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Upper Exum Ridge 

YDS: 5.5 French: 4b Ewbanks: 13 UIAA: IV+ ZA: 11 British: MS 4a

   
Type:  Trad, Alpine, 12 pitches, 4000', Grade II
Consensus:  YDS: 5.5 French: 4b Ewbanks: 13 UIAA: IV+ ZA: 11 British: MS 4a [details]
FA: Glenn Exum, solo, 1931
Season: Any
Page Views: 72,286
Submitted By: George Bell on Mar 20, 2007

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The "V" pitch, high on the Grand Teton.

Introduction 

This is a fantastic route and is extremely popular, among guided and non-guided parties. The route is significantly longer than the Owen-Spalding, the rock is generally excellent and the views spectacular. This is also a good winter route as it melts off quickly. One problem is that it is difficult to escape off this route in case of bad weather.

If you free solo this route it goes very quickly. Not only was the first ascent by Glenn Exum done in this manner, but the second ascent was made by Paul Petzoldt on the same day, AFTER he had guided his clients to the summit via the Owen Spalding! However most people rope up on this climb, and if you pitch out the whole thing it can go very slowly. The climb looks long, and it is even longer than it looks. Consider simulclimbing the easier sections. The Grade II comes from the Ortenburger-Jackson guide, but in my opinion this must assume you are soloing.

If you have never climbed the Grand Teton before, I recommend purchasing the short pamphlet guide at the ranger station. This contains a photo of the west side of the summit, which is invaluable during the descent. Chances are there will be many people on the descent and you can simply follow the crowd. However if it is off-season I wouldn't count on following everyone else.

Do not panic on this route if you wander off line. Many variations are possible and usually alternatives work out if you are careful. For example, the first two times I climbed the route we bypassed the Friction Pitch (by mistake).

Description 

Your first goal is to reach Wall Street, a giant ledge leading to the crest of the south ridge from the west. This ledge can be easily viewed from the Lower Saddle if you know where to look. Begin from the Lower Saddle as for the Owen Spalding, passing left of the smooth pinnacle known as "The Needle", then up the gully on the right, close to the Needle. If you are lucky you will find the tunnel above here known as "The Eye of The Needle", but it is not necessary to pass through this feature. Above here your route diverges from the Owen Spalding as you traverse right, crossing a broad and relatively easy couloir to the start of Wall Street. This couloir drops straight down from the Upper Saddle and has led to disaster for many tired climbers descending from the Upper Saddle, assuming it is the way down (it cliffs out). Take note of it.

The Wall Street ledge is huge and easy to walk along, until the very end where it suddenly becomes exposed and narrow. Rope up here, unless you feel like repeating Glenn Exum's famous leap. Actually, I've never seen anyone leap to span this difficulty, as you can simply make a long step or hand traverse. Still, it is very exposed and only climbers in a great hurry will do this unroped.

Next comes the Golden Stair pitch, which ascends directly up the ridge up a steep, knobby face. This pitch looks harder than it is, because it is very exposed and the protection is not abundant. Plenty of knobs make the climbing enjoyable. After this pitch the difficulty eases and if your party is experienced you may want to pack the rope for a while, or simulclimb. Follow a horizontal section near the ridge crest, then move left to gain access into a gully which slants up and right. This is called the Wind Tunnel. This leads, after a number of pitches, to the base of the Friction Pitch.

When the Wind Tunnel gully begins to lean back to the left, this is the point where you exit it straight up to the base of the Friction Pitch, which is back on the crest. If you follow the gully too far, it turns into more of a ramp and eventually ends. This is easy to do as it is the path of least resistence. If you make this mistake, either backtrack to the Friction Pitch, or head straight up to the crest up a chimney, rejoining the route above the Friction Pitch.

The Friction Pitch is called by some the crux of the route, it is not well protected but the difficulties ease shortly. Above here scramble for 2 more pitches, following the line of least resistence. Look for a section above where you can cross back to the west side of the crest to avoid a slabby tower.

Above you is the "V" pitch, one of the most exposed on the route. Climb the obvious SW facing dihedral above, with excellent protection. I feel this section is the crux of the route. After this pitch the ridge levels out and is quite easy for a short section. The next difficulty encountered following the crest is called the Petzoldt lieback pitch. When I last did this pitch in September it was covered with ice and quite a challenge in rock shoes. Above here you can climb a small 10' tower directly via a crack and in another 100' the ridge becomes broad and nearly level. Here you can unrope and scramble to the east of the crest to the summit.

Location 

The Exum Ridge is the south ridge of the Grand Teton. The steep lower portion of the ridge is included as a separate route, and makes an excellent direct start. However it is significantly harder than the Upper Exum.

Protection 

Standard light rack. You do not need to bring 2 ropes.

Descent 

The Owen Spalding is the standard descent. This can be tricky to find if you are not familiar with it, but in the middle of the summer you are more likely to encounter long lines. There are normally two rappels done. The final rappel is about 120' and ends at the rope-up spot for the Owen Spalding. If you only have one rope, this section can be done in two 75' rappels if you climb up and traverse south to another anchor. 75' down you will find a chockstone (which was covered in ice last time I did this) wrapped in slings to facilitate the final rappel. Here is a useful Photo.

One minor variation in case of crowding is to downclimb the route until above the "V" pitch, then descend easy ledges on the west face to join the final Owen Spalding rappels. If you have two 60m ropes you can also bypass the final Owen Spalding rappels completely as described in the Escapes.

Going down from the Upper Saddle it is important to stay west, DO NOT head down the broad gully which is immediately west of the Exum Ridge, for it cliffs out and has resulted in several tragedies. Even as low as Wall Street, it is easy to contour west and back onto the normal descent.

Escapes 

Beyond the Golden Stair pitch, it is not easy to escape this route in case of bad weather. Immediately after the Golden Stair pitch, there is supposedly an anchor for a 60' rappel back to Broadway.

After the "V" pitch, it is possible to escape to the north down a rubble covered ledge system to join the final Owen Spalding rappel. There is another anchor in the middle of this ledge traverse which in one 60m rappel puts you right at the start of the Owen Spalding (about 100' right (south) of where the normal rappel ends). This Photo is useful for details.


Photos of Upper Exum Ridge Slideshow Add Photo
Upper Exum Route on Grand Teton, Wyoming
BETA PHOTO: Upper Exum Route on Grand Teton, Wyoming
Getting ready to run down the Grand with a storm approaching. Sun on the Grand and a big storm on Moran.
Getting ready to run down the Grand with a storm a...
Upper Exum
Upper Exum
Belay atop the Friction Pitch
Belay atop the Friction Pitch
Scott Newren. 1981
Scott Newren. 1981
Keen Butterworth solos the super exposed V Pitch.
Keen Butterworth solos the super exposed V Pitch.
Trask on the upper Exum Ridge with weather coming in. Aug of 07 (photo by Slade Bradbury)
Trask on the upper Exum Ridge with weather coming ...
Another shot of Wall Street
BETA PHOTO: Another shot of Wall Street
Looking down from the beginning of the Wind Tunnel pitches
BETA PHOTO: Looking down from the beginning of the Wind Tunnel...
V-Pitch
V-Pitch
The friction pitch on the Upper Exum.
The friction pitch on the Upper Exum.
Myself leading the Friction Pitch, very happy to finally be in the sunshine! August 13, 2009
Myself leading the Friction Pitch, very happy to f...
The top of the Friction Pitch.
The top of the Friction Pitch.
You know you're on top when there's no where else to go.  Darin Lang, Rob Brown and Scott Hansen, Aug 2006.
You know you're on top when there's no where else ...
Last bit of scrambling to the summit...almost there!
Last bit of scrambling to the summit...almost ther...
Knife-edge ridge (can be easily avoided if you like), very close to the summit block
Knife-edge ridge (can be easily avoided if you lik...
The start of the Upper Exum, Aug 2006. Photo by Rob Brown
The start of the Upper Exum, Aug 2006. Photo by Ro...
Upper Exum Ridge viewed from the Lower Saddle
BETA PHOTO: Upper Exum Ridge viewed from the Lower Saddle
The final pitch above the Petzoldt Lieback, Warren is climbing the "small 10' tower".  The summit is only a few minutes away.
The final pitch above the Petzoldt Lieback, Warren...
Somewhere above the Wind Tunnel.
Somewhere above the Wind Tunnel.
V-pitch
BETA PHOTO: V-pitch
An early season attempt.  As seen from near the top of the Needle.
An early season attempt. As seen from near the to...
Summit
Summit
The Upper Exum
The Upper Exum

Show All 48 Photos

Only the first 24 are shown above.

Comments on Upper Exum Ridge Add Comment
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Comments displayed oldest to newestSkip Ahead to the Most Recent Dated Sep 1, 2013
By George Bell
From: Boulder, CO
Mar 21, 2007

A buddy of mine once climbed this route in a day car to car. So what, you say? Well, this was a winter ascent! Perfect snow conditions down low and dry rock up high. Still a rather amazing feat.
By Darin Lang
Mar 21, 2007
rating: 5.5 4b 13 IV+ 11 MS 4a

For mortals it's a full day even in the summer - although better, in my opinion, than lugging bivy or camping gear if this is your only objective.
By builttospill
Jul 19, 2007

Calling this route 4000 feet is a bit misleading. People are going to think that there are 4000 feet of class 4 scrambling and 12 full pitches of class 5 climbing.

That is far from the truth. From the Lower Saddle to the summit it is less than 3000 feet (more like 2,700 if I remember correctly). And at least a few hundred of those feet (perhaps 700-800) to Wall Street are non-technical, maybe class 2-3.

Just sayin'
By Buff Johnson
Jul 19, 2007

Well, can we say that this climb could easily get into Grade III+ due to various factors outside of the technical characteristics?

It is certainly not a route to take lightly but is a fine route in any respect.
By George Bell
From: Boulder, CO
Jul 22, 2007

Yeah, "length" is ambiguous for alpine routes. On rock climbs I think this means linear length, the length as measured by your rope. But on alpine climbs vertical feet is often used. I think it is around 2150 vertical from the Lower Saddle (11,600+) to the summit, and from Broadway it must be around 1000 vertical to the top. I'm not sure why I said 4000 feet, this would be 20 full pitches with a 200' rope!
By Joe M
From: Rapid City, SD
Aug 27, 2008
rating: 5.4 4a 12 IV 10 VD 3c

Very fun route indeed! I just wish there were more technical pitches and not so much scrambling. We had some difficulties following the route but made it to the summit anyway, probably creating our own variations. Cant wait to go back!!!
By Andy Laakmann
Site Landlord
From: Bend, OR
Jul 23, 2009

Just climbed this with my wife. I had done the Full Exum and Petzold Ridge before (both finished with soloing the Upper Exum), but never Wall Street to Upper Exum.

Some notes/comments that others might find helpful:

  • Don't underestimate the route finding from the Lower Saddle to Wall Street. It could be tricky for someone not familiar with the terrain in darkness, particularly around the Eye of the Needle/Briggs Slab area.
  • It took us 4 hours from the Lower Saddle to the Summit. We simul-climbed the entire ridge but did get bottlenecked with an Exum group for a bit, and that lost us some time.
  • 3 hours to descend from the Summit to Lower Saddle. We had some patchy snow to deal with that slowed us down, but we were familiar with the route.
  • I took a rack of nuts and one set of cams, and that was more than adequate for the simul-climbing.
By boulderkeith
From: Boulder, CO
Aug 1, 2009
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

IMO The route doesn't simul that well on even half a rope. Works better as short fixed pitches followed by solo/short rope/scrambling. There are about 4 horizontal ridge sections on the route where a belay is pretty optional for experienced alpine climber (easy moves, no exposure). We did the route as 7 pitches with 1 simul pitch (rope drag!) and 3 sections of soloing with a short rope between us (no drag!). It took us about 5 hrs from the Lower Saddle to the summit. Unless you are inexperienced, don't take too much of a rack. We never placed more than about 3 pieces on lead. Green and yellow aliens were useful for the friction pitch.

Lower saddle to the summit (which includes several hundred feet of class 3 approach scrambling) is ~2000', not 4000'
By Sadun Tryst
Sep 11, 2009

Hey I have a quick question, when the ranger station closes or whatever it does, can you still get a permit to camp up at the lower saddle? Let me now I would greatly appreciate it!
By CalebSimpson
Dec 29, 2009

How can this possibly be grade II if it takes all day?
By boulderkeith
From: Boulder, CO
May 11, 2010
rating: 5.6 4c 14 V 12 S 4b

Caleb,

It's not grade II. It's silly that it is indicated as such and the page owner should change it. Yes, the fast and the light can crank it out the approach from the saddle, the route, and the descent pretty quick but for most people that will be 5 to 10 hrs. It took us about 6 hrs from the saddle to the summit and back to the saddle and we simuled about a third of the route.
By EB
From: Winona
May 12, 2010

When in doubt go right. At worst it puts you on the east face area which is quite easy. Its huge up there so don't underestimate the routefinding. Much of this can be climbed without a rope due to the multitude of easy climbing. I would definately recommend the directs you have less hiking for the approach and its super classic. In addition, I would really recommend doing it in a day, simply leave around 3am and hike slowly and consistently- no heavy packs and beer an pizza at the end of the day instead of camp meals!
By Doug Lintz
From: Kearney, NE
Aug 18, 2010

What a route! Not technically difficult but a few spots with tremendous exposure. We roped up for the three main pitches (Golden Stair, Friction, and V) plus a short belay for the Wall Street exit and the exposed "jam crack" move near the top, steep scrambling for everything else. The whole route can be easily done with a single set of Friends, nothing larger than a #3 at that.

As said before the upper part of the descent can be tricky to find if you're not following the masses. Check out the guidebook's description just in case.
By alpinista83
From: San Francisco, CA
Sep 21, 2010

My partner and I gumbied up with a successful summit, car-to-car in 17 hours about two weeks ago. The 17 hours included getting lost, taking breaks, searching for a hat of sentimental value and talking to campers hanging out on the upper saddle. If you're confident that you know where you're going, you can do the whole thing in 12 hours.

No need to bring your climbing shoes if you're only doing the Upper. We were comfortable doing it all in hiking boots. If you want to go uber light for the rack, I'd take one yellow alien, one BD .5, 1, 2 and one alpine draw for a pin on the friction pitch.

We free solo'd 80% of the route, and I am not a free soloist. We roped up for two or three moves, here and there, and then coiled. Roped up for "the jump", most of the friction pitch, half of the v-slot pitch and an exposed move, here or there before the top.

It bears repeating, the approach can be tricky if you are an unprepared idiot like we were. We didn't read or receive beta before going, so yeah, we deserved to get lost.

From the car until the caves, if you are questioning whether you are on the trail, YOU ARE OFF THE TRAIL! Fun! The approach is super well defined and beaten. Once you see the river, the path goes right along it.

We were even misled by a ginormous cairn, which belonged to the guided company. What we thought was the upper saddle was actually the lower saddle. From the guides' base camp, we still had about 2 and a half hours before reaching Wall Street. The eye of the needle and "chockstone/chimney" were not identifiable to us until the descent. Try not to get tunnel vision and get frustrated that you can't find these supposed "remarkably" distinct features. They didn't seem so distinct when we finally spotted them.

Despite our fumbling around, we were happy to beat the storm that was rolling into the Tetons. After the two rappels, we took the same descent back down to the upper saddle and back down again via the fixed lines. We weren't sure about a different way down through the gully. We were tired; we went with what we knew.

Make sure to bring a camera. The views were.. breathtaking. That, or maybe it was the altitude for me.

Enjoy!
By Daaave
From: SLC, UT
Feb 7, 2011

My friend and I climbed in two days last August, we camped in luxury in the meadow but watched everyone we passed hiking up keep going and camping higher. From the meadows to lower saddle took an hour hike in the morning, getting off trail and boulder hopping in the moraine in the dark. We hit the wallstreet as the light was getting perfect, soloed most of the route only placing three pieces in total when simul climbing. From meadows to summit, back to meadows for lunch and packing up to car was 12 hours moving pretty fast passing every party we climbed with. Don't underestimate the size as we did on our first alpine route.
By Teton Climber
Jun 19, 2011

At 50, I hike & solo free climb this route in under 10 hours on my worst day and that's with bad knees, etc. That's the round-trip time from Lupine Meadows. I skip the rap to the Upper Saddle. Given the record round trip time of just over 3 hours, I'm not winning any races but I'm not wasting my time lugging a heavy pack, either. Go fast and light and you'll have more fun. Guide for Solo Free Climbers
By Christian West
Oct 13, 2011
rating: 5.5 4b 13 IV+ 11 MS 4a

We simul climbed the whole thing really fast. It was really fun passing groups going up the faces sometimes to pass them if I remember correctly. Awesome route! Such a classic
By Ryan N
From: Palo Alto
Aug 22, 2012

Did this route in the beginning of August 2012. Weather was great. The information that I thought would be usefull that I didn't find was the descent route via Owen Spaulding. The raps off OS were pretty easy to find just stay with the weakness in the rock and you will naturally end up in the sergents chimney. A single 60 m rope gets you to a ledge you can downclimb. Then head left again taking the weakness to the final double rope rap. Look for chains about waist height. Did this with 60m doubles and got to the base fine. then you can see the obvious upper saddle head for it. Once you start down the obvious gully below the upper saddle the hike becomes very scree. There's not an obvious trail. The guide book says to stay right which seems wrong until you find very intermittent cairns. After they run out I thought I was going to cliff out. I just kept with it following the weakness and eventually got to the needle. I can't stress enough that the descent seems wrong while your doing it but once you get to the needle the trail appears and it becomes obvious.
By Fink
From: Jackson, WY & Bozeman, MT
Sep 11, 2012

No need for two ropes to do the rappels--just one 60.

At the main rappel station, DON'T rap off the bolts (which is 40m). Instead, rap off the giant boulder slung with climbing ropes 6 feet to the right of the bolts, and head south (climber's right / skier's left) as you rappel. A 60m will make it with ~3-4 feet to spare. Sounds sketchier than it is.

The new Teton Rock Climbs guidebook by Aaron Gams states this as well.
By 54lamar
Jun 16, 2013

'79, solo, 10 1/4 hrs parking lot to summit to ranger station, sneakers, snickers, water and extra clothes just in case. Carried an ice-axe to the lower saddle, should have left it in the car. Now that I'm older and my joints hurt, I'm thinking that slower descents would probably have been a good idea. But, what the hell, everybody hurts when they get old.
By claramie
From: Boulder, CO
Jul 14, 2013

Tons of beta pictures at this link

wyomingwhiskey.org/2013/01/gra...
By Floridaputz
From: Oakland Park, Florida
Jul 29, 2013

I just climbed this again after 13 years. Much easier route finding this time. Prefect weather, and a good partner allowed for maxium fun. I recommend staying at the moriane camp if not doing this Car to Car.
By Matt Schroer
From: Logan, Utah
Aug 1, 2013

Classic line with exhilarating exposure and stunning views the whole time. I highly suggest doing this one as light as possible: carrying an ultralight rack, rope up when needed, then solo the rest. Otherwise, you are in for one long day.
By EricV
From: Woodbury, MN
Aug 4, 2013

Just completed this Yesterday! Absolutely amazing experience. Started and ended at the parking lot. If you are a competent climber, don't bother belaying all the pitches. Such perfect weather. Careful, the night before got to the high 20's with some wind.
By Ty Morrison-Heath
From: Bozeman, MT
Sep 1, 2013
rating: 5.5 4b 13 IV+ 11 MS 4a

Awesome climb in an awesome setting! Expect a long day and try to pack light. I brought .5-1 c4's and a half rack of nuts and it felt ample. We simuled the whole climb and it took around an hour and a bit to go from Wall Street to the summit. Can be climbed with a 60 meter rope if care is taken on the last rappel to go to skiers left and not down the crack.

For map nerds here is a GPX file of the approach and climb that can be imported into most GPSs. There is some multipathing in areas so the track is not exactly on route all of the time but it is usually not off more than ~20 meters except near Wall Street where it is off by ~150 meters.

bit.ly/GrandTetonGPX

And for everyone else here is a KML file that can be opened in Google Earth and oogled at. Same accuracy standards apply as the GPX file.

bit.ly/GrandTetonKML