Soloing The Grand Teton
Favorite & Most Complete Guide
To Climbing The Grand Teton In A Day
Jensen solos the Grand Teton's Owen-Spalding
route at age 7 on September 8, 2012, and claims
the record for the youngest person to solo the
ascent & the youngest woman to summit.
Climbers can be seen on the Owen-Spalding & Upper Exum
routes without protection or guides when the weather & climbing conditions
are ideal. You don't need to be a great climber to follow in their footsteps.
If you're a robust
hiker who's comfortable with mountain scrambling & steep drop-offs
then the chances are very good that you can make the round-trip during daylight
hours when conditions are suitable.
While soloing the Grand Teton can
be a relatively safe activity, there are no safe routes on the
Grand Teton. This mountain is rather unforgiving to soloers who make
a mistake. And natural threats like ice, rock
fall, and fast-changing weather
are common. Many climbers take their last breath in the Teton Range. Eric
Tietze fell to his death on July 12, 2012. Ten days later on July 22nd,
Harold Beldin fell to his death. Protection is popular for a reason.
~ Owen-Spalding Route Photos ~
Novice solo climbers who are unfamiliar
with the Grand Teton should stick to the Owen-Spalding route and climb when
conditions are dry. It's the quickest,
shortest, and easiest climb on the Grand. It's easier to turn around if
conditions sour or you become uncomfortable with the climb. By climbing
up, you'll know the way down and you'll know the conditions. Additionally,
the O-S is a busy place and that's a good thing for safety and route finding.
The Upper Exum route is harder and more time consuming.
~ Upper Exum Route Photos ~
This web page is divided into several sections. Soloers
on the Upper Exum will need to familiarize themselves with the Owen-Spalding
route because it's used for the downclimb off the summit block. A new collection
of Grand Teton climbing route photos for 2013 can be found at
this post on our blog.
~ Sections ~
~ The Grand Teton's Owen-Spalding Route ~
~ Routes Between The Lower & Upper Saddle ~
~ The Lower Saddle's Headwall ~
~ The Grand Teton's Upper Exum Route ~
~ The Rappel To The Upper Saddle ~
~ The Trail Below The Lower Saddle ~
~ Conditions & The Route With Early-Season Snow ~
~ Weather ~
~ SAFETY ~
~ Miscellaneous Web Resources & General Information ~
~ Climbers, Times, Distances, and Preparation ~
~ The Grand Teton's
Owen-Spalding Route ~
Let's start by looking at the Owen-Spalding
route on the western face of the summit block. The real climbing begins
at the Belly Roll which is on the northeast edge of the Upper Saddle. We'll
cover the scramble to the Upper Saddle a little later. The video below covers
great exposure from the Belly Roll to the Double Chimney. If you can't
handle grade school monkey bars, find another mountain to solo. It's very
unlikely you will recover from an unprotected
fall in the exposed areas.
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Crawl, and the move into the second entrance of the Double
Chimney are short sections along the same horizontal cleavage in the
rock that are rarely a serious challenge for non-climbers when conditions
are at their best. The exposure can be intimidating. You'll be walking along
a nice ledge after getting past the Belly Roll which is just a boulder stuck
in the cleavage. The ledge leads to the Crawl which is a narrow crawlspace.
Right at the Crawl's north end is the Double
Chimney's first entrance. Soloers usually bypass it in favor of the
second entrance about six feet further north. It's not uncommon to find
very icy conditions in this area so move cautiously. Most of the ice burns
off at some point during the summer.
Your skill set & conditions will often dictate how
you manage the exposed areas but some options aren't always obvious. For
example, climbers usually go over the Belly Roll but going under
the Belly Roll works fine especially on the
downclimb. And small footholds outside the Crawl provide a quicker variation
for those who don't mind the additional risk.
You can access the second entrance of the Double Chimney
via a hand-in-crack traverse with your feet on sloping rock. The handholds
are adequate but several footholds are closer to friction than a solid placement.
Climbers occasionally lose a foothold. Most recover easily. A narrow ledge
below the hand-in-crack traverse is another way to access the Double Chimney's
second entrance. The ledge is easy to reach from the first entrance if the
rock is dry. A tiny foothold can be found directly below the second entrance
and just above the ledge. The handholds are equally modest. Using the ledge
on the descent may prove riskier than the hand-in-crack traverse.
You can watch climbers using the hand-in-crack traverse, & the ledge,
in this video.
While the Belly Roll gets the most attention, soloing
the first entrance of the Double Chimney is an equally compelling
psychological crux of the route for many climbers. As was pointed out above,
soloing the first entrance is less common than soloing the second entrance.
The first entrance requires a pull-up move. A fast descent of the first
entrance is possible but rare. Most soloers consider the second entrance
to be easier, quicker, and safer under all conditions. Both entrances meet
midway into the chimney.
the very short Double Chimney, you can reach the top through the V-shaped
wedge or the tunnel below it. I usually exit the Double Chimney from the
open wedge but conditions sometimes make the tunnel the better option.
Before we focus on the route above the Double Chimney,
let's examine the partly
protected ledge running north of the Double Chimney's second entrance
that provides access to The Great West Chimney (GWC). The access ledge looks
like a bigger version of the Crawl and it is a continuation of the horizontal
cleavage in the western exposure. While this isn't a part of the O-S route,
it is possible to bypass the Double Chimney by going around its north side
via the GWC access ledge. You're turning east before you actually get to
the GWC and you'll head up to the southeast to reach the bottom of the Owen
Chimney. If conditions are good, I'll take the bypass to avoid a crowded
chimney. The drainage of the GWC stays somewhat icy during the
summer and an ascent is avoided by most climbers.
The Great West Chimney area is also a semi-private place
to empty the bladder that's just seconds away. Climbers on the north
side of the Grand sometimes exit along the access ledge so it's not always
private. Climbers can also reach the GWC from the base of Sargent's by walking
north along the wide shelf. This may be a better option. The summit block
is a very public place that's often crawling with climbers moving in all
directions so there's always the chance that you will have company when
you would rather not.
Top of the Double Chimney to
Top of the Grand Teton.
Watch on Vimeo or YouTube
The OS route via the Catwalk - Upper Saddle to Summit.
Once out of the Double Chimney, you'll have 2 options -
or the Owen
Chimney. The Owen Chimney will be directly in front of you. The Catwalk
is just to your right, above you, and runs south. The Catwalk usually clears
of ice before the Owen Chimney and it's a good option for many climbers
- it's easier when dry. It's not always the safer option. I prefer an icy
Owen Chimney over an icy Catwalk. A careful climber can get through the
chimney under some fairly adverse conditions. Tall climbers will
have an easier time. The Catwalk has fewer holds if it's really iced up.
On average, during the peak of the summer climbing season you'll find mostly
To reach the Catwalk after exiting the Double Chimney,
you'll have the option of scrambling up the rock to your southeast or climbing
about 13 feet into the Owen Chimney and then exiting at the first southern
opening onto the Catwalk's very narrow northern tip. There's an old piton
at the northern tip which may help climbers navigate icy conditions. The
Catwalk takes you south toward the Main
Rappel to the Upper Saddle. You'll be scrambling to the southeast at
the south end of the Catwalk to reach the rap's overlook. From there, it's
a short northeast walk up to Sargent's
If I am climbing up the Owen Chimney, I may take a minute
or so to examine the Catwalk's condition in case I decide to use it on the
downclimb. A spot in the northern half cycles through icy, wet, & dry
conditions with the changing weather. That spot takes longer to dry because
water from elsewhere flows over the rock at this location and it's slow
A short distance up the Owen Chimney you'll find a small
parallel crack to the south that can also be used to reach the base
of Sargent's Chimney. Sometimes this lets you bypass other climbers.
The crack is often too icy to navigate during the shoulder season. The Owen
Chimney turns into a short southeast scramble at the very top which leads
you to a fairly flat area running directly to Sargent's which is seconds
Sargent's Chimney is the first chimney south of the Owen
Chimney's top. it has a wide entrance and a big southern flank. From
the south it looks like a massive buttress. It's hard to miss. Just
before the chimney narrows in the topmost section, many climbers take a
Exit (it's an alternate exit) to the northwest that's about two-thirds
of the way up Sargent's. You can skip the Hidden Exit and climb to the rap
sling at the chimney's top if conditions are good and you're comfortable
doing so. Some climbers find this more difficult than the Hidden Exit but
I don't see much difference under ideal conditions. If climbers are using
the rappel, or conditions warrant, I'll use the Hidden Exit.
Take a look around when you leave Sargent's Chimney. You'll
want to remember your location for the downclimb. The Park Service would
prefer that you use
good climbing practices and not build cairns to mark your path in climbing
flagging tape could be used and then removed on the downclimb if you're
uncertain about your route finding. If it's a high traffic day, you can
simply follow everyone. Most climbers can figure out their location just
by looking at a route photo of the west face. A gap in the ridgetop lines
up well with Sargent's Chimney. I'm guessing that the distance to the summit
from the gap is about 85 feet provided you were pulling a tape measure through
Upon exiting Sargent's Chimney you'll be heading to the
northeast to reach the summit. Most likely, you aren't taking a straight-line
route on your northeast scramble. It's common for climbers to head NE and
scramble along a series of 'switchbacks' that rise to the southeast &
northeast as you approach the summit. The direct route would have you climbing
some slabs, boulders, & cracks. Here's a video
that will give you a general idea of your options. The gap in the ridgeline
that's mentioned above is an east-west crossover point and it can be used
to reach the summit. It's not used by most climbers. You would dip around
the eastern side of the ridgeline and head north along the most comfortable
path to reach the summit. Under some conditions, or with weaker climbers
(kids), this variation may be a better option.
~ Routes Between
The Lower & Upper Saddle ~
Getting to the Upper
Saddle is pretty simple. Just go up whatever you can safely ascend.
There are many variations but I'll stick to the one I consider the best
when conditions are good.
From the Lower
Saddle, head to the Needle
which is the name for the mass of rock at the base of the Central Rib that
looks like the tip of a needle when seen from below. The crest of the Lower
Saddle aims directly north toward the Needle and you'll find a trail there.
The trail splits with one footpath running along the western side of the
crest. The other footpath parallels it to the east and that's the one I
use. The black layer of exposed rock that crosses the crest and runs east-west
is called the Black Dike and the hiking trail turns into a scramble as you
pass it. You're aiming for the western side of the Needle. My personal preference
is to head west (northwest) at the last reasonable opportunity to do so.
Keep in mind that you're more likely to find ice as you leave the sun-baked
You'll be nearing the Chockstone
Chimney as you approach the most western part of the Needle. It's the
first chimney to the east. Scramble to its dead end, turn south, and take
the ledge out of the chimney. The Eye
of the Needle will be to your left (east-northeast) and it's a natural
tunnel leading back toward the chimney that exits onto a ledge above the
Chockstone's dead end. At the ledge's north end, you will be faced with
a minor boulder problem called the Belly Roll Almost. There is a small foothold
below this obstacle that makes the climbing move fairly easy. The handholds
are excellent. Most climbers miss the lower foothold because it's out of
view and they end up climbing over the Belly Roll Almost. You could bypass
the Eye of the Needle by climbing directly up the Chockstone's dead end
if you want a slightly greater challenge.
Some climbers skip the very bottom section of the Chockstone
Chimney and access it from a higher location (or, more commonly, exit it
from a higher location when descending). Going up the Chockstone's bottom
section is easier than going down it. When descending, I prefer to use the
Runners' Slab which presents itself at the first opening to the northwest
on your way down. I follow a small crack near the bottom of the slab and
then access a narrow ledge running northwest to make a quick exit before
heading toward the Lower Saddle. Most climbers bypass the Runners' Slab.
That narrow ledge below the slab is a more common entry/exit point for climbers
wishing to avoid the lower chimney.
Many climbers will bypass the Chockstone Chimney altogether
due to conditions or personal preference. One variation (among many) is
to use the Briggs
Slab on the north side of the chimney. For some, it's an easier &
safer variation. Briggs
To reach the Briggs Slab, you'll head past the Chockstone
Chimney & walk up the O-S Couloir for a short distance. Turn east at
the first chance to make an easy scramble in that direction. If there's
no snow on the ground, you'll see a narrow band of dark rock running E-NE.
Head easterly until you run into the slight headwall blocking your path
and then head back toward the south to reach the Briggs Slab which will
be directly above (north of) the top of the Chockstone Chimney. I scramble
along the western & southern edge of the slab but you can also go straight
up it. You'll end up on the Central Rib's bench. The 'bench' is just the
elevated north-south slope above the couloir's drainage. There are several
other ways to access the bench that are just to the north of the Briggs
Slab. They vary by small degrees of difficulty.
As you leave the Chockstone Chimney (or the Briggs Slab),
continue north if you're heading for the Upper Saddle. Heading to the east
would take you to toward the Central Rib's ridgeline and the rib's
Lower Crossover to the Wall Street Couloir which is used to reach the
Upper Exum Ridge. Those climbing the O-S route will be
scrambling up the western side of Central Rib. You'll be on the bench
above the couloir's drainage and below the Central Rib's ridgeline.
As you continue north, you can stay just above the drainage or stay closer
to the west face of the Central Rib (my preference). Further up the slope,
the drainage meets the top of the bench. You're going up as are all the
broken footpaths. Choose the most comfortable path.
The Central Rib's Bench as seen from the
Chockstone Chimney area.
The talus gully just west of the Central Rib is sometimes
referred to as the Owen-Spalding
Couloir. It has also been called the Central Rib Couloir however that
name has also been used for the Wall Street Couloir. It has also been called
the Idaho Express but most people reserve that name for the most western
couloir (Dartmouth Couloir) that drops you into Dartmouth Basin toward Idaho.
Go figure. Here's a detailed look at the
Central Rib area and an aerial
photo. I use the following nomenclature: 1)
Dartmouth Couloir (Idaho Express) - most western couloir falling into Dartmouth
Basin toward Idaho. 2) Owen-Spalding Couloir
- first couloir west of the Central Rib & used by many climbers ascending
the Owen-Spalding route. 3) Wall Street Couloir
- first couloir west of the Exum Ridge & running by the entrance to
Let's get back to our ascent along the bench. Further up
the slope and directly east of the point where the top of the Central Rib's
bench meets the couloir's drainage you'll find a short, & slightly blackish,
western extension of the Central Rib that will force you to choose between
scrambling up the Owen-Spalding
Couloir to your west or scrambling to the ridgeline of the Central Rib
to your east. We'll examine the western option first.
I avoid the scree
in the couloir's drainage unless conditions, or other circumstances, justify
such actions. The footing is bad, rock fall is common, and better options
are available. The slight ridge to the west (the most western rib from your
position) is used by many climbers including a few guides. There's a 'path'
within the eastern face of the
western rib. It allows you to avoid the scree in the Owen-Spalding Couloir's
drainage. At the point that the western rib dissolves into the talus at
its upper end you can scramble over to the Central Rib and run up its western
side until it too disappears into the slope. Head northeast to reach the
Let's examine the other option that avoids the western
rib and takes you east to the Central Rib's ridgeline via the slight western
extension of the Central Rib. Remember, you're just east of the location
where the Central Rib's benchtop meets the couloir's drainage. At this point
you'll see a large
west-facing slab of smooth vertical rock that hangs off the Central
Rib's ridgeline to your right. That slab is next to the western extension
of the Central Rib. You'll access the ridge by climbing some rock that's
just a yard or two north of that slab until a path
within the western extension becomes visible (video).
Follow it eastward toward the ridgeline. You'll turn north just below the
ridgetop and scramble up the blackish rock. It's not the easiest route finding
of your climb which is why many people end up taking the western-rib variation
up the O-S Couloir.
Follow the ridge along the path of least resistance. You'll
be on the western side of the actual ridgetop for most of the ascent except
for a short
easterly opening of the rib. Within that short section is a
drainage heading southeast toward the Wall Street Couloir, and Wall
Street itself is visible. Directly above that short section you'll be back
on the western side of the rib until it almost disappears into the slope.
At that point you'll head northeast to reach the Upper Saddle's western
To reach the Upper Saddle's eastern side by the Main Rappel,
you'll either stay near the saddle's northern exposure & run up the
crest or you'll take the less exposed southern variation as far east as
you can go before turning north. Guides seem to favor the southern route
even though the footing can be bad right below the saddle's crest. I like
the northern variation because it's quicker for me. Don't be concerned about
going one way or the other. You'll naturally end up on the southern side
if you start the northern side and don't like it.
From the Upper Saddle, head to the northeast corner along
the only path available until you meet the Belly Roll where the climbing,
& exposure, really begins. You'll pass by the Main Rappel to the Upper
Saddle on your way to the Belly Roll. Keep in mind that falling rock is
not uncommon directly below the Main Rap.
Just above the Lower Saddle, had you mistakenly
headed to the first chute on the eastern side of the Needle, you
would have ended up in an area that doesn't provide any advantages over
the traditional route. The bottom is usually wet and you're in a terrain
trap if there's rock fall. It is possible to follow the far
eastern side of this area up & around to the Lower Crossover to
Wall Street. A slab heading west to the Central Rib's ridgeline ends right
at the Lower Crossover's location. That slab is shown in the "Central
Rib to Exum Ridge" video embedded below. If you're headed to the
Upper Exum Ridge, you could try crack climbing over a rock wall to shorten
your route but most climbers will want to avoid this area altogether.
While the route I've suggested between the Lower &
Upper Saddle is the safest, quickest, and easiest for me when conditions
are good, it's obviously not your only option. Every rib and couloir has
been used by climbers. Most guides use the variation along the Central Rib
but there's no right or wrong way. The best variations aren't always obvious
and the many broken footpaths can add to the confusion; nonetheless, all
you really need to know is that you're going up. Here's
a map from the book, 'Teton Classics: 50 Selected Climbs in Grand Teton
~ The Lower Saddle's
The Fixed Rope at the Lower Saddle's headwall isn't used
until most of the snow has melted off the Saddle. In the past, the Climbing
Rangers have announced its availability in a blog posting. In 2012, the
Fixed Rope was being used on July 1st, and you didn't need crampons or an
ice axe on any part of the route. In 2011, the Fixed Rope wasn't available
until the 2nd week of August. Climbers use a bootpack that runs to the southern
side of the Lower Saddle's Headwall when the Fixed Rope isn't available.
The rock that the Fixed Rope drapes is a moderate scramble
when dry. To reach the top of the Lower Saddle from the Fixed Rope, you'll
hike southish toward the Middle Teton until you're next to the toe of the
Middle as it sits on the saddle. You'll see footpaths heading in that direction.
As you approach the toe, you'll pass just below the Lower Saddle's most
eastern camping spot which is next to a big boulder and you'll run into
a well defined path heading west to the Saddle's crest. At this 'fork' in
the trail, the main water source for Upper Saddle visitors is just to the
south in a very small drainage. There's also metal sign south of the camping
location and next to the footpath which is about (guessing) 50' west-northwest
of the water source. If you're hiking in the dark, the sign can act as a
The climber's trail directly above & below the Fixed
Rope is more like several poorly defined sloppy paths over eroded earth.
While it is possible to scramble in other directions to shorten the hike
between the Fixed Rope and the Central Rib, this is frowned upon due to
the delicate nature of the environment which doesn't need additional degradation.
If there are no exposed rocks, a glissade down the Lower
Saddle's headwall to the Middle Teton Glacier is a popular time saver
early in the climbing season. Climbers usually descend a portion of
the headwall's bootpack before jumping ship. It's best to closely examine
the glissade path for exposed rocks on your way up the mountain. I like
the snow a little soft for the ride but firm enough to plant an axe. Rocks
could hide just under the snow surface so sometimes it's best to use the
bootpack with an axe. Serious injuries and deaths from glissading
accidents & slips
down snow fields are not uncommon in the Teton Range. Of course, you
won't be crossing any snow fields later in the climbing season. It's not
just snow fields you need to worry about. Climbers slip on loose rocks,
dry rocks, wet rocks, dirt, you name it. In 2012, a climber was seriously
injured by falling rock while hiking from the Fixed Rope to the Lower Saddle.
Glissading down the Middle Teton Glacier from the
bootpack on the Lower Saddle's Headwall.
Watch on YouTube.
~ Lower Saddle Headwall~
~ The Grand Teton's
Upper Exum Route ~
The south facing Upper
Exum route feels more satisfying to climb than the Owen-Spalding. It
has several variations, more sunshine, and more climbing for a novice to
enjoy. Soloing the Upper Exum and downclimbing
the Owen-Spalding makes for a fine day in the Tetons. A greater degree
of agility on rock is required for those going solo on the Upper Exum.
The Upper Exum cleans up nicely
and melts off before the Owen-Spalding route; however, both routes
maintain pockets of ice all year long. Those pockets are usually tucked
away and easily avoided. Keep in mind that verglas
can form anywhere, anytime of year, and is easy to miss. Don't underestimate
A few variations on the Upper Exum may put you in an awkward
position. Look over several options if none is there to guide you and carefully
examine each climbing line before proceeding. When soloing up rock you've
never seen before, tip the scales in your favor and choose the most comfortable
path. For example, you may wish to avoid the Friction Pitch by using the
F-P Bypass chimney. Additionally, before starting the Upper Exum consider
the weather conditions. The ridge is a nasty place to be in bad weather.
Trying to safely retreat down the ridge may prove impossible without protection.
Free Solo Climb
Video by David Gonzales
Upper Exum route on the way up.
Owen-Spalding on the way down.
Watch on YouTube
~Upper Exum & Owen-Spalding~
More detailed Upper Exum video: Step Across to Summit.
You need to reach the Wall
Street ledge to access the Upper Exum route. As with the Owen-Spalding
route, you'll be heading to the western side of the Central Rib's Needle
and, most likely, heading up the Chockstone Chimney to the Eye
of the Needle. A complete description of this area is given in the 'Routes
Between The Lower and Upper Saddle' section above. You'll be heading
for the Central Rib's ridgeline after passing the Briggs Slab. You'll follow
Central Rib's ridgeline until you come upon the Lower
Crossover to the Wall Street Couloir. There is also an Upper
Crossover location that's marked with a large pile of rocks (cairns)
and it is an obvious natural opening in the ridge that can be seen directly
from the west. From the Briggs Slab, you can reach the Upper Crossover from
several directions but most climbers will reach it by heading north before
heading east. If you examine a photograph
of the area you can figure out where to cross the ridgeline. I don't see
much difference in either crossover but some climbers prefer the Upper Crossover
because it's less confined and, one could argue, less exposed. The Lower
Crossover seems faster.
You'll be scrambling down the Central Rib's eastern side
& across the talus in the Wall Street Couloir to reach a scree-filled
gully that leads to Wall Street. Follow Wall Street around to its natural
end at the Exum Ridge.
There are two
ways to get past the great exposure of the Step Across at the end of
Wall Street. You can take the topmost shelf (a very narrow extension of
Wall Street's massive ledge) or you can take the equally narrow lower shelf
directly below it. You'll be working your way around a corner. Other than
Glen Exum, most climbers do not 'step across' the chasm at Wall Street's
end. You can watch a video of two climbers soloing the lower & upper
shelves simultaneously: Helmet
Cam at the Step Across. This is also where the Lower Exum ridge meets
the Upper Exum.
Many climbers prefer the very narrow lower shelf which
has better handholds; however, once you turn the corner the shelf disappears
and the footholds are rather slim. I consider it to be the safer option.
Climbers with heavy packs may prefer it under all conditions because a pack
may shift your center of gravity in an unfavorable way on the Upper Ledge.
The upper ledge
seems faster when the wind is calm and it's my preferred choice under ideal
As I round the corner while on the upper ledge, I find
that it's easier to be standing upright instead of using a modified lieback
move where I'm bent over and pulling up on the bottom handhold (that's a
good move for the approach, however). You won't find solid handholds if
you are standing upright while on the top shelf so that position is not
safe if the wind is blowing. This is another section where tall people might
have an advantage. That's not to say that short climbers can't handle it
with grace. They can. The great exposure doesn't require fancy climbing
moves but it does demand very careful climbing. There is no recovery from
an error if you're soloing.
You'll end up just below the Golden
Stair once you get past the exposure. You can also head a little further
east (NE) & play in some cracks. Take time to enjoy the view.
Watch on YouTube
~Upper Exum Route~
Teton's Exum Ridge
~Upper Exum Route~
Many sections of the Upper Exum route will fall naturally
into your selection process even if you don't know the
exact route ahead of time. Some people feel a little lost according
to trip reports. For the most part, if you're somewhere on the Exum ridgeline
then you're on the route. The Wind Tunnel area is the only section that
seriously deviates from the sunny ridgeline. Find any line you're comfortable
climbing or just follow other climbers. There are plenty of variations.
Just above the Golden Stair, you'll run into a minor boulder
problem and then you'll take an easy scramble north along the ridge until
there's nowhere else to go but east
into the Wind Tunnel. You'll turn north at the first big chute (the
Wind Tunnel gully) because that's the only reasonable way to go. At this
point you'll be navigating more boulder problems. I call this the heart
of the Wind Tunnel.
Watch on YouTube
~Upper Exum Route~
From there you'll be scrambling up the gully
toward the Jern Crack. When the gully finally opens up on the eastern
side you will have access to the Friction-Pitch Bypass - discussed later.
From this opening, the Jern
Crack is the first dihedral crack west of the eastern
crest of the Exum Ridge. The Jern is near the center of the ridge and
it almost lines up with the center of the gully. There's a short scramble
up some rock to reach the southeast facing Jern which will take you to the
The Jern Crack (or Jern Chimney) is the JLCR's moniker
for the crack after climbing guide Ken Jern slipped on ice and fell 50ft
down its face. You can watch
Ken point out the location in the great soloing video embedded above.
Most climbers use the Jern to access the Friction Pitch but options abound.
The Jern has more secure holds than the other variations.
I like climbing directly above the Jern's western sidewall.
Some climbers will ascend the eastern exposure along the eastern crest.
Others will use the western chimney. There are several exit points from
the western chimney and some are tricky. One exit point is just west of
the base of the Friction Pitch. You might find an old cam stuck in a crack
at this location. The western chimney will give you more of a challenge
than the regular route up the Jern.
The Jern Chimney / Crack
Watch on YouTube
~Upper Exum Route~
To the east of the Jern you'll find the eastern crest of
the Exum Ridge which has a sidewall emanating from a big corner crack called
the 'Puff-N-Grunt'. The Friction-Pitch
Bypass runs parallel to, and east of, the Puff-N-Grunt. The FPB &
the PNG are on opposite sides of the same chute. As mentioned previously,
you would have passed through the first eastern opening in the Wind Tunnel's
gully to access the bypass. That Puff-N-Grunt variation between the eastern
crest of the Exum Ridge and the Friction-Pitch Bypass is a good option for
competent crack climbers. A rating of 5.6 has been tossed around for this
The Friction-Pitch Bypass is a chimney that may be easier
& safer to navigate than the Friction Pitch. I stay to the climber's
right (east) while in the topmost part of the chimney. If I was forced to
downclimb the Exum Ridge, the bypass would be my preferred route (the Ford
Couloir is another option under some conditions). Snow and ice cover the
bypass early in the season so don't count on it being available. You may
find some loose holds in the F-P Bypass since it is a drainage.
For the Friction
Pitch, novice solo climbers should carefully consider all their options
before running up the first line that looks good. You may end up in a terrain
trap that's rather unforgiving. Usually, it's just one move and you're out
of trouble. I don't want to overstate (or understate) the difficulty; just
point out the increased possibility of getting into trouble. Some of the
handholds are fingertip sized and your footholds may be friction on a steep
rock face. It's a tricky place to be soloing if conditions are poor. The
following video shows three ascents past a crux on the eastern side. You
can also start further west. Most climbers take advantage of some knobby
holds on a line just to the west of the eastern crest and just to the east
of the fat cleavage crack (almost vaginal) that's closer to the exit from
Eastern Crest of the Friction Pitch
Watch on YouTube
~Upper Exum Route~
After scrambling a good distance
above the Friction Pitch, you'll find the V-Pitch
(or 'Open Book') on the very ridgeline. The V-Pitch is out of view if you're
to the east of it. No worries if you miss it. You can scramble up the rock
to the east of the V-Pitch without too much difficulty when conditions
are good. There's a nice easy crack that parallels
the V-Pitch. You can also use the Unsoeld Lieback
which runs along the top of the V-Pitch's eastern wall.
Watch on YouTube
~Upper Exum Route~
Just out of the V-Pitch to the northwest will be a series
of rocky ledges that can be used to quickly escape the Upper Exum during
emergencies. You will be descending an easy northwest path toward the Main
Rappel. The massive buttress that stands out from the rest of the summit
block is the 'backside' of Sargent's Chimney and you'll end up just below
Sargent's to access the rappel area. If you can't rappel to the Upper Saddle,
you can downclimb the Owen-Spalding's Catwalk, etc, to reach it. I would
rather be below the Upper Saddle during a storm than on the summit block
above. There are other escape routes off the Upper Exum but they require
protection. The first one is just above the Golden Stair - a 60' rappel
onto Wall Street.
If you don't need to escape the Upper Exum then it's off
to the summit of the Grand Teton. One variation is to head southeast - down
and around the southern tip of the ridgeline to reach its eastern side.
You will want perfect conditions and very sticky shoes. The better &
most common route is the short west-leaning
crackish boulder problem directly in front of you and seen in the above
video. This variation is on the shady western side of the ridge. The approach
dips down into an area that may be icy and the crack is a slight body twister.
Above this crack, head east and then northeast toward a boulder with an
L-shaped notch. Once there, you can head east for the Boulder Problem in
the Sky (the ridgeline) or you can dip around its western side. If you end
up in a tight spot, just backtrack and head in another direction.
You can scramble on either side of the ridgeline once past
the BPITS. I'm usually on the southern ridgetop for a short period
before heading east. Choose your route based upon conditions or climbing
preferences. Most climbers eventually scramble over to the eastern side
and avoid the northern part of knife-edged ridgetop (the 'Horse') just south
of the summit. In other words, they aren't on the top of the ridgeline as
they approach the summit.
~ The Rappel To
The Upper Saddle ~
Just about everybody downclimbs a portion of the Owen-Spalding
and heads to the 40
meter rappel to the Upper Saddle. The Main Rappel is a short walk to
the southwest once out of Sargent's
Chimney. Remember that Sargent's lines up with an opening in the summit
ridgeline. The bolted rap rings have an attached tag that says "40m"
and that probably represents the longest possible drop. There is
also a sling a few feet to the south that will shorten the ride. Move cautiously
around the rappel areas so as to avoid kicking loose rocks on unsuspecting
The rap's measurements are said to vary between 100 and
130ft. 120' has been published as has "30m+". 60 meters is 196.85ft.
30m = 98.42ft. I don't know the exact shortest length; however, in 2012,
blog posting referred to it as the '100 ft rappel' (30.48m). If you move
to the south while rappelling down, you'll be landing on the higher end
of the Upper Saddle's slope. The landing zone slopes downhill to the north
& west. With rope stretch you might get by with a dynamic 60m rope if
you use the rap
ring on the sling instead of the bolted rap rings. This is how
many climbers fly.
There is another
rap area that can be used with a shorter rope and 2 setups. It's just
to the south and just above the Main Rap (maybe 30-40 ft away). Here's
a video. The reported length is 70 ft (21.34m) for each setup and this
checks with my measurements. There is a greater potential for rock fall
by the second setup. Ice can also linger at the 2X70 raps.
You can access this 2X70' rap in two ways. 1) Scramble up the opening directly above the sling at the Main Rappel station
(just to the south of the bolted chain). Climb the short chimney & take
the first ledge south to the single-rope rappel station. The rap rings are
out of sight until you're upon them. 2) The
other option is to scramble above the Main Rappel area until you're just
south of it and then scramble down to the last ledge that runs south toward
the secondary rappel station. You may be able to avoid the first setup of
the secondary rappel station and scramble directly to the second setup.
I've done it several times but it's not pretty.
outcropping just to the north of the Main Rappel overlooks the staging
area and the Upper Saddle. The Main Rappel Overlook has a view toward the
Catwalk and much of the western summit block. From this overlook, you can
see the rap slings by the second staging area for the single-rope rappel.
It's not unusual to be offered a rap from another climber.
For most soloers, downclimbing is faster than waiting for a rappel assuming
conditions are good & you know the route. From the rap area, you can
take the Catwalk
(video here) to
the bottom of the Owen Chimney. You'll go down
the Double Chimney (video
here) and past the great exposure to reach the Upper Saddle. Ice can
make the Catwalk impassable so be prepared to use the Owen
Chimney. Both work fine if ice is avoidable.
Remember to stay close to the west side of the Central
Rib on your way down from the Upper Saddle. The rock here is easier to navigate
and more stable than the scree in the middle of the couloir. Once you get
closer to the smaller western rib, you can run down its eastern face to
reach the Central Rib's bench; or, you can continue down the Central Rib's
ridgetop (westernish side) to reach the bench using the route
described in detail above (see video,
too). The Central Rib is the longest rib rising from the slope and running
directly toward the Lower Saddle's crest.
The eastern side of the Central Rib just
below the Upper Saddle has some boulder problems which are manageable
but time consuming. If you want to avoid the biggest obstacles, make an
arc that bends a little further east toward the drainage of the Wall Street
Couloir before heading back toward the Central Rib. If there's snow, be
wary of falling through terrain traps.
~ The Trail Below
The Lower Saddle ~
The trail from Lupine Meadows to the Lower Saddle via Garnet
Canyon is pretty well defined when free of snow. A few locations might confuse
climbers. You may see the trail split just above Spalding Falls - it reconnects;
you may see the trail disappear - it's directly in front of you; you may
lose the trail by a drainage - it's usually on the other side. Most likely,
you'll do just fine. Be on the lookout for cairns if you get off trail.
The summer climber's trail that goes by Spalding Falls
& Petzoldt's Caves stays on the north side of Garnet Creek. Don't make
the mistake of crossing the creek and heading toward the Middle Teton's
south saddle. Do not cross the creek and climb along the southern side of
Spalding Falls unless the summer climber's trail is buried in snow.
There are two boulder fields below the Lower Saddle where
the trail disappears. The first
one is located where the Garnet Canyon Trail meets Garnet Creek - about
4 miles from the Lupine Meadows Trailhead. There's a sign at the trail's
temporary end. Start by heading west into the boulders. It's a short scramble
before you're back on the trail which is next to the creek. This video
provides a basic look at the area. Snow can alter the path you'll take through
the boulders and you're always free to blaze your own.
The second boulder field is closer to the eastern end of
Camping Zone. Not long after crossing a drainage with water flowing
southish from the Teepe Glacier area, the trail starts to level off with
a few cairns marking its location. You're now on a fairly straight shot
over a rocky path toward the second boulder field (and the Lower Saddle
Headwall). As a side note, you might see a trail fork toward the
JHMG's climbing hut to
the north (Corbet's
High Camp) - you're not going up there.
As you get closer to the Morainal Camping Zone you'll be
headed for some big boulders. This is where the trail disappears. You're
on a south-facing slope above another drainage running to the east. The
drainage is between you and the Middle Teton Glacier. Continue west once
you lose the trail. Shortly thereafter, and around the time that the boulders
next to you rise above your height (taller than you even if below you),
you'll turn south and head toward the drainage.
You'll see a metal
sign by the drainage where the trail starts up again. You'll be just
below the first camping area as you come out of the drainage. The trail
splits in a few locations to access camping sites. The slight ridge (rib)
will take you to the Bootpack & Fixed Rope. BTW, no worries if you bypass
the trail, blow over the rocks (or snow) and hike toward the
headwall. You'll end up back on the trail at some point. Just avoid
trampling any fragile vegetation.
There is a natural rain shelter in the 2nd
boulder field just north of the metal sign and there is another
cave just west of the 1st boulder field along the north side
of the trail. Of course, the Petzoldt's Caves camping spot provides some
modest protection midway between those two spots. And the Eye of the Needle
provides some protection from rain. Here's a video that points out a few
are others. Do not count on using the 2 huts at the Lower Saddle for shelter.
They are not public shelters but they sometimes accommodate climbers during
lightning storms. The natural shelters offer protection from the
rain, not lightning.
~ Conditions &
The Route With Early-Season Snow ~
Early-season snow conditions can change very quickly. Sometimes
the snow is easier to navigate in the afternoon but this is rare. The snow
should be the most stable before it sees the morning sun. Climbers will
want an ice axe & crampons if they are traversing snow fields below
the Lower Saddle. Careful climbers may get by with hiking poles
and good boots to kick steps in the snowpack but their self-arrest options
are limited should they slip. A stable bootpack is often unavailable.
GTNP recommends ice axes for safe passage over all divides
and passes until around the third week of July. If it's a heavy snow year,
an axe may be warranted into August. Usually, the Owen-Spalding & Upper
Exum climbing routes will clear of snow before the approach
below the Lower Saddle does. By July, some ice lingers on the summit block
but you will probably climb without crampons or an axe above the Lower Saddle.
Of course, before you get started you should always consult with other climbers
about the need for climbing aids on any part of the route because conditions
If the snow really piled up during the winter (or you're
climbing early in the season), the normal climber's trail that runs to the
north of Petzoldt's Caves & Spalding Falls may be buried in snow. The
best route under these conditions is usually a
bootpack above the Meadows that runs below the Middle Teton's northeast
face. The Meadows is the name for the meadow in Garnet Canyon that's below
Spalding Falls and it's also the name for the camping area in the same location.
Do not confuse it with the Lupine Meadows trailhead.
The direct route to the Lower Saddle over snow can be a
real time saver with firm conditions. Above the Meadows' Headwall, you'll
run up the wide snow-covered talus field to reach the bootpack at the Lower
Saddle's Headwall. As with the Lower Saddle's Headwall, the afternoon
hike down the snow-covered Meadows' Headwall can be sketchy but
well-equipped climbers should be OK. Rocks tend to hide just under the snow
surface at lower elevations so glissading isn't always a good option early
in the season. Also, it's not unusual to see mattress-sized slabs of snow
flying off the northeastern half of Meadows' Headwall or water undercutting
the snow in several locations.
The Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers usually post a blog
update when they think the summer climber's trail by Spalding Falls
should be used. The trail is on the north side of the stream flowing from
Spalding Falls and some lingering snow fields may cover parts of it even
after the Rangers announce the changeover.
Lake Climbing Rangers' blog also has information about upper-mountain
route conditions. It's not always up-to-date but it's a good starting point.
The best source for information will always be a climber coming off the
mountain. You can usually get first-hand beta somewhere along the trail.
Opinions about the route, and its conditions, can vary greatly from one
climber to the next because people have different skills and comfort levels
so take all information with a grain of salt. Additional resources include
local climbing shops, blogs, smart-phone apps, Twitter feeds, Facebook posts,
Ranch, & the Ranger Station at Jenny Lake. The website www.outerlocal.com
publishes conditions for routes throughout the Teton Range as reported by
readers. You're looking for a baseline assessment because conditions can
change quickly. If it rained overnight, yesterday's perfect conditions could
turn into icy conditions the following morning but clear up as temperatures
Great climbing conditions can start in mid-June and extended into October. Wait until the snow is gone from climber's trail
below the Lower Saddle if you want to avoid using an ice axe and crampons.
That usually happens in July - some years it's August - (2012: July 1st).
Conditions can change rapidly as you head into September so you'll need
a flexible climbing window when soloing in September & October. Poor
conditions tend to improve fairly quickly if the summit block is above 40
degrees. Even with temperatures below freezing, verglas on the summit block
can burn off at a quick rate if the weather is dry and sunny.
Generally speaking, early August still has long days, warm
temps, plenty of climbers, & conditions are near their best so it tends
to be a good time for a novice climber to attempt the Grand. On the flip
side, thunderstorms & natural forest fires tend to be more common in
August. Natural & prescribed
forest fires can limit your view, make breathing difficult, and seriously
dampen the pleasure that comes from camping, hiking, and climbing in the
~ Weather ~
This is the Fed's
weather forecast for the Grand Teton area (7-8 miles NW of Moose, WY).
The National Weather Service also has a recreational
forecast for the summit during the summer. Here's the hour-by-hour
forecast for precipitation, etc. There is a weather
station atop the Lower Saddle that records wind speed & temperature
data during the summer. Our local website for mountain
weather has a nice Lightning
PDF & blog
post about reading clouds and how to stay safe. They also have a real-time
Lightning Map that shows incoming threats. You may wish to check the
phase of the moon while checking the forecast. Upcoming
Full Moons 2013: June 23 (Sun), July 22 (Mon), Aug 20 (Tue), Sept 19
(Thu), Oct 18 (Fri). Some climbers like to camp overnight when meteor
showers peak (August 12, 13 - Perseids Meteor Shower 2013). Comet Pan-STARRS
will cross the skies of the northern hemisphere in mid-March of 2013, and
Comet ISON in late November.
for Grand Teton area
Lower Saddle Weather Station (no winter data)
Hour-by-Hour Forecast for Grand Teton
NWS Recreational Forecast for Grand Teton Nat. Park
(no winter data, includes summit forecast)
NWS National Satellite Loop
NWS National Radar Loop
NWS Idaho Falls Radar
NWS Riverton Radar
MountainWeather.com Real-Time Lightning Map
MountainWeather.com Lightning Warning Signs PDF
NWS Field Guide, PDF
NWS Lightning Safety Tips
NWS Online School for Weather - Free!
NWS multi-use page
WeatherUnderground Large Map
It's best to check forecasts the morning of the climb.
You can call 1-800-211-1448. Ask the person
for the weather conditions near the Grand Teton which is about 7.5 miles
NE of Moose, WY 83012 (43.74°N 110.79°W Elev. 11,600 ft). Or call the GTNP
weather line: 307.739.3611. With a smart phone,
you might be able to examine the weather radar if you're above the Lower
Free internet access & weather
information is available at the Moose
Visitor Center. Weather forecasts are also available at the Jenny
Lake Visitor Center. The average low temperature at the valley floor
during July & August is close to 40°F. The avg. high temp is about
79°F. The summit temperatures can get above 60°F on very hot days. As for
wind, if it's blowing hard, it tends to be the worst around the Lower Saddle
and slows noticeably as you approach the Central Rib.
In 2010, 17 people decided to climb
this mountain in bad weather. The result was the largest
Search & Rescue in the Park's history. And
one death. Learn from their mistake. If the weatherman is talking
about low-pressure, cold fronts, & moisture, you should reconsider your
climbing plans. If storm clouds are building, you should retreat to a safer
location until the threat passes. The summit block is a lightning rod. With
or without lightning, climbing in the rain is a bad idea.
~ SAFETY ~
Stay off the Summit Block in bad weather.
Don't get Summit Fever.
Ice is a Serious Danger all year long.
Falling rock is common.
Lightning is common.
Dangerous wind gusts are common.
Low temperatures are common.
Wet rock is common.
Avalanches are possible.
Falling snow slabs are possible.
Falling ice is possible.
Thick fog is possible.
Death is possible.
This mountain provides ample solid holds
but don't become complacent and assume the next hold is secure. Also,
if you dislodge rock, let others know - "ROCK!". Better yet,
don't cause rock fall. As you might expect, rock fall is more common in
the talus gullies. The Chockstone Chimney & Wall Street's entrance
have a collection of unstable rocks as do the rap areas.
Assuming you see it, ice is easily avoided
(or managed) when conditions are good. Pockets of ice stay on the Grand
all year long and new ice can form throughout the summer. Under the right
conditions, moisture-rich clouds hitting the summit block can airbrush ice
everywhere and it can happen very quickly. You should remain vigilant when
climbing with misty conditions and retreat if temperatures are dropping.
Additionally, thick fog makes route finding difficult.
Be cognizant of your body's natural
limits before testing them on the Grand Teton. For example, you
may quickly lose the strength needed to change your position if you're
lingering in one spot while your arms are supporting weight; and then,
you will probably lose your grip and fall. While that isn't a concern
for most climbers on the routes covered here, it could be for some individuals
due to age, fitness level, climbing line, or technique.
Local Blogs / Websites ~
Snow King Mtn: Jackson
Hole Valley & Grand Teton & here
Teton Valley, Idaho: Grand Teton West Face & here
Kelly, WY (UNAVAILABLE) : Grand Teton SE Face & here
Lost Creek Ranch: Grand Teton NE Face
Spring Creek Ranch: Teton Range
East Gros Ventre Butte: Teton Range
GT Climber's Ranch: Grand Teton SE Face
Teton Village, JHMR: Sometimes this webcam points
toward the Grand Teton's South Face
Collection of WebCams from NOAA
Web Resources ~
GTNP Climbing Conditions (no winter data)
Approach Map from 'Teton Classics' book
Camping map & rules for Garnet area (NEW here) PDF
Backcountry Reservations - Climbing and Mountaineering (PDF)
Lupine Meadows Trailhead Map
"Permits involving overnight camping while climbing or mountaineering may
ONLY be obtained at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station during the summer".
GTNP Visitor Map PDF
Historical Info from GTNP on the Tetons
Grand Teton National Park & on Facebook
GTNP News Releases & Tweets
GTNP on YouTube
Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers Website
Guide to Climbing Rock and Ice Magazine
Jackson Hole Avalanche Links
Our Panoramio Photo Album
Newer 2013 Climbing Route Photos
Aerial Photos Teton Range
Our YouTube & Vimeo Channels
Twitter feed @GrandTetonClimb
American Alpine Club Climber's Ranch
Friends of the Climber's Ranch
Alpinist Magazine on Facebook
Wilderness First Aid American Red Cross (online & PDF)
Adventure Medical Kits Wilderness Medicine Manual (PDF)
Virtual Tours ~
Canyon Trail - view of Bradley & Taggart lakes.
Garnet Canyon - The Meadows.
Above and Northeast of Morainal Camping Zone.
The Lower Saddle
The Upper Saddle
West Face of Grand Teton from the Enclosure.
Grand Teton from Middle Teton.
Grand Teton Summit.
Trip Reports ~
& Fast on the Grand Teton"
is a nice Free Solo Climbing blog post
SummitPost.org Owen-Spalding via Catwalk
SummitPost.org Owen-Spalding via Owen Chimney
MountainProject.com Upper Exum
SummitPost.org Upper Exum
14ers.com Upper Exum Route
Grand Teton Links & Stats PeakBagger.com
GTNP Peaks RockClimbing.com
From the book, 'A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range'
From the book, 'Select Peaks of Greater Yellowstone' PDF
From the book, 'Teton Classics: 50 Selected Peaks..'
The new 2012 book 'Teton Rock Climbs' is also available.
Blogging - a summer resource from us
Telephone Numbers ~
GTNP Lost & Found 307.739.3450
GTNP Emergency Dispatch 307.739.3300, or 911
Jenny Lake Ranger Station 307.739.3343 8-5 pm
...in the winter call (307) 739-3309.
Moose Visitor Center (307) 739-3399
Moosely Mountaineering (in GTNP) 307.739.1801
Climber's Ranch (in GTNP) 307.733.7271
Weather 1-800-211-1448 or 307.739.3611
Local Climbing Shops:
Mountaineering & Skinny
Skis in Jackson. Moosely
Mountaineering at Dornan's in Grand Teton National Park sells & rents climbing gear. None rents
helmets or protection; it's mostly shoes, crampons, axe.
Local Climbing Guides:
Mountain Guides, Jackson
Hole Mountain Guides. In partnership with Exum Guides, Wilderness
Ventures provides several Grand Teton adventures exclusively for teens.
Climber's Ranch offers up cheap accommodations in GTNP & you might
find a free guide. The Ranch is also a good source for route information.
Sports rents GoPro camera kits.
~ Maps ~
Visit the USGS Store to download free 7.5 min USGS Topographical Maps in PDF & GeoPDF formats. In 2012, the USGS released new topo maps for the entire State of Wyoming. The new Grand Teton map is in a GeoPDF format. GeoPDF's are layered PDF's with embedded data. The Grand Teton map includes aerial photos, cursor coordinates, 24 layers that you can turn on & off, functionality with your GPS signal, and other features. They are much like Google Maps but you don't need the internet to use them.
For a desktop PC, tablet, or smartphone, you currently
need an Adobe Acrobat plug-in (the Free TerraGo GeoPDF Toolbar is one option)
to take full advantage of GeoPDF's. Only a few SmartPhones have the power
needed to fully utilize a GeoPDF. At the moment, many of the new maps don't
show hiking trails and they're missing several other features that the older
maps provide. The old maps are still available for a free download and they
can be viewed with any PDF reader. The newer maps will be updated in the
~ Climbers, Times,
Distances, and Preparation ~
A round-trip climb in a single day can be extremely taxing.
Even the hike to the Lower Saddle takes a toll on many individuals. If you
want to camp overnight, consider selecting a camping spot below the Lower
Saddle and getting an early start the following day. Carrying a heavy pack
all the way to the Lower Saddle is a burden if you're not in excellent shape.
The young and old successfully summit the Grand Teton every
summer. Most don't solo, or attempt a round-trip in one afternoon, but they
make it to the top. 80-year-old Bob
Riggs reached the summit in 2007. Jeff
Lowe summited at age 7 with his father in 1957. Peter
Eubank, at age 5 (possibly 6), climbed with his dad and two sisters
in 2011. One sister, Suu Eubank, became the youngest female to summit at
the age of 8. A 7-year-old Greta
Jensen followed her in 2012 and currently holds the record for the youngest
person to solo on the ascent. An out-of-shape Geraldine
Lucas reached the top in 1924, at the age of 58. 51-year-old Nancy
Stevens became the first blind woman to summit in 2012 (the second blind
person). Records come & go every year. Of course, many climbers don't
make it to the summit and most young children should not be climbing the
Some experienced climbers complain about the lack of a
challenge on these two routes. As far as the climbing goes, they're mostly
correct. This isn't a 5.11
climb (it's 5.4 to 5.5). Of course, we all experience it differently.
It may seem like a 5.11 climb if you're 80-years-old. Additionally, all
routes are inherently dangerous and poor conditions can turn an easy climb
into a difficult one. For those unable to summit the Grand, the second highest
peak in the Teton Range, The
Enclosure, is a quick scramble. A small Native American rock formation
sits at the Enclosure's top and predates the first known ascents of the
Grand. The route starts about 100 ft below the Upper Saddle and a little
further to the west.
For the exceptional climbers, add the more difficult Lower Exum to your soloing agenda. You can also climb it with pro
and finish the Upper Exum on a solo. In July, 2008, an employee of Exum
Mountain Guides died while soloing the Lower Exum. A wind gust of
60 mph was recorded that day. It might have taken his life. No one knows.
Bryce Thatcher held the record for the fastest round-trip
time from Lupine Meadows to the summit & back by clocking in at 3:06
in 1983. He talks about it on www.TetonAT.com
(more info here
- video). FYI: Steve Romeo, the man behind TetonAT.com, lost his life in
an avalanche on March 7th, 2012, and his death is yet another reminder that
the mountains don't care about your experience or safety. Kilian
Jornet of Spain nailed a 2:54:01 round-trip time on August 12, 2012,
the day after running
the Grand with Swede Emelie Forsberg who claimed a woman's record time
of 3:51. Here's a promotional video of Kilian
on the Grand. Andy
Anderson beat Kilian's record by 59 seconds with a round-trip time of
2:53:02 just 11 days later. None used the same approach route or descent.
Most climbers don't reach the Lower Saddle in 3 hours. Plan on a long day.
Bryce Thatcher's run up the Grand Teton
Watch on Vimeo
The Lupine Meadows trailhead starts at about 6,800 feet.
The Garnet Canyon trail & Garnet
Creek meet near 9000 ft. The Lower Saddle sits at about 11,600'. The
Upper Saddle sits about 600' below the summit. The top of Wall Street is
about 1000' below the summit and there's a 1500' slope length to the summit
(my wild estimates). The Grand Teton rises to 13,775'. The USGS
monument isn't actually the highest point. The Park Service's published
elevation of the Grand (13,770') has no valid scientific basis. The distance
to the top of the Grand Teton is 7.7 miles (so
they say, via O-S or Exum) with a gain of about 7000 ft (1.3 miles).
has more stats. The distance of 7.7 miles has been disputed (too long, some
miles to Garnet Creek from the Lupine
Meadows Trailhead. A fast hiker can get to the Meadows Camping Area
in under 1.5 hours. Getting to the Lower Saddle should take between 2.5
& 3 hours. Five hours to the top works out to 1.5 mph over the reported
7.7 miles & 7,000' elevation gain. Four hours to the summit is a very
good time for fast hikers. My fastest time walking briskly to the summit
is around 3.5 hours on the OS route and just under 4 hours via the UE.
My round-trip time usually varies between 8 & 10 hours.
It's 7 to 8 hours if I'm in a hurry. I'm walking at a quick pace. I never
run. I may spend 45 minutes on
the summit or just touch & go. Route variations and conditions can
extend my time toward the 10 hour mark. On some days the body and the mind
have different agendas and I'll hit 10 hours. For age comparisons, I'm in
my early 50's.
For reference, I consider the Exhibition
ski run on Jackson's Snow
King Mountain an easy 30 minute uphill hike. 23 minutes just about kills
me. The elevation difference is about 1570 ft. It takes me 85 minutes to
reach the JHMR's
Tram Deck from the Teton
Village parking lot (4,140'
rise to 10,450'). If you can hit my times, you can easily to do the
Grand Teton in one day. Your times could greatly undercut mine if you have
the ability to jog along sections of the hiking trail. While most folks
greatly exceed my round-trip time there are many local runners who shave
hours off my time. I have no idea how long it will take you.
I'm assuming you're physically fit & a strong hiker
who's traveling light for a solo climb. When there's no chance of bad weather,
consider starting at sunrise from Lupine Meadows if you've never climbed
the Grand Teton. Start earlier if you're in a group unless you know you're
going fast. Speaking of fast & early, you can zip past the Entrance
Station early in the morning but don't get a lead foot in the National
Park. Animals are hard to see & can appear suddenly on the road.
Besides that, valley cops spend most of their time collecting revenue from
traffic stops - city, county, state, and federal.
The Jackson Hole Valley
I usually get a late start to my climbs compared to other
climbers: between 7 & 8 in the morning from the Lupine Meadows parking
lot. I've started as late as 10:30 am on those perfect weather days. Afternoon
summits are nice. The guides are off the mountain. The odds of being alone
on the summit are higher. Warmer temperatures may melt icy spots. Wind
speeds may decrease as temperatures stabilize. I don't need that extra
layer of early-morning clothing. I can pack light & travel fast. I
can sleep in.
For maximum safety, pick days when the chance of rain is
near zero. In 2012, it was hard to find a summer raindrop. On the other
hand, we had smoky skies from forest fires burning throughout the West.
are more common in the afternoon so most climbers & guides like to be
off the summit before noon. I've jumped ship 15 minutes from the summit
and that decision made the difference between being exposed in a severe
lightning storm and escaping the threat. For safety, and other reasons,
many guided parties are leaving the Lower Saddle at 4 am. You might catch
the sunrise by starting at that hour but it's too cold and dark for me.
Soloing the day after heavy rainstorms can be dangerous
if the upper-mountain temperatures were below freezing. The resulting ice
may need a full day to burn off - or longer. Freeze & thaw cycles and
heavy runoff can trigger additional rock fall. And wet rock is almost as
dangerous as icy rock. Late-spring snow storms can greatly increase the
chances of an avalanche
and snow can hide dangers just under the surface. Check with the Climbing
if you're uncertain about the avalanche threat level which can fluctuate
throughout June under some situations.
It's a good idea to use a helmet and most people do. It's
a personal choice. The mountain is littered with fallen rock. Avoid the
scree chutes, be careful below other climbers, and stick close to ridgelines
when feasible. Take a headlamp if you're uncertain about your ability to
get back down in a timely manner - you'll have 16 hours of daylight during
the longest days. Slips on the trail are common. Hiking poles are popular
on the approach to the Lower Saddle and some climbers use them as a substitute
for an ice axe to provide stability over early-season snow slopes.
You can leave hiking poles, and other gear, at the
Lower Saddle by the gear hangers. 360
degree view of Lower Saddle.
I take shorts, a long-sleeve wicking shirt (two thin layers
can be warmer yet lighter than one thick layer), a hoodie if it's cold,
a hat, and a pair of climbing gloves up the Grand. A light waterproof jacket
goes if there is a possibility of rain or strong wind. Morning temperatures
can be extremely cold on the summit block during the shoulder season. You
may need winter clothing. I use disposable hand warmers when summit temperatures
plunge. They are lifesavers. Many climbers misjudge just how cold the summit
block can be and leave gloves or jackets behind. Since soloers are constantly
moving, they tend to better manage the cold than climbers on the belay train.
As mentioned above, the summit temps can reach into the 60's on the warmest
days. It's not uncommon to see runners with just their water, shoes, shirts,
& shorts headed up the Grand. Some elite runners skip the water bottle
and catch a sip from the mountain. If you're quick, pack light on a warm
day and you'll have more fun.
Quality tennis shoes work fine if there's no snow or water
to deal with. Many trail & tennis shoes have soles made from a material
that acts more like plastic than rubber. These shoes will perform very poorly
on wet granite. Approach shoes which are specifically made for scrambling
over rock seem like a good balance between durability, comfort and safety.
Technical climbing boots work great on the bootpack and they may hold crampons
better than other boots. Sore feet can ruin a trip and shoes without good
traction won't cut it; so, choose carefully. Some climbers pack a pair of
super-sticky rock shoes to better handle friction sections. I've used hunting
boots more often than not.
Phone reception above the Lower Saddle is usually possible.
Yes, some people can make calls from the summit. Reception below the Lower
Saddle is usually impossible until you are out of Garnet Canyon. That may
change in the future. A portable 6-watt marine radio might be able
to transmit an emergency distress call to boaters or Rangers from areas
without cell phone coverage. Satellite devices like SPOT work pretty much
You may want sun
glasses and sun
screen. Bug spray is needed early in the season especially by Lupine
Meadows. A mini thermometer comes in handy if it's foggy and you're concerned
about ice forming. It's not unusual to see bears.
Some folks take bear spray. If the Park Service knows about unusual bear
activity - especially Grizzly activity - they may post temporary warning
Learn what to do if
you encounter a bear. I see them every year and they can be uncomfortably
close - suddenly & just feet away. While most bears will ignore you
or leave the area, not all bears will react so kindly. Grizzly & black
bears (sows with cubs) were frequent visitors to the climbers' trail in
2012. None caused a problem as far as I know but bears in other parts of
the park did. Bears guarding a meaty food source are a serious threat. If
mom sends the kids up a tree, she doesn't like you and you're too close.
Bears will sometimes threaten you without any understandable motivation
for their actions. Frankly speaking, your chances of getting injured on
the Grand are greater than your chances of getting injured by a bear but
never underestimate the threat posed by either one.
My water bottle is refilled near the top of Spalding
Falls where the trail intersects a fresh water source at the junction
caves. Make sure you have enough water for the long hike back
to the trailhead during the descent. There's usually a
hose which collects water from a drainage near the Lower Saddle's
most eastern camping site and it allows you to easily fill a hydration
pack. You can also get water from the Middle Teton Glacier & a Teepe
Glacier drainage. I take a small water bottle and refill it along the
way. I don't use a filter. I have yet to get sick from drinking unfiltered
water but I doubt it's free of pathogens. I don't drink from any water
sources below Spalding Falls.
There is a bathroom at the trailhead. The Park Service
does not want to service the outdated open-air side-by-side twin beauty
at the Lower Saddle. You're now
required to use a disposable travel toilet zip-lock mylar bag and
pack stuff out. You can bury waste 6-8 inches and 200' away from wetlands
in less traveled areas of the park. Free bags used to be available at
the trailhead but I haven't seen any since 2010. Bags are available with
permit at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station.
If you spend most of your time at lower elevations, take the time to acclimate. Altitude sickness is common for unacclimatized climbers.
Your best friends on a bad day.
If you have the time or money, be sure to support the
Lake Climbing Rangers (here
too) who risk life and limb to save us when things go wrong. Also,
County Search & Rescue Team (here
too). Here's a nice
Rescue Video that's worth watching. More detailed videos
of climbing routes will be added as they become available. Thanks for
visiting. Enjoy safe climbing.
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" The best climber in the world is the one having the most fun" Alex Lowe
Copyright © 2013, KSM Jackson, WY.
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