This photo captures a moment. A moment on this climb, when things were just about to get real. We just made the lower saddle at sunrise, took a quick break, and were moving up the ridge towards the Black Dike picture in the middle of the frame. In all the research and beta I could find, most notably on Wyoming Whiskey’s page which outlines, in detail, all the route options up the Grand, there was no mention of how difficult this section would be. A 1,544′ scramble separates the upper saddle from the lower saddle, in just over a half-mile. And to be honest, I just realized that when I wrote this out. I knew it was going to be steep, but I had no idea it would be this steep… and difficult for the matter.
The trail wasn’t obvious, but in the alpine, not much of your trace is left behind. The rocks are too big to break down and leave some nice, navigable path up the slope. So you resort to following a general path up the rocks. In the route photos we had saved on our phones, the Needle never looked this big. All of the descriptions were simple. Head up passed the Black Dike, around the left of the Needle, and up one of the obvious ribs towards the Upper Saddle. Except, no one ever mentioned how much scrambling and technique would be required to get up this part. The Needle, by the way, is the giant rock in the center of the photo, with The Grand Teton being in the upper right of the photo. All of this to say, the “quick hike” around the needle turned into an absolute slog.
At this point when I shot the photo, I was just starting to feel the effects of altitude. For reference, I live at around 6,500′ in Park City, and most of our peaks cap at between 10-11K in elevation. We were now entering the lower 12,000′ of elevation and my heart was beating. 10 steps and I’d have to stop. Sure, you can push through it, but I was fearing that I’d push passed my threshold too soon and fill my legs with lactic acid, rendering them useless for the rest of the climb. And that was a chance I was not willing to risk, for there was so much unknowns beyond the Needle.
In taking this photo, I wanted to make sure I got the scale of everything in front of me. Mike was in a perfect spot to show some of the boulders we had to travel around and over. Kyle was in a great position uphill to show the scale of the Black Dike relative to the climbing party ahead of us in the red jacket just on the other side of the Dike. The Needle never looked bigger to me, and just over its shoulder stood the Grand itself in all her beauty. I can just feel my short breath I had when looking at this photo.
The funny part is that this photo was taken somewhere between hour 4.5-5.5. We still had 15 hours to go from this point. But none of us knew that just yet.