Pawnee Peak 12,943 ft
South Slopes, class 2, ~9.4 miles, ~2500 ft, August 2007 (Jared and Jen)
To say that the month of August has been disappointing when it comes to summiting cool peaks would be an understatement. I was turned back from a technical route on Pagoda due to weather. The following week I was turned back at the summit of Thatchtop, right before a cool traverse to Powell due to Jen's ankle turning. Hopefully my trip to the Grand Teton would turn out better. Well it didn't. I'm pretty fortunate to be so darn obstinate or I'd start getting dejected because this trip report is also about a failed peak.
Brian Hynek (my partner for Peru, Devil's Tower, The Ellingwood Arete, etc) and I decided to give the Grand Teton a shot between the 15th and 18th of August. We drove to Jackson Hole Wyoming on the 15th of August and crashed at a friend of Brian's (Bart) house. On the morning of the 16th we woke up, had some breakfast, dealt with a minor emergency concerning a defective Steripen, and headed to the Jenny Lake Ranger Station to pick up our permits. I should note that the Steripen guys are unbelievably helpful and did everything in their power to fix the situation, including offering to overnight a new pen to us.
The whole thing was a real crap shoot because the weather forecast was terrible. This was sort of my fault be cause I had been watching the Jackson Hole forecast and not the Grand Teton forecast. Make sure you check here for the mountain specific weather. We were hoping it would just be terrible in the afternoons and that we could bag the Complete Exum and bail off the summit before the storms came in but with 70-90 percent chances of rain this was a really optimistic plan. Since Brian was recently awarded a tenure track position at Colorado and had to prepare for a course he was teaching our window of opportunity was pretty short and these were the days we had to deal with.
We picked up our permits for the lower saddle and headed to the trailhead. The trail up to the Grand Teton is steep and rises 5000 vertical feet before reaching the lower saddle. You basically follow a series of switchbacks which end in a nice flat trail that then leads to a boulder field, some pretty meadows, then to steep set of switchbacks culminating at a waterfall and series of rocks dubbed 'The Caves'. Brian and I had packed way too heavily and weren't moving too quickly. Around 1:45 a series of storms came in and we hunkered down in the caves as it passed.
The one thing that struck me about the place was that there were a TON of guided parties with Exum Guides. There must have been 30 or more people. I figured 30 complete novices clogging up the only exit, which just happens to be an overhanging rappell was going to make for a lot of fun. Now the Exum guides weren't as bad as many guides I've met but don't expect them to be friendly, we asked them what route they were guiding and they said they didn't know. Bullshit but whatever, I have to remember not to bother talking with guides on peaks, they are all schmucks to one degree or another. I'm not sure why guides think you are going to try to sneak into their group and follow them up a peak but they seem to.
After our little foray in the caves the rain subsided and we continued on. By the time we reached the moraine camp below the lower saddle I was too tired to keep going and we set up camp. Now I was a bit concerned someone might come along and check our permit but it never happened. Brian and I hung out, made dinner, smoked a cigar and killed a flask of Coca liquor he had brought with him as a celebration of my 31st birthday which was the following day. We were pretty excited about the weather and figured we could get up and down the route easily enough if the rain followed the same pattern it had on this day. It didn't. Pretty soon after getting into the tent it started raining. It kept doing this all night. I felt a bit bad for the poor schleps who moved really slowly and arrived at camp in the dark and got poured on while looking for a place to set up their tents. The moraine camp is a rocky mess with hard to find camp spots. Some of the periods of rain were as intense as anything I've been in and were accompanied by deafening thunderclaps and lightning bolts that lit up the entire sky. When this pattern continued until 2 AM it was clear that we weren't climbing the Exum the next day. A movie of how rainy it got We got very little sleep that night as the rain and thunder continued unabated for about 10 hours. When we awoke the sky was completely overcast and everything was soaking wet, some new snow had even fallen around us. Given that it was dark and likely to keep raining we decided to pack up and leave. We could have tried again the next day but it was unlikely the route would dry out and we weren't interested in doing the tourist route up the peak. For us it was going to be the Complete Exum or nothing so we packed out.
We headed back to Jackson Hole, said goodbye to Brian's friend Bart, had a quick BBQ lunch as my birthday lunch and headed out. In order to salvage some of the trip we decided to go to Colorado National Monument and climb Otto's Route on Independence National Monument. We made it several hundred miles and managed to kill a deer on he way through Wyoming. We drove on for hours and were treated to a ggorgeous rainbow and quick bite at a Subway in the middle of nowhere before finally camping on some BLM land (along Philadelphia creek) in north western Colorado. There are a ton of good places to camp for free on BLM land, just drive down a secluded road, set up a tent, and go to sleep. We woke up pretty early Saturday morning and headed to the monument. On the way we stopped for some breakfast that thoroughly disagreed with my stomach. Maybe it was the 12 inch cinnamon bun?
The hike into the climb went smoothly and was quite pretty. The clouds seemed to be threatening and we weren't sure if it was going to rain or not but figured we'd give it a try. At the time I was hoping it would rain because my stomach was doing tricks. Fortunately for me my stomach got better and the weather held. The climb itself was cool enough but Brian lead most of it because I had never been on sandstone before and did not like the feel of it. Otto's route was put up by some crazy Coloradan in the 10s or 20s. The guy basically climbed the thing in cowboy boots and used a hand drill to drill pockets into the side of the tower into which he stuck pipes so that he could ascend it like a ladder. It turned a 5.10+ route into a 5.9. This was good for those of us that can't climb 5.10+. The climb went quickly and it was fun to get on top of a 450 foot tower and see surroundings unlike any I had before. We rapped back down to the base of the route and headed out. On the way out the sun was absolutely scorching and decided that I would not be coming back to the desert during hot months. I also managed to lose my helmet.
Since neither Brian nor myself had showered in several days and we had hiked about 20 miles and 5000 vertical feet we made a quick detour to the Colorado River in Loma and spent an hour wading in it with a couple nice cold Coronas. After this we hopped in the car and headed home.
Fast forward one week to August 24th. One route I've had my eye on for awhile is called 'The Kasparov Traverse'. It follows the ridge between Apache and Shoshoni Peaks in the Indian Peaks Wilderness and is mostly 3rd classs to 5.0 scrambling. The really cool feature is that there are several towers on the traverse that may be climbed from 4th class to 5.6 with just one tough one that goes at 5.11. I figured Jen and I could go do the whole thing and just skip the 5.11 tower. It would be a fun day out and I'd get a couple more neat peaks in the IPW. We did the old standard get up at 3 AM, drive out, haul in rock gear, etc. Of course my nemesis of the last month returned, the weather. It was much too windy to even contemplate the traverse. It hadn't been windy on the super mellow trail leading up to Pawnee Pass or I would have gone home but by the time we reached the pass it was blowing like crazy and there was no way I was going to be doing an exposed traverse with narrow spires under those conditions. To salvage a bit of the day we ran up Pawnee Peak and hung out for awhile. The weather only worsened and we decided to head down and go home. On the way down I was happy to note that the winds were increasing in severity and location and we felt good about bailing on the climb. We spent a lot of time looking for King Boletus mushrooms but found none.
Ah well, that's mountaineering for you. Jen and I are going to try for the traverse again next weekend and I'm going to give Pagoda another try. Success on technical routes is all about intelligent decision making and perseverance. I've posted some pictures of my two week adventure below.
Just A Tiny Bit to Carry, Vesper Helps Out
The Grand Teton
Proper Hydration Is The Key To A Successful Climb
Hunkering Down Through Some Afternoon Storms in The Cave
Stragglers Coming Up In The Rain
A Sunny Morning
Hiking Through The Meadows
It Should Clear Up Any Second Now
A Rainbow On The Way To Colorado National Monument
Heading To Independence National Monument
A Cool Rock Amphitheater
Independence National Monument
Thanks For The Stairs Otto
The Very Easy Trail Heading To The Pass
Pawnee Peak And Pass
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