Photos courtesy of Michael Henderson (https://www.instagram.com/mich...).
Oh and Chase made a pretty awesome video of the climb that should be good beta..... https://www.youtube.com/watch?...
Mt Owen has been on the list for me a while. I had made a quite a few trips down to the Tetons over the summer and decided to try and do one more peak before the snow arrived. So on the last weekend in September me and four friends drove from Helena down to Jackson. We decided to do an ultra alpine start and leave the car at midnight. I wanted to leave extra early because I had heard that the climb was pretty involved and a a few of the guys in our group didn't have a lot of experience with this kind of thing. We tried to get a few hours sleep, but this didn't work great with five dudes in one small car. After sleeping less that a half hour we all got up and hit the trail around 12:30am. The first few miles were pretty rough but we made good time and arrived at amphitheater lake around 3am.
About half way down the lake we cut off to the right on trail that led us up to the ridge line and then down along the north face of Disappointment to the massive Teton Glacier moraine. At the base of the NF of Disappointment we could clearly see Mt. Owen by the light of the moon. It looked really close from that perspective, but it actually took us a couple of hours to scramble over the two rocky ridges on the moraine and reach the edge of the Teton glacier.
This area is absolutely spectacular. I had spent quite a bit of time on the south side of the grand which is also really cool, but the Teton glacier amphitheater is pretty wild. When you get on the Glacier the Koven couloir is directly to the right. From where we were it looked like there was some steep snow that would need to be negotiated to get to the base of the rock band below the couloir. So we put on our snow gear and headed up. The snow turned out to be rock hard ice so we tried to stick to the rock as much as possible. After a few hundred feet we arrived at a large grassy bench beneath the first rock band. At this point it was still pretty dark so we decided to try and nap for an hour or so and wait till it got light. This worked out pretty good except for the fact that none of us dressed warm enough and we absolutely froze!! My buddy Michael got some cool shots though as it started to get light.
It soon as it got light enough we started gearing up. Since we had so many people our plan was to solo all the way up and hopefully only have to do a couple rappels on the way down. I had a nut set and a few cams so I could protect individual moves if they got to hard. We started up the rock band at the obvious weakness directly below the couloir. The moves were easy for the most part, but it was definitely 5th class and pretty exposed. I placed one cam and clipped it to my lanyard to protect the hardest move. In my opinion this 200ish foot rock band was the crux of the climb. It may have just felt like that because it was so early though. After the rock band the climbing eased up to 3rd class and we scrambled up the the scree covered bench to the base of the upper Koven couloir. Most of the couloir was melted out, however the bottom third was still filled with snow. The rock on the left looked too difficult to climb, however we were able to scramble up on the right edge of the snow for about 100 feet. At this point the rock on the left side of the couloir looked much easier so we decided to traverse the snow to the other side. This took a little while because the snow was rock hard and kicking steps in approach shoes was very difficult, great for the tools though. I ended up taking everyone's tool and placing them at three foot intervals across the snow so everyone could cross. It wasn't bad in crampons, but it looked a little more exiting for Ethan and Michael in their micro spikes or Chase is his Yak Tracks(Legendary). After the snow we continued up the left side of the couloir on fourth and low 5th class terrain for a couple hundred feet to top of the couloir at the base of the east prong. From Here we headed left towards the rock band that guarded access to the upper bench below the summit pyramid. The normal route goes up the obvious low fifth class chimney, however we found this to be completely choked with ice. We spent a long time looking for a good way around this. There appeared to be a potential line to the left, but it was wet and pretty slabby. We finally found a way up on the right of the chimney which was easier but really exposed.
Once we got on top of the upper bench we were relieved to see that enough snow had melted that we would be able to traverse around to the south side of the summit pyramid on rock. This was pretty straight forward. We had to cross a few ice patches and chimneys, but for the most part it was just walking across the flat rock bench below the snowfield. I feel like doing this in the early season would be pretty scary because the snow is pretty steep and there's a couple thousand foot drop below the upper bench.
We circled around to the south side of the summit and found a pretty good sized snow field blocking access to the Koven chimney. Micro spike and yak track guys weren't feeling the snow so me and Dan went on by ourselves. The snow wasn't too steep and had all this weird texture but it was super hard and my crampons kept coming off so it tool a little while. At the top of the snow field we scrambled up and to the right on 3rd class terrain to the base of the Koven chimney. The chimney was really cool and easy and we solo'd all the way up. For the Koven chimney you climb straight up the obvious chimney for about 60 feet and then cut left on easy slabs for about 15 feet to reach the ridge crest. From here you crossover the ridge and traverse around to the west side on a big ledge. When the way is blocked by a bunch of big black rocks turn right towards the summit up some 4th class to smaller ledge right above the big ledge. Traverse about 10-15 feet right on this to where you see a really deep chimney that brings you up to the summit. I was kind of worried that some of the chimney would be iced up, but luckily it was all dry. The summit was spectacular. Super exposed, we had an awesome view of the North face of the grand and the west side of the enclosure. The North Face is definitely on my list now. Looks pretty involved and lots of evidence of recent rockfall on the glacier. But damn.
After some quick pics on the summit we found the rappel station on the south side which brought up down to another rappel station that dropped us to the base of the chimney. From here we rigged a rappel down the upper part of the snowfield and down climbed the rest. At the base of the snowfield we met up with the rest of the group and hurried back across the upper bench to the top of the ice chimney. We found another rappel station at the top of the ice chimney and rappelled down this which really sucked. At this point it was after 5pm and I was kind of worried about getting off the technical part before dark. We were able to down climb most of the upper couloir and found a good rappel station to the skiers right above the last 100 feet of the chimney which allowed us to bypass the snow. From here we hurried down the 3rd class and a little fourth to the top of the initial rock band. We found a rap station on the skiers left of the rock band which dropped us into a loose 3rd class gully leading down to the glacier. We got down to the glacier just as it was getting dark.
I don't remember too much about the descent except that it was awful. It took us a while to find the trail in the dark, but we finally found it by traversing below the NF of Disappointment. From there it just became an endless slog back to the car. We reached the car at 10:30pm. We were all beyond tired at this point so we decided to get a hotel room in Driggs and get a good night sleep before heading back to Helena.
All in all it was quite an adventure. The climb took us 22 hours from car to car and over 12 hours from the Teton glacier to the summit and back. I think part of the issue was that we had five people so everything took a lot longer. Also the climb is pretty involved mainly because so much of it is on 4th and 5th class terrain. In addition to this there is a lot more technical elevation gain on this route than the easy routes up the Grand, Middle or Teewinot. You also must down climb or rappel everything which makes it a lot more time consuming than the GT where you can basically just do one rappel and be off. Still it was pretty awesome. Great to see the Tetons from a different perspective.