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Trip Report Off-Trail on Teewinot

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Much more than a great day hike.
August 16, 2013. Kyle McKenzie and Roger Roots, both of Montana. Patrick Murphy joined us on the trip down from Montana, but Patrick had to do some work in Jackson so he was unable to join us on the Teewinot climb.
The Grand Teton is one of the world’s most magnificent peaks, and it is surrounded by peaks that are almost as astounding. Among these is the Grand Teton’s smaller cousin Teewinot, which stands in front and to the right of the Grand from the most common photo perspectives. Teewinot comes to such a sharp point at its top that it is sometimes mistaken for the Grand Teton itself when visitors gaze up from the Jenny Lake area.
Unfortunately, Teewinot does not get the credit it deserves. At 12,330 feet, Teewinot would easily be the most sought-after summit in almost any other mountain range. But its position in the shadows of the Grand Teton robs Teewinot of its place in the sun. During this trip I often encountered seasoned Teton climbers who had climbed the Grand from numerous angles and had summited Moran, Middle Teton and several others. But few of them had ever tried to climb Teewinot, and many of them shrugged it off as a scramble undeserving of their efforts.
Our trip began in the Lupine Meadows Parking lot at 9:30 a.m. The trail begins at the north of the parking lot and takes a rather direct route straight up the front (west) face of Teewinot. The trail is good up to about 11,000 feet except for a section near the waterfalls where it breaks up a little. Kyle and I made good time up through the switchbacks to the tree line. It is a steep trail in many places.
Shortly after passing the two large standing monuments known as the Idol and the Worshipper on our left, we found that the trail was fading and becoming broken. The trail disappeared as it passed up and over stretches of stone. By the time we reached the 11,000 foot mark, we had lost the trail and found ourselves clambering up segments of steep rock to the right of what we later identified as the traditional route.
We then encountered two climbers from nearby Rexburg, Idaho who informed us that the proper route was even farther to the right. These two guys had tried and failed to climb up a steep gully on the right side of the face but were now attempting to scale an even steeper crack further to the right. The “beta” offered by these two gentlemen was confirmed by two descending climbers pointing and yelling from a distance below us. The lower guys shouted that we should go past the gully and climb to the top by way of the same route farther north which the Rexburg guys had identified.
The guidebooks we had consulted indicated the mountain could be climbed without any rope, anchors or climbing gear. However we had already ascending some mid-class-5 pitches, and the crack we were directed to was even more technical. We sensed something was wrong.
After enjoying a snack, we each tried the crack or its nearby rock features. I managed to spider up fifty or sixty feet or so before I announced to everyone below that I was giving up and turning around. It took several minutes for me to safely descend back to a place where I could stand.
From here, Kyle and I decided to attempt to summit Teewinot by way of the steep gully or chimney that the two Rexburg guys had tried earlier. (The Rexburg pair parted company with us and seemed to be in mood to give up and descend.) It turned out that Kyle and I were able to climb farther up than the Rexburg guys had apparently gotten, and by the time we reached the 11,500-foot level (or so), the mountain was becoming less steep. At times we did find evidence that earlier climbers had passed through the same route. For example, there were some old-style pitons and slings fixed on some of the chimney pitches. But it was clear we were not on any general or normal route; either that or the guide-book descriptions of Teewinot as a steep scramble were quite inaccurate.
Teewinot comes to a sharp peak at its top, and the summit of Teewinot is barely wide enough for one person to sit. Each of us took turns sitting on the peak while the other took a picture. Behind us was the monstrous rock edifice of the Grand Teton itself, and we had a great view of Mount Owen and other points deep in the Tetons.
I am grateful for the fact that I had worn blue jeans and leather gloves on the climb. (Kyle was wearing shorts, and her legs were badly scraped during the ordeal.) In my experience, blue jeans are vastly superior to the shorts and mountaineering pants worn by most climbers. Not only are jeans slightly thicker, but their fabric is more coarse, which provides greater friction on steep rock or snow. Of course, in rainy or wet conditions, the superiority of blue jeans fades to nothing.
Upon beginning our descent, the two of us noticed another route down. Upon checking it out, we quickly realized it was the “real” trail or at least the route followed by most Teewinot climbers. This route clings to the large snowfield at the center of the front face and breaks off toward the summit from the right of the snowfield. We had apparently missed it because it contains a few stretches where climbers must negotiate their way over some large boulders, and we must have seen these rocks as unlikely routes as we came up.
To our surprise, we met up again with the two guys from Rexburg, who had not given up and who had stumbled on the correct route after they left us at the steep gully to the north. We were proud to report that we had summited by way of the more difficult route they had abandoned. The Rexburg pair were still going up when Kyle and I were going down.
Kyle and I made our way gingerly down the scree field at the bottom of the snow until we rejoined the trail we had come up on. From there it was a nice downhill repeat of the route up. We were glad to get to the Lupine Meadows parking lot by about 5:30 or so. There we were rejoined by Patrick Murphy, also of Montana, who was surprised we had made the trip so fast.
Teewinot is not only one of the most beautiful points in the Tetons. Among my many adventures in life, I would place this one in the top 100. Facts worth mentioning: the word Teewinot is a Shoshone term meaning “many pinnacles.” At one time, it is believed, the Shoshones used the term teewinot to apply to the whole Teton range. At 12,330 feet in elevation, Teewinot is the sixth tallest peak in the Tetons. If the Mountain were in my home state of Montana, it would be the 14th highest peak in the state, ahead of Mount Hague (which I’ve climbed).

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