I've been staring at my keyboard for five minutes, trying to figure out how to start writing about my attempt at the Grand Teton speed record. I am finding it difficult to adequately express my thoughts about yesterday's effort, as well as the events leading up to it.
For a very long time I have been fascinated by the Tetons. It was the first place I had an alpine adventure; when I was about 10 years old, my dad and I had an epic adventure trying to summit the Middle Teton. I first climbed the Grand when I was 13, with my best friend's dad, who served as a climbing mentor for me for many years. I have since returned to the Tetons many times to hike, scramble and climb, ski and run, but haven't not been back up the Grand.
Just before my 18th birthday I was involved in a serious climbing accident that resulted in a fractured skull and a several week hospital stay. After that I really never got back on the horse. I did climb a little, mostly sport, in as controlled environment as possible, but any time I got above pro or exposed I would freeze, replaying the events leading up to my fall.
I spent most of the last 12 years enjoying the mountains without technical climbing, instead lots of kayaking, skiing and in the last 4 years mountain running. It turns out that I have a knack for running up and down mountains that has developed into a semi-professional running career.
1 year ago I was introduced to Bryce Thatcher (the record holder for the Grand Teton). I had joined UltraSpire, a hydration pack company started by Bryce, as an athlete ambassador. During that first meeting with Bryce the conversation almost immediately turned to his amazing feat on the Grand. The bug was planted in me to try to match that accomplishment.
Fast forward to yesterday. After months of training and planning I was nervously standing at the Lupine Meadows Trailhead waiting for 8:00 am to come around so I could finally start. I had convinced my wonderful wife, Tanae, to take pictures at the start and finish of my journey to help with the documentation process if I were somehow able to break Bryce's record. When the clock on my iPhone rolled over, I started my watch, she snapped a photo and I set off.
I did my best to move quickly but not to exceed threshold too much too early. I took the standard trail to Lupine Meadows following all of the switchbacks and reached the boulders before the meadows in 36 minutes. 6 minutes slower than Bryce had 28 years and 1 day previous when he set the record.
I reached the sign that marks the Meadows in 47 minutes. I hit a bit of a low as I ascended and my pace slowed a bit.
After passing Spaulding Falls I came out of the low and was able to push fairly hard to the moraine, even though I bobbled the route finding a bit. I chose to go up the fixed rope as it looked like no one had used the boot pack in a few days. At the top of the fixed rope I again struggled to follow the trail and ended up meetin the saddle a few hundred yards to the north of the huts in 1:32:40. A few moments later I met up with Brian Harder.
I had asked Brian a week prior if he would accompany me on the upper part of the mountain. I did so for a few reasons, the number one being I wasn't sure how I would mentally handle the exposure of the Owen Spaulding I felt that having a partner up there would be invaluable if I froze. Also Brian knows the mountain as good as anyone, and given the fact I had never climbed the Owen Spaulding route, it would be exponentially faster to follow Brian up the route. Which is exactly what I did.
Brian led and I followed exactly behind him, there were a few moments that even going to the upper saddle I hesitated with the exposure, but the mental tether between Brian and I pulled me through.
We ran into a fairly significant traffic jam going through the belly roll, the crawl, and the double chimneys, but following Brian's lead we wove through the crowds with only a slight delay. We quickly moved through several more parties at sergeants and just above.
I tapped the summit marker at 2:10:50, Brian took a picture as well as another party that summited just behind us, and as we started the decent I hit the lap button on my watch which read 2:11:40. Again we worked through the masses passing the same groups pretty much in the same places they were when we went by in the ascent. Brian did a killer job route finding back down the black dike, where I again set off solo.
I followed the trail down to the saddle and towards the fixed rope, and although Brian warned me not to, I ended up too low and for sake of speed instead of traversing I did a rather sketchy down climb, hopped the 'schrund, and did a sketchy glissade towards the moraine.
From there I kept telling myself to focus in my feet and move quick. I waved at Jim and Alex (2 photographers who work with Ultraspire) and set out to get down as quick as possible.
As I left the boulders that guard the Meadows my watched hit 3:07. I had missed the record. It was hard to keep hammering at the same pace, knowing that the day's effort was not enough to match Bryce.
But I did rally, and kept rolling as fast as I could. To keep things totally equal with Bryce I did take the old climbers trail that bypasses the two upper switchbacks, but in hindsight I don't think it was any faster.
I bonked pretty hard just after the valley trail intersection and struggled to move quick for the remaining 1.7 miles. Tanae and our 2 daughters, Brynlee and Chloe, were waiting at the sign to snap the finish picture, I stopped the watch at 2:33:02.
Overall I am very pleased with how things went, particularly how well I dealt with the exposure. Sure, there were some bobbles with the route finding down low, which probably could shave around 10 minutes. I think a little more snow would help with a slightly faster descent, and repeating the route several times to get things a bit more dialed, coupled with an ideal day fitness wise and the record could possible be lowered.
That said, what Bryce did just over 28 years ago was truely momental and it will be no easy task.
I need to take a moment to thank Tanae for her incredible support in all of my wild adventures. I owe Brian Harder a large debt for helping me with so much beta beforehand as well as accompanying me through the technical portions. Jim and Alex from Ultraspire deserve tremendous props for driving up from St. George to take pictures and support me and La Sportiva for supporting me and making great mountain running shoes for this type of adventure.