Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Grand Teton - Upper Exum

Grand Teton Trip Report
Upper Exum
5.5 Trad
12 pitches

Picture from

The Upper Exum route is a classic among the many great climbs to reach the summit of the Grand Teton.  The route essentially follows an easy, exposed south ridge all the way to the summit.  3 months ago, climbing a long traditional (trad) route up the Grand seemed unlikely unless we were to go with someone more experienced.  Fortunately, in the last 3 months I was able to pick up traditional climbing, which includes a lot of new skills and new gear that are not required in sport climbing.  I would like to thank my very first climbing partner, Dave Nelson (Mountain Man Dave) for taking me traditional climbing several times and showing me the ropes (no pun intended).
So with our new skills and confidence, Luke and I planned to do the Upper Exum route on the Grand Teton.  Though the route is not technically difficult, the approach requires hauling all your gear up 6,000 vertical ft to where you actually begin the climb.  The route itself ascends over 1,500 ft and there is a lot of exposure (i.e. thousands of feet of it).
View from Lower Saddle

We decided to camp half way up at the meadows in Garnet Canyon to make our summit day more enjoyable.  We left the meadows at 4:45 am and made our way up to the lower saddle.  We passed a couple groups on our way up and made it to the lower saddle at 6:30 am.  There were a lot of climbers up there and even a couple groups going on the Upper Exum.  We took a break at the saddle, ate some energy bars and spotted out the route and the infamous Wall Street ledge.
Wall Street
We scrambled up and around the Needle and onto Wall Street at 8:30 am.  We remained unroped and hopped onto the ridge without a belay.  From there we roped up and began the route on the golden stair.  We placed 2 pieces of pro on the pitch and then quickly soloed up the Wind Tunnel (it was windy). We had to wait due to other groups from time to time, but overall it was not a problem.  In fact, it was reassuring to know we were on route.  Much of the route we used a running belay or just short-roped it.  I led the friction pitch and placed one piece of pro (#1 cam) before I made an anchor.  Overall, Luke and I felt like the route was a scramble, which we are very proficient at.  We have been peak-bagging class 3 and 4 routes for the last few years, so we have become increasingly more sure-footed and comfortable with exposure.  From the friction pitch we followed a group in front of us and missed the V-pitch unfortunately.
Transition from Wall Street to Upper Exum Ridge

The Golden Stair (first pitch)

Looking down the Wind Tunnel

Summit ridge

We were on the summit at noon in clear skies.  For a moment, we were the only ones up there, it was a nice feeling.  Many thanks to the mountain project app which has an offline mode and includes route descriptions and pictures.

After a short break we made our way down the west side of the mountain and worked our way south towards the Seargants chimney rappel.  After this rappel we worked our way along the ledge further to the south to the infamous overhanging rappel.  This was a lot of fun and can actually be done on a 70 m rope, if you rappel off the southernmost anchor and aim for a nice ledge.  We, like most groups, used two 60 meter ropes and rapped down easily to the Enclosure.

Lots of down climbing and hiking took us back to the meadows around 3:30 pm.  We relaxed, drank, drank, drank, packed up and went down and back up to Amphitheater Lake in preparation for Mt. Owen the following day.  17 hours of hiking, climbing, backpacking, etc.