Check out this inspiring story from Kate’s Athlete, Zahan Billimoria, about completing the Triple Crown: a ski link up of the Grand, Middle and South Teton, in one push, car to car in 10h39m, a new record, but just by 16 minutes!
On Saturday July 2nd Nate Brown, Brian Harder and myself set off from Lupine Meadows at about 5.15am, and climbed the Grand in just under 4 and ½ hours soloing the ice pitches up and down. The Chevy Couloir, which usually offers up a few minor ice bulges was almost fully iced, though in excellent ‘plastic’ climbing condition. I lost a lot of time down climbing the ice in the stettner which was unusually runneled and in generally bad shape. Brian, who has been suffering from GI troubles earlier in the week headed back to the valley floor as his legs were giving out on him. From the bottom of the Stettner I struggled to follow Nate’s blistering pace to the lower saddle. He was moving fast, in and out of skis over boulders, across runnels and hanging snow fields. Though I felt confident that I could stick it out for the full traverse, I knew it would be hard to match his athletic pace. Nate could probably have shaved over 1 hour from our time. From the Saddle we headed towards the Middle Teton and carefully up the exposed rock on the North Ridge and traversed into the NW ice Couloir. The technical climbing difficulties were largely over at that point, and we made up lost time by working as team and staying motivated for a fast finish. It was an amazing day in the mountains.
In February of 2010 my friend Wray Landon and I were chatting one morning after an early morning ski outing on Teton Pass. He brought up the overwhelming idea of skiing the 3 central teton peaks in one push, in winter, I laughed hesitantly, knowing that before I could get my head around it, he would probably do it. In reality, that was the last time I would see Wray, as he was killed the next day when an avalanche swept him off the precipitous south face of the South Teton.
Nate and Wray were budding friends too, in fact Nate was initially swept in the same avalanche that killed wray but was able to step off the slab in time. That fateful day was to be their first alpine adventure together, and off course, their last.
Ever since Wray’s death we have wanted to complete this traverse. Wray’s dream was to do it in winter, and complete the traverse via the logical south side of the South Teton (ironically where he was killed). This remains incomplete and in order to ski it in that style would need to be done much earlier in the season when coverage is adequate to ski out of avalanche canyon. This seemingly minor detail adds a lot of complexity to the equation (no running water to refill, post holing through winter snow, needing to bring more clothing and avalanche equipment—etc) but that was just the kind of alpine problem that Wray loved working away at and finding solutions too. It too will happen, but will require creative thinking, an enormously strong effort and stable winter snow conditions.
This February we made an effort to try and piece together the north side of the middle in winter conditions and were shut down by 60+mph howling winds. Video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LPTSOtKqIoc
This past Saturday the north side of the Middle Teton was still unknown—would we be able to traverse into the NW ice, or would there still be too much snow? Would it be more secure to climb the upper north ridge (5.6), tired, in ski boots, without a rope and with skis on our packs? That would be a daunting proposition. We reached the high point of our last effort in February, and found the snow to be passable, and the ledge to extend comfortably into the NW ice Couloir. As we started up the Couloir, I knew that we would eventually succeed on this mission, whether we would make record time would be just a bonus—most of all we wanted to complete this project that Wray had inspired (then again, doing things in record time was always Wray’s style.) As we made our way up the NW, moving fluidly as the elation of having completed the last remaining crux settled in, the emotion of loosing a friend and completing this dream swirled in my head. it was an overwhelming emotional moment, and I fought back the tears as Nate and I let out the customary “Yeah Wray” rally cry. A powerful memory.
In the final episode of the Lonesome Dove saga, retired Texas Ranger Woodrow F Call, is left to carry out the dying wish of his best friend. On a whim Gus asks Woodrow to cart his soon-to-be-dead-body 3000 miles from Montana back to Texas, where together they had started their monumental journey. On the final stretch of his lonely odyssey, Woodrow experiences the satisfaction of completing the adventure and the closure of the friendship. In a way that is what Saturday was all about.
Credit for this project also goes to Jimmy Chin, who in June of 2008 completed the traverse solo car to car in a standard setting 10h55m—a major inspiration for Wray, and by extension Nate and I. Even prior to that in the mid-nineties Stephen Koch and Mark Newcomb completed the traverse in under 18 hours.