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Middle Teton 12,804ft (3903m)

Southwest Couloir

July 2-3, 2005


Kim and I made a road trip out to Jackson, Wyoming to visit our friend Jeff and to do some climbing in the Tetons.

To maximize our time in Jackson, Kim and I left right after we got home from work on Thursday the 30th, and drove straight through. With food, stops, and keeping close to the speed limits, we pulled into Jackson around 11am on the 1st. We drove straight to the Jenny Lake ranger station to secure our camping permits for the weekend. It was a gorgeous, blue bird day with hundreds of tourists and vacationers bustling into town. Jeff had warned us that the Fourth of July weekend would be among the busiest of the year so I was concerned about permits, but as it turned out we had no problems. There were some late storms in June so the Tetons still had a fair amount of snow on them which kept away climbers from some of the rock routes.

Our plan was to hike up to the lower saddle below the Grand Teton and then climb the upper Exum Ridge the next day. As it turned out, we took a wrong turn at the meadows and ended up camping on the south shoulder of the Middle Teton and climbing it instead. Oops.

Somehow our sleeping bag stuff sacks didn't make it in the car, so we had to make do with stuffing Kim's larger bag in the bottom of her backpack, filling most of it. This didn't leave much room for her other gear, let alone the camp and climbing gear so I ended up piling it on my pack. Fresh from my trip the previous weekend to Mt Challenger, my legs and back were more than ready for the long hike in.

It was hot in the valley when we started out at the Lupine Meadows trailhead at 9am, but as we gained elevation the breezes kept it a perfect temperature. The wildflowers were beautiful along the trail as we hiked in. We saw lots of Forget-Me-Nots, Balsam Root, and Paintbrush. There were many day hikers on the trail, but we saw only a few climbers. As we now know, the Grand Teton is mostly hidden behind a ridge on the right when you hike in. The Middle Teton dominates the skyline of the valley, so we assumed that the massive rock in front of us was the Grand, so we headed up to the left.

The winds really increased as we picked our way up through scree and snow fields below the saddle. Kim was blown over more than once. The strong winds really slowed us down and it made us concerned whether or not we would be able to make our climb the next morning. Getting blown over while hiking is annoying, but getting blown over while leading an exposed ridge would be dangerous.

We finally made it up to the saddle and were surprised not to see any tents or climbers. We could see a boot track leading down from the mountain, past the shoulder we were on, and continuing down the ridge to a lower saddle, so we assumed that most people were camped below. Since we didn't want to loose any of the elevation we had worked so hard to gain we decided to pitch our tent there on the ridge in the snow. There was a small outcropping of rock near the edge of the snow which blocked the wind a bit so we decided to set the tent up next to it. We had left our bivy sacks in our hotel room, taking Jeff's advice to bring the tent for warmth and extra room. This was the inaugural outing for our tent, an REI Sub Alpine three backpacking tent that I had prodealed. At 11,800' we were quite a bit above the alpine level and I was concerned how the lightweight tent would fare in the strong winds. I buried the tent stakes in a deadman position, packed extra snow on top, and then placed large rocks on top. I used guy lines to secure it even further. By the time I finished all this, the sun was setting, casting a beautiful silhouette of the Tetons towards the east. From the comfort of my sleeping bag I was able to cook dinner in our vestibule. The wind was still shaking our tent when we finished dinner and went to sleep and our hopes of climbing the next morning were deteriorating rapidly.

The winds kept up until 3:30am and I finally was able to get some good sleep. Around 5am I looked out our tent window ( it has a very cool window in the rain fly that you can look out through the mesh screen in the door) and it looked like everything was socked in with clouds. Dejected I told Kim this and we went back to sleep. Around 7am I woke up again and looked outside. This time I unzipped the tent and stuck my head out. It was a beautiful clear morning! When I looked out earlier, I had been seeing the snowfields of the South Teton which looked like clouds. We quickly ate some breakfast and got our gear on. The snow had frozen solid over night, so we put on our crampons and roped up. It was about 9am when we left our camp.

Still thinking we were on the Grand, we followed the boot track up the snowfields looking for a track that would veer off to the right towards "Wall Street". Not finding anything that looked like it might go, we continued climbing up the steepening couloir. There was a good boot track so we assumed that we were heading up towards the Owen-Spalding Route. An hour and a half later we climbed through a rock step and found ourselves on what appeared to be a summit ridge. As soon as I scrambled up to the top I looked north and saw the Grand Teton standing proud in the morning light. At first I thought, "That is quite a traverse to get to the Grand". Then it hit me that we were on the wrong mountain. Ah....Shoot! Kim came up behind me and when she saw the Grand she said, "We must be on the Middle". Sure enough, there on the summit block was a USGS maker stating, "Middle Teton, 12804 feet".

We soon figured out where we went wrong on the hike in and were a bit frustrated. But it was 10am on a beautiful morning and we had the summit of one the Tetons all to ourselves so we put on our down jackets to take the edge off the slight breeze then kicked back and enjoyed the experience. We snapped a few summit shots then Kim found a nice reclining rock to lounge in.

Kim remembered that Jeff and his client Tracy were going to climb the Middle Teton later that morning so we decided to just wait around for them and surprise them when they came up. While we were waiting another party of two arrived. One climber was out visiting from Boulder and the other lived in Jackson. We chatted for a while then they went off and explored the north ridge. After an hour or so we started to get a little cold so we decided to just leave a note there on the summit for Jeff and Tracy. We didn't have any paper but we did have a gold wrapper from a chocolate bar we had eaten. Kim used a rock to scratch a note in the paper. We said good bye to the summit and started our descent. About halfway down we met some more climbers coming up and they had said that there was an Exum guide and a client coming up behind them. Sure enough a few minutes later we saw Jeff and Tracy. It took Jeff a few minutes to recognize us, then he burst out, "Hey! What are you doing here? Did you miss the turn off? I said to stay right at the meadows". Yes, yes. We all had a good laugh about it but were glad for the opportunity to meet up in the mountains.

Kim and I continued down and broke down our camp while Jeff and Tracy summitted. Together we all hiked out together enjoying fun glissades!