Climbing the Grand
All summer, my cousin Lisa and I had been trying to get together for some climbing. Finally, on September 1, with the summer nearly over, we headed out on a 10-day road trip to Wyoming. We spent a few days having a blast climbing in the Cirque of the Towers, and then climbed the Grand Teton before heading back home.
The following page details my climb of the Grand Teton (which Lisa decided not to climb). To see a trip report and photos for our 2 classic climbs in the Cirque of the Towers (the East ridge of Wolf’s Head and the NE Face of Pingora), click here.
On the morning of Sept 7, Lisa and I stopped at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station to get our permits to camp at the Lower Saddle on the Grand Teton. Lisa and I planned on climbing the classic Direct Exum route. The weather forecast looked good, but the rangers warned us of a bit of ice in the chimneys on the Owen Spalding descent route. Fortunately the conditions on the Exum ridge looked promising, and I figured we could go at least as far as the Lower Saddle and get first-hand beta about the conditions from climbers coming off the route the next day. But Lisa heard the word "ice" and decided the Grand Teton could wait for another time. So I headed up alone, planning to solo the Upper Exum or ideally find a party willing to take on another member to climb the Direct Exum, which combines the Lower and Upper Exum ridges. Although the Direct Exum is only 5.7, I decided that it would not be smart to solo this route, given some potential ice and colder conditions.
I ended up camping in the Moraine, due to high winds at the Lower Saddle. There was a party of three camping in the Moraine, and I decided to talk to them and see if they would be willing of taking on another climbing partner. They struck me as friendly and fun people. Although they were planning on climbing the Upper Exum rather than the Direct Exum, I figured it would be safer and more fun to climb with other people, so I set up my tent nearby and planned to head up with them the next morning.
At 6am on Sept 8, the four of us (Willy, Marco, Lorna, and I) left our base camp in the Moraine and began our ascent of the Grand Teton looming above. We scrambled up the lower Owen-Spalding route and traversed over to the Exum Ridge via a ramp called Wallstreet. This part of the climb was little more than a steep hike with some fun routefinding. Then we climbed the Upper Exum Ridge to the summit. This was a lot of fun 4th Class and low 5th Class (up to 5.5) climbing. It was a fun route, we had great weather, and the conditions on the ridge were good. We descended down the Owen-Spalding route, which did have some snow and a bit of ice in the rappel chimneys, but not enough to be treacherous. It was a great climb! I had a lot of fun climbing with Willy, Marco, and Lorna. Thanks guys for letting me join your trio!
Scroll below for trip reports and photos from the Upper Exum route on the Grand Teton.
The approach to the Exum Ridge of the Grand Teton begins at Lupine Meadows Trailhead (6730ft). The total elevation gain from trailhead to summit is 7040ft. There are several places to camp along the way: (1) Platforms at 9000ft, (2) Meadows at 9300ft, (3) The Caves at 9700ft, (4) Moraine at 10,800ft, or (5) Lower Saddle at 11,600ft. The Lower Saddle is about 7 miles from the trailhead. I got a permit for camping at the Lower Saddle (you have to get a permit for camping in the area), but when I got up there it was so windy I retreated back down to the Moraine camps. It took me about 4 hours to get to the Lower Saddle from the trailhead.
CLIMB UP OWEN SPALDING TO THE EXUM RIDGE
We scrambled a little less than 1000 vertical up the lower Owen-Spalding Route and then traversed over to the Exum Ridge via a ledge called "Wallstreet." This is a popular route which bypasses the "harder" climbing on the Lower Exum Ridge. (I had wanted to climb the Lower Exum Ridge, but had to make some modifications to the plan when Lisa decided not to climb.) The Owen-Spalding route is little more than a steep hike, but has some fun route-finding around such features as "The Needle," the "Eye of the Needle," and "Wallstreet." The Wallstreet ledge brings you to the Exum Ridge. From here, the Upper Exum Ridge stretches about 1500 vertical feet towards the summit.
CLIMB OF THE UPPER EXUM RIDGE
The Upper Exum Ridge is about 1500 vertical feet of 4th Class scrambling and low 5th Class climbing. Like the Owen-Spalding route, it is riddled with named features such as "The Golden Staircase," the "Wind Tunnel," the "Friction Pitch," and the "V-Pitch." It was fun climbing, especially since much of it is in the sun. It could easily be soloed.
DESCENT VIA THE OWEN SPALDING ROUTE
The typical means of descent is down the Owen Spalding route, which is mostly Class 3 scrambling. There are 2 rappels down the chimneys on the upper Owen Spalding route. To get to the first rappel you scramble down and left about 600ft. The second rappel is a short scramble down and left from the base of the first rappel. Due to a couple of early September snow storms, there was a bit of snow on the upper Owen Spalding route, but not enough to make it treacherous. Overall, the descent was straightforward, but in poor weather conditions I can see how the rappel anchors might be difficult to find.
MY PARENTS’ CLIMB OF THE GRAND TETON IN AUGUST 1982
My parents climbed the Direct Exum route on the Grand Teton in August 1982. They teamed up with a guy named Ralph, whose partner had decided not to climb. These old climbing photos seem to be pretty popular in my previous trip reports, so I have posted a few from my parents’ climb in 1982 just for fun.