It started with an early, early August morning. We departed from Canyon sometime around 5:30AM headed for Grand Teton National Park. After a quick breakfast in 'town' (which was really more of a trailhead town than anything - we ate our breakfast under a circus tent) we went to the ranger station and got our permits. The rangers were incredibly helpful, and even pulled up google Earth and took us through our route up the mountain.
At the trailhead, I realized I forgot my hiking shoes at home (Doh!) so I rushed back into Moose Junction and bought some new shoes. This should by any account be a disaster - climbing up to 12,804 ft. with brand new hikers, but I feel a word of gratitude should go out to Vasque here - my new shoes performed flawlessly and I had nary a blister coming down the mountain.
Anyways, enough advertising and back to the climb. When we registered, none of the campsites in Lupine Meadows were available, so we were forced to the 'high camp' up on the scree around 10,000 feet. This was a blessing in disguise, since we got a larger portion of our elevation done on the first day. The hike up to the meadows was absolutely incredible, if a little warm. It was about 80 degrees outside, and the sun beating down on us for the 6 longest switchbacks of my life. There are 6 switchbacks leading up to the meadows, so for those of you attempting this hike for the first time, remember this detail as you're going up the trail.
The trail up went very quickly - we passed a number of groups attempting the Grand mostly, as this trail is shared with the Exum Route up the mountain (which encompasses the most oft-traveled trails leading up Grand). Lupine Meadows is certainly not for solitude-seekers - expect to share the trail with a hundred (or more) other people coming up and down Middle, South, and Grand Teton as well as the less-crowded Cloudveil Peak. All of this traffic may seem a bit grueling in the first part of the hike before the meadows. You'll probably feel overwhelmed passing teenagers who've just got done climbing Grand. One fellow we passed had just finished the Grand Traverse aside from Cloudveil in khakis and a plaid shirt sans climbing gear aside from an axe and crampons.
However, as the air thins, so do the crowds. After we took lunch in the meadows with the pikas and marmots, we started the ankle-testing boulder gardens of Upper Garnet Canyon. This is the first spot in which the trail virtually 'disappears' as it is overcome by large boulders. Lots of fun bouldering moves to be made throughout the canyon - good practice for what's to come. We had fun and were really taking our time and taking in the scenery at the beginning of the day. We were ahead of schedule, and really weren't feeling the climb at all - too much eye candy and anticipation for summit day.
I will say two things here to two very different groups: Middle Teton can be dayhiked. However, the vast majority of hikers will want to make an overnighter of it at the very least. Even better is to spend 2 nights - the first in the upper camp, and second in the meadows. This allots for plenty of time for playing around on the boulders in the meadow, a comfortable summit day, and if you're feeling good and the weather holds - a potential double summit attempt with South Teton. However, we didn't have time for this (the weekends are too short!!) since we had to work in the morning after summit day.
When we arrived at our camp for the night, a few people were just departing from camp after a double-summit day of both Middle and South. We managed perfect timing, and marveled at the teenager, who was in high school and had aspirations of skiing Grand. We wished them our best, and sent them on their way with a bit of our toilet paper (apparently one of the boys in their group was a novice backpacker and used up half a roll in one 'session' - whoops!!)
Camp went up quickly, and after a bite of dinner I decided I couldn't resist playing around a bit on the mountain, so I made headway for the saddle - scouting the route to make the ascent quicker in the morning. After about an hour of climbing up, I realized the sun was dipping a bit too low for comfort, and I turned back for camp about 200 feet below the saddle. On my descent back down I attempted to hurriedly slide down one of the many snow fields. This resulted in an extended and very swift slide down, accompanied by an injured ankle when I stopped. Do yourself a favor: if you think you might need an axe, rent one on the cheap. Not only are they useful, but they're fun and help give confidence going down snow.
There are a few camps available up high in the canyon, and it may not be obvious that there will be another when you arrive at the first of the 'high camps' above the first glacier. We camped at the lower of the two camps. When you arrive, there will be a little stream on the right side of camp looking up the coulior at the lower camp. If you continue up for another 30 to 45 minutes, you will reach another camp with a little pond below it (also known as a large snow bank early in the season I'm sure). When we were there, there was basically a huge ice chunk sitting in the middle of the water, with the stream running around it. I'm not sure where the actual route went up the coulior, but I opted mostly for fun bouldering rather than straightforward hiking...partly by choice, but mostly because once you're off the trail, it becomes incredibly hard to find again. At one point, we were 200' above the official trail as we watched some people cruising up to South.
Sleep that night was almost nonexistent for all of us. Wind whipped around the tent, and 10,000 ft makes the nights chilly, especially with a 40 degree bag. Won't make that mistake again! The morning came awfully early, and after a cup of coffee we left for the summit by 6am.
Sunrise was incredible, to get to see the early morning light up the canyon was just breathtaking. The climb was very straightforward - while you may often lose the path, there's only one way to go: up! Keep going until you see Icefloe Lake on the other side of the saddle - a perfect spot to take a break and eat some breakfast. Middle looks incredibly intimidating from this viewpoint, just ride the ridge on up the first part. If you stick to the left of the snowfield, you'll do just fine. Here's where the first real bout of exposure kicks in, as the trail bobs on the opposite side of the saddle for a few feet, and continues up along a ridge. After a bit of class 3 climbing, a plateau opens up for a few hundred yards, and the summit is spread out in a dominating view.
We stared in awe as we continued up the path, which was finally very obvious. However, we wondered if we were on the right path when we came to a chimney. As we were downclimbing, we found a much easier route which saved quite a bit of time. It was much easier to see while downclimbing due to a couple of groups being below us by that point.
A few class 4 moves are required, but the more difficult moves are in non-exposed areas. By far the biggest concern was getting hit with loose scree, as some parts of the trail had obviously seen a large amount of human erosion. Many stones were kicked onto the trail, making it a bit tricky to be certain a foothold was solid. We took our time ascending, and were on top before noon.
The summit is very exhiliarating, as the actual summit is smaller than a dinner table - standing on it with a 3,000 ft. cliff below you is something of a vertigo test. Grand Teton dominates the view as it rests another thousand feet higher. 12,804 ft, and every one of them was incredible. We celebrated with a summit beer each and took in the view for as long as we could - the wind was especially biting in shorts and clouds were rolling in from the Idaho side of the Tetons.
Our descent was quick - much quicker than the ascent. We had considered attempting South, but with the storm coming in and my ankle being tender, we decided it was against better judgment. Besides, it gives me a reason to get back up there to bag both in a day. We packed up camp, and grabbed a quick break and lunch before heading down to our cars. Yumm raw ramen :(. We were literally running down the trail, donning our headlamps for the last two miles. The hike down the switchbacks seemed twice as long as going up to be sure.
I had to park the car about a half-mile from the trailhead, as there was no parking at the first or second places to park, so I retrieved the car as Jesse and Angela recharged. The drive back to Canyon was long, especially since we were all so tired. What a weekend adventure!