Grand Teton via Upper Exum Ridge

Route Stats:
Mountains: Grand Teton (13,776’)
Route: Started at the Lupine Meadows TH (~6750’) on Friday afternoon and headed up to camp at the Morainal campgrounds – 10,600’. Climbed upper Exum Ridge on Saturday – Wall Street – Golden Staircase – Wind Tunnel – Jern / Puff-n-Grunt – Friction Pitch – Unsoeld Lieback – V-pitch – West-Leaning-Crack – BPITS – Summit. Descended O.S. standard route to lower saddle. Returned to camp and packed out on Sunday morning.
Crew: Ariel and Prakash
Distance / Elevation Gain: 15.5 miles and 7100’ vert gained including pack-in (approx)

Prologue:
Thanks to Ben Conners and Sarah Meiser for their trip reports and other route info they openly shared. I first ventured to the Tetons in August of 2010 and slept at the Lupine Meadows TH while snow pounded the upper mountain. We turned around at the chockstone chimney the next morning to return another day. This time I prepared religiously and was determined to head up there in late July at the latest to avoid the August first-second week snows. I spent a couple weeks fruitlessly searching for partners until Ariel committed a couple days before the day of departure. I made a concerted effort to pack somewhat light for the first time in my climbing career. We left Lafayette at 4:15AM and reached the Jenny lake ranger station after WallE (my trusty Jeep Wrangler) quaffed 2.5 tanks of gas even without air conditioning on. ^&#$#^%$^@#$!!!

At the Jenny Lake ranger station we picked up permits for the Morainal campground and listened to ranger Jim Springer’s stories of impaling a marauding marmot with an ice axe in self defense. He asked us to carry a bear canister that we had not planned on… more to keep marmots away than bears he said. Since we did not have ice axes, we took one canister. Ariel offered to carry it along with a light two person tent and steripen.
I managed to stuff my 70m rope, rack, helmet, rock shoes, tent poles, stove and first aid kit into my 38L Dakine blade pack. Additionally I carried a 40 degree summer bag, thermarest, down jacket (for an emergency bivy), bivy sack, reflective shelter, ten essentials, clothes, and a ton of food and water. My rack felt rather burly for the Upper Exum but I’m not the most creative alpine trad leader so I prefer to carry the extra weight than risk being unable to make solid placements. I carried a few small – medium cams, tricams and a set of nuts – 15-16 pieces total. I also carried a couple 24’ lengths of cord for anchors, 5 doubles, 3 singles and 4 quickdraws, a couple prussik loops and webbing to stand on and ascend rope if needed, spare belay device, etc. I wore my Vibram Five Fingers for the approach, scramble and descent and would use rock shoes for the technical sections.

The Approach:
We began hiking up the Garnet Canyon trail at roughly 3PM on Friday afternoon. We ran into a small black bear on a rampage through the thicket… he refused to be bothered by curious tourists.

I will say "Ni..." to you if you do not lead me to some nice Shrubbery
I will say “Ni…” to you if you do not lead me to some nice Shrubbery

We hiked at a moderate pace with a few stops. At one spot we encountered a couple climbers descending who had witnessed three instances of major rockfall (giant boulders) coming off the top of the middle Teton. We finally pulled into a nice campsite at 10,600’ a little before 7PM. Jim, our friendly marmot-murdering ranger had also mentioned that there was recent major rockfall off the Exum onto a campsite at the higher reaches of the morainal campground, so we decided to camp a little away from the ridge a little lower down. We quickly set up the tent and began dinner… on my menu for the night were a couple sandwiches with 14 grain bread, all-natural pepperoni (without nitrites, preservatives, permanganates, pomegranates and pink slime) and all natural spicy avocado Hope (hippie) hummus.

Mmm, dinner - 14 grain bread, all-natural pepperoni and Boulder-made spicy avocado Hope (hippy) Hummus
Mmm, dinner – 14 grain bread, all-natural pepperoni and Boulder-made spicy avocado Hope (hippy) Hummus

We then readied our packs for the next morning and turned in.

To the Lower Saddle:
In the morning we scarfed down a quick breakfast, hid the bear canister under some boulders and headed up the moraine.

Sun begins to rise on the Middle Teton Glacier
Sun begins to rise on the Middle Teton Glacier

Right behind us were an Exum guide and his client carrying no gear save the skin on their backs. I supposed they would load up at the Exum gear hut on the lower saddle. Soon we were at the base of the headwall…

Ariel contemplates the approach to the lower saddle
Ariel contemplates the approach to the lower saddle

There were a solid number of folks at the lower saddle… we figured the upper mountain would be crowded today.

At the lower saddle between the Grand and Middle Tetons
At the lower saddle between the Grand and Middle Tetons

We soon began the scramble up past the black dike and around the needle to the chockstone chimney. The scrambling through this section was an enjoyable, easy 3rd class warm-up all the way to the eye of the needle.

Up the Chockstone Chimney
Up the Chockstone Chimney

Around a bend, following the path of least resistance we appeared at the eye of the needle…

The Eye of the Needle
The Eye of the Needle

I doubt I’d be able to find this feature on my next trip here… it doesn’t appear to be on the mandatory path up this mountain and there do appear to be a couple options (Briggs’ Slab, etc.) to get up to the Wall Street crossover. The Tetons cast a grand shadow…

The Tetons cast a grand shadow
The Tetons cast a grand shadow

A family of three were making quick work up the standard route up the OS couloir to the standard route as we prepared to cross over…

A family of three makes way for the OS route
A family of three makes way for the OS route

We traversed behind the needle between it and the central rib to get to the Wall Street crossover. The climbing was 3rd to 4th class scrambling… I find it hard to explain but it surprised me how different the rock and moves felt compared to CO.

We deviate towards the cutoff for Wall Street
We deviate towards the cutoff for Wall Street
Some 4th class scrambling guards the entry into Wall Street Couloir
Some 4th class scrambling guards the entry into Wall Street Couloir

Wall Street and the Golden Staircase:
Some route finding dropped us into Wall Street couloir and an ascending traverse took us to the base of Wall Street.

Looking up at Wall Street
Looking up at Wall Street

Ariel makes his way to the base of Wall Street…

Ariel makes his way up to Wall Street
Ariel makes his way up to Wall Street

The Exum Guide we met earlier was leading his client up Wall Street at the end of a short rope. The group of two moved quickly and efficiently. He gave us info that it cost roughly a grand to get guided up the Grand – the price included a rock climbing lesson he said… probably good value for money.

A guide and his client head up to Wall Street
A guide and his client head up to Wall Street

We harnessed up close to the end of Wall Street and I led the step-over move. The exposure made things interesting although the moves were fairly straight forward. Ariel followed and cleaned all the way up to the base of the Golden staircase.

Ariel was stoked to be past the Wall Street step-over move
Ariel was stoked to be past the Wall Street step-over move

The Golden Staircase looked like beautiful, solid rock and was a pleasure to lead although the next time I climb this route I would not pull the rope out for the Golden Staircase and the Wind Tunnel. Please bear in mind that opinions can vary…

Preparing to lead the Golden Staircase
Preparing to lead the Golden Staircase
On lead up the Golden Staircase
On lead up the Golden Staircase

Ariel, belaying from the base of the Golden Staircase as another group appears at the bottom…

Looking down from the sharp end, halfway up the Golden Staircase
Looking down from the sharp end, halfway up the Golden Staircase

Past the Golden Staircase I continued a third class scramble to a good platform from where to bring Ariel up and stash the rope away.

Ariel tops out at the Golden Staircase
Ariel tops out at the Golden Staircase

The Wind Tunnel and Jern:
The wind tunnel brought a nice cool breeze to cool us off on a warm day…

Scrambling through the wind tunnel past the Golden Staircase
Scrambling through the wind tunnel past the Golden Staircase

The wind tunnel continued to get steeper and exposed as it got to the base of the Jern

Scrambling up to the Jern
Scrambling up to the Jern

Here route finding got a little tricky as a couple different options appeared. I fished out the printed route descriptions whenever I found the need and this became common practice for the next hour or so… my college experience taught me that open book exams were MUCH harder than regular ones… my experience here was no different. I do not consider myself an intelligent, intuitive, or naturally gifted mountaineer so I did study the route hard in the days leading up to this climb. I came into this trip with a lot of respect for this peak. Having done the homework and having route descriptions handy helped but it did often come down to common sense and on-the-spot problem solving.

Hitting the books en route
Hitting the books en route

I think the options are all fairly easy with a rope but we scrambled up and down each option un-roped in search of the Friction Pitch.

Ariel scrambles up to meet me at the base of the Friction Pitch
Ariel scrambles up to meet me at the base of the Friction Pitch

We finally roped up and followed another team up the Jern to the base of the Friction Pitch.

The Friction Pitch:
The Friction Pitch had some sweet climbing but very exposed and runout. I am calling it 5.4 RX but I’d defer to better climbers’ judgment on that. I climbed roughly 30 feet between my first and second pieces, the first being about 6 feet above Ariel’s head. The difficulties were short and there wasn’t really much use for the rope beyond the pitch. I needed to use doubles to keep rope drag down and also slung rock horns for anchors to save time.

Above the Friction pitch
Above the Friction pitch

Ariel, not used to scrambling over alpine routes in his rock shoes was screaming in pain but followed and cleaned impressively on what I later found out was his first alpine rock climb.

Ariel follows and cleans the friction pitch
Ariel follows and cleans the friction pitch

More exposed scrambling lay above the Friction pitch but we stashed the rope away for a bit.

More scrambling and route finding problems found us past the friction pitch
More scrambling and route finding problems found us past the friction pitch

The V-Pitch, West Leaning Crack and BPITS:
Soon Ariel popped above an exposed section…

Ariel scrambles up to the base of the V pitch
Ariel scrambles up to the base of the V pitch

To find this…

The V pitch - 5.5(?) - supposedly the crux of the Upper Exum route
The V pitch – 5.5(?) – supposedly the crux of the Upper Exum route

The V-pitch was equally as exposed as the friction pitch but with somewhat better holds and much better protection. If you asked me I’d say the FP was the crux but then I’m no good with frictiony holds. Looking down at Ariel starting up the V-Pitch…

Looking down at Ariel from the top of the V-Pitch
Looking down at Ariel from the top of the V-Pitch

Beyond the Friction Pitch we looked over at people on the Upper Exum escape to the OS rappel station. We then soloed the West Leaning crack and headed up towards the BPITS…

Exposed 4th class scrambling past the West Leaning Crack
Exposed 4th class scrambling past the West Leaning Crack

Summit:
Route finding continued to be interesting on the ridge as we weaved from East to West side. We ran into a couple climbers scrambling up the upper Exum escape ramp in search of the Sargent’s chimney rap station. They asked us if we’d seen a rap station but we hadn’t… we’d later find that Sargent’s was in the direction opposite where they were heading. We finally crossed over and traversed above the Ford Couloir to the summit…

Ariel 2-steps the last fin of snow to the summit above the Ford Couloir
Ariel 2-steps the last fin of snow to the summit above the Ford Couloir
Final steps to the summit block
Final steps to the summit block

I have seldom been happier to see a summit marker! I waited 3 years for this day.

GT Summit Marker
GT Summit Marker
Grand Teton Summit
Grand Teton Summit
Ariel on the summit of the Grand Teton
Ariel on the summit of the Grand Teton

7100’ of prominence really make for some great views…

7000+ feet of prominence make for good views
7000+ feet of prominence make for good views

I dedicate this summit to Steve “Orange Hat” Gladbach… the mountaineer I hope to be like, the one I admire the most, not just for his skill, but for his humility and attitude towards human beings. I honestly cannot believe he is gone. I will treasure his lessons lifelong and will always admire what he did for the hiking / mountaineering community including myself. I hope his spirit will guide me on my adventures, keep me humble when I succeed and cheer me up when I fail.

Steve Gladbach
Steve Gladbach

The Descent:
After a short time on summit we began scrambling off the summit block. We were acutely aware of the need to be alert and keep our wits about us on the descent off this mountain. We descended to the spot where we saw the two climbers heading up the Upper Exum escape ramp. The route descriptions told us that we were supposed to head the other way to find Sargent’s. We did so and found a cairn (possibly the first one I’d seen on the entire upper mountain) and slings in the vicinity.

While my route descriptions from http://wyomingwhiskey.net/ (Excellent site for Teton beta, by the way) told me that the slings were in the right place I was hesitant because I wasn’t able to see the bottom of the rap and the rap entry point didn’t look like the pics I’d seen on Mountain Project. Despite the seriousness of the situation, I found it amusing that my over-research of the route at the expense of mountain sense was perhaps being detrimental. I decided that we scramble back up and down-climb the gully (where we’d seen the other climbers) down to the main rappel area… on the way up I turned back to look down and saw a vista that reminded me exactly of the Sargent’s pic I’d seen on Mountain Project. We turned back and set up the rappel immediately, knotted the ends and prepared to descend. It was very helpful that Ariel trusted my thought process through this section. I kept my prussiks accessible in case I needed to abort and ascend the rope. I nervously and slowly descended the first few feet…

Entering Sargent's Chimney on Rappell
Entering Sargent’s Chimney on Rappell

After I rounded a bend though, I heaved a sigh of relief to see both strands of rope on the ground by a lot. I got to the bottom, got off rappel quickly and moved out of the way since tiny pebbles were coming off where Ariel was. Ariel also got on rappel…

I walked out of the way to avoid rockfall as Ariel rappelled Sargent's Chimney
I walked out of the way to avoid rockfall as Ariel rappelled Sargent’s Chimney

While Ariel descended, I went off to look for the main rap stations and found the 2 X 70 foot rappels before he touched the ground. We quickly coiled the rope and headed off to the second station. Rappel #2 was short, smooth and quick…

A second 70 foot rappel put us one more rap away from the upper saddle
A second 70 foot rappel put us one more rap away from the upper saddle

The third and final rappel had a bit of a free-hang which was fun. I got well behind the line of rock-fall and put Ariel on a fireman’s belay just in case…

The third free hanging rappel put us on the upper saddle
The third free hanging rappel put us on the upper saddle

There was a small amount of 4th class down-climbing to get down to the upper saddle.

The descent seemed like class 2 with exposed 3rd and 4th class moves mixed in
The descent seemed like class 2 with exposed 3rd and 4th class moves mixed in

Down at the upper saddle we finally relaxed a bit and finished our high-fives for getting off the technical areas. I thought Ariel did a good job for having been out on his first alpine rock climb. He was in severe pain and mentioned several times during the climb that he didn’t expect it to be this hard but trucked through it all the same. The hike down from the upper saddle is fairly straight forward although it’s important to keep out of Wall Street couloir but instead stay in the gully further East (O.S. couloir) instead. We did get into one of the Eastern branches of Wall Street couloir but quickly realized our mistake and traversed East into O.S. couloir. There was one spot where Ariel didn’t feel comfortable down-climbing. Luckily there were slings there and we set up a quick 4th rappel.

The descent went quickly and smoothly although I ripped a strap on my Vibram Five Fingers. I am continuing to LOVE those shoes for every late spring, summer and early fall activity except difficult rock climbs. I have used this pair on the Beaver route (5.5) on Longs, this climb, a few other 14ers, a few strenuous hikes / approaches and have biked Evans with them 4-5 times from Idaho Springs. This was the first major sign of wear (besides the two other small fabric tears that I patched with bicycle inner tube).

There is one optional rappel down lower
There is one optional rappel down lower

We were down at the upper saddle and camp pretty quickly and made dinner and decided to skip the middle / south Tetons and pack out the next morning since the drive back was going to be ridiculous. I love this backpack…

We packed out the next morning. I'm really loving the 38L Dakine Blade pack
We packed out the next morning. I’m really loving the 38L Dakine Blade pack

On the pack down we saw this giant marmot den… some greedy marmot was indubitably on the prowl harassing some hapless climber’s possessions…

Robber's Roost
Robber’s Roost

We made quick work of the trail sections getting down to the trailhead by around 10AM. The drive back through Wyoming was about as scary as some of the bottomless rappels but I’d still love to come back to the area again.

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3 thoughts on “Grand Teton via Upper Exum Ridge”

  1. Nice write-up from your trip up a glorious peak. Sounds like we are in the same boat climbing style wise. If you ever find yourself in California, let’s meet up for a sweet climb of the North Palisade…a Tetonesque summit but with a glacier approach. It’s rated on par with the upper exum…5.6.
    Cheers!
    Dan

  2. Thanks Dan. Will get in touch if I’m planning something out to CA. It might be next year. I’ve lately been trying to get out of the CO bubble a bit, seeking glacier experience. The N. Palisade climb you described sounds fantastic.

    Debbie, I’m sure you’ll have a blast. Exum guides appear to run a tight ship and were leading some very efficient climbs with good mountain history and lessons thrown in.

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