Middle Teton

Saturday, July 10, 2021

I woke John up at 6:15 AM with, “What are you doing? We’re supposed to be hiking!” We quickly got ready and drove to the Lupine Meadows trail head. We were both nervous: this was the hardest and highest peak that we’ve ever hiked/climbed in our lives.

Lupine Meadow

The first mile was mostly flat through beautiful old-growth forest, and we almost instantly saw an elk and some deer.

Soon the trail started to rise along a forested ridge, then steeply via switchbacks with views of Bradley Lake.

Lake Bradley

The trail ended at Garnet Canyon with steep walls of rock that made us think of an #OutAlive podcast about a guy who was buried in a rock slide in this very same canyon. Soon we entered the boulder field, which reminded me of Ice Gulch and John of a mellower Subway or Mahoosic Notch.

We came upon a meadow with tent sites and a stream running through it. We left this tranquil area and started climbing up a scree nightmare until we reached our first snow crossing. A nice man kicked in steps for us, as he was all decked out in mountaineering gear, as opposed to our shorts and trail runners (a volunteer at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station told us we would be fine without crampons and an ice ax).

One of MANY snow fields that we encountered

We alternated between climbing up slopes of scree and/or talus and snow fields, one of which John got off track, and I had to guide him back.

Talus field heading up to the col/saddle

We finally reached the col/saddle at about noon. There was a crazy drop-off to Ice Flow Lake, a glacial lake of a striking blue color.

Ice Flow Lake

Looking to the right, we could see Middle Teton. There was less than half a mile to the summit and 1400 feet of gain. Our choices were to utilize a snow field or class-3/4 climbing; we chose the latter, as we did not have full crampons and an ice ax. Had we been prepared for mountaineering, it most likely would have saved us time to use the snow field.

We can see Middle Teton in the distance

The final stretch was .3 mile and 1000 feet of gain through the couloir, which consisted of either dangerous scree in the middle or more class-4 rock climbing on the sides. I zigzagged between the two options, following the path that I perceived to be less dangerous.

Climbing up the couloir
The summit’s coming into view
Looking back at South Teton
Looking down from the top of Middle Teton
On Middle Teton with Grand Teton in the background

Before we even got to the summit I was thinking about how we have to reverse everything. Coming down the couloir went faster than I expected, and I was so relieved when we returned to the saddle/col.

Coming down the couloir

All of the snow fields that we crossed easily on the way up were significantly more difficult on the descent. The combination of the pitch and warmer snow made it treacherous for us to proceed without the help of fellow hikers kicking in steps that angled into the slope. John was wearing microspikes and used one of my hiking poles; I just had the one hiking pole and no foot traction. It was very slow-going and I had to be fully present and aware of every step; to be careless meant sliding (likely to our death) into talus and larger boulders.

Big snow field on the return trip

We made it across the first one, then had at least two more to go. The final one was quick and easy on the way in but, again, was much more dangerous at this time of day. It was the shortest crossing, but slipping meant going into a crevasse that we actually did not know anything about, but it didn’t look good. The friendly hikers who had been helping us wanted us to hike around the field, extending our day quite a bit with the distance that we needed to cover to avoid this crossing. I was having none of that and instead leaned my body into the slope while carefully placing my foot in each kicked-in step and digging the hiking pole into the snow to help stabilize my balance. John and I both made it safely across, but I think it really upset one of the other hikers in particular. I can’t say that I blame him; I likely would have felt the same if it were the other way around.

The rest of the hike was uneventful, albeit awe-inspiring and beautiful. Before we even finished it, John and I were talking about how we couldn’t believe that we had done it, how it was the hardest and scariest hike either one of us had ever done and how we weren’t going to ever do it again. Since time has passed (about a year as I write this) I can say that we have both changed our minds and will make it a priority to do it again at some point in the future. Next time, though, we will be more prepared.

Lessons learned:

  1. Always bring, at least, K10s and an ice ax, even if someone says they’re not needed.
  2. Start earlier in the day.

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