WARNING: Free soloing is dangerous and not recommended. Rock climbing without a rope and protection is extremely risky and the smallest slip could result in death.
Julia Heemstra on her way towards the Upper Saddle and a sub 4 hour ascent of the Grand Teton with Table Mountain in the background. The Eye of the Needle was
plugged with ice, so we were forced pick our way around it.
Before attending Dustin and Hatilie’s wedding last weekend, I wanted to get some exercise in, since I had been working the past few days and not been able to get out. The Grand Teton is the biggest hill (read…best workout) we have around here, so Julia and I decided to do a ‘light and fast’ trip up the Owen Spalding route to the summit. Jackson runner, Rob Macal (pronounced Mot-zul), ran the GT the week before, and reported that it wasn’t very icy, so I was feeling pretty good about the conditions.
Approaching the Lower Saddle after 2.5 hours of hiking.
I’m not much of a rock climber, but I do like moving fast on these lower graded rock routes. My personal record for running the GT is 3 hours car to summit (CTS) and 5 hours car to car (CTC), but I think I can do better. The record for climbing the Grand is 3:06 CTC, by Bryce Thatcher in 1983. Unbelievably impressive! Julia climbs way harder than I do and she just ran an ultra marathon a couple weeks ago, so I knew we get up and down relatively quickly…before attending the festivities. I got an email from alpinist Jack Tackle, who also did a solo trip this weekend, and he shows what is possible. Jack soloed Irene’s Arete, on Disappointment Peak, and then went on to solo the Complete (upper and lower) Exum Ridge on the GT…in 10 hours CTC. Besides being fit, I feel like there are three key things that allow for these fast times in the mountains.
Julia keeps moving past the Lower Saddle.
Not stopping is key to moving fast in the mountains.
First, keeping the pack extremely light is essential. Usually I wait to do these types of trips when it is very warm, so lots of extra layers at elevation aren’t necessary. Food and water tend to be the heaviest things in my pack and not bringing much of either is important. There are many places to get water in Garnett Canyon, some safer to drink than others (cuz a water filter is way too heavy), and a couple liters is usually enough to get me to the top before needing to refill. Food-wise, a protein bar, some Clif Shots and a few gels provide enough nutrition for the effort. For this trip, besides the running shorts and shirt I was wearing, I brought two extra pieces of clothing, a Marmot DriClime Jacket and a pair of Marmot Scree Pants. In addition, some windstopper gloves and a lightweight hat all fit nicely into the ultra-light, 7L Black Diamond Flash Pack. Most of the time, I wear some La Sportiva Exum Ridges on my feet, which provide a good balance between running and climbing/sticky rubber performance.
Julia gets into some ice in the Double Chimney
Second, being familiar with the route you are climbing is imperative and waiting for prime conditions is important. You don’t want to be standing there, while the clock ticks, trying to figure out where the route goes, or debating if the route is too icy/risky to solo. In this case, ‘know before you go’ is the rule of thumb and must be followed.
Julia climbs the Owen Chimney on the Owen Spalding route.
Thirdly, limiting the amount of breaks/stops, if any, can really cut time off a trip. This can sometimes be a challenge when it seems like you know half the people on the trail, but most realize what’s going on and cheer as you pass. One of the people we ran into on this trip was Colin O’Farrell (aka, nhtele) who wrecked his leg last winter. It was a pretty serious injury and this was his first hike since. Get after it Colin, the snow will be here soon…I hope!
Water melts from a snow patch just feet away and the water is pure as can be.
I usually try to break up my GT runs into three stages, Lupine Meadows Trailhead to the Meadows, the Meadows to the Lower Saddle, and the Lower Saddle to the summit. Each stage takes about an hour in length and I try not to stop until I reach each end point. This is when I grab a bite to eat and typically splash some water on my head to cool things off. Julia and I made it to the summit in 3:58, not too bad. Though being a runner helps you move fast, I think someone that is pretty fit could climb the GT in under 5 hours CTS by just power-hiking. Are you up for it?
Three hours CTC, unreal.
We will be up there in August doing the Grand Traverse again. Question for the locals………will there be water on Owen and the Grand Stand with the dry snow year?
There will always be questions regarding shortcutting on some of these earlier speed ascents…which can probably take 20-30 minutes off a CTC time.
I’m sure there will be water/snow on Owen… Grandstand could be iffy. Get in touch before your headed this way.
Has anyone gone faster than Rolo on the traverse? Wasn’t he something like 6:45 or so?
I think Rolo has the fastest time, and I don’t think there’s anybody vying to beat him. I’ve heard rumors of him making it from the summit of the Grand to the lower saddle in 11 minutes. Seems impossible.
Steve, how was the OS downclimb? I’m headed up there tomorrow for a birthday solo blast. Any ice or funkiness? (Planning on going up the upper Exum, and descending the OS.)
Derek…yes…I think it was 6:48.
Use a little caution in the Owen Chimney…some verglass…stay left (skiers right on the way down), some snow at the bottom! More ice in the Double Chimney…but avoidable.
I heard it took 48 minutes for Rolo to summit Teewinot from the parking lot on his record setting traverse. It is all just so unbelievable.
Have fun and be safe and Happy Birthday! Let us know your times…I want to solo the Exum as well. I’m on Owen this weekend though!
Nice TR and thanks for the inclusion, though after our conversation @ Albie’s I figured you might actually get my name right. Oh well.
And if that’s the Derek I think it is, I hope to at least grab a beer with you while you’re here in the Tetons.
It’s called short term memory loss!
I’ll buy you the beer on your road to recovery. But my guess is I’ll be more crippled than you when we come down.
Way to go Steve!
Just a minor correction, it Bryce Thatcher, not Hatcher that holds the record. Bryce and Creighton King had quite the rivalry going for a couple years.
My bad…thanks for the note!
I enjoyed your article and photos. It is great to see others enjoy this place as I do. The subject of the switchbacks and the shortcuts seems to come up a lot. On my record setting run the only so called short cut I took was the old climbers trail (the Original trail into Garnet Canyon). This was on the descent only. This cuts off 2 long switchbacks right before the base of Garnet Canyon. The original climbers trail here is much steeper, slick and takes a lot out of your legs. This may have saved a minute or two only. I have gone both ways many times over the years and I prefer the switchbacks because it saves energy. Last summer as I climbed the Grand with my wife and daughter I noticed the Park Service has closed the original climbers trail. This is a good thing as the steepness of the trail a long with the erosion has taken its toll on the landscape. Happy Climbing, Blue Skies! Bryce
Thanks for chiming in Bryce. It’s great to get the story right from the horses mouth. I’ve done those switchback before (don’t tell Renny) and agree they only cut off a few minutes. I just got my time under 5 hours last year. Here’s the post.
Anyway. Did you run in any of those Targhee races? They are fun. I’m in Europe right now competing in the Ski Mountaineering World Championships. Team USA!!