A route less traveled
Thayne resident, his friend become first to follow line as they climb the Enclosure.
Paul Rachele sets up the first belay station during a first ascent of a new route on the Enclosure, a sub-summit of the Grand Teton, on Aug. 12. Rachele ascended the route with Landon Wiedenman. PHOTO COURTESY LANDON WIEDENMANView our entire photo gallery >>
By Brandon Zimmerman, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
September 2, 2009
Landon Wiedenman has been climbing since he was 14 years old. But it wasn’t until four years ago that he started alpine climbing in the Tetons with crampons and other tools.
After that short period, he finds his name in the record books.
Wiedenman, 27, became the first to ascend a new route on the north side of the Enclosure, a sub-summit of the Grand Teton. He did it Aug. 12 with friend Paul Rachele, who works as an outdoor educator for National Outdoor Leadership School.
“It was a personal victory, for sure,” Wiedenman said.
Wiedenman, who lives in Thayne and is a massage therapist in Teton Village, had spent several weeks preparing and planning for the ascent. The idea was hatched in late July when he, Rachele and Bojan Mitkovski climbed the Black Ice Couloir.
The Black Ice Couloir had been essentially unclimbable for a decade after the ice there had melted. It reformed last year, providing climbers access to terrain that hadn’t been touched since the 1990s.
“The climbing community thought it would never be climbed again,” Wiedenman said. “When we climbed the Black Ice [Couloir] we went up there looking for something new to do.
“It’s probably about six pitches of steep alpine ice climbing,” he said of the couloir. “It’s a classic climb. We had to dodge a lot of rockfall.”
During the climb, Wiedenman saw a new line or two on the Enclosure.
“I thought we’d go back and try them later,” he said.
Before their return, fortune shined on Wiedenman and Rachele. Snow fell in the upper elevations of the Tetons three days before their climb. It would melt and freeze, holding rocks in place.
Wiedenman and Rachele left the moraine camp below the Grand at 2 a.m. Aug. 12. They reached the new route on the Enclosure by 5:30 a.m.
“We did about four pitches of mixed climbing with crampons and tools,” Wiedenman said. “Towards the top the route joins the Visionquest Couloir, and we finished out the last couple pitches on that.”
Wiedenman checked the American Alpine Journal and confirmed with Grand Teton National Park Ranger Renny Jackson that the route had never been climbed. Jackson himself pioneered a route on the Enclosure.
“It was the first ascent of that particular variation of that route on the Enclosure,” Jackson said. “It’s what I consider a variation on the Visionquest Couloir. It’s a fairly obscure line. You need the right conditions for it.”
Wiedenman said the motivation to climb the route was knowing that it hadn’t been done.
“That made us want to do it,” he said. “There aren’t a lot of big routes in the Tetons that haven’t been done before. There was a lot of drive. Maybe that wasn’t a good thing. But doing something for the first time, there’s always that desire to be recognized.”
Wiedenman named the climb “Training Wheels” and rated it IV, M4, AI3, 5.6, A1. That means the route should take most of a day, involves ice climbing with some use of tools on the rock and requires some moderate rock climbing with at least one easy aid move.
“It was definitely the most challenging route I’ve ever done,” he said. “Maybe not the technical grade, but because of the sheer immensity of it.
“We had to hike in for a day, carry 50-pound packs, ice screws, crampons, ropes, Wiedenman said. “We had to climb delicate ice. We had to climb moderate rock with crampons and tools. It involved all the skills I’ve been developing for 15 years. That was exciting.”
Wiedenman, who began climbing 13 years ago when he lived in Lewistown, Mont., isn’t sure what’s next.
“The last couple weeks I’ve been hanging out enjoying my bed and resting,” he said. “As far as doing another first ascent, that’s not what I’m looking for.
“We saw the opportunity and realized it hadn’t been done and said, ‘We’re stupid if we don’t do this,’ ” he said. “I’m not seeking it out on a regular basis. There’s more risk involved if you don’t know what’s up there.”