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Survival after a Failed Summit Attempt on the Middle Teton

Ryan and I attempted a late season, single-push (no tent, no sleeping gear, no stopping, limited food and climbing gear), on the Middle Teton via the Middle Teton Glacier.

Extremely rotten ice on the glacier slowed us down. When we finally reached the saddle late in the day we discovered the summit block was covered in verglas (a thin sheet of ice) from melted snow of a recent storm. We made an attempt at the summit block with limited success due to the treacherous verglas. To make matters worse, a new storm came in with snow, and high winds. We had no choice but to abandon the summit and rappel back to the saddle.

At this point it was dark and we were out of food and water. We had been moving without sleep or rest for 24 hours. We had and no sleeping bag, no bivy or tent, and inadequate climbing gear (a very short 7mm rope and little hardware/protection). In the snow and cold wind, and with a light synthetic jacket our only warm clothing, we were already heading into the hypothermic range. If we stayed on the saddle for the night we would likely freeze to death.

We decided to move off the mountain as safely and quickly as we could. Under headlamps, we slowly made our way down the mountain. We did not have enough equipment to rappel down the glacier, so we descended an extremely junk filled couloir on the other side of the saddle. In the next few hours, the hallucinations would start to set in. They would get progressively worse in the next 24 hours.

Our 60m x 7mm rope made for short (30m) rappels and slow progress. With limited protection, we ended up rappelling off of bollards chopped into snow and ice, and form improvised chock-stones. We both ended up nicked and bruised form falling rock we kicked down on each other. By 3 am we were shaking with cold and our teeth were chattering. My toes had gone numb. Before dawn, I found an abandoned piece of climbing hardware (we were out of our protection) and we made a final rappel of the mountain and onto a talus field. Neither of us remembers much of the long cold hike off the mountain and back to the car, except that the hallucinations at this point were spectacular.

Portions of my toes are still numb and will always remind me of the climb but...

We feel blessed and grateful to be alive!