Friday, 5th day in Wyoming

Friday was the day we got up early and set off for Steeple Peak.  It’s the day we climbed a mountain and the day I’ve been putting off writing about because I know my words will fail to describe the beauty and wonder of it all.  So since a picture is worth a thousand words, I thought I’d start there.

long view of Steeple and TempleWe got up around 7am and headed out as a big group of 9 headed to our two separate climbs. The middle peak in this picture was our target – Steeple Peak.

terrainIt took us about two hours to hike around the lake, walking through grass for the first hour, then hopping over boulders the rest of the way.

view from a distanceFrom here you can see the path we took around the left hand side of the lake.

water stopWhen we got to the other side of the lake, we all stopped to filter some water and that’s when our two parties split off and headed to our respective routes.

view of Steeple and TempleThis was the view from our water stop. The other two groups followed a line up the left hand side of the peak, while Troy and I went up the right hand side with our guide.

view of the climbI think this is the only picture I have that portrays the steepness of the hike – this is the type of terrain we dealt with on our hike from the lake to the notch you can see between Steeple Peak and East Temple Spire on the right hand side.

My beautiful pictureAfter scrambling up all of that, here we are on that plateau between the two peaks! That’s East Temple Spire behind me now.

My beautiful picture(I was pretty excited about it)

My beautiful pictureThis is the view of what’s behind Steeple Peak – a beautiful jewel colored little lake surrounded by patches of snow that the sun couldn’t find.

My beautiful pictureHere’s the full view of East Temple Spire from our plateau – rocks fell down that slide you see on the left hand side a few times while we were climbing and sounded so much like thunder it had me looking for dark clouds…My beautiful pictureFrom this plateau to the top we had to rope up.  Our guide climbed up first, setting anchors as he went.  Once he got to a good spot, he’d set up an anchor and signal for Troy to climb up while he belayed from above.  Once Troy reached the anchor, they’d signal to me and I’d climb up to join them.  My beautiful pictureHere’s Troy climbing a fairly easy pitch on our way to the top.My beautiful pictureTroy was a really good sport posing for pictures and then taking the GoPro to the top on the next pitch to get good summit pics.  Just one of the many reasons he was an amazing climbing partner!   We had a couple more difficult climbing pitches before we got to the top.  Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of those, but the features of the rock are burned on my memory.  The hard spots are the ones you never forget, because they mean that much more.  My beautiful pictureMy beautiful pictureWhile Troy waited for me at the summit he got to take these awesome pictures of the other teams coming up the other side to meet us at the top!

My beautiful pictureAfter conquering a couple tough sections of crack climbing, here I am joining Troy and our guide at the top.My beautiful pictureClearly, Troy and I needed a nap after all that exertion!  You can see the other teams hitting the summit right behind us.  It’s surprising now to look back and see how narrow the peak really was.  At the time we felt so secure up there that we had a couple snacks, lounged around and basically had a party.

My beautiful pictureIt was every bit as incredible as it looks and then some. The road to get there was six months in the making and took 5 1/2 hours of flying, 3 hours of driving, and 8 1/2 hours of hiking over the course of 2 days, but it was worth absolutely every second.

 

Thursday, 4th day in Wyoming

On Thursday, after our first night of sleeping at our campsite (although I didn’t do much actual “sleeping”) the weather was absolutely beautiful.  Since the sun was out, we were able to spread all of our soaking wet clothes from the day before out on branches and rocks to dry out.  Unfortunately, all the beautiful rock peaks we were surrounded by also had to sufficiently dry out before we could even think about climbing them.  This meant we spent the day staring at them longingly while hiking up a nearby ridge and checking out some of the gorgeous little lakes and ponds nearby.

My body still wasn’t acclimatized to the high elevation, so walking uphill made me very short of breath, but the views from the top of the ridge were worth it!

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Back at camp we enjoyed a delicious dinner of pepperoni pizza made by our talented guides and started negotiating who would climb what the next day.  Each guide would take two climbers, so we had four climbing teams.  There were tons of climbing routes and most of us had checked out some guide books beforehand and had ideas of what we’d like to climb, but there were a lot of other things we had to take into consideration too.  In addition to finding routes that were at the right difficulty levels for each team we also needed routes that were mostly in the sun so they’d be dry enough and weren’t too far away, since there was the possibility of another storm coming along in the afternoon.  I think we all felt like the conversation went in circles for a little while, which was frustrating, but in the end we came up with a solid plan.

Kristin, who had tweaked her ankle on the hike in, would climb Railroad Tracks with Shannon, because the start of the route was close to camp and didn’t require a lot of hiking.  Two teams, Katelyn and Derek plus Mike and Randy, chose to hike out to Steeple Peak and tackle the North Ridge a fun sounding climb with a tunnel near the top!  Troy and I decided to head up Steeple Peak via the South Ridge.  This would give us the opportunity to hike out to the base of Steeple Peak with the two other teams going in that direction, but with fewer technical pitches we wouldn’t have as much pressure to climb fast.  Troy only had one rock climbing trip under his belt and I wanted to be able to take a little more time to get comfortable with alpine climbing before trying something difficult.

In Climbing and Hiking in the Wind River Mountains the South Ridge up Steeple Peak is described as a 5.8 route that starts with ascending talus (i.e. large boulders) just south of Deep Lake.  You then climb up a series of ledges between Steeple Peak and Lost Temple Spire before starting the difficult climbing about 100 feet below the summit.  The first section of crack climbing is described as beginning with a “difficult, exposed move” which Troy and I certainly found to be true – but more on that next time!

I packed my summit pack, so I’d be ready to get up and go the next morning.  For the day we each packed our climbing gear (harness, climbing shoes, helmets, belay devices, etc) and a rope, along with all kinds of layers for whatever weather we encountered, first aid kits, food for lunch and lots of water.  Thankfully, it was a lot lighter than my hiking pack!  Then, we went to bed early so we could get an early start the next day.

Wednesday, 3rd day in Wyoming

Wednesday morning I think it’s safe to say everyone in our group was PSYCHED to get our butts down to the trailhead and get our party started.  We got up early, packed our cars, grabbed some Poptarts for breakfast (I hadn’t had one in about 10 years, but all of a sudden it seemed like the perfect breakfast food) and we hit the road.  Between our bags of regular clothes and all of the camping and climbing gear we crammed into the awesome Jansport backpacks we were given (thank you Jansport!  but really…those colors though…) even Troy’s massive rental car was stuffed.

The weather was beautiful in Jackson Hole, but as we drove south towards Pinedale the sky filled with clouds and the further we got from civilization the worse the weather got.  By the time we got to the Big Sandy trailhead, about 3 hours from Jackson Hole, it was raining steadily.  We met our guides under a canopy of tree branches to do quick introductions and divvy up the additional gear they brought for us.  In addition to splitting up food and cooking gear, we each needed to carry a rope and half of us needed to carry tents as well.  The three women had been given a fairly large three person tent, so I quickly made a deal with Derek, the marine, to swap tents so I could carry his one person tent instead.  If you saw how massive he is compared to any of us, you’d understand why this trade made sense!  Once packed, we made a quick plan and hit the trail.

trailhead

Tent on one side, rope on the other.

Don’t let the face fool you, even though I was super stoked to be going on this adventure, I was also scared silly.  We figured out pretty quickly that the hike was going to be about 9 1/2 miles total, when the farthest I’d ever hiked was 5.  I was also carrying about 50 lbs of gear when the backpack I’d trained with topped out at 35.  Also…no bathrooms.  So, you know, I had my game face on but inside I was like mkjfjhfkghfdhgjgf!

Six and a half hours later, I made it!  I made it even though it rained THE ENTIRE TIME.  I made it even though when the guy at the Jackson Hole Mountain Guides office told us there would only be one little creek to jump over he wasn’t taking into account all the rain from the proceeding week and there were actually 10+ swollen creeks to cross on slippery rocks and wet logs.  I made it even though we had to go the long way around one of the lakes, because the short cut was too swampy.  I made it even though my raincoat wasn’t breathable and the inside took on the climate of a sweaty rainforest and soaked all three of my layers.  I made it even though my body wasn’t acclimated to the elevation yet and every step that was even slightly uphill (which was most of them) made me short of breath.  You know why I made it? Because I just kept walking.  One foot in front of the other.  You know why I enjoyed (nearly) every second of it?

selfieBecause I had people like Troy to talk to the whole time, and we had people like Derek to jump into freezing cold water and help us cross slippery log bridges, and even though it was cloudy and we couldn’t really see the mountains, we still had scenery like this to take in on the way.

hiking2It really was fun for the most part, but when my rain pants started to fail me in the last half hour and my bottom layers began resembling a soggy diaper, I was pretty much done.  We rolled into camp one sad, wet group of hikers.  The guides got cranky trying to decide where we’d all set up our tents (totally understandable after a long day) and all we wanted to do was be dry.  As soon as humanly possible Kaitlyn, Kristin and I dove into our tent and huddled in our sleeping bags to get warm.  A wonderful, wonderful person brought us cups of warm soup and then lo and behold the rain actually stopped.   We managed to rally for dinner in what became our gathering spot – a long, flat rock near the cooking area big enough for the whole group to assemble.  The guides made us a shockingly good meal and as the storm passed and the clouds started to blow away I got my first real view of where we were.

Haystack Mountain

 

It was quite literally breathtaking.  I had a moment standing there, surrounded by mountains, considering how few people ever had the chance to see what my eyes were feasting on.  I felt small, and fortunate, and very, very happy.  It made it all worth it, just standing there – the 6 months of fundraising, training, the 10 mile hike in the rain.  I could have left then and it would have all been worth it, that’s how beautiful it was (but I’m glad we didn’t, because the best was yet to come!).

After dinner I fell into my sleeping bag, sure that after such an epic hike I would finally get some sleep…(spoiler alert, no sleep that night).

Tuesday, 2nd day in Wyoming

Tuesday morning we got up bright and early (why not? I wasn’t sleeping anyway) and asked Siri where we should go for breakfast.  She steered us to a lovely spot for breakfast sandwiches, after which we proceeded to the Jackson Hole Mountain Guides office for a gear check.  Once we’d finished picking up the one or two items we still needed – another warm layer for Kristin, more lunch food for Katelyn, and a small journal for me – we had the whole rest of the day free to explore Jackson Hole and wait for the rest of the crew to arrive.

2014-08-26 13.01.46

No animals were harmed in the making of this photo-apparently the antlers just fall off and end up lying all over the place.

Jackson Hole is a really interesting place to walk around.  The downtown area is full of an eclectic mix of souvenir shops, art galleries, an incredible variety of restaurants, and outdoor stores.  We had a lot of fun walking around, checking out the souvenir shops and peeking in the windows of some of the fancier stores too.  Don’t let the “rustic” veneer fool you, this is a town with a Starbucks on every corner!

Downtown_Jackson_Hole-_WyomingRight around lunch time the rest of our crew started rolling in – Derrick from California, Mike from Oregon, and Randy from Montana arrived from the Western half of the United States and after an afternoon spent climbing, hiking, or shopping (ok, fine – I was the only one who went shopping) we all reconvened for a group dinner in the sky box of the Snake River Brewing Company.

Snake River Brewing Co.

Great people, great food! (from L to R: Derrick, Mike, me, Kristin, Katelyn, Troy, Randy)

 

The only person missing from the group was Shannon Davis, the illusive Editor in Chief of Climbing Magazine.  We wouldn’t meet the mystery man himself until we gathered at the trail head Wednesday morning.

Monday, 1st day in Wyoming

I sat down today to start writing about my trip to the Wind River Range (I’m still pinching myself a little bit, it was that good), but I’ve got so many great pictures and stories to share that I didn’t know where to start and I got a little bit paralyzed.  So I decided to start at day 1 and work my way through in little bites.

On Monday the 25th, I flew out to Jackson Hole, Wyoming via Dallas/Fort Worth.  Generally speaking, I love flying.  Ten hours with nothing to do but read and people watch?!  That’s a great way to start a vacation.  I also have a tendency to bring books that get me excited about whatever adventure awaits me.  Yup, thematic vacation reading.  I am that nerdy.  Here’s what I was reading as I winged my way towards my first back country adventure.

I was lucky enough to have a really nice, friendly seat mate on my final flight (Hi, Alex!) who opened the window just in time to let me look out over the Grand Tetons as we approached the Jackson Hole airport.  Oh, Lordy.  Those mountains are beautiful.  Here’s the view that greats you when you step off the plane.

2014-09-01 09.40.05So I pretty much knew I was going to have an amazing trip just based on this view alone.  Then, to top it off I had these smiling faces to greet me at the gate.  We call this the “East of the Missisippi bunch.”  All of us women are from the Northeast, but Troy is from Wisconsin, so we had to get creative.

2014-08-25 20.37.57

Troy Martin, Me, Katelyn Dolan, and Kristin Re

It was so great to finally meet these people!  We’d been connecting a bit on Facebook and via email, but we’re honestly a very diverse, eclectic group and there was no way to really know if we’d all get along and gel as a group.  Frankly, it was shocking how well and how quickly we all clicked as we met each other over the course of the next few days (spoiler alert – we all still liked each other after 5 days of hiking, camping, and doing everything together!).

The first thing this foursome wanted to do was eat (MY PEOPLE!), so we headed over to Teton Thai and enjoyed sitting outside surrounded by mountains while eating fantastic food.  It was much chillier in Wyoming then back home in CT, but the heat lamps and spicy food kept us warm and none of us wanted to tear our eyes away from these views.

The view from Teton Thai

The view from Teton Thai

That pretty much concluded my first day in Wyoming.  After dinner, Troy helped Kristin, Katelyn, and I get our bags up to our hotel room and we basically crashed.  Oh, except that was the night I found out that I can’t sleep at high altitudes.  So, I crashed in the hotel bed and just tried to lie quietly all night while my mind raised and my heart pounded.  Sadly, I’m no stranger to insomnia, so it was kind of like hanging out with an old friend you sort of hoped you’d never run into again…