It is 3:30 a.m. and I am awake, cranky, and ready to climb the Middle Teton, my first ever mountain. This will be the highest elevation I have achieved under my own power. I am nervous but excited.
The six of us drive up to Grand Teton National Park and get to the trailhead at about 5:00 a.m. It is still dark and pretty chilly as we get ready to start hiking. The sage advice, “Be bold, start cold” is wholly ignored by all of us as we cuddle deeper into our puffies. Consequently, it isn’t long before we have to stop and de-layer.
As we hike, we are treated to a glorious sunrise. We also run into some deer who are stationed very close to the trail while they graze. Eventually, after many switchbacks, we reach the point where the trail branches off into Garnet Canyon. At this point, we stop to have some snacks and ponder why we are subjecting our bodies to this punishment.
Existential crisis aside, we keep hiking and reach a boulder field and then the campsite up in the meadows. We envy those campers we see just then emerging from their tents, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and not questioning their decisions.
After the meadows comes the first snowfield. This is my first experience with snow travel, and I am nervous. Our friend and fearless leader, Brenden gives everyone a crash course on how to use an ice ax. At first, going up the snowfield I am slow and extra-super careful. Partway up I get the hang of it and start to enjoy and even prefer walking up this snow over carefully picking my way through a scree field.
We continue gaining elevation making our way alternately through scree fields and more snow. Starved for shade, we eat lunch crouched underneath a giant boulder and contemplate how close yet so far, the Middle still is.
The slog continues and we are eventually rewarded by the incredible views from the saddle. We can see the stunning Icefloe Lake which, as its name suggests, is filled with ice floes.
After another quick refuel, we head up to the summit. I have never scrambled before, so the Southwest Couloir was a new experience for me. Turns out I really enjoy navigating narrow, steep terrain filled with loose rocks. Who knew? There were a couple of spicy moves at constrictions in the couloir but for the most part the entire route was class III scrambling with no exposure.
Upon reaching the summit, I immediately shouted a stream of excited nonsense about how cool the summit was. We found the summit marker, ate our summit Snickers, and took some summit selfies of course. I also enjoyed the view of the Grand Teton which seemed like it was right in front of us.
I was able to ride the high of the summit for about half of the descent. After that point, the exhaustion hit, and I dragged myself down. I did perk up for the last new thing I experienced that day, glissading. I had heard the word before but never really understood what it was all about. Brenden again gave us a quick lesson, and everyone gave it a shot. When my turn came, I was pretty excited, I do love flying downhill on snow. However, it was later in the day, so the snow was a little harder which didn’t seem like anything I needed to worry about. I quickly learned that I was wrong as I could feel the road rash on my butt as I careened down the hill.
The rest of the way down passed in a blur. I’m pretty sure I fell asleep while still sitting upright while we took a break. By the time we were out of the scree and the boulder field back on the path, I was operating totally on autopilot. At one point, we were getting close to the parking lot and very ready to be done when there was a loud rustling in some bushes just off the path. We paused, and after uttering some “Hey bears”, waited to see what would emerge. It was a beautiful bull elk with a great rack, and he started walking up the trail right at us. Though it hurt our souls to do so, we hiked back up the way we came to give him space and wait for him to move on.
Sitting back down in the car was such an incredible moment. Every member of our party uttered an orgasmic groan. We were all totally worked and what was supposed to have been a 12-hour day was, in total, a 19-hour adventure. I had a blast getting to climb my first mountain and learn some new skills with some good pals. It was a wild day and my body was wrecked but I was super stoked all the same.