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Grand Teton National Park Climbing and Mountaineering

The Tetons: America's Best Alpine Climbing Area

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The Tetons tower above the Snake River and Jackson Hole in northwestern Wyoming.

The Grand Teton dominates the central section of the Teton Range, one of America's best alpine climbing areas.

Photograph © David C. Tomlinson/Getty Images

Climbing Area Description

Grand Teton National Park, covering over 310,000 acres in northwestern Wyoming, is the center of alpine rock climbing and mountaineering in the United States. The park includes most of the 40-mile-long Teton Range and all of its major peaks, including Grand Teton, Middle Teton, South Teton, Mount Owen, and Mount Moran. The Tetons are simply the best alpine playground in the United States, offering thousands of routes from easy scrambles and ridge climbs to vertical walls and steep couloirs. Climbers come to test themselves on classic Teton routes and to climb in the footsteps of most of America’s greatest climbers and mountaineers, including Albert Ellingwood, Paul Petzoldt, Glenn Exum, Leigh Ortenburger, Fritz Weissner, Jack Durrance, Robert Underhill, Kenneth Henderson, Alex Lowe, and Fred Beckey.

Teton Rock and Ice Climbing

The Teton Range, with ten peaks over 12,000 feet (3,658 meters) high, offers lots of rock climbing from hard single-pitch sport routes to long moderate adventures to difficult traditional lines as well as classic alpine ice routes and fun snow climbs. Expect generally solid rock, a mixture of metamorphic rock and granite, with plenty of cracks that eat up protection like cams and nuts. Where the cracks blank out, especially on the popular routes, protection is often a fixed piton or a bolt. The rock tends to have lots of handholds and footholds, giving lots of fun free climbing up steep stone. Most long free routes have varied crack and face climbing and lots of exposure

Want to climb at Grand Teton National Park? Read Grand Teton National Park: Climbing Trip Planning Information for all the beta on the park.

Teton Climbing Approaches, Bivouacs, and Descents

The Teton Range, contained within the national park, is surprisingly compact, with most of the best climbing in the central part of the range around the Grand Teton. Since the climbing is so concentrated, most climbers are able to ascend several peaks by various routes on a week-long trip. While the mountains have a lot of relief, like the 7,000 feet that the Grand Teton rises above Jackson Hole valley, it is surprisingly easy to tramp up good trails like the Garnet Canyon Trail and the Amphitheater Lake Trail to access the peaks. While it’s possible to do many routes in a long day car-to-car, most climbers pack up to a high bivouac so they can get an early morning start to avoid the inevitable afternoon storms. Don’t take the hiking approach lightly. A bivouac is recommended for most Teton climbs, even Grade IIs, since the route ratings don’t account for the long uphill approach up trails, talus slopes, and snowfields to the route base. Also consider the descent off the summit of whatever mountain you climb. The descent routes, like the Owen-Spalding Route on the Grand, can be complicated, confusing, and involve congested rappels and down-climbing sections. If you’re not familiar with the descent, add extra time to figure it out.

Geology: Teton Range Formed from Granite and Metamorphic Rocks

The Exum Ridge is one of America's finest alpine rock climbs.

Climbers scramble up perfect rock high on Grand Teton, the centerpiece and highest peak in Grand Teton National Park.

Photograph © Tyler Stableford/Getty Images

The Teton Range, one of the youngest mountain ranges in the United States and the youngest in the Rocky Mountains, began forming a mere 9 or so million years ago. The range, composed of metamorphic rocks including gneiss and schist as old as 2.7 billion years (some of the oldest exposed rocks in the United States) and then intruded granite, began rising during the Eocene epoch. The mountains rose along the active Teton Fault on the eastern side of the Tetons with massive earthquakes shifting the mountains upward and the valley to the east downward, forming a fault-block mountain escarpment. The last major fault movement was 5,000 to 7,000 years ago, although vertical displacement averages about one foot every 300 to 400 years.

Glaciation Shaped and Sculpted the Tetons

Later episodes of glaciation, which began about 250,000 years ago, excavated deep valleys and alpine cirques and sculpted today’s rugged mountains. The large valley glaciers, which reached thicknesses of 2,000 feet, also created large lakes, including Jackson Lake. The last glacial period, called the Pindale glaciation, ended about 15,000 years ago. A dozen small glaciers still exist in the national park. The Teton Glacier, nestled below the northeast face of the Grand Teton, is the largest remaining glacier, although geologists warn it may disappear during the 21st century because of global warming.

Grand Teton: Biggest and Baddest Teton Peak

The 13,775-foot (4,199-meter) Grand Teton is the centerpiece of Grand Teton National Park and the epicenter of Teton climbing. Climbing the Grand, as climbers call it, is the goal of most alpinists who visit the Tetons. A lot of novice climbers hire a guide from one of the park's excellent climbing concessions-Jackson Hole Mountain Guides and Exum Mountain Guides. Other climbers tackle the classic Owen-Spalding Route (II 5.4), the easiest way to the summit, or climb either the Upper Exum Ridge (II 5.5) or the Direct Exum Ridge (III 5.7), which ascends the entire 2,500-foot-high ridge in 12 or so pitches. Besides these routes, the Grand Teton offers other excellent routes, including the Petzoldt Ridge (III 5.6), East Ridge (III 5.7), North Face (IV 5.8), and North Ridge (IV 5.7). All are fabulous mountain adventures with interesting climbing in a beautiful setting.

Teton Rock Climbing Equipment

The Grand Teton is a rugged and imposing mountain that can only be climbed by technical means.

The Grand Teton dominates the 40-mile-long Teton Range in northwestern Wyoming.

Photograph © Harvey Lloyd/Getty Images

A standard Teton rack includes a set of Stoppers or other wired nuts; a set of TCUs; a set of cams like Friends or Camalots to 3 inches; and a few Hexentric nuts. Bring 10 or so quickdraws, 10 or so free carabiners, and a half-dozen two-foot slings. A 165-foot (50-meter) rope is adequate to climb and rappel most routes, although a 200-foot (60-meter) rope allows you to run pitches together for speed. Wearing a helmet is essential to protect your head from rockfall, especially on busy routes.

Snow and Ice Climbing Gear

Snow and ice climbs require crampons, an ice axe and/or ice tools, snow pickets, ices screws, pitons, and a hammer. Climbing rock routes early in the season usually requires crampons and an ice axe. The Grand Teton National Park's Mountaineering brochure says: "An ice axe and expertise in its use is perhaps the single most important technique that one can possess for early season climbs.

Plan Your Teton Climbing Trip

Read Grand Teton National Park: Climbing Trip Planning Information for all the beta on climbing at the park, including info on how to get there; where to camp; restrictions and access issues; how to get a backcountry permit for bivouacking; climbing seasons; buy a climbing guidebook; and where to hire a climbing guide.

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