We slept in today. There was no reason to rush. We'd tagged our goal (Grand Teton), the summit we'd been dreaming about since the trip was conceived, so we slept in a little bit, had an unhurried breakfast, and started breaking down camp to move down hill to the Meadows camping zone. Our goal for today was Irene's Arete 5.8 III, A nice six pitch climb that with a little scrambling and hiking would bring us to the summit of Disappointment Peak. After our gear was packed we made our way toward our new home. My knee was actually starting to feel better for some reason. Despite this "Busterman" was still out pacing me on the approaches and descents.
The hike down was just as monotonous as the hike up. I'd come to the top of a bump on the trail and, looking down the valley, it still seemed a world away to the valley floor. Eventually, "Busterman" and I realized we were seeing each other from distinctly different paths; I was on the high road and he was on the low. I yelled to "Busterman" that I thought I could get down to the Caves Zone on my path and so we meandered down separately. I did make it to the Caves around the same time as "Busterman" and we excitedly prepared for our next objective. We hung our packs, grabbed the gear, filled some wag bags, and then scoped the approach and descent. It all seemed pretty straightforward.
Walking along the herd path that had formed from years of abuse, we looked for the start as the book described it - a slab with a wide crack in it. Unfortunately the path went on past where we thought the climb started so we had a repeat of the previous day by scrambling up and down to find the beginning. Just as yesterday, we scrambled up wrong way, although this time we scrambled down and found the beginning and not some alternative.
"Busterman" took the first pitch, an easy slab with a wide crack. I sat enjoying the sun, paying out rope on occasion till I heard him call "off belay" from seemingly far off. The climbing was fun, nothing difficult and soon I was at the belay. My pitch was the crux of the line and looked pretty straightforward with a great crack leading to a small roof known as the Hanging Tooth, and then some more crack climbing after that. Starting up the climbing was fun, involved but not boring, getting to the small roof I slotted a high nut and cranked off a quick fingerlock to better hand jams and then cruised through the rest where the angle eased off. The only problem was deciding where to belay. There were three variations, and where I should set up the belay depended on which line "Busterman" was going to choose for the next pitch. I chose a spot between two of the harder variations and tried to find good placements among the crappy rock. It was pretty difficult with the band of loose rock, but eventually I had a few good pieces and a slung boulder sitting next to me.
I handed off the remaining gear and "Busterman" decided to go for the most difficult option - a 5.10 crack with a strenuous roof at its beginning. Leading off, he placed three pieces of gear in and around the roof and then started to pull through it, but then he down-climbed. He hung out at a semi-rest and chalked up. "Busterman" is a solid climber who regularly onsights 5.11's and sometimes 5.12's. I on the other hand can sometimes onsight 5.11's and every once and a while can get up a 5.12 if I'm having a good day. If he was having trouble then I didn't know what the hell I was going to have to do because I also had the daypack stuffed with water and extra gear. "Busterman" climbed back up into the roof and reached out of it to a tenuous looking hold and exhaled sharply as he moved through it to easier looking ground.
"That was pretty hard", he said. I looked at the section. After he called "off belay," I broke down the anchor and got ready. A few minutes later and I was at the roof. I leaned back off a fingerlock and reached to the next one which was surprisingly better than "Busterman" had made it seem. After hiking my feet up I was able to reach better jams and the rest of the pitch was a breeze. It's funny how leading changes perspectives, even to someone as strong as "Busterman" is. I've been freaked out on easier climbs when on lead and have found climbs normally above my ability to be straightforward when climbing as the second. I'm sure there are armchair psychologists out there who can state why this is so, but I figure it's simply about fear; if we feel safe then we're likely to climb better. Of course, it also might have had something to do with my height, because I've never known him to have lead head issues.
The next pitch was the most confusing of the climb. The initial crack was fun but it ended at a ledge. The path of least resistance seemed to turn sideways, away from the arete we were supposed to be following. After exploring all my options by climbing each one of them, I finally decided to head toward a small dihedral with a ledge at its bottom, which sounded like the end of the pitch. A little runout climbing later and I set up an anchor.
The next pitch provided a few good pictures as "Busterman" followed the angling crack out of sight. After that I watched the sun crossing the sky, silhouetting the other mountains in the distance. A bit later and it was my turn. A little simul-climbing brought us to a gap where I down climbed and belayed "Busterman" into the gap. He still had most of the gear and off he lead through an awkward and strenuous offwidth. After I belayed him on that section, I started climbing, and then for the rest of the ridge we simul-climbed. Both of us wanted to hit the summit of Disappointment Peak, and after sorting gear on a plateau at the top of the climb we followed the most obvious path towards it. Unfortunately, that path wound, divided, separated, and, in general, did not lead straight toward our objective. So after picking our way through the alpine tundra and scrub spruce we finally were making progress. "Busterman" found an actual path while I stuck to rock hopping.
The top gave us a great view of the different glaciers as well as the East face of the Grand Teton. We also saw some climbers on Red Sentinel Spire, looking puny in comparison to its surroundings. The summit felt a bit wilder than the summit of the Grand Teton with all the behemoths surrounding us. The sheer drop to the glacier below gave it an airy feeling. Eventually the wind picked up and we decided to head down. We'd scoped out the descent from the Caves, but from our current position it did little to help us. A number of gullies flowed into Garnet Canyon but it was hard to tell which would lead us down without having to use gear for rappels or getting cliffed out. The first gully on the climber's left of Irene's is definitely not the way to go. The steep loose gravel has a series of cliffs near the beginning which would make it a really unpleasant day if one were to slip. Instead we chose the second gully which after a while cliffed out at an overhang so we went over a small gap toward the first gully where, after several hundred feet of downclimbing, it finally brought us to a series slung trees that we gladly rappelled off.
I have heard that there is a cairned trail that leads up the canyon from the second gully but we didn't see it, and the herd path and rappel slings suggested a fair number of people went the same way we did. After getting back to our packs, I tried to be smart about getting it off the stick I'd hung it from fifteen feet off the ground. I thought I could hook it with my trekking pole but instead I just pushed it off and put a nice hole in my new pack. The luster of new gear was gone so I shouldered it and we made our way to our next campsite in the Meadows Zone.
Now things could have ended there. It could have been really laid back and we could have eaten and gone to bed but no, things couldn't be that straightforward. We made our way down to the Meadows and set up our tent. After a while an Australian gentleman came and said hello and we talked for a bit. He was there hiking with friends. After a bit he left again and we decided to hang around and play on the boulders. It was nice to do some low commitment stuff but I was fairly tired from the day's climbing and descent and after a while I went into the tent to check out nearby objectives for our last day in the park. "Busterman" was outside reorganizing his gear when I heard footsteps approaching. A brief, unpleasant conversation ensued.
- Tent Next Door: "Hi there, you just getting set up?"
- Busterman: "Eh, we've been set up for a little bit. We just got done climbing Disappointment
- Tent Next Door: "I see, well you know there's a really nice spot right on the other side of this boulder. It's right next to the river and there's nobody over there."
- Busterman: "Uh, thanks, but that's ok, we're already set up here."
- Tent Next Door: "Well there's plenty of space over there, you should really think about moving over there."
- Busterman: "Thank you but I think we'll be ok here."
- Tent Next Door (now with a tone of righteous indignation like we'd pissed on his tent orsomething): "There's a perfectly good open space over there and you set your tent up next to me. I didn't come out here to sleep next to some other people. You know you are really being rude just...just...rude."
At this point I'd sat up and with some righteous indignation of my own came out of the tent. He'd already gone but I asked "Busterman" anyway, "What the fuck did he say?" After a while we decided to move mostly because we didn't want to be around the asshole and because I thought I might start a fist fight. I'm generally a pretty laid back person, but when people push me I have a tendency to push back hard enough to make sure I don't get pushed again and this guy had quickly touched a nerve. My heart rate didn't go down for the next twenty minutes and I hung around outside the tent hoping he'd come back and, naturally, he did while I had gone to the bathroom. He apparently apologized to "Busterman."
It wasn't so much that he'd asked that we move. He was right, there were other sites and the one we ended up at was a nice windbreak for cooking but the attitude just got under my skin. That notion that he had any more right than us to be where we were and that somehow his time and experience were any more valuable than ours set me off. The wilderness is for anyone who makes the effort to get into it, and while I don't like crowds of people, I accept them as part of the experience because we're all there to enjoy some of the same things. Unfortunately, as the popularity of remote areas grows and access is made easier (not that the Tetons are remote or that access is easy) this will probably become a bigger problem.
I am not the type of person who believes that everyone should have access to everywhere, speaking of course of the outdoors and public land. If you can't make it somewhere because you do not possess the money, time, equipment, courage, knowledge, wherewithal, or interest then you simply shouldn't be there. I think that same opinion crosses over to climbing for me, which may be an unpopular opinion, but if things get dumbed down to the point that most anyone can do them then they lose a lot of their value.
With these thoughts rumbling in my head and at times tumbling out of my mouth, we got started on dinner. Eventually I calmed down and we started talking about what we wanted to do tomorrow. It would be our last day of climbing and we figured something a bit longer was in order. We talked about the Black Dike on Middle Teton, but the glacier would be difficult if not impossible to get around since we decided to forego crampons. Eventually we decided on the North Face of Nez Perce. I figured we could skirt the glacier's edge safely and that ten pitches or so of 5.6 would fall pretty easily if we simul-climbed the whole thing. With a goal in mind we put our remaining food in the bear box and settled in for the night.