Climbing Grand Teton National Park
The Grand Teton. There is perhaps no mountain more aesthetic in North America. It dominates the landscape, sharply rising more than 7,000 feet above Jackson, Wyoming.
The Grand is a worthy prize for any American mountaineer.
With two weeks to play with, my climbing partner Jose and I headed for the Tetons, with the ultimate goal of climbing the Exum Ridge.
But first, we had some training to do.
We were lucky enough to have a pair of tremendous hosts, Teton locals who housed us for two weeks and were more than happy to help us get up to speed on the approaches, rock quality, and general character of the range by showing us some of the better climbs in the Park that weren’t on the Grand Teton. (It’s always a good idea to do your homework in the mountains).
Without further adieu, here’s a two-week itinerary for climbing in the Teton Range:
(I would qualify these routes as beginner-to-intermediate objectives. There is much gnarlier to be had in the Tetons, if you want it. This was Jose’s first alpine climbing trip).
- 5.8, Grade II (variations available)
- Six pitches, 700 feet.
Guide’s Wall is a “short approach, by Teton standards.” That means a two-hour hike, instead of a four-hour one. The wall lies up Cascade Canyon — where the views certainly aren’t bad.
- 5.8, Grade III (variations available)
- Seven Pitches, 420 Feet
Irene’s Arete is a sharp, steep rock rib located about halfway up the approach to the Grand Teton. Our friend took us out the day after a big rain. A long-time local, he had climbed Irene’s half a dozen times, and he had the thing dialed.
“Don’t bring any water,” he said. “We’ll fill up at two natural springs. No need to hike with more weight than necessary.”
After two “guided” trips, Jose and I wanted to get some time in climbing as our own team, and we headed to Rock Springs Buttress, a big cliff off the Jackson Hole ski area.
Rock Springs is accessible via the Jackson Hole tram, but being cheapskates, we opted to hike up. After the long hikes in to Guide’s Wall and Irene’s, the 3,000-foot vertical climb to Rock Springs seemed almost easy.
We were acclimating.
The Grand Teton
After hitting these prep climbs, we headed up the Grand. We encountered a surprising number of parties that didn’t seem prepared for the challenges of the mountain — the Grand is a goal for many people, and most can’t take two weeks to do a bunch of preparatory climbing.
Still, it’s a big mountain, and it demands respect.
We hiked in for eight hours, lugging food for three days, sleeping bags, climbing gear and a rope all the way to the final campsite at the Lower Saddle. It was a testy day under the hot Wyoming sun. Tempers flared under the weight.
Jose and I didn’t climb the Exum Ridge.
It proved too dramatic an objective, and our teamwork too weak.
This happens in the mountains sometimes. There are lessons to be learned there, but none that matter to you, dear reader.
We did summit, via the considerably easier Owen-Spalding route. And I have to say, the views weren’t bad:
The route even yielded a bit of booty — I pulled a stuck .75 Camalot off the ledge just before the infamous “Belly Roll Traverse.” You just can’t beat scoring a free $65 cam! (affiliate link, please use it, I’m a broke dirtbag)
We returned to the Lower Saddle, packed our sleeping bags, ate what food we could to lighten our loads, and headed for the trailhead, our goal accomplished.
Burgers were on the brain.
We caught up with our friends, snuggled up with Moab the dog, and hit the road. The Tetons gave us a trip we will remember for a lifetime — and I’m sure any climber who follows this itinerary would say the same.
Grand Teton Tips
- Teton rock grades are old-school and kind of sandbagged. Be prepared.
- A backcountry camping permit for Garnett Canyon costs $35 as of summer 2019. The fee is the same no matter how many people are in your party or how long you plan to camp. There are no fees for a car-to-car ascent.
- The guidebook for the area is Teton Rock Climbs by Aaron Gams (again, affiliate link).
- Make sure your hiking legs are in shape. The climbing on the Grand is easy, but the overall experience can be quite taxing if you’re not prepared.
- Start early (EARLY!) to avoid afternoon thunderstorms.
- If you have no climbing experience but would still like to try the Grand, both Exum Guides and Jackson Hole Mountain Guides run daily guided trips up the mountain in summer.
- The guides aren’t super friendly to independent climbers.
- Experienced climbers should consider a car-to-car, free solo attempt. This is not overly dangerous and saves considerable logistical hassle. Of course, individual confidence and ability needs to be accurately assessed, as the consequence for error is extreme. Wyoming Whiskey has good beta.
- If you’re visiting the Idaho side of Teton Pass, do not pass up getting a Huckleberry milkshake at the Victor Emporium. We had four. Each.
I hope you get a chance to visit this magical range some day! It certainly belongs to be on every mountaineer’s bucket list.
All photos mine or Jose’s. Originally published at Medium.com.
3 thoughts on “Climbing the Tetons”
This is so so so cool! One day I will do a multi-pitch journey like this one! Thanks for the tips!
In the 70s I drove a 160cc Honda motorcycle on the highway through the Grand Tetons. Much of the ride was in second gear. I carried a dish detergent bottle full of oil and had to add some every so often. I got a partially flooded camping space for $5.00 in Jackson Hole and got to use the sauna.
Oh, how cool this looks, David would do it he chimes in while I am typing, but not me. Cool but too scary.