Imagine our location in proximity to the bigger picture of the NW couloir route: our entrance into it would be approximately 500 ft. above the valley below. That distance was composed of a waterfall, originating from the dripping, melting August ice in the couloir above. As soon as we stepped off the rock traverse on which we stood and into the ice couloir, we were instantly looking down at 500 feet of exposure.
So, that was comforting.
Crampons on, rock shoes put away, and roped up, I traversed into the instant exposure that was the unknown couloir we were entering. It was wet, as the ice was seemingly melting in front of our eyes.
We climbed for a few hours, doing about 6 pitches.
Around pitch 3 or 4, both of us became nervous and started moving faster as we heard distant thunder. The aspect of the couloir didn’t allow us to see where the weather was coming from, and we didn’t know what to expect except that imperfect climbing weather could shake down on us at any time.
But the weather held. And we continued.
So here I am, topping out on the summit after excitedly leading the last ice pitch.
And what do I hear below me as I belay from the lip of the couloir, anchored into a few cams? Bryce, talking to someone. But who could he be talking to? No one is about to climb this couloir, this late in the day, this late in the season.
“Do we have company down there or something?”
“Yeah!” Bryce yells.
Wait, seriously? Where did someone come from? And who is it? What the heck?
I had just finished thinking, for the 100th time, how stupid–and awesome–we were for completing this climb. Man, this is so intense. How cool. We’re the only people doing this climb all day. We’re ice climbing, and it’s almost September! There’s a hundred people over on the Grand, and we’re the only people on the Middle. Sweet! We’re so cool! Yeah us! Go me!
Sure enough, I look over the edge at Bryce, who, on toprope, I thought was the gnarliest person I’ve ever met. And sure enough, right there below him, unroped, solo, and relaxingly waiting for Bryce to finish, was a dude. Alone. Who’d climbed the route in, like, 30 minutes.
So much for us being cool.
Here we are, on hour number 11 or 12 of our day, sweating and panting with huge backpacks on, ropes, and a bunch of gear. And below us comes some pro Colorado ice climber, running up our “objective” as his “warm-up” climb for the north face of the Grand.
Here’s Bryce’ rendition of the climb. I recommend turning off the audio completely.
And then, again, as we scrambled 5 minutes to the rocky summit, head-down, I was alarmed to hear “hey,” and look up to see some OTHER guy (who’d taken the easy walk-up southeast ridge), in shorts and a t-shirt.
Well, so much for solitude on the summit.
We ended up chilling for 30 minutes with our 2 new friends before beginning the down scramble back to the saddle separating the Middle and South Tetons.
It was a long hike out, full of glissading and lots and lots of hiking and trail running alllllll the way back to the car, 15 hours later.