8 Days a Week by Eric Engberg

Photo by Zeb Engberg

Photo by Zeb Engberg

Most parents that climb have thoughts – usually more fantasies than real hopes – of how great it would be to share climbing adventures with their kids. The daydreams start out with thoughts of teaching the kids and sharing some nice times. Being real partners. Sometimes the fantasizing progresses to the point where you start imagining – “what if my kid got so good they could rope gun for me?  - wouldn’t that be great?” Well sometimes daydreams do come true and I’m here to warn you to be ready when they do.

My son, Zeb, (age 29 at the time of this account) and I have been hiking and climbing together his whole life. We started out with basic hikes but soon progressed to more climbing-focused activities. We had the predictable adventures at Rumney, Acadia, the Gunks, Cannon, Cathedral, etc. But it seemed that our most memorable adventures were in the Grand Tetons. Starting with a simple climb of the Grand but proceeding to things like the East Ridge and Cathedral Traverse (which I wrote about in a previous Crux). Those trips spread out over 10+ years highlighted the inevitable leader/follower role reversal in our dynamic. It became all I could do to try and follow Zeb without too much help from him.  Somethings are better left as memories but I wanted one more Teton adventure with Zeb and he agreed that it would be a good idea before I got “too old” – I don’t think we made that deadline….

We agreed that early August would be a good time to meet up. I would only get a week’s vacation but Zeb and Emma, his girlfriend, had the summer off from teaching and would drive up from their home in Utah and bring a lot of the necessities – I was just supposed to bring myself.  AND get in shape…

Training commenced. Zeb and Emma went to Yosemite – climbed El Cap a few times. I went to MetroRock. Zeb went to the Sierras – soloed the 3rd pillar of Dana.  Zeb and Emma went to Zion and did some long routes.  I went to the Meadows at Rumney.  Zeb ran up some high peaks in the Wasatch.  I hiked the Beehive in Acadia.  Zeb and Emma went to the Tetons 10 days early and did the Grand a few times and the Grand Traverse.  I went for a walk on the beach….

But the time for action inevitably came and I headed west. Exactly what we were going to do would depend on the weather and the conditions. We had established a pattern from past trips. A few warm up days in Lander followed by a couple of “getting used to it” days in the Tetons followed by “something big.” There were several possibilities for something big but what we had talked about the most – for years actually – was the North Face of the Grand – one of the venerable “50 Classics.”

Some  background (from Mountain Project):

"The north face of the Grand Teton is one of the most compelling alpine climbing objectives in the US, second in my estimation only to the Diamond of Longs Peak. The view of it from the top of Teewinot elicits an 'I must climb that reaction.' The historical importance of this face which Ortenburger calls the 'most famous in the US' and surrounding lore only add to the appeal. While the moderate nature of the climbing and generally high quality of the rock belie the Eiger like implications of the north face designation, the approach to the face is arduous and/or hairy enough to impart the undertaking some suitable gravitas."

Because of my limited time and absolutely perfect weather, my ideal somewhat leisurely schedule got aggressively compressed/accelerated. Here is what happened. It was a whirlwind, non-stop trip with perfect weather each day - too good to waste on a rest day.  Except at my age I need rest days. And time to get acclimated. Plus I was trying to keep up with Zeb and Emma who are less then 1/2 my age, in the prime of their lives and just completing 2-1/2 months of non stop climbing/mountaineering.  I did not keep up...

Here is the rundown:

8/5 - fly to SLC

8/6 - drive to Lander and meet Zeb and Emma. Did a few routes in Sinks canyon - 13's for Zeb, 12's for Emma and 10's for me. Ate at my favorite place in the universe - patio at Lander Bar.

8/7 - climbed at Wild Iris.  Similar grades for the 3 of us. Highlight for me was reclimbing "The Devil Wore Spurs" (10d). I have climbed it a few times before but wasn't sure I still could.  Drove to the Tetons that night and slept out on BLM land - I was cold and didn't sleep much.

8/8 - Should have been a rest day but it was too nice.  In an attempt to "get daddy acclimated" we tried to climb at a "new" area - Rock Springs Buttress - outside the park at the ski area.  At ~9K feet.  You can ride up the tram from the base at 6K but we chose to walk (partly for conditioning but mostly because the tickets were $42). We blew the approach - getting lost in a maze of ski and mountain bike trails - including bushwacking up a very steep bushy ski trail for a mile.  We ended up at 9500 feet above the climbing. Tough scrambling back to the base. We got there about 1PM. We were only going to do a 4-pitch sport route which would have been fast but the kids decided I needed rest (in retrospect we should have done it and then I should have taken a full rest day the next day). We found a very nice/correct trail on the way out. I'd love to go back. I stayed in a cabin at the American Alpine Climbers' Ranch that night (the kids stayed in their tricked-out Sprinter van at the Lupine Meadows trail head). I should have had a decent night’s sleep - in bed by 9 - but people were coming/going until 11pm plus I was nervous.

8/9 - the BIG day. Up at 3:15am and drove the 15 minutes to Lupine Meadows. Coffee, bagel and on the trail before 4am. I carried helmet, harness, ax, crampons and clothes. But the kids carried all the climbing gear plus food and water so my load was light. I did ok up to the end of the real trail at 10k feet - it was about 10k feet where the work started. We had to approach the Teton glacier up a mile of very tedious terrain. There were several huge (3-400 feet high) morraines that you needed to get up and over - no trail and very loose rock (some huge ones) and gravel. The kids were like mountain goats - I was not. Finally got to the glacier and out on crampons. That was easy for 1/2 a mile or so. Then it steepened and got very crevassed. Zeb wove his way through including some sketchy snow bridges. Emma's leg punched through once. Finally we got past the crevasses and across the bergshrund (final big crevasse between the glacier and the rock) and roped up at last. This is about 11k feet.

Photo by zeb engberg

Photo by zeb engberg

photo by zeb engberg

photo by zeb engberg

Zeb lead on a 70m rope folded in 1/2 so Emma and I followed on separate strands at the same time. A lot of simul climbing. The kids went fast and knocked down very few rocks. I went slow and knocked down lots of rocks. It's really hard to know when you are on route or how many real pitches we did. We did find occasional fixed pitons and other gear plus some unmistakable landmarks - ledges etc. The weather was perfect - I was just in a t-shirt until 13K feet (poor little Emma was cold though as she was being forced - by me - to go so slow).  The real business started at 13K feet - you can escape around the side and bypass the summit but to get full credit you need to do the "Pendulum" pitch and the "V groove). Both rated 5.8 (when dry - the pendulum pitch was NOT dry). I had dreamed about those pitches for decades. Zeb lead them easily, Emma followed easily. I followed... But I did get them both cleanly without pulling on any gear (I had pulled on a lot of gear at other places but was determined to do a "good job" on those pitches).

We got to the summit ~5:30. The kids probably could have made it out to the car in daylight - 3 hours. Not me. I was really feeling the altitude. It ultimately took me 6+ hours although I perked up a little when I got below 11K feet. Not much more to say - long plod. Very similar to what I had done with my climbing friend, Sharlene, 5 years ago.

8/10 - I woke up (odds were 50/50 on that happening). Zeb made me pancakes. We drove to City of Rocks (Idaho). I wanted to climb at a "new" area - Castle Rock State Park which is contiguous with the City. We pulled in at ~4PM.  Emma went for a 2 hour run (remember this is "the day after"). I backed off a 5.9. Zeb lead it and I followed. Then I redeemed my self by leading a 10a (it was really soft) which Zeb hung the draws on for me. Then I said no more.

8/11- climbed at the City. Zeb just wanted to do "easy classics" = 5.11 crack climbs. Even Emma admitted to being a little tired. I followed a couple of things including a bolted sport climb - She's the Bosch. 11c. That had been one of my best onsight leads 20 years ago. Now I hung once seconding it (but I blame Zeb for giving me bad beta where I fell - when Emma followed she went another way which I had considered - she and I climb more alike then Zeb). Later in the day Zeb lead Crack of Doom - sandbagged 11+ with sketchy gear - another classic on every hard climber's list. He actually had to work some for that although Emma followed it easily. I didn't bother trying. That night we drove back the 5 hours to the kids' house in Utah.

8/12 - went to Maple Valley which I have been anxious to do for years. It's a sport area that is pretty extensive (bigger then Rumney) and a 20 minute drive from their house. We did 5-6 routes that Zeb had hand picked for me - all pretty soft - I flashed an 11a without too much problem - a 10b we did earlier that wasn't on Zeb's list was harder. The whole time Zeb was giving me a running commentary about all the routes and what he had done. It's an ice climbing venue too so he could recount his adventures doing that plus skiing down the icy road in winter - he says that it's easy but admits Emma walks down with crampons. Emma left to make an elaborate supper. Zeb took me up a 4-pitch adventure climb. Three pitches of 10c then an easy pitch. First 2 pitches were moss then a pitch of mud. Amazing that it didn't fall apart - but the 10c parts were actually fun. My contribution was that I found an easier walk off then Zeb and Emma had found a few months earlier.

8/13 - went to Maple in the AM.  Zeb did a 13, Emma did a 12. I 1-hung an 11 and flashed a 10 - the usual story. Then in the afternoon we hiked up Mt Nebo. The highest mountain - 11,928 - in Wasatch County. Zeb and Emma had taken Sage (my youngest hiker daughter) up it a couple of times and she said it is a big adventure. You take a very nice trail for 3 miles and then you have about a mile of class 2/3 ridge over a false summit to the real summit. I felt much better above 11k feet then on the Grand. We did the round trip in about 4-1/2 hours (the kids would have run it in 1/2 that time). Fun. Then the red eye home.

So the dream came true. Be warned.