My "on again, off again" sleep pattern held true until right before my alarm went off. I looked at the watch and it was almost 5:30am. We wanted to get an early start for permits but I wanted to get an even earlier start so I could catch the sunrise on the mountains. So I crawled out of my nylon cocoon and quietly exited the cabin with camera in hand. It wasn't ridiculously cold but I was just sitting in a quiet field, moon at the crest of the mountains, waiting for the sun to rise. I had read the sunrise chart on the caretaker's door the night before and it said 6:55. The ranger's station opened at 7:30 so I figured I'd get a few photos, eat breakfast and be at the ranger's station in plenty of time. I had volunteered to set the alarm and get "Busterman" up since I'd be wake up earlier than him. The sun didn't really rise until almost 7:15, so I was then in a rush to get things going. After waking "Busterman" we hopped in the car, ate some frozen bagels and headed to the Jenny Lake Ranger Station to get our backcountry permits.
We got to the parking lot at Jenny Lake and munched for a bit on bagels before heading inside. When we got there we had to wait behind another team, which they didn't take too long. The permitting process was really straightforward and simple. The ranger asked our destination and what zone we wanted to camp in. Garnet Canyon, which leads in a fairly east/west fashion, is located on the south side of the Grand Teton. It leads up to the lower saddle, a location of diametrical opposition caught between the Middle and Grand Tetons, and above the South Fork of Cascade Canyon. In Garnet Canyon there are four camping zones. the highest is the Lower Saddle, which is where we would be spending our first two nights. Below that is the Moraine, just past the Middle Teton Glacier. Further from our main destination was the Caves camping zone, a collection of rocky holes just below Spaulding Falls. Lastly, is the Meadows camping zone, which is where we spent our last night. The friendly ranger asked what routes we were heading for, and the phone number of an emergency contact, in case we didn't show up when we said we would. The climbing rangers are the ones to ask for beta, they know the park like the back of their hand and can give you beta on the climbs you want to do. Thankfully, the backcountry permits are free and with our permit in hand we exited the ranger station and headed for the Lupine Meadows trailhead.
The trailhead at Lupine Meadows is a huge parking lot, almost a quarter mile long, where hikers, climbers, and mountaineers start their journey into the mountains. It's strange to think that many people had come and gone from the same spot in which we stood and all had left with there own unique experience. Some of success, some of failure, but all unique, and here we were about to start our adventure. We grabbed our packs and trekking poles and started walking towards our goal.
The hike to the lower saddle is kind of a pain in the ass. The trail through Garnet Canyon gains about five thousand feet in six and a half miles, and that's just to the lower saddle. It doesn't seem that steep but it is relentless. With my knee still bothering me I took it pretty slow and with "Busterman" being, in his own words, "a competitive hiker," I got left in the dust. So I slowly plodded along and every once and a while I caught up with him because waited to make sure I was still coming with him. The sagebrush flats quickly changed to pine and spruce, then around Spalding Falls the forest let go to the alpine zone. Even above the treeline it was pretty warm. The sun was strong and all that damned food I thought we needed weighed me down, making me even slower.
I caught up with "Busterman" for the last time near Spaulding Falls. It wasn't until I got to the lower saddle that I caught up with him again. With the first half of the hike being nothing but a warmup for the second half, I was really starting to feel the weight. The talus scrambling got harder and harder as multiple trails started to fan through the glacial moraine. A little ways above Spaulding Falls I caught my first glimpse of the Middle Teton Glacier. I've never been on a glacier so it was something to focus on besides the obvious weight on my back and pain in my leg. I continued on for what seemed like hours. At this point I knew the altitude was taking it's toll on me. Usually I don't feel the altitude till around eleven thousand feet, but here I was sucking wind at nine thousand. I plodded on for a while longer until I came to a low angle, broken, cliff that marks the last obstacle one must overcome before arriving at the Lower Saddle campground. There are several fixed lines for some reason, which I eschewed because...well why would you need a fixed line if you're aiming to climb the Grand Teton? If you can't do a third class scramble then you might as well turn around.I hiked to the brink of the lower saddle and took in my surroundings. To the south was Middle Teton and it's opposite to the North was the Grand Teton, our goal for the trip. To the east and west were Garnet Canyon and the South Fork of Cascade Canyon. The position of that spot is terrific. The canyons make it feel like you're on the edge of the world and the two mountains on either side make it feel like you're in the bowels of the earth. Suffice it to say it's got a really nice view. After relieving myself and taking a rest I looked around for "Busterman".
It turns out he'd been hanging out waiting for me to come with the tent for a while. He'd already unpacked his things and had even gotten the kitchen set up. I was pretty tired but "Busterman" still had enough energy to scope out the approach after we set up the tent. I relaxed for a while and read the guidebook to get more information about the climb. Our main objective, the full Exum Ridge, was a little over twenty five hundred feet in length. With most of it being moderate ground I wasn't worried about getting turned around by difficult climbing, in fact we planned to simul-climb the entire thing. Instead I wondered if I'd be able to keep the pace going, if we'd be able to find the start in the dark, or if bad weather would move in.
While pondering these things "Busterman" had made his way back and made the approach sound relatively simple. Basically we followed the obvious black dike to a big chimney. Satisfied that we'd find it, especially with "Busterman" saying that routefinding was a strength of his, I started dinner. I decided on pasta with some brocolli and chicken, topped with alfredo sauce. This was by far the lightest and most filling meal we would have during this trip. I don't even think the celebratory pizza we had on our last night was as good.
After stuffing our faces we talked about what we'd like to do during the winter. Trying the Grand in winter was on the list but sticking closer to home was more feasible. The moon came out nice and bright and as temperatures dropped I was glad the tent provided an abundance of warmth that allowed me to stay warm and comfortable in my old thirty degree bag. Tomorrow was the big day and I was excited and nervous. Fortunately, my body convinced my brain to rest and I quickly fell asleep and started the countdown to ascent.