stinky.  
I made sure to get in some "extreme knitting" in the caves, though this would prove to be the only real "extreme knitting" I did this trip.  No hanging off a belay this time (next year!).  
After some fantastic backcountry food, we went to bed with the sun for our early morning wake up!
Our plan was to attempt the Grand- the biggest spike of all in the range.  The climb itself can actually be made fairly simple if wanted- there's a route that goes all the way to the top which is 5.5, seeming like a pretty big ladder.  We were hoping to attempt the Direct Petzoldt Ridge, a more exposed 5.7 that eventually linked up to the Upper Exum route leading to the top.  From the start of the route to the peak and descending would be around 10-12 hours, plus at least a couple hours hike on either side, so we had to get up alpine-early.
This is what 4 am looks like in the mountains:
This is what 5 am looks like in the mountains:
We reached the crest of the ridge between the Middle Teton and the Grand Teton around 7 am, and as we walked up past snow we got blasted by a freezing cold wind coming over the ridge.  Scott wrapped his one layer of fleece closer, and I zipped my rain coat up tight as we trudged up to the bottom of our ridge.  Two figures passed by us on their way down wrapped in fluffy down jackets, then skeptically questioned our lack of "proper" warm gear.  I retorted "We're from Minnesota" before they laughed us off and told us that it was a lot colder and windier up on the mountain; their reason for bailing.  
We hiked the rest of the way up the approach, stopping on the snow that covered the bottom of our route to regroup and discuss something we didn't want to- bailing.  The wind was relentless- pushing and pulling and freezing your hands on any attempt to extend them on a hold.  My teeth were chattering and I was trying to keep from shaking.  
Scott looked me in the eye and asked, "Do you really want to do this?"  I looked straight back at him, told him, "Yes," trying to control my voice from betraying how cold I was.  After a little more discussion, we decided that it wouldn't be safe for us to attempt the route in the cold and wind. 
The descent was quiet, as neither of us were happy about having to bail off of a route.  After hanging out at camp for a little bit we decided that we were going to hike out of Garnet Canyon and seek out warmer climbing spots.
Grand Teton- next trip!
Barely a day later, we found ourselves looking up at the Devil's Tower in eastern Wyoming.  We made coffee in the parking lot, racked up, and walked around the paved trail at the bottom of the tower to reach a route called Soler.
Scott led the first pitch in his trademark effortless style:
And I got to finish it up on a great 5.9 hand crack, checking out the view as I belayed Scott up.
That climb showed us how destroyed our bodies really were after 3 weeks of relentless hiking and climbing. Even my knees hurt as I was wedging my feet into the crack.  
As we walked around the base of the tower back to the car, we decided that our trip was done.  We had visited 5 climbing areas in 3 weeks, hiked in much farther for longer and with a lot more gear than last year, and we were ready to head back home.
We stopped in my hometown to say hi to my folks before driving back to Duluth, and were greeted by the familiar sight of the city unfolding below us as we came down the hill.
I have a lot going on next week: getting back to work, teaching every day at dance camp, and working on my syllabus for my classes this semester.  I'm also participating in Ravelry's knitting games, though not with the project I originally had in mind.  I'll talk more about those for now, but it was amazing to let these posts linger on the incredible fun I had on this trip.  
After all, what kind of life is it without crazy vacations? :)

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