By Adam Wirth
Photographs by Todd Meier
Thank you to everyone sending all positive comments after my #GrandTetonTriathlon or also known as the #Picnic. I have had a lot questions about this adventure and in @brodyleven style I will try to tell the story over the next few days through pictures. I was very lucky to have @tmeierphoto on hand to take these wonderful ?. The #GTT was created by David Gonzales @treefighter and it is one of the hardest things I have ever done. There is no registration, no awards ceremony and no prize money; it is simply you and these wonderful mountains. The purist form is to start with all your gear and haul it on the bike and swim; thus the reason for the large pack. It was certainly a challenging day with less than ideal conditions on the Owen-Spalding route and brutal South winds for the return swim and ride and I was very happy to get it in this late in the season.
I started on my bike from the town of Jackson at 5:36am and rode 22 miles here to the shore of Jenny Lake as I prepared to swim 1.3 miles across towing my gear in this orange dry bag. In all my years racing @xterraoffroad I was never a great swimmer but I have a good deal of experience in the open water and I was ready to tackle the challenge of swimming across this amazing lake. The towing of the dry bag went remarkably well; I rigged it with a piece of accessory cord and a small bungie to absorb weighting and unweighting the bag as I towed it along. We had an amazing combination of light and clouds and I stopped in the middle of the lake to look up and see the amazing morning Alpenglow on the peaks surrounding Cascade canyon.
Across Jenny Lake I went in the morning Alpenglow during the second leg of the #GrandTetonTriathlon I was never a fan of pool swimming and it was simply a necessary evil associated with triathlon training. I do however really enjoy open water swimming. There is something exhilarating about looking down into that dark bottomless water and wondering what lays beneath. Towing my dry bag I crossed this amazing lake taking several opportunities to enjoy the morning light on Cascade Canyon and the surrounding peaks. 1.3 miles is just over a half ironman swim and my plan was to just pace myself smooth and steady to the other side. This was going to be a big day and I knew I needed to manage my effort accordingly.
It is amazing how small these mountains make you feel and the run leg of the #GrandTetonTriathlon gives you plenty of time to take in the landscape. From the West side of Jenny Lake I took my wetsuit off and pulled out my running apparel from my dry bag. I brought two cokes from town and across the lake with me. After getting dressed and stashing my wetsuit I drank one of the cokes (stashing the other for later) and took in a good amount of calories. I wanted to move quickly but this is the #Picnic so it seems fitting to be eating regularly. The lake shore trail is approximately 3 miles of rolling terrain before you reach the Lupine Meadows trailhead and where many climbers and hikers access Garnet Canyon and the Grand Teton. From Lupine Meadows one has 7 miles and over 7,000 feet of elevation to the summit of the Grand. I hit “shuffle all” on my music library and just embraced the upward motion.
The riding, swimming and trail running aspects of the #GTT are no different than many mountain multisport sport events around the world but what makes this adventure different is the turn around point is on the summit of the #13775 foot Grand Teton. Climbing the Grand involves routes ranging from a rating of 5.4 to 5.12 and a variety of different approaches. Because I wanted to be as light and quick as possible I planned to solo without a rope or gear. I have always said in Jackson you should be very careful when asking about how challenging something is because the answer can vary wildly based on who you are talking with. The Jackson valley is filled with so many badass mountaineers and you are likely to hear folks saying soloing the Owen Spalding route is a walk in the park. I personally have huge respect for this route and while I don’t have a problem soloing it without a rope (in the correct conditions) it is not something to take lightly; in the end it is rated as class 5 climbing with big exposure and people have died on this route. Three weeks prior to my attempt I asked friend and in my opinion one of those Jackson badass mountaineers, Brady Johnston, to run up and down the Grand in preparation for my #Picnic attempt. We had a great day and while I would be going for an unsupported attempt at the GTT, I thought it would be really smart to have Brady on that Teton with me. This would be at the mid-way point of the effort and having a trusted friend to watch after you, look you in the eyes to make sure you are ok and talk with you was critical; he agreed and our plan was to meet up on the trail up the mountain (besides, I don’t think @kellieewirth or anyone in my family would have let me do it alone). I ran into Brady just as I entered the Moraine and having him there to talk with was a definite boost to my moral. This shot along with several others came off of the #GoPro I was carrying. @tmeierphoto has been so money to assist with pulling some still images from the video so I thank him for his professional help.
Here is the man himself, Brady Johnston, as we near the summit of the Grand. The previous week had provided dry and warm conditions but as I lay in my bed the night before my #Picnic effort a fast moving thunderstorm ripped through the surrounding Jackson area. It didn’t appear that there was a ton of moisture with the storm but because the Owen Spalding route faces West with little or no daily sunlight in spots, any moisture could produce conditions too dangerous for a solo attempt. I had no problems with turning around at any point and Brady and I’s mantra as we moved upward from the the Lower Saddle was let’s keep it very casual and one step at a time. At around 12,500 feet we began to see a small amount of snow and graupel filling cracks and crevasses. The good news was it wasn’t very much and the surrounding rock was completely dry. One step at a time and keep it casual! We reached the Upper Saddle and there was more snow but still only localized to cracks and the rest was dry rock. We were almost at 13,000 feet and it was really cold; I was thanking the decision to throw in a pair of long johns, gloves, a hat and a thicker jacket. We moved through the very exposed belly roll and crawl section quickly and saw some ice in the Double Chimney but it wasn’t affecting the climbing and there was plenty of dry rock to work with. The Catwalk traverse was the visual crux of the day with patches of snow across the skinny ledge; we were finding the snow we did have to walk through were very good and that perfect plastic grippy snow. There was also very little ice and the surrounding rock was dry. I never felt beyond my limit but we took it slow and completely focused. I mentioned this before but having Brady there was huge; he was constantly talking with me and encouraging me. I recognize 5.4 is not that difficult of climbing but after biking, swimming and running/hiking to this point and without a rope, there is no way I would attempt the #GrandTetonTriathlon without a safety friend through the O.S. route. Out of the frigid West face of the mountain brought us to here and the spectacular view of the surrounding range. In most of the races I have done that involve an out and back, there is usually a volunteer or at least a cone or an arrow signifying you are half way and must turn around. Not in the #GrandTetonTriathlon but it is pretty self explanatory given there is no where else to go except back down. From the antler arches in the town square to Jenny Lake, then across Jenny Lake and to the summit 5 hours 58 minutes. I was feeling pretty good but there was no time for hanging out; a good percentage of climbing accidents happen on the way down and we still had to down-climb the less than ideal conditions of the Owen Spalding and a total of more than 7,500 feet of downhill back to the lake. Time to #GTFOH and put a stamp on the second half of this so called #Picnic you guys. Photo credit goes to Brady Johnston with @tmeierphoto bringing it to life from the #GoPro #highestmaninalltheland
Tired and pretty gripped after down-climbing through full conditions, I had no shame bellying through the crawl section. The thousand foot drop to the right on this ledge section really gets your attention. The exposure is exhilarating and it calls for all your focus when moving through this and the belly roll. We captured a lot of video from the day and @tmeierphoto has been working up a full length motion picture that will probably show at Banff, Sundance, Cannes or some other super sweet film festival that highlights #highalpineaquateering or we might just put it on YouTube. #GoPro #GTNP #GrandTetonTriathlon #Picnic @envecomposites @itsyoursole @smithoptics @theadrenalinproject @treefighter @jacksonhole
After 20 miles and 7,500 feet of elevation gain/loss I was ready to be done with being on my feet; I couldn’t believe it but I was actually excited to get into the water. When I reached the West boat dock there was the typical line of people waiting to take the boat across. This morning, it was calm and quiet, but now it was buzzing with people and they looked on in confusion as I transitioned to my swim gear. I towed a coke in my dry bag this morning for just this very moment and I drank it down in front of these people as if I had been in the desert for days without water #top3cokeofalltime The wind was blowing a solid 15ish from the South and Jenny Lake wasn’t angry but it looked plenty rough and these people getting ready to board the quick 10 minute boat ride across the lake couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t just pay the $11 to get shuttled across. One guy asked if I was training for an Ironman; I said “something like that.” With my dry bag attached I jumped into the lake and set off. It was a combination of calm dark conditions below the surface and rocking waves above. I started to swim straight across the lake but with the Southerly cross wind, I found I was getting pushed too far left. I then had to tack slightly into the wind to be able to hold my line. I told myself the longer you are in this lake, the longer you’re in this lake so get this s-h-i-t over with as quickly as possible. I wasn’t swimming fast by any means but I just tried to stay consistent and I didn’t feel too bad. The waves were big enough so that my body would end up on one side and the dry bag would be on the other side causing this slight tug backwards every few seconds. I just kept moving and the opposite shore begun to get closer. When you see the bottom you start to be excited for this thing to be over but it was only temporary because then fear sets in as you wonder if your legs will work again when you try to stand up. ? @tmeierphoto catching the moment as I took a couple seconds to get my feet set on the slippery rocks. Just 21 miles of windy riding before we can put this one to bed.
Just 21 miles left to get this thing done. They say in Seattle if you are going to do things outdoors then get use to doing things in the rain. The same goes for the wind in Wyoming and I had a full on headwind for my ride back to the town square. My legs weren’t feeling too bad and I loaded up my gear and set off. The first 30 minutes was ok but a soaked wetsuit is heavier than you would think and the shoulder, neck and back pain really started to grab my attention. The wind only made things more aggravating but I knew going into this there would be wind in the afternoon and I had ridden in stronger headwinds so you just knuckle down and get it done. Riding past the Grand took my mind off the wind and the angry toddler I had inside this pack; it was surreal to think I had been up there just a few hours ago. ? @tmeierphoto
The Antler Arches in the Jackson Town Square were built in the 50’s and 60’s. Over the years the Rotary Club and the Boy Scouts collect shed antlers on the National Elk Refuge to replenish and repair the arches. The arches not only serve serve as a popular spot for visitors taking photos but they also act as the start and finish line for the #grandtetontriathlon To paraphrase Johnny Cash, I tell ya, I’ve have had tougher days but I can’t remember when. I sat dazed and exhausted but happy to have made it. In all, it was 2:10 of biking; 1:21 of swimming; 7:15 of running/climbing and 39 minutes of transition time for a total time of 11 hours 27 minutes Town Square to Town Square. Because I am a crazy person, I am already thinking about how to go faster next year. ? @tmeierphoto #Picnic #GTT #finished
I do have a few questions for the #ICEHAA (International Committee for Extreme High Alpine Aquateering) and @treefighter I would like to consider this a self supported effort especially since I lugged all that sheet from town, across the lake and back but there are some potential infractions that I would like the committee to rule on. 1. I had my friends @tmeierphoto @albertsonbj and Brady Johnston as my handlers/safety crew throughout the day make sure I was safe. 2. With Todd and BJ driving I stashed my bike and riding stuff inside their vehicle versus locking my bike up. 3. The OS was very snowy and we soloed the route but a very nice group of climbers put in a fixed rope where the Catwalk and Owen Chimney meet and I grabbed on for a short distance (very helpful in #fullvalue conditions). 4. When we reached the Upper Saddle on the way down I was out of water and Brady and I found a 1/4 drank 32 Oz bottle of Gatorade Frost. I assumed it was trail booty and Brady and I drank just about the entire thing. We left about 1/4 just case someone had stashed it. Please provide a ruling on these potential self assessed penalties.
(ICEHAMA replies: If we are to honor the ICEHAMA’s guidelines, this picnic, however inspiring, would have to come under ‘supported,’ since you were accompanied by a team, and since you grabbed on to a line, put there by somebody else, and not part of the normal fixed protections (such as the fixed rope below the lower saddle). Though your time is three minutes faster than Ryan’s fastest supported time of 11:30 — a serious achievement in less than stellar conditions — we do not think it cannot be fairly called ‘solo’ or ‘unsupported,’ which we hope you’ll agree should be reserved for the soloist who picnics alone from beginning to end. But your picnic is definitely badass certified, and we hope this does not diminish the reward of your experience, or dissuade you from further picnicking endeavors!)