I've made a pact with myself to try something outside of my comfort zone at least once a week, so when the chance to climb the Grand Teton presented itself, I could not resist. Turns out 13 hour road trips, gas station food and sleeping in a small car don't mix. We got about 3-4 hours of sleep after a nice bout of food poisoning and the most uncomfortable car seats imaginable. Tired and queasy, at 6am we quickly threw together our gear and headed up. Breakfast was out of the question, instead we chugged some water and started hiking. The first four miles were easy, a well marked hiking trail with beautiful trees and fresh morning air. Then the trail got rocky.
Boulder hopping with fervour, we strained to see the peak we were about to climb. Turns out you can't see it until you're practically on top of it. I couldn't tell if my stomach hurt from the nerves or food poisoning, but nothing was stopping us. Towering mountains soon surrounded us, leaving me in complete awe. The Tetons demand their respect.
At the base of the climb to the lower saddle, where base camp is located, we encountered a rope climb, easy and fun. Soon we were surrounded by wind blown tents, huddling campers and mossy rocks. We started talking to other climbers, and not a single one had summited that day. The winds and 18 degree weather had turned them away. Trying to keep our spirits high, we headed up the scramble to the upper saddle.
Barely halfway up, a huge boulder came crashing down, falling right where we had been just minutes before. The pit in my stomach started getting bigger, the rescue helicopter landing below us didn't help either. I knew we were at the mercy of the mountain, but I couldn't turn around. At the upper saddle, we watched others rappelling down from the summit, the first bit of good news all day. We knew others had summited, so there must be a chance.
Harnesses were brought out, rope attached, gear placed, and we started the climb. My feet trembled, knowing a slip would leave me dangling at the end of a rope, thousands of feet off the ground in the best of scenarios. With each step though, I felt more comfortable, feeling the cling of my shoes against the rock. Several pitches later, and a few off-course moves we found ourselves at the last scramble. By this time, the sun was starting to set, and the chill of the evening was setting in. We were the last people on the mountain, reaching the summit minutes later.
The scramble seemed to take just minutes on the way down, racing the sun as we aimed to get past the rappel before dark. I had only done short rappels before, but with the time crunch, we doubled up our rope with another couple we met on the way down and cut our time in half. For my first hanging rappel, it was absolutely exhilarating. Definitely the best part of the entire climb. After reaching the bottom of the rappel, we started our descent, just as the sun was setting. I had hoped to reach the lower saddle before dark, but no such luck. Once the sun went down, the rocks seemed to never end.
What had been a pretty simple hike/scramble in was torture on the way out. I tried to keep a good attitude, but by the time we finally made it back to the trail I was almost in tears. Just before the car, I thought to myself, I'm never doing this again. Ever. Yet, as the parking lot came into view and my pack slipped off my shoulders, all I could think about was the next mountain begging to be climbed.
Written by Noelle Snyder. Photos by Elijah Weber