Grand Teton
Historic Resource Study
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Park of the Matterhorns (continued)
By Reynold G. Jackson

The Golden Age

Petzoldt, Lucas on summit
Guided by Paul Petzoldt, 59-year-old Geraldine Lucas, a retired school teacher and local homesteader, reached the summit of the Grand Teton in 1924. One year earlier, Eleanor Davis became the first woman to climb the Grand Teton. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Fryxell and Smith seized the moment and began systematically exploring the range, making many first ascents, and placing summit registers on the prominent peaks. A complete record of the climbing history of the range is available, beginning in 1898, due largely to the fact that Fryxell painstakingly transcribed these summit registers to a card file. Fryxell and Smith also initiated the practice, in force up through 1993, of requiring climbers to check in with park authorities as a safety measure and to report all new routes and unusual climbs. In 1929 and 1930, they made first ascents of Teewinot Mountain, Nez Perce Peak, Mount St. John, and Symmetry Spire. Fryxell, climbing solo, made the first ascents of Rockchuck Peak and Mount Hunt. With others he climbed Mount Woodring (Peak 11,585) and Bivouac Peak for the first time.

Many of the climbers who had made important first ascents and who were key players in the development of Teton climbing up to this point were members of the various mountaineering and outing clubs that were scattered throughout the country. The Rocky Mountain Climbers Club (1896), the American Alpine Club (1902), and the Alpine Club of Canada (1906) were among the first of these organizations. Universities such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and others, all had mountaineering clubs that were formed in the 1920s. These clubs produced many strong climbers, and provided a framework for the organization of climbs and expeditions. A healthy spirit of competition existed between groups and, year after year, they began to come to the fabled Teton Range.

In 1929, the first climb of the Grand Teton by a route other than the Owen-Spalding Route of 1898 was made by Robert Underhill and Kenneth Henderson, both with previous climbing experience in the Alps. Underhill and Henderson, both members of the Appalachian Mountain Club, successfully ascended the East Ridge. Ellingwood and others had attempted this formidable route, but Underhill and Henderson found the key to getting around the Molar Tooth, a needle-like gendarme part way up. During the previous year, Underhill had climbed both the Peuterey Ridge and the Brenva Spur on Mt. Blanc in the French Alps. Besides being proficient alpinists, both he and Henderson were also technical rock climbers who learned their craft at New Hampshire's Cannon Mountain and other now well-known New England areas. In 1930, with Fryxell and Smith, they climbed the summit knob of Mount Owen, which had balked three attempts in 1927 and one in 1928. Underhill and Henderson also climbed the spectacular Teepe Pillar in 1930. Underhill's travels took him across the United States, and he may well have been the person most responsible for the development of roped climbing in this country at that time. His article, "On the Use and Management of the Rope in Rock Work," was requested by Francis Farquar, editor of the Sierra Club Bulletin. Underhill was invited to the Sierra to share his revolutionary techniques and provide instructional training. A landmark climb, the East Face of Mount Whitney, was climbed by Underhill and the strongest climbers in California at the time. This select group included Norman Clyde, sometimes referred to as the "dean" of the Sierra Club climbers, Glen Dawson and Jules Eichorn. [14]

The summer of 1931 was very important in the history of Teton mountaineering. On July 15, 1931, Glenn Exum, while working as Petzoldt's assistant guide and at Paul's suggestion, made his famous solo ascent of the ridge on the Grand Teton that now bears his name. On the same day, Underhill and ranger Phil Smith pioneered the easternmost of the three great ridges on the Grand's southern flank. Underhill also teamed up with Petzoldt for the first ascent of the East Ridge of Mount Moran. Underhill and Fryxell, in quick succession, then climbed the East Ridge of Nez Perce, the North Ridge of the Middle Teton, and the North Ridge of the Grand Teton.

It is this final climb that has become the touchstone for generations of Teton climbers. At the time of its first ascent, the North Ridge of the Grand Teton was regarded as the most difficult alpine climb in the United States. Even today, it has a reputation as the classic climb in the range. Previously dismissed as unclimbable by all who examined it, Underhill and Fryxell secretly believed that it was worth a try, especially after Underhill's solo reconnaissance of the route in 1930. Leaving their campsite at Amphitheater Lake at 5:30 A.M., the two climbers proceeded up and across Teton Glacier and arrived at the top of the Grandstand at 9:55 A.M. The serious climbing then began, and they soon found themselves beneath the infamous "Chockstone Chimney." Fryxell describes the crux of the climb:

Five feet out on the sheer west wall of the chimney we both found toe-room, and I climbed to Underhill's shoulders, then to his head. I could touch the chockstone but nowhere find the slightest hold. When exhausted by futile efforts I lowered myself to Underhill's side and we resorted to pitons. Underhill drove a first piton at the limit of his reach, and, from my shoulders, a second one three feet higher. A ring was snapped into each. After we were both roped securely to these, Underhill mounted to my shoulders and, using the upper ring, launched an offensive. But because of the absence of holds he likewise failed and dropped back to my shoulders. When rested he tried a second time, with the same result. At the third attempt he found a foothold well out to the right and, somehow, pushed himself over onto the chockstone—a magnificent exhibition of rock climbing. [15]

Underhill, Owen, Fryxell, Exum
Left to right: Robert Underhill, William O. Owen, Fritiof Fryxell, and Glen Exum, 1931. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

What Fryxell does not mention is his final, hoarse whisper to Underhill, "Stand on the piton!" Underhill was a major player who greatly influenced the development of technical climbing in North America. One sees in the above quote the reluctance with which these climbers used pitons. The use of pitons was still regarded unfavorably by the older generation. Underhill was visionary in that he firmly believed that pitons would test new limits of a climber's skill, and open a whole new realm of climbing possibilities.

That same summer, Fryxell made the first climbs of Cloudveil Dome, East Horn, Storm Point, and Ice Point. Hans Wittich climbed the Dike Route on Mount Moran and the Wittich Crack on the Grand Teton. During the next three years, the following major first ascents were completed, chiefly as a result of the efforts of Fryxell and Smith: Rendezvous Peak, Rolling Thunder, Eagles Rest, Doane Peak, Ranger Peak, Veiled Peak, and Prospectors Peak. Fred and Irene Ayres made their first visit to the park in 1932 and subsequently accomplished many first ascents, notably Rock of Ages and other pinnacles around Hanging Canyon, the West Horn, and Traverse Peak.

After 1935, interest shifted to the making of new routes. Throughout the 1930s, Petzoldt was guiding during the summers and made many important new climbs, such as the first ascents of Thor Peak, the North Face, West Couloir of Buck Mountain, the West Ridge of Mount Moran, and the Koven Route, West Ledges, and Northeast Snowfields of Mount Owen. The pioneering first winter ascent of the Grand Teton was made by Paul Petzoldt, his brother Eldon, and Fred Brown on December 17, 1935. They skied to the Caves in Garnet Canyon on the first day. and then spent two days ferrying loads to the Lower Saddle. From there, they proceeded to the summit via the Owen-Spalding Route. The group experienced a pleasant temperature inversion that allowed them to be in shirtsleeves on the summit while the valley below was locked in a frigid -20°F deep freeze.

In the same decade, T. F. Murphy, the chief of the party assigned by the U. S. Geological Survey to map Grand Teton National Park, ascended a great number of vantage points in order to determine elevations and sketch the topography. During the summers of 1934 and 1935, he climbed most of the peaks south of Buck Mountain, almost all the peaks of the divide, a few of the peaks west of Mount Moran, and many of the peaks bordering Webb Canyon. A climber visiting one of these lonesome peaks may still find a cairn that was probably built by Murphy and his assistants, Mike Yokel Jr., and Robert E. Brislawn.

Jack Durrance, Alpinist and Rock Climber

On August 25, 1936, during his first summer in the Tetons, Jack Durrance teamed with Paul and Eldon Petzoldt to make the first climb on the North Face of the Grand Teton—the most famous north face in the United States. Durrance had come to the Tetons to work for Petzoldt's burgeoning guiding business. Previously, he had spent eight years in Germany, attending high school in Garmisch and working in Munich. There, he came in touch with mountaineers climbing at the highest standards in the Alps, including the Schmid brothers, who had made the stunning first ascent of the North Face of the Matterhorn.

For their ascent of the North Face, the trio had left the valley very early in the morning in order to sneak by another group who were camped at Amphitheater Lake. This strong group included Fritz Wiessner, Bill House, and Betty Woolsey, and rumor had it that they were in the Tetons to attempt the same climb. Earlier that same summer, Wiessner and House had made the impressive first ascent of the south face of Mount Waddington in British Columbia, which was the most difficult climb in North America. Woolsey had rock climbed back east, and was captain of the U.S. Women's Olympic Ski Team from 1937 to 1940. After being scooped on the Grand's North Face, Wiessner satisfied himself by completing the first free ascent of Underhill's North Ridge Route a few days later. This was a magnificent achievement, quite possibly the country's first climb at the 5.8 level of difficulty. Wiessner, an expatriate from Germany, was an outstanding rock technician and alpinist. Both Durrance and Wiessner were brilliant climbers who greatly influenced the American climbing scene; their paths crossed once again in the Himalaya on the legendary K2 expedition of 1939.

Jack Durrance was a passionate rock climber whose favorite routes were the ridges. With Henry Coulter and other Dartmouth climbers, he made many new routes: the East Ridge of Disappointment Peak, the Durrance Ridge of Symmetry Spire, the North Face of Nez Perce, the Southwest Ridge and Northwest Ridge of Mount Owen, the lower half of the Exum Ridge, the Southwest Ridge of the Enclosure and the West Face of the Grand Teton. The West Face had been considered by Underhill and Fryxell to be the last remaining problem on the Grand. It required the skill and experience of the next generation, however, to make the first successful ascent.

On August 14, 1940, Durrance and Coulter climbed up into the pristine cirque on the northwest side of the peak that they named Valhalla Canyon. In Jack Durrance's words, they had taken "everything we owned," including two light sleeping bags, a large, rubberized-cloth bivouac sack, and a Primus stove and pot. Their technical arsenal included "a short ice axe, ten rock pitons imported from Europe and a 120 foot, linen climbing rope from the Plymouth Cordage Company." [16] Climbing in high-topped, smooth-soled sneakers, they also included, in case the rock was wet, Durrance's felt-soled kletter-shoe and Coulter's rope-soled sandals. Legend has it that as Durrance was beginning the crux final pitch of the climb, he turned to Coulter, wondering if the belay was on, and was met with a loud snore. Durrance unleashed an abusive tirade and Coulter, by now wide awake, assured his friend that he could indeed safely proceed. This was a landmark climb and, even today, the West Face of the Grand Teton, a route that is seldom done, has a well-deserved reputation of being one of the most classic and difficult alpine climbs in the range.

Many of Durrance's routes are now considered classics and, at the time they were pioneered, represented the highest caliber of American rock climbing. Jack Durrance was a pivotal figure in the climbing scene in the Tetons and the United States. With Durrance, we see the transition from the "gentleman climber" to the totally committed climber and alpinist. The American climbing scene was about to change, but it would have to wait until the world was not preoccupied with war. In the final development of new routes before World War II, Petzoldt in 1940 and 1941 led the now popular Chicago Mountaineering Club and North Ridge Routes on Mount Moran, and the Petzoldt Ridge on the Grand Teton.

World War II

Climbing in the Tetons ground to a halt during the war years. Many of the climbers were in the service, some enlisting in the Tenth Mountain Infantry Division that was formed in July 1943. The first element of the Division was formed at Fort Lewis, Washington, and the soldiers trained on the slopes of Mount Rainier. Camp Hale, Colorado, later became the primary training center. Several of the climbers and mountaineers who were to later make significant contributions to American climbing served with this famous group. Men such as Paul Petzoldt and David Brower acted as instructors, imparting their knowledge and expertise to the troops. A significant war time advancement was the development and later availability of specialized equipment, in the form of surplus, such as nylon climbing rope, ring angle pitons, and aluminum carabiners. The war also brought climbers from different areas together for the first time, which allowed for much information sharing. [17]

Grand Teton, North Wall

Between 1936-1940, the number of climbers who successfully ascended the Teton peaks each year was in the 200-400 range. The years following World War II brought an enormous increase in the number of climbers visiting Grand Teton National Park, with a corresponding rise in the investigation of new routes and old routes that had been climbed only once. New walls, ridges, and couloirs, purposely avoided by the pre-war climber as being too difficult, were now sought out and explored for the first time with a competence matched rarely by earlier climbers. Several ascents now considered classics were successfully completed. The most important new routes and first ascents of this period include: the North Northwest Ridge of Buck Mountain, the West Chimney of the North Face of Mount Wister, the direct South Ridge of Nez Perce, the North Face of Cloudveil Dome, the Southeast Ridge of the Middle Teton, the West Face of the Exum Ridge, the Red Sentinel, the Southwest Ridge of Disappointment Peak, the North Face and Northwest Ridge of Teewinot Mountain, the North Face and North Ridge of Mount Owen, the Southwest Ridge of Storm Point, the direct Jensen Ridge of Symmetry Spire, the East Face of Thor Peak, the South Face I of Bivouac Peak, and the direct finish on the North Face of the Grand Teton. Nearly all of these were pioneered by a small group of active mountaineers including William Buckingham, Donald Decker, Richard Emerson, Art Gilkey, Paul Kenworthy, Robert Merriam, Leigh Ortenburger, Richard Pownall, and Willi Unsoeld. Many of these men served prestigiously either as climbing guides or seasonal climbing rangers.

The direct finish on the North Face of the Grand represents the major achievement of the time period. Climbers have a peculiar fascination for cold, icy, and foreboding north faces. The great north faces of the Alps, best represented by that of the Eiger, were long considered the ultimate alpine objective, wrought with danger from falling rock and ice. Since the time of the ascent by the Petzoldt brothers and Jack Durrance, the North Face of the Grand had taken on this mystique. Pre-war climbers had avoided the uppermost section, or "head-wall." It was the challenge of the headwall, the Direttissima north face, that now beckoned to the next generation. By the time climbing guides Dick Pownall and Art Gilkey teamed up with Ray Garner in August 1949 to attempt the climb, the North Face had become the stuff of legend. Pownall brilliantly led the now-famous "Pendulum Pitch," tensioning across a blank section and gaining access to the highest of the four upward-sweeping ledges that are found on the face. After 17 hours, the best climbers of the day found themselves on the summit.

In 1953, the final portion of the North Face was unlocked by climbing guides Leigh Ortenburger and Willi Unsoeld and climbing ranger Richard Emerson. Because of the face's fearsome reputation, prospective climbers had to overcome an enormous amount of inner fear to even attempt the climb. During the ascent, Emerson, a master rock technician who had learned his craft in the Tenth Mountain Division, led the "Pendulum Pitch" free, as well as the delicate friction traverse into the "V". The classic direct North Face of the Grand Teton had been climbed. Both Emerson and Unsoeld participated in the 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition. During that trip, Unsoeld teamed up with Thomas F. Hornbein and together they made the first ascent of the West Ridge Route, one of great mountaineering feats in the history of the sport. Leigh Ortenburger, besides being the primary climbing historian of the Teton Range, became Americas foremost Andean mountaineer. Durrance's west face route received its second ascent during the summer of 1953 by Ortenburger and Mike Brewer. Ortenburger and Emerson, as well as Don Decker, also pioneered the direct south buttress of Mount Moran. Durrance's climbs had been equaled and surpassed, and a new generation was making its mark.

The second postwar decade, from 1955 to 1964, saw a rapid advance in climbing ambition, courage, competence, and equipment. In step with rock-climbing progress throughout the United States, new routes were pioneered that required a high level of technical skill in free climbing and pitoncraft. The use of expansion bolts as a means by which blank faces could be ascended saw its debut during this period although, surprisingly, rock-drilling equipment had been used as early as 1898 during the Owen ascent of the Grand. The first bolts used in the United States were those placed by David Brower and his team, who had successfully climbed Shiprock in New Mexico in 1939. There is a great proliferation of bolts in some areas of the country today, especially since the advent of portable, motorized hand drills. Fortunately, there are, even now, few bolts in Teton rock. Direct aid or artificial climbing, which was a rarity in the Tetons prior to 1958, became an accepted practice and was required on many of the most difficult new routes.

Rock Climbing in the 1960s, The Yosemite Influence

By 1960, the number of climbers in the Tetons had grown to 2,300. The most significant climbs of this era were made by Fred Beckey, William Buckingham, Yvon Chouinard, Barry Corbet, William Cropper, John Dietschy, David Dingman, David Dornan, John Gill, James Langford, Peter Lev, Frederick Medrick, Leigh Ortenburger, Irene Ortenburger, Richard Pownall, Al Read, Royal Robbins, Pete Sinclair, Herb Swedlund, Willi Unsoeld, and Ken Weeks. In many instances the new climbs, often variations rather than routes, were made on smaller faces and ridges. With a new emphasis on rock climbing rather than general mountaineering, three important areas—the south ridges of Mount Moran, the South Ridges of Disappointment Peak, and the buttresses in Death Canyon—were extensively developed, although the routes in general do not lead to any summit. The easier sedimentary peaks of the north and south ends of the range, which remained untouched by previous climbers, were explored by Arthur J. Reyman, John C. Reed Jr., Robert Stagner, and Leigh and Irene Ortenburger. A partial list of the more important climbs of this era includes: the Raven, the Snaz, the Pillar of Death in Death Canyon, the Wedge on Buck Mountain, the direct North Face of Mount Wister, the Big Bluff of Nez Perce, the Robbins-Fitschen and Taylor Routes on the Middle Teton, the Northwest Chimney and the Medrick Ortenburger on the North Face of the Grand Teton, the Black Ice Couloir on the Enclosure, the North Face and Northeast Face of Teepe Pillar, the North Face of Red Sentinel, the several north face and south ridge routes of Disappointment Peak, the Northwest Face of Teewinot, the Serendipity Aréte and Crescent Arte of Mount Owen, the three east face routes on Table Mountain, the East Face of Yosemite Peak, the South Face of Ayres' Crag 5, the direct South Face of Symmetry Spire, the several ridge and buttress routes and the North Face of Mount Moran.

The deliberate search for difficult rock climbs, new in the Tetons, became the goal of many climbers. Through and into the 1950s, the range had been regarded as primarily a mecca for alpinists. Now, the type of climber who passed through the Tetons may have just been to Yosemite, the Bugaboos, or the Shawangunks. Climbers who had learned their craft at one of these areas brought with them to this, the most accessible of alpine ranges, a level of rock climbing skill not seen in preceding generations. Home for many of the climbers of this era was the abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, located at the south end of Jenny Lake and originally known as Camp NP-4. This camp was built in 1934 and occupied through 1942, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, one of many programs designed to lift the nation out of the worst depression in its history. By some estimates, up to 500 CCC workers built trails, backcountry cabins, and removed inundated trees from around the shore of Jackson Lake, whose surface area increased 50 per cent by the dam constructed in 1916. The Park Service eventually established a more official climbers' campground at the site of the old CCC camp, with a camping limit of 30 days, as opposed to the then usual ten. The "C-Camp," as it was called, became home and general hangout for the numerous climbers who passed through on their way to and from the other climbing destinations across the country.

Among the CCC camp's occupants in 1957 were Southern Californians Yvon Chouinard and Kenneth Weeks, who had started climbing during nest-raiding excursions as falconers. Chouinard is now looked upon as being one of the most influential figures in modern American and world mountaineering. His talent and expertise encompassed all of the various climbing disciplines from rock and ice craft to bouldering and aid climbing. Chouinard's ice tools and pitons, products of the Great Pacific Iron Works Company, revolutionized rock and ice climbing techniques everywhere. Among his many first ascents in the Tetons, he is, perhaps, most remembered for opening up several routes in Death Canyon, including the Snaz and the Raven Crack. He also co-authored the tongue-in-cheek Guide to the Jenny Lake Boulders with America's most notable bouldering specialist, mathematician John Gill. Also during the summer of 1957, the first ascent of the classic Irene's Aréte was accomplished by John Dietschy and Irene Beardsley. Beardsley continued to knock off cutting-edge alpine climbs, including the first all-female ascent of the North Face of the Grand Teton with Sue Swedlund in 1965. Later, while managing to pursue a career as a physicist and mother, this remarkable individual became the first woman to climb the fearsome Annapurna I, an 8,000-meter peak in Nepal.

Royal Robbins and Joe Fitschen were active in the Tetons during this period. Robbins was one of the strongest rock climbers in the world, as evidenced by such legendary climbs as the first continuous ascent of the Nose, and the first ascents of the alathe and North America Wall routes on El Capitan in Yosemite. Since the Tetons were the crossroads of American mountaineering at the time, the passage of individuals such as these through the climbers' camp brought new ideas, expertise, and an era of intense competition. A few days after the first ascent of the awesome Northwest Chimney Route on the Grand Teton by Leigh and Irene Ortenburger and Dave Dornan, the route saw its second ascent by Robbins, Chouinard, and Fitschen. The Californians upped the ante by free climbing a pitch that the others had used direct aid on, and by finishing with the crux pitches of Durrance's West Face. As a result, the Teton regulars were stirred up and, inevitably, change would come once again to the home of American climbing.

Another Yosemite climber who traveled to the fabled Teton Range during this era was Herb Swedlund, who began as an Exum guide in 1961. Swedlund had a strong background in rock climbing, exemplified by his success with Warren Harding and Glen Denny on the southwest face of Mount Conness in the high Sierra a few years before. On July 29, 1961, Swedlund, partnered by Ray Jacquot, made the first ascent of the Black Ice Couloir on the Grand Teton, perhaps the classic ice route in the United States. Generations of climbers had peered into the depths of the couloir from the Upper Saddle and simply shaken their heads, dismissing the gully as too dangerous to be considered seriously as a climbing route. It had repulsed several attempts by the leading ice specialists of the day, including Yvon Chouinard. After the first successful ascent by Swedlund and Jacquot, it joined the ranks of other legendary climbs—those that were often discussed but seldom repeated. Swedlund had climbed the elegant South Buttress Right on Mount Moran four days earlier with local climber David Dornan, thus completing the first ascents of the finest rock and ice routes in the entire range in a week-long tour-de-force.

The years from 1965 to 1975 saw a continuation of the search for new routes. New snow routes on Cloudveil Dome (Zorro Snowfield), Moran (Sickle Couloir), and the South Teton (Southeast Couloir) proved notable. Ice climbing was sought and found in the infamous Run-Don't-Walk Couloir on Owen, and the Hidden Couloir of Thor Peak. New mixed rock-and-ice climbs of major proportions were discovered or pieced together on the northwest flank of the Grand Teton, such as the combined Black Ice Couloir-West Face and the Lowe Route on the formidable north face of the Enclosure. This last climb marks the first time that climbers ventured onto what was the final, unexplored region of the Grand Teton. Following the only weakness in the huge wall, George Lowe and Mike Lowe were faced with difficult aid and free climbing in an immense chimney system.

Winter Alpinism

Beginning in 1965, with the first winter ascent of Mount Owen, a small group of committed and talented climbers from the Salt Lake area began a systematic series of other pioneering winter climbs in the Teton Range. The knowledge and experience gained from such ascents established this group as the new powers in the range. From February 28 to March 2, 1968, the North Face of the Grand Teton was climbed in one alpine-style push by Rick Horn, George Lowe, and Greg and Mike Lowe. This extraordinary ascent shattered the psychological barriers for winter climbing and encouraged similar challenges during the next few years. The first winter ascent of the West Face of the Grand Teton by George Lowe and Jeff Lowe in 1972 is perhaps the finest example of this kind of extreme alpine winter ascent. Both of these climbers went on to make other cutting-edge climbs throughout the world, with George among those to make the first ascent of the East Face of Mount Everest and Jeff becoming America's foremost ice specialist.

After 1965 and continuing well into the 1970s, the major emphasis once again centered on rock climbing. New faces were found: South Face of Spalding Peak; Middle, Briggs-Higbee Pillar on the North Face of Middle Teton; West Face of the Enclosure; Owen, Northwest Face; Crooked Thumb, direct North Face; Moran, West Buttress and North Buttress; and Bivouac, South Face routes II and III. Untrodden ridges were also climbed: Prospectors, upper North Ridge; Wister, Northwest Aréte; and Second Tower, South Ridge. The small pinnacle of the Red Sentinel yielded two new and difficult routes. A new pinnacle, McCain's Pillar, provided a difficult ascent. Some of the better climbs were but variations on previous routes, such as Garnet Traverse on the direct South Ridge of Nez Perce; the Direct Buttress on the Northwest Ridge of Teewinot; and the Italian Cracks on the Grand Teton. Other innovative climbs included the South Buttress Central of Moran and the Southeast Chimney and Simpleton's Pillar on the Grand Teton. There were only a few new climbs in Death Canyon (Escape from Death, Widowmaker, Doomsday Dihedral) on Moran's No Escape Buttress, and on the Glacier Gulch Artes. A significant technical advance was made with the first free ascent of the South Buttress Right in 1973 by Steve Wunsch and Art Higbee, using a bypass of the main aid pitch. The major contributors of these climbs were Roger Briggs, Peter Cleveland, Jim Ericson, Art Higbee, John Hudson, Dave Ingalls, Ray Jacquot, Peter Koedt, Juris Krisjansons, George, Dave, Mike, and Jeff Lowe, Leigh Ortenburger, Rick Reese, Don Storjohann, Ted Wilson and Steve Wunsch.

The Modern Era

The period through 1993 has seen important developments, many in novel directions. The existing Teton extremes of the climbing spectrum—both mixed alpine climbing and pure rock climbing—were explored and extended. The year 1977 saw the beginning of both types, with the new High Route on the north face of the Enclosure and new severe rock routes in Death Canyon (Yellow Jauntice) and on No Escape Buttress of Moran (No Survivors). The south face arena of Cloudveil Dome was opened that year (Cut Loose, Armed Robbery) and extended the following year (Silver Lining, Contemporary Comfort). But the explosion in rock climbing came with the frantic activity of 1978 and 1979, when seven new, very high standard routes were made on the same Death Canyon buttress that houses the now classic Snaz (Lot's Slot, Vas Deferens, Fallen Angel, Cottonmouth, August 11th Start, Caveat Emptor, Shattered). These remain today as some of the most difficult rock routes in the Tetons.

After the closing of the C-Camp in 1966, the Jenny Lake campground became the gathering place for climbers during the next few years, until the opening of the Grand Teton Climbers' Ranch around 1970 (previously the Double Diamond Dude Ranch). A certain degree of conflict arose during this interim period between the typical, vacationing park visitors and the more raucous climber-types, who were quite often in the Tetons for more extended periods of time. These conflicts were the source of considerable consternation to the Jenny Lake rangers who were tasked with keeping law and order in this region of the park. [19] One early inhabitant of the Climbers' Ranch was Mike Munger, an exceptional rock climber and alpinist from Boulder, Colorado. Munger emerged as the most powerful rock climber of the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the summer of 1977, Munger began a systematic exploration of the range, opening up many of the routes in Death Canyon mentioned above. He and others were also responsible for free climbing a number of existing aid climbs such as The Open Book on Grunt Aréte in Garnet Canyon, now considered a classic rock climb in the range.

A number of additional rock-climbing routes were discovered in Stewart Draw on Buck Mountain (Peaches), in Leigh Canyon on No Escape Buttress (Direct Avoidance, Spreadeagle, Gin and Tonic), on buttresses and a pinnacle in Avalanche Canyon (Blind Man's Bluff, Abandoned Pinnacle), and on buttresses in Hanging Canyon (the three "bird" Arétes: Avocet, Ostrich, and Peregrine). A major objective, the free ascent of the original South Buttress Right on Moran, was finally achieved on August 2, 1978, by Buck Tilley and Jim Mullin. The proximity to Jenny Lake of the southwest ridge of Storm Point has resulted in several new variations on generally good rock in the vicinity of Guides' Wall. The most recent new climbs in Death Canyon (Aerial Boundaries, 1985; Sunshine Daydream, 1987) are two of the finer routes among the many in that area.

The Grand Teton yielded five more routes or variations on its broad eastern expanse: Horton East Face, Beyer East Face I and II, Keith-Eddy East Face, Otterbody Chimneys. The golden rock of the direct East Ridge of Teewinot was also first climbed. A second major area for long routes of first-class climbing was extended on the huge diagonal west face of the south ridge of Mount Moran. To complement the Western Buttress (1969) the new West Dihedrals and Revolutionary Crest were added.

Perhaps the major accomplishment of recent times has been the emergence of the new, mixed, and very difficult routes on the north and west sides of the Grand Teton. In 1979, the Route Canal was established. In 1980, the prolific alpinist Steve Shea established two difficult ice lines on the north face of the Grand. In 1981, two important climbs, Loki's Tower and the Visionquest Couloir, were completed. Alberich's Alley was added in 1982 to the other classic ice lines on the west sides of the Grand and Enclosure. The first ascent of Emotional Rescue, a route put up on the golden rock of the Enclosure buttress, occurred during the summer of 1985. The set was extended in 1991 with the impressive and improbable Lookin' For Trouble on the north face of the Enclosure. These alpine climbs, when added to the existing routes—North Ridge, West Face, Black Ice Couloir, Northwest Chimney, Lowe Route, and High Route—provide an alpine climbing arena unmatched in the United States.

The return of truly alpine conditions to the Tetons brought on by generally poor weather during the summer of 1993 directed attention toward un-traveled, ephemeral ice lines and major mixed climbs. The north chimney of Cloudveil Dome (Nimbus) was finally climbed, and the south-facing chute on the Second Tower was linked with the upper East Ridge of the Grand. The High Route on the Enclosure was done largely as a thin ice climb, and the Goodro-Shane Route on the north face of the Grand repeated in difficult late fall conditions.

Many climbers contributed to these most recent advances in Teton mountaineering and rock climbing, notably Jim Beyer, Dan Burgette, Yvon Chouinard, Jim Donini, Charlie Fowler, Paul Gagner, Keith Hadley, Paul Horton, Renny Jackson, Ron Johnson, Tom Kimbrough, Stephen Koch, Alex Lowe, Jeff Lowe, Greg Miles, George Montopoli, Mike Munger, Leigh Ortenburger, Steve Rickert, Steve Shea, Jim Springer, Mike Stern, Jack Tackle, Buck Tilley, Tom Turiano, Mark Whiton, Jim Woodmencey and Steven Wunsch.


The Teton Range occupies a special place in the history of American climbing. Many of those who have passed through here have been intimately involved with the evolution of mountaineering in the other great ranges of the earth. Throughout the world and here in the United States, climbing has exploded as a recreational activity. Approximately 10,000 climbers visited Grand Teton National Park in 1991 and attempted an ascent of one of the 800 routes available on some 200 peaks in the range. Park managers struggle with the management and preservation of extremely crowded, high-altitude regions such as the Lower Saddle, through which thousands of climbers pass on their way up the Grand Teton each year. In the past, the bulk of the activity occurred during the summer months. With the popularity of backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, and climbing, winter use in the interior portions of the range has also significantly increased. Exploration of the range has also extended into some of the more extreme areas of the sport of climbing. The Grand Teton has been descended now on skis by at least three different routes. Climbers have skied and snowboarded the Black Ice Couloir. The direct North Face of the Grand Teton has been climbed in a single day from the valley, solo, and in the winter. As we enter the next millennium, what the future may have in store with regard to climbing is anyone's guess. Undoubtedly, mountaineers will forever be drawn to the Teton Range and the long, classic alpine routes leading to the summits of the peaks.


AID CLIMBING: Climbing that involves the use of various types of paraphernalia (pitons, nuts, camming devices, etc.) to support body weight to accomplish upward progress. AID CLIMBING is distinguished from FREE CLIMBING.

ALPINE CLIMBING: Climbing routes in the mountains that may require a mixture of rock, snow, and ice climbing techniques. This type of climbing can also be referred to as MIXED CLIMBING. An ALPINIST is a practitioner of the sport of mountaineering who is well-schooled in all of these various techniques that may be required during an ascent of a high peak.

BELAY: To feed a rope either in or out (depending upon whether the climber is leading or following) in such a manner as to be able to hold a fall. This may be accomplished either by passing the rope around one's body or by passing it through some sort of friction device. The belayer is secured to the mountain by way of "bomb proof" anchors.

BOLT: A device that is placed into a previously drilled hole in the rock. Bolts are of various types including the expansion type that exerts outward pressure on the interior of the drilled hole. Bolts are used to accomplish upward progress on blank stretches of rock, protection during free climbing, and in belay anchors. The use of portable drilling equipment recently has caused a proliferation of bolts in certain climbing areas of the country.

CAIRN: Rocks that are stacked that act as a marker on a mountain summit or that indicate a hiking or scrambling route through a section of terrain.

CARABINER: A metal snap-link that is used to attach the climbing rope to the various types of climbing equipment that are in use today including pitons, cams, bolts, etc.

COULOIR: A steep gully or chute. Couloirs form as drainage paths and often channel various types of debris including water, rock, ice, avalanches, etc.

CRUX: The most difficult portion of a climb. This term can be used to refer to the most difficult pitch or the most difficult single move or moves on a particular climb.

DIFFICULTY RATINGS: A classification system in which the difficulty of a particular climb is assigned a specific grade. For rock climbing in the United States, the Yosemite Decimal System is used and currently this scale extends from 5.0 to 5.14.

FREE CLIMBING: Climbing in which upward progress is unsupported by the various types of equipment available to the climber. This equipment is placed only to safeguard the climber through the belay in the event of a fall.

KLETTERSCHUE: A German term referring to tight-fitting rock climbing boots.

PITCH: The distance between one belay position and the next. Some climbs are multi-pitch.

PITON: A metal device that is usually driven into a crack in the rock with a hammer tapering at one end and having an eye through which a carabiner is clipped on the other. Pitons come in many different sizes.

ROCK CLIMBING: Climbing that primarily consists in upward travel on rock. A great variety of technical equipment has been developed for this type of climbing, including "sticky rubber" soles for shoes and many different types and sizes of protection devices.

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2004