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[TR] Grand Teton - Petzoldt Ridge + Upper Exum 7/19/2013

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Trip: Grand Teton - Petzoldt Ridge + Upper Exum


Date: 7/18/2013


Trip Report:

This summer I had the occasion to attend 4!! family reunions over two weeks in Utah. I have always wanted to climb the Grand Teton and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get it done, so I contacted Jake Moon who lives near Salt Lake City and asked him if he was up to going. The guy had already done the Grand Teton by three routes: Upper Exum, Complete Exum, and the Grand Traverse. He said he would be up to it if we went via the Petzoldt Ridge and I said that is fine by me.


We made plans to go up for three days and climb Irene's Arete one day and then the Petzoldt Ridge the next day. Knowing that I was coming from sea level and that the Grand Teton is 13,770 feet tall, I wanted to make sure I was ready. When I arrived in Utah, I went trail running up Naomi Peak (9,975 feet in Bear Rive Mountains) three times over a few days as well as running/scrambling up East Grandaddy Mountain (11,659 feet in the Uintas - I was the only one in the summit register this year) to try to acclimatize as best as I could.



East Granddaddy Mountain in the Uintas - Beautiful 3rd/4th class scrambling on the right skyline


We had to move the date of our climb once due to severe weather and unfortunately a scheduling fiasco reduced our time from three days to one day. We decided we still wanted to do it and settled on a single push car to car leaving out Irene's Arete.


The day before our climb, I took some sleep medication to help me sleep before driving through the night to the Grand Teton. I picked up Jake on the way. He had just gotten off work and slept a few hours on the drive. We arrived at 3 AM, got ready, and left the trailhead at 3:45 AM with our day packs.


We kept a good pace, reaching Lupine Meadows in about 1 hour 30 minutes and the moraine camp not too long after that. To reach the base of the route, we followed the trail until just after we climbed the second fixed rope whereupon we started making our way towards the Petzoldt ridge (past the Exum ridge).



Approaching the Grand Teton in morning light


By the time we reached about 12,000 feet, I felt absolutely terrible. I had a headache, didn't feel like eating, and was breathing rapidly. It seemed pretty certain that the altitude was getting to me.


Unfortunately, at this point we made a route finding error. The Petzoldt ridge route begins after climbing up a section of 4th class rock from a gully. We followed the gully to the climber's left of the Petzoldt ridge instead of climber's right. Don't do that. We didn't realize this until we got back and consulted the Teton bible.



The caption at the bottom says - climb up from the toe of the ridge on red rock (easy 5th class for 150'-200') - just make sure you are on the right side of the ridge looking at the gully that becomes the Stettner couloir


We climbed a few hundred feet of 4th/easy 5th alternating with 2/3 class sections. Finally, not recognizing the start to the route anywhere (not realizing we were in the wrong place), we decided to just climb up to the ridge. It took us two pitches to get there climbing probably up to 5.7 through some blocky areas, a tight chimney, and some fun cracks.


As we neared the ridge crest, we recognized a prominent feature from the climbing topo: the window pitch. I led up to the window and set a belay just below it. Jake led the next pitch up and over the window. The climbing on the ridge crest was fantastic. The rock on the Grand Teton is amazing: super textured granite with great cracks.



Climbing on the upper Petzoldt ridge


After I led the final pitch to the top of the Petzoldt ridge, we made a short rappel to the notch between the Petzoldt ridge and the rest of the Grand Teton. Jake then led one long simul climb through a 4th class gully and then Upper Exum route. It went by fast. The climbing was aesthetic and the rock quality was superb. While we were the only party on the Petzoldt ridge that day, we could see numerous parties on the lower Exum ridge and when we finally joined the Upper Exum, we passed quite a few parties on the way up. So it seems that the Petzoldt ridge might be a good alternative to avoid some crowding for at least part of the day.



Climbing the upper Exum ridge


As we continued up, I felt worse and worse. When we finally topped out, I felt worse than I have ever felt in the mountains, but my malaise couldn't keep the wonder of the summit scene from astounding me.



On the summit, preparing the rope for the descent


A couple in some very nice alpine garb topped out from the East Ridge just before us. After a few summit shots, we down climbed 3rd class terrain to the first rappel arriving at the 2nd (and infamous) rap station just as the couple was setting up. We waited for them and then set up our rope. There is a sign there indicating that you need to rappel 40m to make it to safety, but we rappelled on a single 60m rope (only 30m). The key is to rappel far to skier's left.


A long descent down the Owen Spalding route ensued which reminded me a lot of descending the Cascadian Couloir. It was unpleasant, but maybe it was just that I felt horrible and hadn't eaten for hours because of my nausea. My poor partner had to wait for me as I trudged slowly down the mountain. We filled our water at a spring on the Upper Saddle and set off on the long deproach. Along the way, we kept leap frogging that couple that we met on the summit.



On the deproach, feeling miserable


By the time that we had nearly returned to the Lupine Meadows, I could feel hot flashes encompassing me and I knew that I desperately needed calories. I had to eat even if I absolutely did not want to. I searched my food for something that appeared remotely palatable, eventually settling on a Kind bar. I sat down and stared at the bar perhaps hoping that I could absorb the needed calories visually. It didn't happen. I had to eat it anyway and I started to chew on the bar much like a cow would chew on cud.


When I had almost finished off that abominable bar, the couple I had seen earlier arrived at my point. They stopped and the woman said, "You don't look so good." I responded that I didn't feel so good, but that I would be okay. The man asked if I had food and water and I said that I did. He proceeded to describe all of the places you could find refreshing spring water in the Lupine Meadows to fill up my bottles. She offered me a Gu which I took (hoping that it would be more appetizing than my atrocious bar). I said thanks and they carried on their way. I quickly downed the Gu, drank a bit, got up and started down again.


Whether due to the much needed calories or the fact that we had now dropped below 9,000 feet, I suddenly was filled with energy again and made it the rest of way out without another stop and with a much faster pace.


As we arrived back at our car, the couple was getting things ready in their camper. She said to me, "You look much better." I enthusiastically responded, "I feel much better!" We packed up, waved to them, and drove to Jackson as the sun was setting to get some food. Wendy's frosties never tasted so good. We took 17 hours car to car: definitely not a record, but reasonably fast for someone who felt like his insides wanted to be on his outsides while climbing over 7,000 feet.


On the drive back, I turned to Jake and said, "I think that guy looked like Steve House." He laughed and we continued on our drive. Having been on the go for 23 hours with a 6 hour drive through the night ahead of us, I bought and drank my first 5 hour energy drink. Nothing tastes worse than that! Absolutely horrible! Worse than my altitude enhanced Kind bar. Do not drink one under any circumstance! Not only that, but while it made me hyper alert for an hour or so, I crashed after that. Probably not a good idea for someone who doesn't drink coffee or energy drinks. Somewhere near Evanston, Wyoming, while scanning the darkness for deer along a lonely highway, I started dreaming (hallucinating?) and saw Jack Skellington and a giraffe. That isn't right. I decided it was time to get some rest.


I slept sitting up in my car for a few hours and when I awoke my feet were swollen to outrageous proportions. After a quick breakfast, I finished the drive to eastern Utah with my newly resized feet.


Later, out of curiosity, I decided to check if I could find out if it was really Steve House. A quick search of his tweets revealed that he tweeted July 19 (the day after our climb), that yesterday he had climbed the Grand Teton via the East Ridge with his wife, Eva House. I just want to say thank you to both of them. They were both totally laid back and super cool people. Kind of embarrassing to meet someone whom you look up to when you are feeling the absolutely worst that you ever have, but in any case, I'm glad to share the mountain with them that day. (By the way, I also noticed that he is coming out with a new book on training for alpine climbing...sounds interesting).



Steve House's tweet from the day


Also, I talked to a friend who has done high altitude medicine about my gut wrenching experience and he informed me that if my aim was to acclimatize before the climb I should have spent more time at altitude rather than driving high and making 1:30 trail runs in the mountains. Oops. At least I had fun in the mountains in any case, but I'm glad to know what I should do next time.


The route was fantastic and I look forward to going back and enjoying the superlative rock without feeling miserable. Just make sure you approach from the gully climber's right of the ridge otherwise you only get to enjoy the upper Petzoldt ridge ;)


Gear Notes:

Teton rack

Rock shoes

60m rope


Approach Notes:

Follow well maintained trails to Lupine Meadows and then to just past the fixed rope after the moraine camps where you start making your way towards the Petzoldt ridge angling climber's right. Climb 4th class terrain from a gully climber's right of the ridge.

Edited by wesdyer

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Nice work! I climbed the Grand via Direct Exum last year. It took us over 21 hours car-car but was a total blast.


I wouldn't be worried about your altitude response. I can't remember how many times I've been over 13,000 ft now but I respond differently every time. I ran South Sister (10k') a few days before the Grand and felt terrible (probably a little dehydrated which seems to be key for me at altitude). Three days later I felt awesome on the Grand and had no problems despite being much higher.

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