Peak(s):  Grand Teton - 13775
Date Posted:  09/04/2013
Date Climbed:   09/02/2013
Author:  jameseroni
Additional Members:   kushrocks
 Rain Rain Go Away  

Owen Spalding Route 5.4
13.5 hours car to car
16ish miles
7100ish vertical feet
Rain from last pitch to summit and all the way back to car

When Ryan asked me to do the Grand Teton, I only believed he was half serious. Moving from Colorado to SoCal in December of 2012, I was now a flat lander. That fact seems to be the underlying theme with the few of my recent trips to the mountains since the move. What does it mean to be a flat lander? Well - I think it means you have to work a little "harder" than those who have the benefit of living at - and training at - elevation. However, with a good solid cardio routine and being dedicated to training - big days in the mountains are not out of reach. By the way - asprin really does work! -Thanks Ry

Taking him up on his offer, I volunteered a different route - called the Upper Exum Ridge. This goes at 5.5 and I thought it would be a good alternative to the busy Owen Spalding route. I volunteered to lead all of the technical climbing so long as Ryan carried the majority of the load. If you don't yet know or have had the privilege of climbing with Ryan - he is a workhorse both willing and able to carry more than his share on a mountain.

After doing some research on the route, we came to an agreement that this would be the plan. The Upper Exum Ridge is a continuance of a lower climb, called the Lower Exum. The lower exum is rated at 5.7 - but is stiff for the grade, or so I hear. The route is full of classically named pitches such as the "Golden Staircase", the "Friction Pitch" and the "V-Pitch" - all of which do not exceed 5.5 difficulty. This of course can change with conditions. The Owen Spalding route would be our backup, should bad weather occur. The word has it the upper ridge is extremely difficult to retreat from in bad weather, leaving one exposed and vulnerable to the elements.

The working hours I put up with (1600 to 0400) are really not the best, but it's difficult to beat the trade off - which equates to ample days off every week. After getting off work at 0400 on Saturday morning, I slept in for a few hours then drove the San Diego to catch a plane to Denver. Arriving in Denver, Ryan awaited me with enthusiasm and excitement - we were about to embark on a great mountaineering adventure.

We left the airport and headed straight for Rock Springs, WY. 5.5 hours later, we were sorting our gear in a Day's Inn.

The next morning, we continued our journey to the Teton range, only about 3 hours away. Taking ample potty and food breaks, we arrived at a leisurely 2:00pm and made our way to the park.

First sighting of the Grand. Can you see it?

After grabbing some more grub at the Pearl Street Market (You've got to go, the food is insanely good and calorie intensive!) we were on our way to the Jenny Lake Climbing Ranger station.

But not before a view..

The climbing rangers at jenny lake were very helpful. It was nice to be able to pick someone's brain with a great deal of experience on the Grand. The rangers were very familiar with all routes and every technical aspect of the mountain. After picking their brain for a bit, we discovered the weather was not looking exceptionally good. The forecast originally called for a 50% chance of T-storms, then it dropped to 30% once we had spoken to the rangers. Let me tell you something - 1% and 99% chance of T-storms look the same when it's raining. More on that later.

After talking to the rangers, we settled into camp across the Antelope Flats, in National Forest land.

And the room with a view.

Ryan was gracious enough to bring a tent for me, while he slept in the back of his car. By now it was about 5pm and we were planning on starting at 12:30am. It was just too hot to sleep, both in the car and in the tent. Ryan wound up lying in the back of his car tossing and turning. I wound up laying on a ground mat, tossing and turning - fending off the bugs continually.

Eventually it cooled off (drastic temperature drop from about 85 to 50 degrees) and I moved into the tent. Unable to sleep due to the time, I slept 1 hour. Ryan got a bit more - but we were both devoid of any real sleep. Ryan woke me at 11:30 hours, for our start time of 12:30am.

Driving to the trailhead we crammed in some breakfast (I had a Naked juice and a banana, Ryan had some pro bar deal) and stepped off after some final gear adjustments. Kudos to Ryan from this point on for carrying the ROPE and the RACK the majority of the time, just to help my flatlanded behind along.

We actually made great time through the dark and were able to go extremely light on water, at just over a liter each. If you didn't know - there are ample spots to fill up water on this climb. On the entire approach up garnet canyon, there are stream crossings abundant. I was surprised to find that - even at the lower saddle there was a garden hose hooked up runoff water in the talus. We were able to fill up here as well. Going light and fast we made good time to the upper saddle, reaching it at 4:00am.

One thing that I found fascinating is the commercialization of this mountain. There were huts on the lower saddle, belonging to both Exum and Jackson hole guiding services. Despite this, they were not too unsightly and the area was neatly kept.

Due to darkness at this hour, I didn't get many photos of the route. At about 0330 before we reached the lower saddle, it started to rain. I felt the drop first and notified Ryan. He was in disbelief at first, then the rain got heavier. It got just heavy enough for us to break out the shells and hunker down underneath a rock for a few.

We decided we may as well keep moving upward, since the rain was light and it could simply "pass" along. The disheartening thing was - that there were now no stars visible in the night sky as there had been earlier..

The first challenge of the route is a small head wall before the lower saddle. There are several fixed ropes on this low class 5 section, knotted intermittently throughout. It was an easy enough haul and we were on the lower saddle at around 0400.

On the lower saddle there is a garden hose to the left of the first sign, just to the left of the trail. The garden hose is hooked up to a talus runoff and provides a trickle of water to fill up. We both took this opportunity to top off before embarking on the upper mountain.

Above is a photograph of the lower saddle on our descent, the black dyke visible - we are indeed getting rained on here. More on that later.

While still dark, we were able to follow the trickle of a few headlamps up the general trail. These were guided parties that had slept on the upper saddle, now short roped by their guides - on the way to the Owen Spalding. One guided party was on the way to the Pownall Gilkey route, a 5.8, followed by a 5.6 - then 4th class to the summit.

As we continued, the sun eventually came up and revealed a sky looking like this:

Indeed we did confer with one another over this, it did not bode well with either of us. I consulted a guide who was ahead of us. His consensus was they would revert to the owen spalding route (from the upper exum) and continue on to the upper saddle to see what the weather does.

At this point in time Ryan and I decided to go to Plan B - the Owen Spalding route. We ditched the Exum and it turned out to be the right choice.

The approach to the base of the OS route from the lower saddle is indeed a climb all to itself. One has to be careful or slabby class 4/5 terrain awaits at the doorstep. We did get off route a bit and found ourselves climbing up and down low 5th slab, several times. We short roped these sections, as we were tied into each other via kiwi coil part of the time.

Avoid our mistake and trend right once the difficulties ease and you hit the talus field on the way to the upper saddle. We were too far left and had to down climb 5th class terrain in order to get near the OS route. While not difficult, it was unexpected and took extra time.

The clouds were still here, but there was some open sky to the northwest. We decided to follow in the footsteps of the guided parties and continue the climb.

We made our way over to the belly crawl. I went first, the exposure was intense the moves easy. I hip belayed Ryan over to the start of the double chimney.

Once at the base of the double chimney, we waited for a few guided parties to continue the climb up. Once they had cleared, I clipped into an old nut and told Ryan to put me on belay. I headed up through easy 5th terrain, only placing a #1 about half way up. This first chimney spit me out at the base of the second chimney, called the Owen chimney.

Here is a route overview

I quickly built a simple anchor and again brought Ryan up. He immediately clipped in and I took off again. The weather was very fickle at this point and looked like it was getting ready to really let loose soon. I made quick work of the owen chimney, placing only a piece or two. The difficulty did indeed feel about 5.4.

At this point, reached the base of Sergeants Chimney and slammed a cam. I yelled Off belay and ran out the rope to the tug of Ryan's harness. I continued up Sergeant's chimney, simul climbing this last part. I reached the middle of Sergeants Chimney, and started to get rained on. The rock became slippery and there was a bit of ice to deal with. There were two options, left or right - to continue up the chimney. Both looked equally difficult. I chose right and pulled over a 5.4ish chockstone, but it felt a bit harder due to the wetness of the rock. Ryan did belay me through this part as he reached the base of the chimney.

Once at the top of this chimney, I clipped into some rappel slings that had been slung around a chockstone for the rappel of Sergeants. Ryan came up and we tightened up the coils, maintaining about 10-15' of rope between the two of us for the final push to the summit.

Ryan coming up one of the Chimney's

The climbing was not technically difficult, save the water and bit of ice. However, the physical nature of the climb combined with the huge vertical gain and fickle weather made for a challenge. If you are not confident leading 5.5, I wouldn't recommend this route on lead. It's no problem to follow and is not a hard lead - but the things aforementioned can change that. I did this in approach shoes and it was fine.

In all, it took us about 1 hour to do the upper 3 pitches - staying right behind a guided party most of the way, Although the guided party split left before Sergeant's to easier terrain.

From here, it was about 200' up and left to the summit. We pushed it hard here, now climbing in the rain. We attained the summit some 5 minutes later, with astounding views in all directions - but surrounded by dark, foreboding clouds above.

Blended summit shot:

Now for the rain. We hurried down as quick as we could, shortroping over some class 4 steps that were now a tad slippery with fresh rain. Arriving at the upper rappel to Sergeants Chimney, we made quick work and rappelled, then traversed to climbers right to next rappel. This next rappel went fine with a 70m rope, angling to rappers right. I had just enough and touched down without an issue to the catwalk, just below the belly crawl.

By this time, the rain was pretty much in full force. We followed a guided party down toward the upper saddle. We eventually had to pass a few guided parties, due to them moving slowly with short roped clients who appeared to be a bit skittish on the terrain with the wet conditions. Some of these guides were nice, while others were a little arrogant. Ryan and I heard one guide yell at his clients. Another guide made a comment about another party climbing up toward us, making the terrain appear much more difficult to negotiate than it was. He basically said it right in front of them, it was a condescending comment about how they were doing a horrible job on easier terrain. While I didn't get the background with any of these groups and maybe the comment was warranted - I was glad I was not being guided up this mountain for $800.00.

We continued down through the rain and mud, over boulder fields, down class 5 slab with a hand rope, more rain, wind, cold, feet soaked, pants soaked - down and down and down.

30% chance in the Teton Range means 100% chance.

Rarely did we stop, although our bodies begging us to.

Finally, we made it back to the car at 1:54pm. Yes, it was exactly 1:54 - Ryan and I had a going bet - he won. The round trip time was 13:24.

Although we were exhausted, tired of the rain and glad to be safe - I don't think either one of us would've changed the day for anything. The experience was awesome and we both agree - we can't wait to get back to the Teton Range.

Thank's to Jenny Climbing Rangers for the info, Guided party for advice to stick with OS route, Ryan for the ride and partnership, and God for his creation.

A few extra notes:
70m rope, light alpine rack (would've taken lighter had known we were to fall back on OS route), light pack - my pack consisted of assortment of gu gels (about 8), a peanut butter honey sandwich, some jerkey. Emergency kit had small 4oz bivy, waterproof matches, extra batteries, asprin, motrin, iodine tablets (tablets only, not bottles for any), TP. Layers were fleece w/ hood, 11oz puffy, 6oz rain shell, 1.5 liters of water, helment, harness, rock shoes - and that's about it.

Ryan had all of this and carried the rope and rack for the entire approach to the lower saddle and then some, because he is half mountain goat.

If I did it again I would bring the same items and probably add a pair of rainproof pants.

 Comments or Questions

09/05/2013 04:38
Congrats on a fantastic peak! Bit of a bummer having to move. Seems like there's plenty to do out there though.

Brian C

09/05/2013 11:58
Nice work guys!! (even fir a flatlander I guess...)

What's next? I'll meet you in Yosemite...


Buy you a burger
09/05/2013 13:29
Next time you go to guide me....

You seem to have made pretty quick work of this. Nice work guys.

Dave B

Nice work Ryan and James,
09/05/2013 14:33
Good job on the summit, we were up there two weeks ago and couldn't get up the exum or OS route due to ice, glad you guys made it. That's a big one-day trip!

”30% chance in the Teton Range means 100% chance.”

Yes it does.


You got the Boob
09/05/2013 15:04


Great Work Guys!
09/05/2013 15:14
Solid decision making going for the plan B, which still resulted in a summit. Sometimes making calls on the fly like that and salvaging a trip can be more satisfying than the trip going 100% to plan, you know? Congrats on The Grand!


09/05/2013 16:05
Good climbing in tough weather. Now you have to go back for Exum - let me know if you need a partner!


Nice work...
09/05/2013 18:59
in tough conditions. Congrats! It's even sweeter when a smart back-up plan works... to echo Ben. I was sent back in '10 for want of crampons following an early September snowstorm and can appreciate your sentiment about the fickle weather there. The Exum is certainly worth returning for.


Love it!
09/05/2013 19:26
Definitely need to tick that summit at some point along with Devil's Tower. Need to work on my technical skills a bit first!


Wild ride!
09/07/2013 04:47
Geez you guys - wow! Just wow!

Congrats - great report!

Outta my league but love that place - even flying over it as I do frequently I am in awe!

Thank you for taking so much time to post such a detailed and quality report!




09/08/2013 17:28
The Tetons are amazing peaks. Way to go!


09/12/2013 05:49
I was up on Middle and South the day before. 100% sunshine and wildfire smoke. I remember rain clouds movin in late evening and thinking about the crowds I saw headed up Garnet Canyon that afternoon. Hoped they had rain gear..Incredible mountain range. Good work!

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