American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Wyoming, Grand Teton, First Winter Ascent and Descent of the East Ridge

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1974

Grand Teton, First Winter Ascent and Descent of East Ridge. The technical challenge of the east ridge no longer appealed after the north and west faces. However, Jock Glidden, Dave Lowe and I had a score to settle as the east ridge had turned us back several times because of bad weather. Teton winter mountaineering is basically dependent on weather. If good, anything can be climbed; if bad, it may be difficult even to get to the base. Rather than to carry very heavy loads to the bottom of a climb and wait for a clear day, we prefer to try weekend climbing from Salt Lake City and to carry light loads, alpine style. We left Beaver Creek at 5.30 A.M. on Saturday of the Washington’s Birthday weekend. It was difficult to stay in balance while crossing the snowmobile ruts in the dark. We reached Burnt Wagon Gulch at daylight and the uncoordinated feeling went away. By 10:30 we were at Delta Lake. At the base of the ridge we removed skis and immediately plunged into the snow up to our knees. We knew we’d never reach the far side of the Molar Tooth on the first day. The lower section of the ridge was technically easy. With judicious route-finding, the only difficulty was breaking trail. The wind crust was just hard enough to bang shins without supporting weight. When we reached the base of the Molar Tooth at 9:30 P.M., we were ready to make camp. We had only down jackets, a stove and snow shovel for a bivouac. At first light we began climbing the pitch leading to the notch on the south side of the Molar Tooth. Lack of wind and clouds made difficult moves possible barehanded. We wasted a half hour trying to go directly up the ridge from the notch and then rappelled into the couloir. After delightful solo 12-pointing on firm snow and a few moves around the chockstone, we arrived at the notch at 10:30. Dave led for several pitches on the snow-covered slabs above the notch until he ran out of pins while we moved simultaneously behind him. Jock then led up to the traverse around the Second Tower, which was my lead. It presented the most interesting moves of the climb—slabs covered with steep unstable snow, a cornice which had to be chopped through and finally a chimney chocked with ice, which is fourth-class in summer. After going around the chimney, we plowed on up the snow- field. Fortunately the snow seemed stable even though again we broke through to our knees. After interminable labor, we arrived at the summit block and a short pitch put us on the summit at five P.M. A short descent to the south brought us to snow deep enough for a cave. Without sleeping bags there was little sleep as we shifted from position to position, waiting for morning. In the morning wind and snow produced more worry about avalanches on the summit snowfield. However we were only able to create sloughs from the 2 inches of new snow. Except for three rappels, we down-climbed everything, following the remains of our tracks. It was twilight when we reached Beaver Creek.

George H. Lowe

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