No matter which way you get to the top, the Grand Teton is one of the most iconic peaks in the world. It boasts one of the most striking summits you’ll ever sit on, in one of the most beautiful concentrated mountain regions on the planet . The only way you can stand on the top is by some combination of hiking and rock climbing (or via ice/snow). My partner and I didn’t necessarily come all the way to Wyoming to climb the Grand, but since our primary objective was out of prime (and safe) condition, it became the best back up plan imaginable.
Jeff and I had brought our rock gear out for the short trip, “just in case”, and after hours of deliberation we set out to climb the classic Exum Ridge, which is listed as one of the 50 Classic Climbs of North America. It turned out to be one of those scenarios where making the trip from Tahoe, just to climb this route, would’ve been more than fully worth the time and effort, and then some. Sure, we had come in hopes to ski, but all I can say is this has got to be one of the most amazing moderate rock climbing routes in the world. It’s that good.
We started with a a gear shakedown and a few hours of sleep at the Lupine Meadows Trailhead in Grand Teton National Park.
Some parties break a trip up the Grand into two, even three days. If you plan an overnighter you need to check in with the National Park Service and get a permit. If you plan for a one day push, which was our chosen method, no permit is required. It should also be noted that there are several ways to climb the Grand Teton, the Exum Route just happened to be recommended to us by a good friend, and local guide, Dan Starr. If you ever want to get anything done in the Tetons and lack a partner, or wish for someone to help show you the way, contact Exum Guides. They run a show somewhat akin to what you might find in Europe. With guides like Dan on call to help get you out in the mountains, and home safely, you really can’t go wrong.
Back to the mission. After a few hours of sleep, Jeff and awoke to a full moon and started hiking the trail to Garnet Canyon and the Lower Saddle between the Middle Teton and the Grand Teton.
The total day is over 7k vertical gained and lost, so we were trying to move fairly quickly, especially in that neither of us had really gotten to climb much this summer due to the lingering snow in the Sierra. By the time we reached the saddle, after a 3 a.m. start, we stared over at the Lower Exum and weighed our options. You can see the whole route from the saddle.
It was 6 a.m., and it was cold. Not just kinda cold, but cold enough that climbing on rock seemed torturous. We knew we could bypass this lower section of the route, based on our buddy Dan’s advice, so that’s exactly what we did. After passing a few patches of ice/snow,
we started one of the most fun rock climbs I’ve ever had the fortune of getting on.
It may have been a little dodgy to snap this one on lead, but look at Jeff chillin’ at this belay station!
The Upper Exum is easier than doing the whole Exum Route, which is generally referred to as the Direct Exum Ridge. The upper section goes at about 5.4, which is very mellow in terms of technical rock climbing. However, I will say, maybe it was because I hadn’t plugged any gear in a while, or maybe it was because of the huge exposure, but there are several moves on this route that can’t be 5.4. Nothing too crazy, but for sure, there’s some old school spice to this moderate classic. That said, outside of the Sierra, I have never climbed anything so fun, with such unreal views, that’s so ridiculously aesthetic. As my good friend, a local Tahoe ski/mountain guide told me before I left, “it’s one of the best ‘look-backs’ you’ll ever get in the mountains”. Man was he right!
I highly recommend this route to anyone wishing to stand atop the Grand. Jeff and I simul-climbed most of the route, but also swapped leads and pitched a few sections out as well. If you don’t have the skills or tools to get this done on your own drop Exum a line and you’ll have a blast. The one day push is rather large, but totally doable if you’re into going light and fast. Also, like many classic rock routes, the downclimb off the peak is enough to keep you on your toes for the whole “walk off”. We were fine, but it took a while and there was some spots where route finding was difficult, and the exposure was rather sizeable. Two rappels, and lot of downclimbing with some spicy hiking, finally lead us back to the saddle, and the rest of our descent.
The hike out was spectacular. Since most of our ascent was done during the night is was amazing to get such up close views of about 50+ new ski objectives I have for next time I get out this way.
The lakes, wildflowers, and dramatic wilderness scenery that accompanies one on the hike out is really worth the trip in-and-of-itself.
It definitely wasn’t exactly what we planned to do out here, climbing the Upper Exum, but “sometimes you see the light, in the strangest of places if you look at it right”. The light in this case was the most fun rock route I’ve done since last September on Temple Crag in the Palisades Region of the High Sierra. I can safely say after having climbed the Grand, I have no idea why it’s taken me so long to get out this way and into the heart of the Tetons. If you’re looking for a worthy road trip this summer think about a trip to Jackson and giving the Grand a go. Whether with a partner or a guide, the many adventures one can get into in this area are infinite, and an amazing use of one’s time. I’ll post some nice scenics and ski shots from our turns in Yellowstone National Park, and other adventures from the past few days later this week.