Our Parks Adventurer Success on the Grand Teton!

"Your bag isn't going to make it to Montana this evening." This was bad news as I was off to climb the Grand Teton with my brother Colin, who lived in Bozeman, Montana. My bag had all of the gear and food that I needed for the climb.
Caitlin O'Brien Caitlin O'Brien
August 17, 2016
Our Parks Adventurer Success on the Grand Teton!

My brother Colin and I had been planning to climb the Grand Teton in the "light and fast" style with the goal of completing the 12-pitch, 15-mile hike as fast as we could with light gear. No camping gear, no emergency bivy - just some food, enough gear, and a good idea of where we were supposed to go. My bag had all of the gear and food that I needed to climb, so this was not an ideal situation.


After 24 hours of delayed flights and missing bags, lots of borrowed gear and a quick trip to REI, we were on our way to the Grand. We arrived around 10pm to a parking lot buzzing with climbers getting ready to head out or just returning from their trip. We packed our bags carefully, making sure not to pack too much or too little. A snickers bar, gummi bears, meat snack, and a couple of Luna bars would be enough to carry me through the day. We did the old dirtbag trick of laying pads and sleeping bags in Colin's outback, and tried desperately to get a couple hours of sleep before our 1:30 am wake-up call.

A Hoot and Holler Start

Between excitement for the climb and anxiety about where my bag might actually be, I got about 30 minutes of quality sleep. As my alarm buzzed at 1am, I shot out of bed ready to throw on my pack and get started. The thing about the Tetons in general is that there are a lot of bears, and they are especially active at night. Right off the bat, armed with bear spray, Colin and I hooted and hollered to keep the bears at bay, a challenging task when you are sleep deprived.

Finding the Climb 

In our research for the climb, we read a lot about how route finding on the approach can be difficult. This was particularly nerve racking since neither of us had done the climb, or been in the area before, and the majority of the approach would be in the dark. By some strange miracle we floated through the boulder field, followed the boot trodden rocks, and found the trail in the moraine. As we approached the first pass, we could see the tiny headlights making their way up the gully towards the peak. It's both invigorating and disheartening to see how far you have to go.

We kept a steady pace, passing people as we made our way up the lower pass. When you reach the top of the pass, you hit 12,000 feet. This is where I really started sucking wind. It was the highest I had ever been, and my lack of sleep was really hurting. Each step felt twice as hard, and I had to stop every few feet to make sure I wasn't too dizzy. I was pretty nervous I was going to be too affected by the elevation to climb, but I just focused on where I was going and eventually started feeling better.

The summit

The first pitch of the upper exum is a pitch called Wall Street. It's a long ramp that finishes with an airy step around that you don't want to fall on. We choose to go unroped so we could hop ahead of a guided party. I looked at the step around, and had a thoughtful moment of, "I'm doing what now?" But the move was really easy, and there were lots of hidden hands and feet.

Then we were off! We simulclimbed the whole route, essentially running up the route. The climbing was fun and interesting, with a couple of more thoughtful moves when you aren't wearing climbing shoes.

We did it!

When we reached the top, we both guessed it was around noon. I checked my phone and it was only 9am! Even with me sucking wind we had made good time. We were both psyched about our successful route finding and climbing. After a good snack and rest we started our descent. First a quick rappel, then a  jog around the guided parties, and you are on your way.

The descent is always the hardest part for me. The excitement of the climb is over, and now that the sun had risen I could see exactly how far we had to go. Luckily, Colin and I are good at keeping each other entertained with songs and stories. With only 30 minutes of sleep we summitted in 8 hours. Car to car was only 12 hours and 30 mins! 

why it mattered

Climbing the Grand with Colin was a really special experience. Despite living in different states, we were able to research and plan to have a successful, safe, and fun climb. I'm forever grateful to my parents who instilled the love of the outdoors in us as kids. And I feel so lucky to have a strong bond with Colin that only grows stronger with each trip we go on.

OUR Parks | your adventure

My adventure for Our Parks | Your Adventure reminded me of how important it is to get kids outside so they can truly create a healthy relationship with the outdoors, and learn to take care of it. Thank you to all of the folks who donated to my OPYA adventure, and for helping get more kids outside!

you can still support the adventure!

Even though I've completed my challenge and fundraising goal, other adventurers are still working to reach their goals and could use your support. Make a donation of any size before August 24 and your donation will be matched dollar for dollar! 

Support Mountaineers Youth 

Click here for more details about our adventure-based peer-to-peer fundraising event, Our Parks | Your Adventure and learn how you can help us get more kids outside!

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Anita Elder
Anita Elder says:
Aug 17, 2016 08:50 AM

I loved ready your story and could picture each step you took. I have never done any climbing...the most I have ever done was a scramble over some shale at Pinnacle Mountain in Arkansas. But, I do love to hike and be outdoors. I used to take my kids camping and hiking all the time and I'm gratified to see my youngest son take his children camping and hiking.

Anita Elder
Anita Elder says:
Aug 17, 2016 08:50 AM

Ugh...that should say "reading your story..." I didn't have my first cup of coffee when I posted.