August 22, 2023
Roger Luebeck, Minnesota

My take-aways from climbing the Grand Teton on 8/17/23:

Photos from the climb are lower on this page.


1.  The phenomenal Morgan -- my guide.

    She is an expert lead-climber, an expert
    regarding the Grand's climbing routes, and 
    a gentle-but-firm instruction-giver.

    Fun conversation with Morgan during every 
    phase of the adventure: 

      the rock-climbing test day,
      the four-hour hike up the valley to the saddle,
      the lounging on the summit,
      the long descent and hike down.

    And it's just plain fun to have a guide.
    I felt like I was in a movie.

2.  My fumbling with the climbing equipment on 
    the rock-climbing test day.  (Today's equipment
    bears no resemblance to what we used fifty 
    years ago.)  I kept asking Morgan whether she 
    was sure she wanted to climb the Grand with me.  

    She was merely amused.  Like she said, she 
    would be next to me at the beginning of each 
    pitch to make sure I had everything in order, 
    equipment-wise.  (But I soon got myself 
    "up to snuff" on it.)

3.  It took us three hours of climbing, beginning 
    just above the 11,700' saddle, to reach the 
    summit at 13,775'.

    It's a blur of memories, in bits and pieces.
    It seems like there were about a half-dozen
    belayed pitches, ranging from a couple to a 
    few minutes in duration, meaning that we 
    spent most of the three hours engaged in
    class 3 & class 4 free climbing.

    We were just staying put here and there for
    probably a total of about 30 minutes due
    to short stretches of route-sharing or 
    intersecting with other climbing parties.

4.  The blur of memories of the down-climbing. 
    See number five.

5.  The insanely long rappel which saved us
    many pitches of down-climbing.  We lost 
    all contact with the wall for the final 
    roughly sixty feet of that rappel.
    (The rappel is in the final video below.)

6.  The complete absence of fear or of any
    concern whatsoever, a bit surprisingly,
    during the entire technical climb and 
    technical descent.

    I must credit Morgan for that.  I had
    complete faith in her judgement and
    abilities.

    There was a good deal of fun conversation
    with other climbers who shared or intersected
    our climbing route here and there.

7.  On near-vertical sections one sometimes 
    needs to cast about a bit to find suitable 
    handholds or footholds (or finger or toe 
    holds).   But that's part of the fun 
    and satisfaction.  Very easy, overall.

    There was little chance of having a fall 
    on the route we took (and as a matter of 
    principle I would not want to have one).  
    I can certainly imagine myself climbing 
    the entire route unroped.

8.  I climbed smoothly, and a highlight for
    me was receiving compliments as I climbed
    from the climbers who were about to come 
    up the same pitch from below me.

    On one occasion, well into a pitch, I was
    on a quite vertical segment of wall where 
    I'd spent several seconds trying to locate 
    a suitable toehold.  Rather than cause a 
    delay for the climbers below, I simply 
    pulled myself up a couple feet with my hands,
    then groped about for a toehold at that 
    higher position.
    
    I found one and continued on up the pitch.
    At the top of that pitch, I joked with
    Morgan that it must have looked really
    ugly to the climbers below.  But even
    that crazy move had prompted a compliment
    from one of the climbers!  Very fun.

9.  The airy exposed lateral portions were
    not technically difficult -- at all.

    And again -- surprising lack of fear or 
    concern on those airy laterals, including 
    a couple or so where no rope was used, 
    despite the shear drop of two thousand 
    feet as one leans out into space.

10. About half-way up the valley hike earlier
    that morning, I told Morgan the story about 
    how if I ever saw Jimmy Chin walking down 
    a sidewalk in Minneapolis I was going to 
    punch him in the nose.

    Five minutes later we bumped into him on
    the trail.

    Unbeknownst to me, Morgan had met Jimmy once
    and is friends with his sister.  I did not 
    know he was Jimmy Chin until their short 
    conversation was over and he and his hiking 
    partner moved on up the trail.  The fact 
    that he was much shorter in real life than 
    on the movie screen kept me from recognizing 
    him.

    I told Morgan that she should have told
    me sooner that he was Jimmy Chin so that
    I could've punched him in the nose.

    She agreed to the extent that it would have 
    made a great story for her to tell to the 
    other guides.

11. How well I climbed on the rock-climbing
    test day the day before our ascent of the
    Grand.

    Based on my performance (I had no idea that
    I was capable of completing a short 5.8
    rated pitch), Morgan qualified me for the
    more difficult and exposed route on the Grand,
    which is the upper Exum ridge route.

    At the end of that test, which we finished up
    early after just a couple hours of climbing,
    I told Morgan that she got an A++ as an
    instructor.  She came back instantly with
    an A++ rating for me, and I heard a few 
    "awesome"s from her during our test.

    (At the end of that day, based on Morgan's
    commentary, I guessed that I was in at least
    a borderline special category regarding
    clients.  The next day Morgan stated clearly 
    that I was "in a special category".  Hooray.)

12. Based on my hiking endurance which Morgan
    noticed on rock-climbing test day, as well 
    as on our conversation, Morgan further 
    promoted me to a one-day ascent of the Grand 
    rather than the standard two-day ascent
    whereby climbers spend the night on the 
    11,700' saddle after hiking up the valley.

    The valley hike generates 5000' of elevation 
    gain, and it is another 2100' of elevation 
    gain, in the form of climbing, beyond the 
    saddle to the summit.  (One carries a 20+ lb 
    pack whether making a one-day or two-day ascent.)

    She left it up to me, and I jumped at it.
    I held up four fingers and said "four-o-clock"
    (for a morning start time) and it suited
    her fine.

    It's a fun and bragging-rights way to climb 
    the Grand.  (One-day ascents of the Grand by 
    the especially fit have a standard starting 
    time of midnight, so Morgan had me in an 
    extra-special category with that agreed-upon 
    "late" start time for a one-day ascent/descent.)

    I see from the summit registry that an 
    average of just 3 climbers per year 
    accomplish a one-day ascent, while an 
    average of 493 climbers per year make it 
    a two-day ascent.  Of the 54 climbers 
    besides myself who made the one-day ascent 
    over the past 17 years, I'm guessing that 
    all incorporated the standard midnight start 
    time.  I'm glad I held up four fingers and 
    requested a "late" start time of 4:00 A.M.  
    Even then, the entire day was an effortless 
    "Sunday stroll".  We could have started much 
    later.  See number 14 below.

13. Without informing me about what she was up 
    to, Morgan led us up a long and comparatively 
    difficult technical climbing stretch at the 
    outset of the climbing portion on the Grand.
    In other words, she did not take the standard 
    route for that initial stretch.

    (It was either Chockstone Chimney or the 
    face adjacently west of it, and I give it 
    a rating of 5.5 or 5.6) 

    The top of that pitch intersects with both 
    the upper Exum route and the Owen-Spalding 
    route.

    At that "decision point", she told me
    that I could expect the upper Exum ridge
    to consist of "lots of" climbing that is 
    as difficult as the pitch that I'd just 
    completed, along with severe exposure 
    (airiness/extreme steepness), and that it 
    would go on for hours.

    Or.. if I so chose .. we could opt for the
    "easier-but-still-challenging" (to quote
    someone else) Owen-Spalding route.

    Morgan's prudence, in conjunction with my
    imagination, gave me a sense that the 
    Owen-Spalding route was possibly better 
    suited to my conservative nature.

    So off we went up Owen-Spalding.  Not 
    at all challenging afterall (the photo
    and videos below might well cause you to
    disagree), but still providing good 
    exposure and stunning views.

    Only after experiencing the exposure
    offered by the Owen-Spalding route did
    I realize how utterly unaffected I'd be 
    by the Grand's exposure in a general sense,
    meaning that the upper Exum ridge would
    have suited me just fine.  Neither 
    Morgan nor I could have known that in 
    advance.

14. Happy to report that my legs remained
    absolutely "silent" throughout the hiking
    and climbing, and that neither my heartrate
    nor breathing ever exceeded that which I
    experience sitting in my easy chair.

    Morgan asked me several times that day
    how I was feeling (as obliged by Exum 
    policy, as she already knew my answer) 
    and right to the end I was able to 
    honestly report that I felt like I'd 
    never left the trailhead and that my 
    legs were silent.  My modest training
    beginning a couple months prior to the
    climb was well worth it.  Feeling perfectly 
    fresh all day long is the key to enjoying 
    mountain climbing.

    Morgan was endlessly patient with my 
    comparatively slow downhill hiking from 
    the saddle to the trailhead, which went 
    on for nearly four hours.  I make myself 
    hike at a gentle pace downhill on rugged 
    terrain to protect my old legs.  (Old legs
    don't communicate their limitations to you
    until the day after you've enthusiastically
    flown down a mountain trail.)

    We were walking through the woods in 
    total darkness for the final half hour,
    arriving at the trailhead at 9:00 P.M.,
    seventeen hours after setting out that 
    morning at 4:00 A.M.  

    (We had spent an hour at the 11,700' saddle 
    both on the way up and on the way down, 
    gabbing with other climbers.  We spent about
    fifteen minutes at Spalding Falls both on
    the way up and on the way down.  We also 
    spent at least a half hour on the summit.  
    Not a rushed adventure in any sense.)


Postscript:

   Glad to have experienced the Owen-Spalding
   route.  Even though it's comparatively tame,
   I think it's a good idea to begin with the
   Owen-Spalding route (5.4) for self-assessment
   before taking on the upper Exum route (5.5).
   I would like to return to the Grand and 
   climb the upper Exum route with Morgan.

-----------------------------------------------

Hiking up the valley.  This is Morgan:



I was proud to be Morgan's client.  A few times
during the technical ascent, other guides on
the mountain called out to her for advice,
and I could tell that they knew she would 
have the answer.  "Morgan, how long of a 
rope do I need to rappel from such-and-such
point to such-and-such point."  "At the top
of this pitch, will we be able to traverse
to the base of such-and-such pitch."  etc.
She always answered in fine detail, and with 
an easy succintness.

I followed Morgan's lead on everything.  I asked 
her how much water she was carrying on each 
segment of the day, what clothes she was going 
to wear on each segment; and I did as she did.  
During climbing, I sat when and where she said 
to sit (it was the very first thing she made 
clear on orientation day), and didn't stand up 
until I knew it was okay with her.  I even 
checked with her before using the latrine at 
the saddle and at the summit.  After all, I would 
be out of her sight and she was responsible for
my safety.  It was like being in elementary school 
again.  A fun way of being.  You'd like it.



A couple photos along our route:


An unidentified climber on a notable lateral 
section.  We sailed right through it:



A little further along the lateral, another 
unidentified climber enters the Double Chimney:



The blue and yellow lines in the photo below
show part of the climbing route.  The yellow
line is the stretch where the two climbers 
in the photos immediately above are located.  
Only the upper 600 feet of the thousands of 
feet of shear drop below the yellow line is 
shown in the photo below.  (The entire shear 
drop shows up in the opening scenes of the 
first video below.)




A climber took a summit photo of me after 
I removed my helmet and harness.  My flip-
phone camera yields a nice old classic look:




Morgan's (telescopic lens) photo of me on the same 
rappel as seen in the video below.  This same spot 
shows up at the 1:16 mark in the rappel video below:




Here is a 1981 climber beginning that rappel.
He (and Morgan and I) did it right.  The climber 
in the rappel video below failed to lean out and 
made more work of it:




The 3 minute 10 second video below, which contains
highlights from our Owen-Spalding route as climbed
and filmed by a different climbing party, sometimes 
makes sections look steeper than they actually are.  
One actually spends little time going straight up:




The long rappel with final 60' in mid-air (unknown climbers):




When we returned to the saddle after summiting,
Morgan gave me half her sandwich, which I'm 
holding in my hand while munching:




officialdom: Summit Registry
(Select "Grand Teton-1 day", "Roger", "Luebeck")


Not had enough story yet?  
Click: Striking a balance on swiftness


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