The Grand Picnic 
Thursday, July 26, 2018, 04:02 AM - Trips
Posted by Administrator
A crew of mountain bikers invited me up to Jackson Hole to ride for 5 days, but I thought it might be nice to mix up the adventures, so I asked the faceplace if anyone would be interested in climbing the Upper Exum. My friend Mike said he'd be down, and then asked if I would be into a picnic? I quickly replied, "I would die if I tried the picnic." But one's mind tends to wander, and after watching the following movie a couple times, I couldn't help but be sucked into the audacity of such an event: 22 mile bike, 1.3 mile open-water swim, and 10 mile hike with a 7500' climb to the top of Grand Teton. Then reversing the whole thing. I had to go from zero to fit in 3 weeks!

On July 20th, 2018 at 1:30am, after 3 hours of sleep, the alarm went off. Mike and I crawled out of Josiah and Briana's van--we slept there to avoid the revelry inside the condo. To our surprise the gang was still up and wished us whiskey-soaked well-wishes as we scarfed leftover spaghetti (Jay) and oatmeal (Mike). Then we loaded up the last of the gear and drove Mike's truck to the center of Jackson, WY. I insisted that we use bike racks/bags to haul gear because it would be much easier on our backs. We were easily towing 40 lbs of gear between the climbing equipment, clothes, wetsuits, food, and water but we managed to keep the weight on the bike frames through some combination of jerry-rigging and engineering prowess.

Our food supplies.

My bike setup.

We snapped a few photos at the antler arches in Jackson and at 2:26am, we rode north into the darkness. After a block and a half, Mike's bike light strap popped off his bike and skittered across the empty street. The handlebars were too large for the design so he held the light the remainder of the ride in one hand. Within 1/2 hour my bike light faded to a useless glow so we rode side-by-side on the road. There were only a couple cars at this hour so we preferred the wide road over the bike path. I was able to catch enough second-hand light in the moonless night to estimate the lanes. By the time we passed the Jackson Airport, Mike said he had a emergency dump on deck. We worked our way to the Visitor Center in Moose, but the restrooms were locked. Not knowing the area well, we continued until the Jenny Lake Campground, where Mike noisily relieved himself. I insisted we try the bike trail along the campground because it appeared on my Gaia map and I didn't want to backtrack. Fortunately, it worked out and we quickly reached the Jenny Lake Overlook.

My feet were absolutely freezing in the 45 degree night. The bike had chilled me significantly and the idea of getting into a snow-fed lake seemed profoundly asinine. I was stoked to have the first leg of the trip completed but Jenny Lake looked beautiful, vast, and intimidating. It was amazing seeing the Tetons silhouetted on the horizon and Mars reflecting off the small ripples. I proudly announced, "Look at how big Mars is Mike! It's the closest it's been to the US since like the 1990s." He replied, "The closest to the US, eh?" "Shut up, I might be a little tired, alright."

I took the lion's share on the bike in exchange for Mike swimming the gear across Jenny Lake (playing to both our strengths). He had purchased a small Ozark Trail inflatable cooler holder from Walmart for $4. Upon inflation, we both admired it's seeming inadequacy. We stashed our bikes in the forest to the north of the parking area and hoped they would be there when we returned, and then hiked down the steep embankment to the rocky shore. We tossed our shoes, gloves, hats, and lights into the dry bag and then wrapped the gear into a semi-buoyant mass with 40' of 7mm dynamic. I brought an ice climbing axe leash to act as a bungee in the line; by inserting this in a bight of the rope between the raft and Mike with a couple alpine butterflies, he could swim more smoothly. I helped push our gear out to sea as Mike and I worked our frozen feet over the rough rocks until it was deep enough to start swimming. It was 5:00am.

Without the moon, it was really, really dark, but the stars were spectacular. We aimed for the notch in the mountains where we thought the dock was. I alternated breast, free, and back as I worked across the bottomless abyss. While I backstroked away from shore, I tried to memorize the patterns of trees in case we were going to return in the dark. Even with the gear in tow, Mike was a powerful swimmer and I had to swim free to keep up with him. Fortunately the peanut butter-honey-banana bagel sandwiches and donut we had at the transition provided ample fuel. I figured it would take us about an hour to cross the lake, so every few minutes I hit the light on my watch to see our hypothetical progress. The time ticked by and we had extensive disagreements about who was off course. "Jay, are you trying to make this a 2 mile swim?!" "No, you're the one that's drifting with the current because of the floaty!" In the end, we both ended up at the dock at the same time - ~50 minutes after entering the lake. I pulled out a phone and made Mike go back to get some sunrise photos.

We stripped naked on the dock and changed into our hiking gear. A family of ducks happily paddled through the mirror-like sunrise reflection. Mike stashed the water equipment in the forest to the south and we topped off water bottles. We started the hike, but quickly discovered that the normal Jenny Lake Trail along the lake was closed and we'd have to take Moose Trail, which added nearly an extra 500' of climbing (each way!). It was painful to start, but we scored nice photo in the process.

At Lupine Meadows Trailhead, we completed a heavy round of restroom use and began the ascent in earnest. The Garnet Canyon Trail climbed quickly through a series of switchbacks above Bradley and Taggart Lakes. The wildflowers were gorgeous in the morning light and we tried to not to become too discouraged by groups passing us.

We made our way into Garnet Canyon and worked our way through the early boulder fields. When we had the opportunity to transition to the snow, I happily took it. After a while, I looked at Mike and said, "Are we heading left of this headwall and going for this peak? Because it really looks like we should have gone right of the waterfall back there," pointing to Spalding Falls. We pulled out the phones. Yep, we managed to miss the trail and were aiming for the Middle Teton, despite reading the route description multiple times each. Backtrack or push on? We decided to climb Meadows Headwall which consisted of hundreds of feet of loose scree and then work across the North Fork through boulders and snow. It was a critical error because it burned a lot of our strength and was mentally draining. But we continued in style.

After another stretch of rockfield meandering we arrived at the fixed line. It was an easy way to reach the lower saddle, but as opposed to cutting left at the top of the wall, we tried to save distance and work right which led us into another steep stretch of exhausting scree climbing. At the top, I was completely cooked. I filled up water at the creek so I was good, but Mike needed to head back to the saddle to refill his camelbak. This was the critical break I needed to eat a bacon-cold cut-swiss bagel and recharge. Bacon in the backcountry is magically stuff. Even if you don't feel hungry, there's something about the fatty taste that compels your body eagerly put it down. Sheltered from the chilly winds behind a boulder in my rain jacket, I could feel some strength returning. There was still ~2500 feet of technical climbing above us, but the weather was perfect, and we'd come so far already. We had to give it a go.

At the Needle, I ditched the trekking poles and Mike left his ice ax. From here, things got more exciting. We worked up the Chockstone Chimney, through the Eye of the Needle, and pulled the exposed "Belly Roll Almost". The moves weren't particularly difficult but there was enough exposure to give me pause. Mike, who's done big wall climbing in Yosemite and free soloed a number of moderate routes in the Sandias, didn't seem to think twice at anything the OS threw at him. It's nice to have someone with so much confidence on your picnicking team.

My normal hiking shoes lost their sole on a trip up Oxford and Belford a couple weeks ago so I pitched them and revert to an even older set of bald Cascadias with sizable holes in the front mesh. Mike said bald tread would be a recipe for my demise. My La Sportiva approach shoes were too heavy and my attempt to pick up light trail runners gave me arch pain so, at the last opportunity, I got a new set of Brooks Cascadias. Mike was right about the safety issues without tread, but it meant I was doing the Picnic with shoes I owned for 36 hours. Not a great plan but aside from a few hot spots, they performed admirably, especially on the steeper rock up high.

We continued to pull bigger-than-necessary moves up the Central Rib and every couple of moves I'd have to stop to catch my breath. The altitude was less an issue than pure exhaustion of 10 hours of exercise. At the upper saddle, we took at food break and watched dozens of butterflies blowing across the saddle. That was unexpected. It was 12:30pm and another group was rapping off the top. There actually were quite a few (maybe 6) guided teams on the way up and down the OS while we were there. We expected company but were happy that they weren't in our way and we could move at our own pace. At this point, we put on harnesses and pulled out our 7mm dynamic line. It looked like floss, but was rated to 12.4 kN so it would hold a fall (if it wasn't cut with a swing). We only brought it mostly to just give me the mental security to make the moves comfortably. We examined the bellyroll - easy but exposed. Mike made the moves while I fed rope behind the rock in case of a slip. He tossed all the pro we brought (a couple nuts) into a crack on the other side, and I made the move. No big deal. Then Mike shimmied through the crawl and I followed him. Standing on the block below the 2nd entrance to the Double Chimney, Mike climbed up and slung a flake. I was puckered as he made the slabby move since we were tied together without any pro. He assured me, "I never fall," which is usually the part of the movie where nothing happens. I used the hand crack and worked up the 2nd entrance. We ditched the rope there for the remainder of the climb and worked up the icy Own Chimney. This didn't feel as exposed, but realistically was probably just as dangerous. We climbed the main route up Sargent's Chimney and scrambled to the summit. What a feeling of accomplishment that was! It was time to picnic! We pulled out four slices of pizza and snapped photos of the stunning national park. I could see much of the Teton Crest Trail and my parents and I completed back in Sept 2008, Teewinot, Jackson Lake, the Middle Teton, and a picturesque snowy alpine landscape stretched around us. We were at the half way point.

The way down was exciting. We stuck with the Main Sargent's Chimney because we didn't really know where the hidden exit was. As I made the down-climbing crux move, I noted to another climber repelling next to me that this was, "a little spicy," and he responded, "Uh, yeah, that looks crazy." I refused to rap to follow the strict ICEHAMA rules. Mike and I did bring ATCs in case we needed to bail and assumed (correctly) that there would be other groups around. We took the catwalk back to the bottom of Owen Chimney. The bottom of the Chimney was very icy, and I used a hold on the ice to make one of the final moves. It blew and scared the crap out of me. A few deep breaths later, we continued down the Double Chimney, and then reversed the roped work to reach the upper saddle. It felt good to be past the most exposed portions of the route, but we still had to carefully work our way back to the lower saddle. At this point spirits were high because we knew we had The Picnic in the bag. We just had to keep our nutrition in check and avoid cramming too much. We carefully descended the dry Owen-Spalding Couloir, through the eye-of-the-needle and back to the lower saddle. I was disappointed they didn't have a bathroom in camp, but we filled water and worked our way to the top of the snowfield to climbers left of the fixed lines.

I was very interested in saving myself as much down-climbing as possible, even if that was only 200'. We slipped into our trashbags and contemplated glissading down the steep face. The run-out was good but there were quite a few small rocks in the snow at the bottom. I should have collapsed my trekking poles to use as an ax and put on yaktraks - but I did neither. I was tired and lazy. As I was getting into the starting position, I lost my footing. At first I flipped face down and dug in, but then said to myself, "fuck it, let's do this" and rolled back over and used my feet, hands, and poles to steer - trash bag flapping around on my lower limbs. The body orientation and direction were good, but velocity greater than desired. I careened into the water runoff wavelets at the bottom and went airborne a few times. I lost my hat and sunglasses on one of the ramps. I dug in harder and came to a stop safe at the bottom with frosted arms and hands. "Woohooo!" I yelled up to Mike. A couple climbers on the trail yelled over that that was the best glissade they had ever seen, and said, "you were flying!" Indeed. Mike took his time to put on a jacket and gloves, and using the ice ax did a much better job of controlling his descent, until the bumps where he got tossed around too. That was certainly not a great idea, but it does make for a good story.

Down, down, down we hiked and scrambled. It was Friday and we watched as many climbing parties worked their was to various base camps. I did my best to use the trekking poles to shield my knees from impact, but my right knee slowly grew more sore. It was an absolute relief when we finally cleared the last of the boulderfields and would walk with a normal stride and minimized impact. On one of the switchbacks a deer was casually eating. Further down, Mike scared a small bear off the trail. Luckily, Mom wasn't around. The miles did not slide by quickly but we slowly brought the valley to foot-level. At the Lupine Meadows Trailhead many people seemed happy to have their hikes over, but we knew we had hours to go.

I was very interested in completing the swim before dark so we could avoid the navigational issues from the morning. We hiked fast and reclimbed the hill on Moose Trail. It hurt. We were tired. And then the mosquitoes came out. They were everywhere. We reached the boat dock at 8:00pm -- about 1 hour of light left. Once we found our aquateering equipment in the forest, we quickly changed into our wetsuits to keep the mosquitoes from eating us alive. A hiker, showed up and yelled, "what are you guys doing?!" I answered, "It's a lovely evening for a swim, don't you think?" Mike stepped in and described The Picnic. They guy called us crazy and I dove into the icy water. Ironically, in the evening, the snow/ice melt decreased the water temperature significantly on the West side of the lake so it was frigid. I thought it might actually be good for icing my knee.

We swam and swam and swam but the far shore didn't seem to be getting any closely. I would put my head down and swim freestlye with regular bearing checks, but the far side remained depressingly distant. It was starting to get pretty dark too, but we could see the rocky hillside below the parking lot. Eventually, we completed the 2nd swim and dragged ourselves across the rocks to shore. A surprised couple lounged in a hammock and watched us crawl onto a boulder. Then we noticed we were in front of their time lapsing iPhone. Oops. We pulled our shoes out of the drybag and walked up the hill to our bikes.

It took a long time to change back into dry clothes and rig the bikes. The decision was made to deflate our Walmart inflatable via ice ax. It gave a gratifying "pffff" when Mike stabbed it into a pile of cheap Chinese plastic. (Per the ICEHAMA rules, we did bike this back to town in order to start and stop the trip with the same equipment.)

It was extremely dark by this point. I had half a wrap that I scarfed down to fuel the return. We biked with our dim headlamps down to Moose. Traffic was heavy but we still stuck to the road because it was flatter and more predictable (even if the drivers weren't). Winds were calm so the riding wasn't terrible. It was great to be on the final stretch, but the car lights were blinding. I was happy I was wearing a baseball hat under my helmet so that I could shield my eyes. Mike wasn't as lucky. Toward the airport, someone slowed down and yelled at us to get on the bike path, so we finally transitioned over. It was harder riding, but nice to be separated from traffic. We could see the glow from Jackson, but it didn't seem to be getting closer. My knee ached like hell. We kept spinning. On the dark ride down to Flat Creek, the cars were blinding and it was a challenge to track the path. A couple days ago I joked to my friends that I was conducting an experiment; the experiment was to see if a 30-something with a beer-gut and a desk job can keep up with a ripped super-human who lives at the climbing gym and wakes up before 5am to interval hill sprints. I was thrilled to be leading the charge into Jackson. I held my own all day and I was proud of myself. We eventually reached the city limits and climbed the small hill to the square at 11:23pm. Mike and I hugged, stopped our Stravas, and sat down at the NW antler arch. The glowing screen reported 69 miles and 9860' of climbing. We had just finished the Grand Picnic! After convincing a scared tourist couple to snap a photo of us, Mike looked at me, "Do you remember where we parked?" I said, "Yeah, a couple blocks that way. You don't remember?" "It's been a long day."

We drove back to the condo, cracked a couple beers, showered, and fell asleep comfortable in the knowledge that no one else in Jackson had a bigger day than us.

0225 Start Time: [Elapsed: 0]
0410 Bike: 1h45min [Elapsed: 1:45]
0455 Transition: 45min [Elapsed: 2:30]
0545 Swim: 50min [Elapsed: 3:20]
0620 Transition: 35min [Elapsed: 3:55]
1047 -- Fixed Line [Elapsed: 8:22]
1237 -- Upper Saddle [Elapsed: 10:12]
1340 Total Hike to Summit: 7h20min [Elapsed: 11:15]
1400 Summit Break: 20min [Elapsed: 11:35]
1440 -- Upper Saddle [Elapsed: 12:15]
1555 -- Glissading past fixed line [Elapsed: 13:30]
2000 Total Descent: 6h [Elapsed: 17:35]
2020 Transition: 20min [Elapsed: 17:55]
2115 Swim: 55min [Elapsed: 18:50]
2155 Transition: 40min [Elapsed: 19:30]
2323 Bike: 1h28min [Elapsed: 20:58]
GPX link

Note: while I enjoy joking about our mishaps and challenges, The Picnic is a very serious undertaking that will stress any person physically and mentally. I have been volunteering with mountain rescue for nearly a decade; I have multiple triathlons and quadrathlons under my belt; I swam competitively for 9 years as a kid; and I can easily draw on a wealth of trad climbing and winter mountaineering experiences. I'd strongly recommend a comparable resume before even thinking about the Grand Picnic. It's a dangerous and exhausting outing. Be careful out there.
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