Generally everyone knows the Tetons through Ansel Adams' famous Snake River photo or through a photo of the Tetons themselves, and I'm no different. I've always wanted to go to the Tetons and stand where Ansel Adams stood. So when my good friend called me to tell me he was going to be in the area for a conference and that we should make a backpacking trip out of it, I was sold in a heart beat. Before heading out on the trip I talked with the awesome guys over at Goal Zero and they sponsored me with a Sherpa 100 Kit. It included one of their Nomad 20 three piece folding solar panels, Sherpa 100 lithium ion power packs, and an inverter to charge things like my camera batteries. This was something that I've been wanting to get for a while and was super stoked to test it out, especially in the snow where you're batteries drain faster.
I was worried though that the Tetons weren't going to live up to the level that I had put them on after so many years of looking at the Snake River photograph. However once Josh, our good friend Spencer, and I pulled into the Lupine Meadows Trailhead inside Grand Teton National Park my preconceived notions were shattered. The peaks of Grand Teton National Park (there are 12 over 12,000') were absolutely stunning and dominate the horizon for miles. Another thing that stunned me was the fact that the Tetons are incredibly accessible. The Grand Teton rises to 13,776' from the valley floor at 6,500' in just 10mi of trail (about 3mi by air). Here in Boulder we have the foothills that jump up fairly quickly but nothing like this.
The trip started out as a backpacking trip but as soon as we saw the snow conditions (the area got 150% of their annual snowfall this year) and talked to the rangers it quickly turned into a Middle Teton summit attempt. Luckily we planned on this possibility so we brought crampons, ice axes, snowshoes, etc. The first few miles were in intermittent snow drifts which wasn't terrible but made progress slow.
Once we got on the uphill portion the snow quickly covered everything, including the trail. This made things, as you could imagine, difficult. After trudging up a few miles and walking a bit too far north we ended up setting up camp on a flat spot we dug out under a tree on the side of the slope. I set my batteries to charge on the Sherpa 100 and went to bed.
In the morning once we scouted out where exactly we were and where the trail was eventually going to lead us we set off for our high camp. This was the perfect time to test out the Nomad 20 solar panel so I used one of the many loops to connect it to the back of my pack and plugged it into the battery. It charges whenever it sees the sun so you don't have to worry about restarting the process after every cloud rolls through. Luckily for us there wasn't a could in the sky so the power pack charged super quick. Our crampons, which I thought we were only going to use on the summit attempt, turned out to be a God send on the hike up as we were headed up the side of Garnet Canyon following ski tracks for the majority of the day. It was an amazing mix of stunning views and tense terrain which prompted the age old hikers' saying, "Look Up, Fall Down." And when down is 80ft into a river or some trees, you kept the eyes forward and focused.
The culmination of Garnet Canyon lead us to the foot of the Middle Teton where in the summer there's a nice alpine meadow, but was socked in with 5-10ft of snow. This worked out for us really well because we were able to set up shop on top of and pitch our tent next to a massive boulder that during the summer would have been too tall to use. It was an amazing and daunting camp site because of the views it gave you of the surrounding climbs. The Middle loomed at 12,805' right in front of us with the Grand at 13,776' just to the north with a massive couple hundred foot headwall of snow to climb up before you even reach the base.
We started our summit attempt admittedly a bit late but had high spirits and plenty of steam. Our approach to the south side of the Middle was much easier than the head wall of the Grand but was longer than we thought by a good bit. The snow was frozen solid from the night before and made for some great traveling for the first bit of the hike until the sun loosened it up an hour or so into our hike, which made our technical snow pitch interesting. On the way up we crossed a few mostly covered scree fields, stepped through a few small snow bridges, reached the shoulder between the Middle and the South looking down a 1,000' into Idaho, turned north and stared directly into our headwall pitch. Luckily the snow was still decent and we were able to make our way up the 70 degree 100' pitch without much trouble.
It was starting to get late and after 3mi and 3,000' of elevation gain we decided to call it and turn back. With the rate we were traveling and the amount of steep terrain we had left it just wasn't wise to keep moving upward. It was a really tough decision but it lead to one of the most fun parts of the trip. Glissading down. Imagine sliding down a 600' slope and cutting out a huge chunk of the hike back down. Sounds great right? Let me tell you, it is. Glissading is a way of sliding down a slope of snow or ice generally on your butt (can be done standing though) while holding an ice axe to control your speed and arrest yourself if you end up getting out of control. After glissading and hiking most of the way back to our camp we witnessed an avalanche break off the steep east face of the Middle which was definitely freaky but also really cool to see.
We rested at our high camp for just a bit while letting the Goal Zero kit do it's work and headed the rest of the way down that afternoon making it a 12-13mi day. We went straight to rest our tired bodies at a Mexican food restaurant and railed some chips and salsa and margaritas.
I was so impressed by how much you can charge with the Sherpa 100 even in the cold and how quickly it's recharged by the solar panel that the kit is now an essential part of my backpacking photography kit. I love it!
Attempting the Middle Teton was such a fun experience and I couldn't have asked for two better, more down for anything, guys than Josh and Spencer. It was so good to get out and just go full bore at something you've never done before. It definitely got the heart rate up! This trip has given me the bug and I can't wait to get back and summit the Middle and try more winter ascents here in Colorado.
And yes, I did finally get to go to the Ansel Adams overlook.