Climbing the Tetons

Climbing Grand Teton National Park

The Grand Teton. There is perhaps no mountain more aesthetic in North America. It dominates the landscape, sharply rising more than 7,000 feet above Jackson, Wyoming.

The Grand is a worthy prize for any American mountaineer.

With two weeks to play with, my climbing partner Jose and I headed for the Tetons, with the ultimate goal of climbing the Exum Ridge.

But first, we had some training to do.

We were lucky enough to have a pair of tremendous hosts, Teton locals who housed us for two weeks and were more than happy to help us get up to speed on the approaches, rock quality, and general character of the range by showing us some of the better climbs in the Park that weren’t on the Grand Teton. (It’s always a good idea to do your homework in the mountains).

Without further adieu, here’s a two-week itinerary for climbing in the Teton Range:

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Some Summer Climbs

I’ve spent the summer mostly writing on Medium (see my previous post), working, and climbing around Colorado.

Quite truthfully, I’ve felt a little too spent to write anything “serious.” That’s just how things are, for now. Y’all are used to me coming and going, I’m sure.

Here are some of the places I’ve been seeking my serenity:

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The Colonization of Mount Everest

Photo by Kalle Kortelainen on Unsplash

There was a viral photo last week, showing what appeared to be hundreds of people waiting in line on the summit ridge of Mount Everest.

I won’t share that photo here, as I haven’t paid for it. A quick Google search will turn it up if you haven’t seen it yet.

The man that took that photo was Nirmal Purja, a.k.a. Nims. Nims is a Nepalese climber who served in the British Gurkhas, and has been awarded the Member of the British Empire by the Queen of England for his accomplishments in high altitude mountaineering.

You may have seen his picture. But you don’t know Nims’ name.

That’s because Nims is Nepalese.

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The Hitchhiker

Las Vegas, Nevada.

It was the final day of our climbing trip. Three weeks of uninterrupted time together: me y mi hermano Jose.

I had introduced Jose to bigger, more complex forms of climbing, while he had mentored me in Spanish, my second language. We had shared a soggy tent, shivered through a few cold January nights, spent half our budget on alcohol, eaten like dirtbags. Laughing, learning. We had made a strong memory.

But it was just about over.

We planned to end our trip with an exclamation point: climbing Birdland (5.7+) in Red Rock Canyon, a five-pitch route that would take us higher than anything we’d climbed previous. The route had been recommended to us by a free-solo climber we met in Joshua Tree.

Jose had been sad to trade Joshua Tree, where we passed almost three weeks, for Las Vegas.

I had pushed for Vegas. I wanted Jose to get a taste of real multipitch climbing. I wanted to get high — something you can’t really do in Joshua Tree.

In the end, I’d won. We drove to Vegas for a few days.

Our final day, we slept late and headed in to climb Birdland around noon. We stopped at the First Pullout in the Red Rock Loop Road, to look at some of the beautiful rock formations, and see if we could glimpse some of the sport climbing crags — shorter, bolted cliffs.

The rock at the Calico Hills in Red Rock Canyon is filled with swerving  lines: undulating waves of red, white, and shades in between. Without hurry, Jose and I walked the trails off the pullout, breathing in cool, fresh air. Despite being so close to Las Vegas, a major city with plenty of pollution, Red Rock feels crisp.

Short video feature on Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Walking back to la camioneta (our truck), three people around a small folding table waved us over. “Free food?!” they yelled. Dead broke after three weeks of too many cervezas, we swerved right over.

Two of the group were ambassadors for Climbstuff.com. The third, a guy in his late twenties or early thirties, was looking for people to climb with. We chatted for a bit while we ate bananas and tortillas.

“Well,” I say, “we were going to go climb Birdland, if you want to tag along. Multipitch.”

His face lights up, he thinks about it for a sec, and he says: “Yeah, that would be great! You guys got wheels? Just let me grab my stuff.”

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The Free Soloist

Joshua Tree California

No lo permitiremos para quedar, I tell my climbing partner, Jose. We’re not going to let him stay.   

He nods, voices his assent in Spanish as we pull up to our site in Hidden Valley Campground, in Joshua Tree National Park. Hidden Valley Campground is the center of the Joshua Tree climbing scene, and on a Friday night, the place is swamped with after-work weekend warriors heading out from Los Angeles and San Diego.

Twenty-four million people live in Southern California. The 42 camping sites in Hidden Valley aren’t nearly enough to handle the demand. Luckily, Jose and I had arrived early and staked our claim.

Still, when we returned from town, we found a minivan parked in our campsite. The campsite could accommodate two vehicles, and we had only one. Graciously, the interloper had left space for us to park. Still, I wasn’t in the mood for company. We’re not going to let him stay, I told Jose.

Immediately after we’d parked, a young man walked up to the driver’s side window, and started to plead his case. Before he had time to get two sentences out, Jose interrupted him: “Yeah man, you can stay.”

Awesome! he said. Thanks guys. I’m gonna run off and try this boulder!

And he was gone.

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