Skip to main content

Teton Range from the highway. Exum Ridge of Grand Teton (4197m) is left skyline of the highest peak

We bailed from Yellowstone hoping to escape the crowds of tourists, but arriving at Jenny Lake Visitor Centre, at the foot of the Teton Range we realised the traffic jams, parking hassles and throngs of people weren’t going to be that easy to leave behind. We were hoping to climb the Grand Teton, but the weather forecast was sketchy – with a big low flowing over the area bringing rain, thunderstorms and snow over the next 2-3 days, so we decided to pick a less committing peice of rock to climb, while we waited for more stable weather for the Grand. [Hover over photos for captions]

The Snaz is a 5.10 Yvon Chouinard classic from the 1960s. At 9 pitches long we figured an early start would see us over the top and on the descent by the time any afternoon storms started to kick in.
Located in the enticingly named Death Canyon, The route turned out to be a classic for sure, with 3-4 burly 5.9-5.10 pitches and the rest easier 5.7-5.8 climbing. We were zooming back out the 1.5 hour approach as the thunder and hail started to roll down the valley.

High above Death Canyon on The Snaz, 5.10

View up Death Canyon from top of The Snaz - no storm coming yet...

Third-classing the slabs at the top of the route. Glad it wasn't raining when we hit these!

The following day brought heavy rain, low temps and snow all over the Teton peaks, but was due to clear so we got sorted to walk in the next day. Sites are limited in Garnet Canyon and the usual bivy/camp spots for the Grand, and you have to book at the visitor centre – with 2 nights the max allowed stay. We booked a spot for the Lower Saddle (the highest possible camp), and made the steep 5 hour walk in as the snow was melting off the route.

Walking in to Lower Saddle, Grand Teton

A cold camp at the Lower Saddle, Exum Ridge

Exum Ridge Direct, Grand Teton. The standard Exum Ridge is gained via a traverse high on the mountain called Wall Street and is mostly low 5th class climbing (up to grade 13). The Exum Direct takes the line as shown and includes 6-7 pitches of 5.6 -5.7 climbing (grade 15/16) before joining the Exum higher up.

The freezing wind that was sweeping the saddle when we arrived settled as darkness came and we woke at 4.30am to calm and clear but very cold conditions. By 6.30 am we were kicking snow off the holds and avoiding verglas as we started up the first pitch. The climbing was on mostly bombproof gneiss, with loads of juggy holds, good pro and short sections of crack climbing. The six pitches flowed by quite fast, especially once the sun warmed us up! We joined the upper Exum at Wall Street and another few hundred metres of simulclimbing and a couple of belayed steps saw us on the top by about 2.30pm. Our first 4000m peak!
Some snowy down climbing and scrambling took us to the first of two rappels and soon we were wandering down the easy lower slopes of the Owen Spalding route (the regular descent). Plans of walking out that evening were abandoned as we collapsed into the tent and made endless brews to rehydrate.

Hana following pitch 2 with cold hands.

Me leading the ultra classic Black Wall pitch - steep juggy gneiss with super nice climbing (grade 16ish)

Hana at the top of yet another mega nice pitch on the Exum Direct - bit warmer by now!

Me on the descent, with Exum and Grand Teton in background [photo by Hana]

Sunset from Lower Saddle, back at camp

Walking out the next day we scurried back to our tourist-free oasis: the American Alpine Club Climber’s Ranch (fortunately you don’t have to wear cowboy hats or lasso cattle to be allowed in). This is a great facility, just a short drive from the trail heads, and provides open air cooking areas, bunk rooms, washing/showering/laundry facilities, a lounge/library and WiFi – all for US$10.

AAC Climbers' Ranch

Hardcore Hana!

That evening we were lucky to have a couple of moose cruise through camp...

Mum and calf moose

Teton Range from highway near Blacktail Butte (Moose Junction)

Next stop – Wild Iris and the Wind River range…

Leave a Reply

Contact +64 2040132232