2:30 am. The wind had been howling all night. Poked our heads out of the tent. Weather seemed stable. Time to strap on the crampons and grab our axes. Out into the wild world. Thankfully we had scouted the of our traverse the night before. Now it was just a question of moving delicately in the black morning, over scree and ice for the next 5 hours to get to the base of the couloir.
Reaching the crest of the gap, we saw the rock face far below. We would need to scuttle around it to get to the ice fields on the back side of the Grand Teton. I shouted to the night sky, "Enclosure Couloir - here we come!"
Plunging down the mountain side toward the rock face, ice ax in hand for balance, the pair of us knew we had a long, dangerous day ahead. The Valhalla Traverse had a reputation - notorious at that. Thankfully, it was midsummer and the sky began to soften slightly with early light as I meticulously placed crampons and axes into the ice field. Move ax, move crampon, move ax, move crampon. Repeat. I knew that one false move could send me careening into the darkness below.
Coming around the final corner, the dawn light had bathed the ice in orange. Jackson Lake was splayed out below, glittering and twinkling in anticipation of a warm summer day. Nothing could compare to the isolating feeling of being in that remote desolate place. It had taken 5 hours of hard effort and concentration to reach that spot. No one could help us now. We were alone with our thoughts surrounded by scree and ice. Our consolation was that we had each other. There were only two little humans witnessing and breathing in that spectacular display in that particular spot on the planet. Others were still sleeping in their cozy, warm beds, in comfy pajamas and dreaming of rainbows or ice cream or both. Not these two hard core rocky mountaineers, they were defying odds and ensuring that they had adventure stories to bring back from a successful day out in the remote wilderness.
Approaching the base of the couloir, it was time to harness up and attach our umbilical cord. Up we went, one after the other. Moving one ax and one crampon at a time, we ascended. There was cold and white all around. Rocks were glistening with moisture. We needed to get through this section before the sun hit which would soften the ice. Moving systematically and focused we made steady progress upward.
The air was crisp and cold. To an observer, it looked like we were smoking. We were in an ice chute cradled between limestone walls the width of which was a school bus end to end at the widest and a regular size car at the narrowest. We coaxed a couple ice screws into the sheet of ice we were perched upon and snuggled in some placements in the rock face as we chopped at the ice mercilessly with our sharp points. At the top of the couloir we paused for a bit to eat. It was sunny there so we gratefully soaked up as much as we could - briefly. Unknown to us at that time, it was to be the only sun we would see on the entire climb.
The top of the couloir was not anywhere close to the 13,285 foot peak of the Enclosure - we weren't nearly done. 7 or 8 pitches of cold rock stood between us and the top. Our chilled, brittle extremities carried us up the NW ridge. We topped out in the middle of a gorgeous sunny summer afternoon. After having had chicken skin all day, we threw ourselves on the toasty rocks and soaked up the alpine sun. Nearby was the Enclosure - a circle of rocks that was possibly, maybe used by Native American's as a place for vision quest rituals.
The class 3 scramble could wait. It was still early afternoon, and the 4 o'clock thunder showers were still a ways off. Our tent was at 11,000 feet so it wasn't too far to go to get back to our evening shelter. Sitting on top of the Enclosure gave us a unique view of the Owen-Spalding route - the descent for the Grand Teton. We saw a pair of climbing rangers following everyone down from the summit. Recognizing them as the two that we had seen the previous day, we waved. Their path crossed ours as we were all meandering back to camp. Our climbing day bubbled out of us. They had a good laugh and told us we had chosen the coldest place in Wyoming to spend our day. Agreeing with them entirely, we again thanked the sun for warming us when we stepped onto the summit.
Below, our tent awaited us, promising nourishment and sleep. It didn't darken until late in the evening so we sat and traded stories with some of the other intrepid adventures at camp. Falling asleep with the onset of darkness, we snuggled deep in our bedding. We would have to leave this rocky paradise come morning to glissade down the snowfield back to civilization where our car and a hearty meal, in a comfortable restaurant were waiting for us.