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Unplanned Bivouac, West Face – Grand Teton, 1984

morning after unplanned bivouac. Kitty Calhoun traversing on the west face of the grand teton, 1984

Kitty Calhoun, Co-Owner Chicks Climbing and Skiing, traversing back on route the morning after a forced bivouac on the West Face of the Grand Teton, 1984 ©Kitty Calhoun Collection

There is nothing like an unplanned bivouac to make me swear:

“I will never make that mistake again.”

When I first began doing winter alpine ascents, almost 40 years ago, what I feared most was getting benighted.

Yet, as these things go, in January 1984 I found myself near the top of the West Face of the Grand Teton, in the dark. There I sat, bumping my head against my partner, Bobby Knight. The head bumping was my way of forcing us to stay awake to keep wiggling our toes. I was terrified that if we dozed off our feet would freeze.

It turns out we were off-route. Bobby and I were supposed to be on the Black Ice Couloir. But, instead we were in a nearby dihedral. The dihedral had suckered us with endless, blissful mixed climbing. However, hours of joyful climbing soon turned to concern, as it grew dark. Using night vision and our weak, circa 1984 headlamp, we were able to keep climbing. But when the dihedral ended at the base of a dark, blank-looking face we were stuck. There was nothing to do but sit on a ledge, bump heads and wait for daylight.  It’s a good thing I have a hard head!

Eventually morning came, finding us sleepy but unfrozen.

In the daylight we traversed out right onto the Black Ice Couloir and continued to the summit.

Looking back, I’m certain that if we’d had a modern, Black Diamond Icon Headlamp with 125 feet of 500 lumens we could have kept going and avoided that frightening unplanned bivouac.