Grand Teton Direct Exum Free Solo

Grand Teton Direct Exum Free Solo

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 43.74110°N / 110.802°W
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: Sep 15, 2002
After flying into Jackson late the previous night, John and I started hiking at the Lupine Meadows trailhead at 7:30am on September 15, 2002. We planned to climb the Direct Exum Ridge (5.7, III/IV) car-to-car in a day. John carried his BD Bullet Pack and I carried my BD Ice Pack. We brought a 60m rope and a light rack.

A mile or so up the trail, we saw a young black bear eating berries a few feet off the trail. Despite our taunting, it completely ignored us. Watching the bear deftly bend branches to pull the berries within reach was an interesting experience. The coordination of the powerful beast was impressive.

We continued hiking together up to about 11,000 ft. John was moving pretty slowly at this point, and it was clear that we were going to have to alter our plans. After some discussion we decided to split up. The plan was for John to continue hiking up to the Lower Saddle while I soloed the Direct Exum Ridge. We would meet at the Saddle. If we missed each other, we'd meet at the car. I pulled the rope, harness, and rack out of my pack and stashed them beside the trail. A few minutes later, I reached the Lower Saddle and headed over toward the start of the Lower Exum Ridge.

I decided to go light, so I put on my rock shoes, a long sleeve cotton shirt, and my chalk bag. I stuffed a can of imitation Red Bull in my pants pocket and stashed my pack at the base. The climb started up an easy chimney to a ledge. Then a slightly more difficult chimney (5.6-ish) with a large chockstone in it followed. I looked down and saw some people at the north end of the Lower Saddle staring up at me. I hoped that John would reach the Lower Saddle and attempt to take some long-distance pictures of me on the route.

After the chimneys, I wandered up 5.ez terrain to the wind tunnel. A 5.7 move, followed by more 5.ez climbing brought me to the base of the famous "Black Face" pitch. The face looks a lot like chocolate/vanilla marble cake and is usually considered to be the crux of the climb. It's steep and airy but it has good holds. I started up the Face and noticed a couple people on a route a couple hundred yards to my right. We exchanged hellos, and I continued on as they watched.

The Black Face ended and I cruised up 5.7 cracks to "Wall Street". Wall Street is the ramp that many people use to access the Upper Exum Ridge, which is much more well-traveled than the Lower Exum Ridge because it's mostly 5.2 and under. People usually start up the Owen-Spaulding Route and bypass the "hard" climbing on the Lower ridge.

When I reached Wall Street, I chugged the can of imitation Red Bull, then crushed it with my foot and put the can back in my pocket. I don't know if it's just psychological, but Red Bull really does seem to re-engergize me.

I flew up the first few hundred feet of the Upper Exum Ridge, to the "Friction Pitch". There was a group of 6 or so people who seemed to be having some trouble on this section. I have no clue what was going on there, but they were all clustered together in an odd arrangement. I passed them on slabby 5.7-ish terrain to the right. As I climbed, a guy yelled to me, "Where does the route go after that rock up there?" I answered with a wise and informative response, "I don't know. Just go up." He replied with something like "Ok. Cool, dude. Rock on."

On my way to the summit, I passed a couple more parties. I finally reached the top about 50 minutes after starting. The temperature was a little chilly for what I was wearing, but it wasn't too bad. When I reached the high point, I was accosted by a group of four who handed me three cameras. I took three summit photos for them and then started to think about the descent.

I turned to the NW to head down the Owen-Spaulding Route and was shocked to see what appeared to be full winter conditions. Equipped with only rock shoes and a chalk bag, I felt a little uneasy. I started down on easy snow through Class 3 rocks and passed a team decked out in full snow/ice regalia. I came to some rappel anchors that led down an ice-filled gulley. The gulley looked like it would have been Class 4 if it was dry, but it was plastered with snow and ice. With my rock shoes, it might as well have been overhanging waterfall ice. I traversed north and followed what I thought was the Owen-Spaulding descent route. I wasn't really sure which way to go. My biggest worry was that my descent would be abruptly stopped by impassable, steep ice. I tip-toed down and north on very exposed and icy Class 3/4 slopes knowing that even a tiny slip would mean disaster. Then I came to the 5.4-5.6 section. To my dismay, it was completely ice-choked. I now had three options: 1) Wait for another party to start descending and rappel with them (of course I'd have to rig a makeshift harness out of some borrowed webbing and an rappel device out of some borrowed carabiners), 2) Head back up to the summit then down-climb the Exum Ridge, or 3) Suck it up and downclimb the ice in my rock shoes.

I couldn't bear the thought of asking for help or letting the Owen -Spaulding descent defeat me, so I continued on. I slowly made my way down, using tiny rock pimples protruding from the ice as foot holds. A few times I even used the ice itself. Sticky rubber and ice are not a good combination. At last, I reached the base of the "hard" section, then I traversed south on easy snow among boulders. From there, the snow quickly disappeared and I continued scrambling down to the lower saddle. I didn't see John, so I figured he must have headed down. I cruised down to the trailhead, but I didn't run into John along the way. I wound up waiting outside the car for 2.5 hours while John hiked down from the Lower Saddle with they keys.


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