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Climbers overcome winter in the Tetons

January 27, 2004|Jordan Rane

Two teams of nearly frozen climbers made peak-bagging history in Grand Teton National Park last week, scoring the first winter ascent of the Grand Traverse, the park's showpiece climb of the Teton range's 10 principal summits. For years, the trail had stopped climbers cold during the winter months until a pair of climbing teams finally came out on top.

"It's been on the minds of alpinists around here for a while -- sort of the next great problem," said park climbing ranger Renny Jackson, who had made earlier attempts before going the distance with climbing partner Hans Johnstone.

"Some unbelievably quick times have been recorded during the summer, but in the winter you've got the extreme cold, the ice, and some pretty heavy packs."

Breaking trail around

3 a.m. on a Saturday, the two climbers were followed an hour later by local guides Mark Newcomb and Stephen Koch. The teams joined forces for a demanding leg between Mt. Owen and the crest of 13,770-foot Grand Teton before separating again. Battling through heavy storms, Newcomb and Koch reached the valley floor first on Monday, followed by Johnstone and Jackson the following evening. The "first" claim will likely be shared by all four climbers.

"I'm going to talk to those guys tonight to see what the feeling is," said Jackson. "It was definitely a joint effort to the Grand. But all of that's secondary to the experience, which was fantastic."

-- Jordan Rane

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