For a simple check list to get you climbing the Grand Teton, click here.
And if you want to know what it’s like and how it feels to summit it in one day, you can read my firsthand account of climbing the Grand Teton. Enjoy and safe climbing.
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Climbing the Grand Teton in 1 Day
I’ll never forget the first time I saw the Grand Tetons. I was driving my old VW van Patches with my good friend Jefferis riding shotgun— this was during my trip around America in 2017. We had spent the night near Whisky Mountain, driven through Dubois early in the morning, and were banking the turn south toward Jackson when the Grand Tetons jumped out of the horizon and I said, “I don’t know how, I don’t know when, but I’m going to climb that mountain.”
I was going to Jackson Hole for a friend’s 30 birthday celebration, but I figured this would be the best shot I had to climb The Grand, so I extended my trip and starting pressing my buddy Chris to make it happen. We’ve known each other for more than 10 years, but he’d been in that area for less than a year. Still, it’s a small town – he should be able to pull it off.
I land in Jackson Hole and there it is – the Grand Teton – standing tall and unapologetic. You can see it from the tarmac. I hoped Chris had procured a way up the mountain for us. He hadn’t. Believe me, Chris tried — he’d asked every guide he knew and they all said no. No one would take us up that mountain.
I assumed it wasn’t going to happen. The summit would have to wait. The trip took a different turn and we drove an hour away to Turpin Meadows to play their disc golf course. Turpin Meadows sits between Jackson and Dubois. Turn north off the highway onto a dirt road and follow it for 10 miles. You’ll come down a hill into a beautiful little resort on the edge of the biggest expanse of American Wilderness in the lower 48.
After 36 holes plus a do or die playoff hole, I needed a beer. Chris warned we didn’t have much time, but thankfully, I ignored him. I ordered a Grand Teton IPA from the bartender, thinking that if I could never climb the mountain, I’d at least consume it in liquid form. The bartender asks what we’re doing up here, speaking in a suave accent. Chris is saying something but I see a mountain range on the bartender’s belt buckle and interrupt.
“Your belt buckle,” I lead off, “that’s the Grand Tetons, isn’t it?”
“No you are incorrect. In fact, you’re not close. This is Patagonia. But the buckle looks kinda like the Tetons.” We all stare at his waist.
“Where are you from?”
“I am from Brazil. I have climbed in Patagonia. And Argentina and Chile. I came here to climb.”
“What about the Grand?” I ask.
“I have climbed it 4 times in the last few weeks.”
“Want to do it one more time on Monday?” Chris asks.
““Ahhh, it’d be tough. I hurt my foot last time. A boulder rolled over it and broke a bone. I’m not sure I can,” he said. I figure this would be a good time to order another beer and while doing so, realize he never said no to Chris’s question.
“So you’re saying your foot is broken and you won’t be able to hike on Monday?”
“I don’t know. It’s…I dont know..75%? Maybe better, maybe worse…” He nods and the sentence hangs. I nod. Chris nods. Everybody is nodding. Then he smirks and says, “but let’s try.”
“Sounds like we can do it!” I say.
“Meet me at Lupine Meadows at 4:00am Monday.”
“Will do. What’d you say your name is?” I ask.
I barely slept Thursday night due to a stomach bug that had me shitting my brains out. The next day I drink so much water Chris has to pull over 4 times on the drive to Yellowstone. I wake up Saturday feeling good enough to hike the 18 miles up to Static Peak and back. Sunday, Chris and I play 36 holes of disc golf at Grand Targhee resort. We lay down to rest around 11:30pm. I toss and turn, wake up at 1:05am for a bathroom visit, then my alarm goes off at 2:40am. We leave the house at 3:00am to reach Lupine Meadows by 4. We roll in. No Marcelo.
Still no Marcelo. At 5:07 we decide to leave and pull out of the parking lot. Just as we drive off, Marcelo texts us: “oh shit my alarm didn’t go off. I am so sorry. ” I wrote him back that it’s ok we’ll do it another time. He responds “I am headed your way right now. I’ll be there in an hour. When I say I’m going to do something, I do it.” Once we had made the decision to leave the parking lot, I had begun looking forward to sleeping, but I couldn’t go back home to bed. No way. The mountain was right there, staring down at us through the darkness. We call Marcelo, say we’re in, turn around and take a nap in the parking lot.
We finally started the trail at 6:30, two hours after you’re supposed to. Marcelo hiked with a spring in his step unlike anyone I have ever seen. My legs were shot from the previous day’s hike and I couldn’t keep up. Chris was somehow keeping pace with him and chatted him up the entire time. I was barely hanging on, unable to reach a rhythm. I put my head down and walked as hard as I could. Up a cut back then another. We reached a section of boulders – there was no trail, just boulder hopping. After this there was a little campground with 1 yellow tent. The sun had come up and the air a perfect blue crisp. My lungs panting and my legs throbbing, I looked forward. Trees lined the slope – their roots half exposed swaying in the wind. “Reminds me of how most people live,” I think to myself, “right on the edge, barely hanging on.” Their faces pop in my mind – damn I love them.
“Wow,” I look ahead “we’re about to climb a thousand steps.” It turned out to be a conservative estimate. Up and up we went. My mind zoned out. Step. Step. Breath. Keep walking. Then I heard a clap. And another. I look up ahead to see Marcelo paused for the first time all hike. A bear is digging at a tree stump just off the trail, only a few yards in front of Marcelo. “Oh we have a guest” I joke, but Chris isn’t laughing. Marcelo stands confident with bear spray in one hand and his camera phone in the other. “Bear” he yells with that smooth Brazilian accent. The bear must have been grubbing because he never once looked at us. Marcelo leads us around the bear and we hike on. We reach the valley between the Grand and Middle Teton. It looks like a river rock bed strewn between the two. Stones of all shapes and sizes filled the gorge in perfect mayhem. We hiked up the center ridge of these rocks and my legs were shot. Higher and higher we hiked one stepping stone at a time. We reached a rock face and caught our breath. Marcelo showed us some ropes to make it up the face and we heaved ourselves up to the Lower Saddle. It had taken us 4 hours to make it 6.5 miles here. We took a seat at a snow-melt stream to eat lunch. I used this opportunity to diarrhea behind a rock.
“Ok guys,” Marcelo began, “we will hike up the Lower Saddle through the eye of the needle then to the Upper Saddle. Then we’ll make the final ascent. 2200 feet over 1.5 miles. Ok?” I stared at the summit. While we had been sitting there, a hiker had passed us and began the trek up the Lower Saddle. He had not stopped walking for 30 minutes, yet I stared confused: he didn’t look like he had made it more than 200 yards up.
“Ok Marcelo, let’s do it” I said, dreading this hike.
We started up the Lower Saddle ridge. The Lower Saddle is where most people start the hike on Day 2. That’s right, we were packing a recommended two day journey into one day in which we got an incredibly late start. Marcelo bounded up the hill. I did not. Chris seemed fine. I shed every layer, pouring sweat in shorts and a t-shirt. After many steps, I noticed we were using our hands as much as our legs. We were no longer hiking – we were climbing up the Grand part of the Grand Teton. Marcelo lead the way, Chris followed, and I brought up the rear. Grip a hand hold, find a footing, keep your hips close to the rock, move up. Repeat. Repeat. Breath heavy. Do it again.
“Oh shit” I say. There’s no footing. Chris had found it on his way up. Marcelo had, too. But I did not. “Oh no no no,” I say again. I can’t find another footing. My left hand has a hold, but that’s it. Marcelo reads the moment and sees the fear in my eyes and jumps down the rock face to a tiny ledge above me and sticks his arm out.
“Grab my hand” he yells like the best action movie hero you’ve ever seen.
“No, I’ll pull you down” I yell back. I scan my surroundings for a footing. In my frantic search I hear Marcelo yell again, “Look at me. Grab my hand. I will not let you fall.” It’s my only option. I reach up and we lock hands in the strength-and-honor grip.
“Pull up now!” he says while leaning back and extending his legs. I pull up with my right arm as he single-arm deadlifts me. His feet are on the tiniest of ledges and his toes hung over. He pulls me up and we rest against the rock face breathing hard. I lean into him “Thanks Marcelo. My life was in your hands.” Exhale. “I’ll name my firstborn after you for saving my life.” “Ah, don’t do that to the poor kid” he responds with a smile.
We squeeze through the eye of the needle. Snow dusts the rock face and ice patches cling in the shadows. I cannot see the top – we are too close to the rock to look up.
“Ok this next part has the most exposure,” Marcelo begins. Chris interrupts “we’re gonna need to rope up.”
“Are you sure, I think you guys can do—”
“Yeah, no we’re gonna need to rope up.” Chris stays steadfast.
“Ok let’s get the ropes out” Marcelo says. We do as he leads.
“Tie your figure-8 knots.”
“Yeah Marcelo,” I say, “I’m going to need you to show me that one. I know how to do a bowline on a bite but that’s it” trying to save my dignity. He tied Chris’s figure-8 then mine, then clips a chalk bag to his harness.
“Ahhh shoot – chalk – I don’t have any chalk,” Chris chirps.
“It’s ok,” responds Marcelo, “you have a rope. I do not.” He smiles then disappears over the rock. Chris and I are both tethered to him. We wait in silence. How much time passed? I don’t know but we hear a Brazilian accent echo off the neighboring mountain. “ON BELAY?” Chris yells. We hear something but can’t distinguish it. We go back and forth until very clearly we hear “CLIMB!”
Chris scurries over the rock and I’m a step behind him. We follow our tethers around the mountain. Marcelo comes into view, sitting on a ledge. In front of him is a rock like an anvil – he has the ropes anchored to it and is belaying us as we move toward him. At this moment we come upon the exposure he mentioned. It’s a thousand foot drop. For those of you who don’t climb (like myself), ‘exposure’ means if you fall you die.This was my first time feeling exposure. It’s weird, the more you stare at it, the more it speaks to you. Like Frodo and the Ring of Power, it captures your gaze and whispers fear in your ear.
“Ok Chris, just squeeze through that crevice then I will tell you where to climb.” The crevice turned out to be a slit in the rock about as wide as a bowling-lane gutter. It ran at an angle for about 15 feet. To the left, it dropped over a thousand feet. He squeezed through, Marcelo pulling rope. After the crevice gutter, you have to grab a rock shelf and swing your feet down to a blind foothold. This is the biggest exposure of the entire climb. There is no other footing and if you miss it, whoops. Thankfully, I thought, we were roped up. I assessed the rope situation. Marcelo was even with us, meaning the ropes were running almost perfectly horizontal. If we were to fall, whatever rope distance was between us and Marcelo, well, that would be how far we would swing until we hit the rock face.
“Chris, don’t miss the grip.” I yell then catch my breath. Chris makes it across and yells at me to come. My frame is a tad wider than Chris’, and Marcelo’s, so squeezing through the rock crevice felt like a birthing experience minus the fluids. With kicking and screaming, I make it through the crevice and now had to accomplish the exposure move. I catch the grip and go for the blind foothold. My foot can’t find it but I can hear Marcelo calmly saying, “higher, By your knee.” I don’t see it, nor do I feel it, but again I hear Marcelo’s voice. “There it is.” I step over and join them on the ledge. “Ok guys, there is one more difficult part, the chimney, so let’s leave the ropes out to save time. We are close to it…but still have a way to go.”
The day had gotten away from us at this point, it was almost 3:00pm and the horizon looked grim. A storm rolled through the great expanse of land, casting dark shadows and dropping its contents with bolts of lighting and rolls of thunder. All I could think about was getting off this giant mountain.
We reached the climbing point for the chimney.
“Ok,” Marcelo lead off, “here I will go up, then yell for you guys to come.”
I interrupted him, “Storms are surrounding us. We gotta get off this mountain. Can we go back down?”
“Umm, unfortunately,” Marcelo began, “no we cannot. To go down would be too long and too dangerous. We must go up, then we will reach a rappel anchor and we can rappel down. It is much faster and safer.”
“So you’re saying the only way down is up?”
“Ok, that’s what we needed to know.” And he was off, scurrying up the chimney while Chris and I waited on the ledge. The temperature dropped and I felt the cold for the first time all day.
“Put your extra jacket on,” Chris could see me shivering. Why wouldn’t I do that? I questioned myself then zipped it on. I thought about gloves next, but decided not to wear them – I thought they would deter my grip on this climb.
Anxiety rose as we waited. Perhaps we could actually feel the storm about to hit— the tension exploded with a white flash of lightning and a thunderous boom. We cowarded against the rock as the thunder echoed. The sheer power of the storm terrified me. I can’t think of another moment where I’ve felt like that. The storm clouds darkened the mountain and snow fell. Another lightning strike, another thunder boom. It surrounded us – I wondered if people in Jackson could even see the summit – were we in the storm? There was no time to think such silly questions – my mind, my body, myself raced with feelings. Fear set in thick and I couldn’t look at the storm. I resolved to look only at the rockface. Turning around, I found it to be a few inches from my face, and I stared at it with all my might. I could hear Chris, “Jesus get us off this mountain. Protect us in our stupidity.” I prayed too. Wind whipped around the rock and came screaming across our little ledge. I looked over at Chris and our eyes met. “This is the most terrified I’ve ever been in my life,” he said. “Me too.” We spoke like we were sipping our morning coffee. Neither of us had any alpine experience, climbing background, or many hours logged above the treeline. We had just met Marcelo 3 days ago at the bar, and here we were in the midst of a lightning storm on the side of the Grand. Every now and then, we’d hear a fell voice on the wind, and we realized that someone somewhere below us was trying to get down from this storm too. I envied them, headed down to safety.
The ropes got tight and though we couldn’t hear the Brazilian accent through the storm, we were confident Marcelo was telling Chris to climb. So off he went. There I stood, face to face with the rock, alone on the mountainside, shivering in my shorts as the snow piled up around me. At some point, my rope got tight, I gave it a tug and the other side tugged back – it was the best communication we could do given the howling wind. As I climbed, I felt the storm get worse. The chimney itself was feeling the storm – by now, snow rested in any pocket it could and ice lined the rock walls. My fingers went numb from the cold and this was the moment I regretted not putting my gloves on – a gloved grip is better than no grip. I found two good footholds and blew heat on my hands. It did nothing except stall me. “Get up here! You got this Tim,” I barely hear Chris yelling from above. I went up, only to run into a problem. No hand holds. The chimney butted out, and we hit chest to chest. The rock continued angling up, making it impossible for me to see over this bump. My hands searched and searched and the only thing they found was cold. The whole thing felt freezing until, well, it didn’t feel at all. My foot holds were shitty, and I made the mistake of looking down to confirm this, which only made me freak out that my right foot hold would surely slip. Cold. It was cold. I try another hold. Nothing. And another. No dice. “Shit, I can’t do this.” I say out loud. The wind picks up and my mind drifts off… “how the hell did Chris do this and I can’t? Physically, he can’t beat me…but Marcelo? He free-solo’d this thing. What–” thunder interrupts my thinking, the boom cackles off the rock faces. “I can’t do this. I don’t got it today.” I’m standing one foot, chest to chest with the mountain, defeated head down. “Tim,” I hear my name faintly on the wind. “You. Got. This.” Chris’s voice pierces through the noise. I lift my head up and figure I’ll give it a go. I don’t know where or how, but I got one more shot in me. My hands go horizontal into whatever snowy crevice they can find. I do not feel them. My legs move upward and my chest scrapes the chimney. I move up and make it past the bump. I don’t feel it but somehow I find a handhold and grab it. With one handhold secure, my gaze moves up the chimney and there at the top I see Marcelo. He is seated behind another anvil-like rock, using it as a belay point. The storm swirls all around him and the dark sky frames his silhouette. Thunder rolls and he looks me dead in the eyes. His piercing blue eyes, bright as the Pacific, are the only color I see. A soft smile reaches his face and he gently nods his head. In the chaos, he remains unflappable, calm, and in this moment, smiling. My mind jumps to Jack London’s Seawolf, and I liken Marcelo to the Seawolf himself – though only for a second. Chris yells at me to hurry. I get to Marcelo and say, “that’s the best smile I’ve seen in the last 5 years.” He shrugs it off. The storm continues.
“I’m very very nervous right now. The most nervous I’ve ever been in my life. This is the worst place I’ve been in my life. Ahhh man. Help us Jesus. I miss Jesus” Chris is saying.
I thought to myself, “you’re not going to have to miss Him for much longer. You’re probably gonna meet him soon.”
The snow falls harder. Marcelo simply looks upward, catching the snowfall to the face. We still have to go up to get down. Marcelo organizes the rope. “We don’t have far to go.” He ties one rope to the top of my climbing pack and puts the other in Chris’s. We brace against a rock face. The storm isn’t as angry anymore. We make a push to the rappel point.
“Ok let’s get the ropes out and we will rappel down.” Marcelo leads. I look up toward the summit. We’re close.
“Marcelo, I’m gonna do anything you tell me to do – whatever you say – but I just gotta ask: is it stupid to make a run for the summit?” His piercing blue eyes stare through me, then look upward, then back to me. His expression relaxes, he gives a soft shrug and says, “we’ve already made plenty of stupid decisions today.”
Without saying another word, we both begin for the summit. Chris laughs, then begins to climb too. At this point in the climb, snow clings to any crag it can find and there’s not really a ‘route.’
“Oh I forgot to say,” Marcelo yells back to us, “no more roping up. We don’t have time. Free solo to the top.” Chris nods. I do too. And then something strange happens. The storm advances to attack another mountain and in its wake, a rainbow appears. The sun hits my face and Chris captures this moment in the picture below.
Final ascent of the Grand Teton
The way we pushed for the summit was this: Marcelo went one way, Chris went another, and I watched to decipher who made the better choice, then went that way. The sun shining down had my spirits up, and Marcelo had slipped me some salt tabs. I was feeling delicious. Having never free soloed anything, I was taking some pretty strange approaches to gain altitude. Compared to Chris and Marcelo, my shoulders are broader as well as my thighs. Marcelo is built like a mountain climber, Chris like a golfer, and me, well my uncle tells me I inherited my mother’s calves and hips. All that to say, certain times I was using my knees or bracing the rock with my hips – doing all sorts of things to keep my weight close to the rock and guarantee I wouldn’t fall. This was fine until I made one weird athletic move — thrusting my right hand for a grab as I extended my right leg — and I felt the rope on my pack come loose and tumble down my backside. I was in a position where I could not look back. Instinctively I yelled, “MARCELO!” He paused from his perch up above and watched the rope falling. Thud. The rope landed on a patch of snow on a tiny ledge 75 to 100 feet below me. I regained my stance and looked down. The bright-orange rope against the white snow on a tiny granite ledge – thousands of feet of drop off on either side. “Do not worry, I will get it on the way down” I hear Marcelo’s voice from above. We press on.
And then we’re there. Marcelo makes the summit, I scurry up right behind him and take a seat next to him. “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
“Yeah, good fun. Good fun.” Marcelo says as he pats me on the back.
Good fun? I thought I was gonna die! But Marcelo isn’t joking – he means it. The intensity of the storm, the challenge of the climb, and the risk, mainly the risk, is what makes Marcelo come alive.
Chris takes a few pics. We are at the highest point around, sitting on top of the Grand Teton, storms swirling around us. In the distance, the storms line up like troops about to march into battle. “We’re not out of the shit storm yet.” I munch on clif bar – brownie flavor of course – and we take one timed picture of the 3 of us.
On Top of the Summit of the Grand
“Ok let’s go.” Marcelo leads.
“What time is it?” I ask Chris.
“3:42” he responds.
“I’m prepared to be hiking down this mountain til 11:00pm tonight. Hope you are, too.”
“Uh, I hope we’re done earlier. Good thing we brought headlamps.”
It’s safe to assume I had not considered the downhill climb. Free-soloing up, you don’t really have many choices, just go up. But down, well now you have some options. Do I go down facing the rock or facing the exposure? I really had to spend some time thinking and choosing – then confirming every foothold before putting my weight on it. I didn’t trust most of the footholds, so I’d attempt to have a strong handhold to be safe. While Chris and I found our way down, Marcelo scurried over to the fallen orange rope then back to our descent line. I don’t know how he did it – I was too busy looking at my next foothold – but I know this: he did it fast and was happy to have his rope back.
We made the first rappel point in no time.
“Ok hand me the rope.” He already had the orange one I had dropped.
Chris handed him the green rope then got out a rappel tool. “I have my gri-gri, too” Marcelo looked at it curiously.
“What size rope is it for?”
“8.5-11” Chris responds.
“That’s too big. The rope is 7.9”
“It’s ok – we will figure it out.” Marcelo says. He went to work setting up the ropes. The sky darkened, the wind picked up, and snow began to fall again.
“You guys have done this before, no?” Marcelo yelled through the wind.
“Oh yeah” I respond, thinking back to my days working the rappel tower at Windy Gap.
“Once or twice,” Chris says. He then turns to me with worry on his face. He’s nervous, really nervous.
The wind gusts, ripping at my jacket. Shorts – why’d I choose to wear shorts?
But it wasn’t all bad. Some nice climber had left a carabiner on a little chord around an anchor rock. Marcelo put one end of each rope into the carabiner then tied the two ropes together in a knot I’d never seen before. “ROPE” he yelled down below then threw the orange rope, then the green. He looked at us.
“I will go down. Then I will send the ATC up to you. You use it like this. Put both ropes through. Clip it to your harness. Left hand in front of you, right behind you. When you put your right hand out, you’ll move. If you put it on your butt, you don’t move. Easy.” He leaned back to begin.
“Oh wait wait wait,” I cry out through the wind. “What if I go first? I’m happy to lead. Then I send the ATC back up to you, you hook up Chris, send him down, then you come?”
Marcelo cocked his head. “What?”
“Yeah,” Chris said in agreement, “Tim goes first, I go second, you go last.” Marcelo simply shrugs. “Ok,” he says. I feel a huge relief. I was pretty confident I could get down fine, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be responsible for Chris’s life. If you had seen the worry on his face, you wouldn’t want to be the one hooking him up to rappel 140 feet in a snowstorm down the Grand Teton.
Marcelo unhooks and motions for me to come. I put my gloves on and hook into the line, gripp the rope firm just as Marcelo said: left hand in front of me, right behind. I lean back a bit and feel the drop. My eyes close and wind whips around my bare legs. These are the moments we feel alive, no?
“Chris video this” I yell out.
“NO IT’S TOO INTENSE” he replies. He meant the wind, the exposure, and how cold he was feeling. I lean back and stomach the drop – literally, you feel it in your stomach – then push off and bring my right hand in front of me. Down the rope I go. If you were to take the wind out of the equation, it was a rather pleasant thing: the snow falling all around while you bounce down the rock face. I make it to the bottom, detach the ATC, tie a bowline on a bite with a double-overhand safety knot and send it up.
I find a vantage point to watch Chris. He is basically walking down the rockface, looking nervous beyond measure, stiff as can be, but is making it work. He gets a little twisted up about halfway down. The wind is pounding him, but like any good golfer knows, you gotta play to the conditions. He makes it to the landing zone and I walked over to him.
“Chris! There you —” his expression interrupts me. I’ve known him for over 10 years, and I’ve never seen this look in his eyes. There’s only one way to explain it: if you’ve ever witnessed someone snort a line of cocaine then look up and make eye contact with you, if you’ve seen that person’s eyes, well that’s exactly how Chris’s eyes looked.
“What…the…hell?” I say.
“When I said I’d rappelled ‘once or twice’ up there, well, this was basically the first time. Right now. Like the other time, was at a climbing gym and they were so afraid of liability that the dude just lowered me down. I didn’t do any of it. This was my first time.” No wonder his eyes looked like that.
“I’ve never been more proud of you in my life,” I respond. “But, don’t be too happy, we gotta do it again. I need one more rappel from you today.”
We send the ATC back up and watch Marcelo coast down as suave as you’d expect. A thing of beauty in a beautiful setting: the pure white snow contrasting the dark granite rock, Marclo gliding down it’s face. Once at the landing, he unhooks then grabs one rope in each hand. He jiggles them a bit, pulls one then the other, then grabs the orange one with both hands and yanked with all his might. It comes down, bringing the green one with it, connected at that special knot he tied.
“Now that’s impressive.” I say. He smiles. We gather the rope. Chris carries the green and I carry the orange. We make the second rappel point and begin the set up. Chris feels a little more comfortable and snapped this picture:
Second Rappel Point
Before I go, Marcelo directs, “this one, that last bit is free fall. Uhh, I mean suspended? There is no rock. You will just get to the end and have to lower yourself in the air.” I run into a little tangle, but for the most part, make it down easy. Chris does well and Marcelo of course sticks the landing
As we organize the rope Chris tells us the time: 5:30pm.
Thankfully, the two rappels descended us about 300 vertical feet. Now we just had to climb down. And we did. It felt unending. Find a footing, brace with arms, go down. Rinse, repeat. After some time, we make the Eye of the Needle and I squeeze through. The rest of the descent looked like this:
Descent to the Lower Saddle
By 7:15pm we made the Lower Saddle and wound our way to the snow-melt stream where we had eaten lunch. Chris and I had thought we over packed food, but at this juncture, we ate our last bit of vittles. I paused to take in the scene and process what we’d just done. All I could think about was that look Marcelo had given me in the storm. Those piercing blue eyes, calm as a summer breeze, in the midst of the ripping thunderstorm.
“Marcelo, I mean this when I say this,” I lead off and he looks up, “you’re one of the best leaders I’ve ever been around. If you would have lost your shit in the moment, we were done. Seriously, it was your attitude, your spirit, your demeanor — I could follow that through a shitstorm. We did follow it. I know we still got 7 miles to hike and we’ll be here well into the dark, but you just need to know: you’re a damn good leader.”
“No no, you guys…” he deflected it but Chris added on, “For real, you never freaked out. Not once the whole time. Thanks for getting us down.”
Marcelo smiled shy, shook his head, then said, “alright, time to go.” We began the long hike back down just as night fell. To get off the Lower Saddle, we had to climb a length of rope one at a time. Marcelo first, then Chris, while I waited at the top. Chris hollered he was down, I grabbed the rope with both hands, and just as I began it felt like a rock hit me on top of the head. And then another. And then a whole bunch. I braced myself, looked up, and through the beam of my headlamp noticed the sky had decided to hail us on our way down. All I could do was laugh. Of course it’s hailing. I make the bottom and we walk and walk and walk.
This part of the hike wasn’t particularly eventful or fun. My toes started bleeding from the downward impact, my knees ached, and Marcelo told me, “you sound like my mother you moan so much.” I love Marcelo. At some point, my headlamp ran out of battery, so I walked in front of Chris and his light guided both of our steps. Marcelo lead and I attempted to step precisely where he did.
Truth be told, I went into some weird exhaustion-induced trance. My mind thinks there’s something in the shadows. My eyes make shapes out of the dark silhouettes. It’s all a ruse, but I believe them for a second, until the next shape-shifter woos my imagination. We get turned around in the boulder maze and can’t find the way. Marcelo stays confident as ever. He finds the trail. We stride on.
We begin the final cutbacks. At about the 3rd one there’s some fellow hikers, vaping on a THC pen. They had been rappelling when the storm hit and we deduce they were the fell voices we heard on the wind.
By this point, I am no longer thinking. I watch where Marcelo puts his foot, then I do the same. After a couple of hours like this, we cross a bridge, hike a flat, and we’re back in the parking lot.
“What time is it?”
“10:43” Chris says.
We all agree to meet for dinner the next night. I hug Marcelo, thank him profusely to the point of uncomfortability like a true Southerner does, and Chris and I climb in his Jeep. We drive into Jackson, limp into Pinky G’s for a pizza, limp back out, then make the pass for Victor, Idaho. We get back past 1:00am, easy to fall asleep.
At dinner the next night, I asked Marcelo the closest call he’s ever had climbing. He told me about it then said, “people think that such a thing will make you stop climbing. Actually, it has the opposite effect. Because you survive it, you realize how capable you are. It makes you want to continue. You do not stop. You want to climb more.”
As he spoke, I realized that we wouldn’t have made it to the summit with any other guide. They would have decided to turn around. And that would have been the right decision. But we all have choices in life and I tend to land on the riskier side. Marcelo does too.
Multiple times during the climb, Chris and I would say to each other “I’m never doing this again” in some form or fashion. But as I listened to Marcelo talk, a feeling to go for another mountain began stirring inside me.
“It’s what they call Type 2 fun,” Marcelo continued, “not fun in the moment, just fun after. It makes you want to do it more.”
2:30 AM wake up, dress, snack
2:50 AM depart Victor, Idaho
4:00AM arrived at Lupine Meadows parking lot
6:30AM began hike. 6.5 miles up to Lower Saddle
10:45AM made Lower Saddle
11:15AM began summit ascent
1:56PM storms come in. 500ft from the top, can’t see it/the storms in our line.
2:05ish, storms hit
3:37PM make the Summit!!!
4:49PM finish the first rappel
5:02PM began second rappel
5:30PM finished second rappel
7:30PM began descent from Lower Saddle. It starts hailing
10:43PM made it back to parking lot
***9 hours spent on the summit ascent from the Lower Saddle to the summit back to the Lower Saddle. Largely due to inclement weather
Follow Marcelo on Instagram at the most aptly named account on insta: @climb_any_mountain
Simple How-to Guide to reach the summit of the Grand Teton
Assuming you’ve never climbed before, here’s what you’ll need
Step 1: Find a guide.
You will not make the summit without someone who has done if before. You’d be able to make the Lower Saddle, but the ascent is not marked. Their are two routes to make the summit. Neither are marked. We chose the Owen-Spalding. It is not marked. In case the point is not clear, the #1 most important thing for climbing the Grand Teton is to do it with someone who has done if before.
step 2: Get proper equipment, Food, Water
- harness for every person attempting to summit
- 2 ropes, at least 140ft long each
- 2 ATCs minimum, but better to bring one for each person
- Cams, quick connects, chalk.
- Ascent shoes. Marcelo used them. Chris and I did not.
- Gloves. It can get freezing cold fast. Also, they come in handy on the rappel
- Water purifier. You hike along a creek and there’s multiple places to fill up. Last fill up before the ascent is a snow-melt stream on the Lower Saddle
- salt tabs, gels, bars. Really, whatever foodstuff can give you the extra push.
- However much food you think you should bring, double it. You will be burning tons of energy going up ~7500 vertical feet. You’ll need the calories.
- Rain gear.
Step 3: Hike Lupine Meadows Trail
Here is the google maps pin to the parking lot and trail head. Our intention was to begin the hike at 4:30am. If you’re attempting to climb the Grand in one day, aim to start that early. If you start late, chances are you’ll get caught in a storm like in my story above.
Step 4: Make the Lower saddle
This is 6.5 miles of switch backs and uphill hiking. It took us ~4 hours to do. Marcelo was pushing us at a fast pace, so allow yourself more time if you’re not a strong hiker.
Step 5: Ascent
Now comes the hard part. Hike up the Lower Saddle to the Upper Saddle, through the Eye of the Needle, around the heavy exposure problem, up the chimney, then free solo to the summit. Sounds easy, right? Wrong. This part alone took us over 4 hours. Mainly because Chris and I are total amateurs, but if you’re reading this, so are you.
step 6: ENJOY THE SUMMIT
You’ve just finished climbing the Grand Teton. Take in the view, eat a snack, catch your breath and snag a picture or two.
Step 7: Descend to the lower saddle
Thankfully, you’ll be with someone who’s done this before. Climb down to the first rappel anchor. Rappel down. Organize the rope and hike over to the second rappel anchor. Be careful, the last segment of this rappel requires you to descend suspended in the air. Be ready for it and stick the landing. Congratulations, now you only have to make it through the Eye of the Needle and the Lower Saddle will be in view. Be forewarned: the ascent and descent took us 9 HOURS to complete. Again, much of our time was spent dealing with the challenges from the weather. But you should be prepared to give a lot of time and effort here.
Step 8: Hike back down Lupine Meadows trail
Easy peasy. But not really. Tons of skree and boulders, downward impact, and unclear trail markings make this a challenge to do. We did it in the dark while it was hailing, making it suck even more. And all my toes started bleeding from the downward impact. It’ll take about 3-5 hours depending on how well you can see the trail and how fast you can move.
And that’s it. Now go eat a pizza.