Julia Bodiford and I set out to Grand Teton National Park for the first time on 6/8/21 with the intention of attempting the Middle Teton via the Southwest Couloir car to car the following day. As it was our first time to the park, we wanted to get a feel for the logistics of the park, where red tape can be half the battle of summiting in the busy summer months. Additionally, the route to Middle Teton covers much of the approach for other objectives of interest.
We ultimately did not summit, turning around a thousand feet short of the summit due to the late hour and slow progress.
Weather & Conditions
The alpine start (we started hiking around 4:30 AM) and the morning were surprisingly comfortable, getting warm in the afternoon. Snow cover began around the Meadows area in Garnet Canyon. The snow had not frozen overnight, as the overnight lows stayed above freezing at higher elevations.
Elevation, Mileage, and Timing
- ~ 11.5 hours
- ~ 15 miles
- ~ 6.4k feet of gain
The Strava recording, which gave the numbers above, is slightly overstated from GPS errors. The trailhead is app. 6.7k feet, and we turned around at app. 11.7k feet. We started at 4:30 AM, got to the Meadows around 6:45 (and had an unexpected break there), reached the unnamed saddle at 10:30, and turned around at about 11:30 AM. We made good time back to the Meadows but slowed down after Julia’s ankle started bothering her.
Notes and Lessons Learned
- Somehow I forgot sunglasses AGAIN. Don’t do this. If there’s snow cover you need sunglasses.
- If the map and the territory do not match, reassess and change course if necessary.
- A friend had summited a few weeks earlier and relayed snow climbing conditions. We encountered only two steep snow pitches, with lots of talus and very soft and poor snow conditions between (the weather had warmed up quite a bit). The ascent was slow because we stayed in our boots and worked through the snow. We could and should have changed back into our tennis shoes and quickly scrambled across the talus instead (we did this on the descent and it was much faster).
- The overnight lows should have told us snow would be soft, we could and should have predicted these conditions.
- The approach from the Meadows to the unnamed saddle between Middle Teton and South Teton is predominantly in the sun, which again should have allowed us to predict the conditions better.
- I brought heavy steel crampons, which I never put on. Knowing that the snow would likely be soft and there was no expectation of hard ice, aluminum crampons would have been more than sufficient and saved me significant weight (20.1 oz/570 g vs. 41.3 oz/1170 g).
- Julia was new to snow, especially steep snow. We should have factored into our time estimate that it would take longer due to her learning new skills. More generally, someone learning something new can be expected to take longer than normal.
- I went through around 2.4k calories of gels, gummies, and bars (three bars total). It was definitely not enough for the length of time we were out, I should have taken more or we should have turned around earlier.
- We winged it with camping in the National Forest, but should have had more back up options, or even called the ranger’s station beforehand to ask questions. We ended up doubling up in someone’s campsite (dispersed camping in the Shadow Mountain area) who was nice enough to let us because it was getting late in the day. More research would have turned up more back up options.