How the Grand Teton Climbing Routes Got Their Names

March 25, 2021 | Posted in: JHMG


The first ascent of the Grand Teton is shrouded in mystery and controversy, but a few of the most famous routes up the mighty Grand Teton have a rich history. From some of the first mountaineers to explore today’s most popular routes to mysterious Native American ruins, there is a lot of history packed into this peak.

What are the Most Popular Routes Up the Grand Teton?

Most people opt to head up the Grand Teton either via the Upper Exum Ridge or the Owen Spalding Route. These two stand out because they are considered the “easiest” ways to the summit.

teton summit climb

Of course, there are almost infinite ways to scale the Grand Teton depending on your level of expertise, time of year, and thrill-level. Jackson Hole Mountain Guides takes clients on all of these routes, but from July-Sept, chooses to guide the less traveled Pownall-Gilkey and Uper Exum Ridge routes for their aesthetics and lack of traffic.

Maybe it’s the tiny summit or the imposing faces of this mountain, but there’s something about the sheer grandeur of the peak that makes climbing the Grand Teton irresistible.

The Owen Spalding Route (5.4, 3 pitches)

Owen, Spalding, and Peterson were a team of three mountaineers gunning for the summit of the Grand Teton in 1898. William Owen had attempted the peak several times prior to making it to the summit. He was often thwarted by bad weather and loose rock.

The team claims to have made the first trip to the summit of the Grand, which is how this popular climbing route on the Grand Teton got its name. However, the reality is a bit fuzzier than that.

There’s the Enclosure, an ancient Native American ruin that sits practically at the summit of the mountain. Its use is shrouded in mystery and it is very real to assume that the mountain top had seen visitors prior to Owen and his team.

Although we may never know who topped out first, the Owen Spalding Route remains the most popular route on the Grand Teton and it’s frequently used as the descent option of choice thanks to several fixed anchors.

Upper Exum Ridge Route (5.5, 6 pitches)

Glenn Exum began summiting mountains well before his 18th birthday, but when he finally came of age in 1931, he was the first documented person to solo (climb without ropes) the Exum Ridge.

This first unroped ascent really is something to celebrate. When you think about his journey  along the Wall Street catwalk and his navigating  of the incredible exposed section called the Wall Street Step-Across.

Today the Exum Ridge Route is very popular. It’s challenging, thrilling, and offers spectacular views of the surrounding scenery. Many people opt to ascend the Exum Ridge and descend the Owen Spalding route.

Even if you don’t climb the Exum Ridge in full, chances are you’ll link up with this world-famous climbing route towards the top of the mountain – as many other routes up the Grand Teton link up with the Exum Ridge.

Ford-Stettner Couloir (WI2-3 and moderate snow)

If skiing the Grand Teton is your thrill, then the Ford-Stettner Couloir should be on your bucket list. This route actually covers three couloirs – Ford Couloir, Chevy Couloir, and the Stettner Couloir.

Starting at the Tepee Glacier, ski mountaineers navigate tricky ice chutes, steep couloirs, and vast glacier fields. The reward? A chance to ski down the mountain just like Bill Briggs who made the first ski descent in 1971. His line took him down the famous Stettner Couloir where he marveled at his fresh tracks from the base of the mountain as reporters took his photograph.

 

Other Popular Routes on the Grand Teton

There are several classic lines on the Grand Teton and each offers a different adventure. Many classics have unique histories. But if you’re up for an adventure be sure to check out:

  • Pownall-Gilkey to Upper Exum (5.8 3 pitches)
  • The North Ridge (5.8 10 pitches)
  • Gold Face (5.10a, 4 pitches)
  • Grand Traverse – 40-mile round-trip ridge run with 14 miles of rocky traverses (5.8)

Join the ranks of history with a climb up the magnificent Grand Teton. The tiny perch atop the highest mountain in the Teton Range is a spectacular place to kick your feet up and soak in the view.


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