The Grand Teton's Upper Exum Climbing Route

The Upper Exum Climb
~ Lower Saddle to Summit ~

Climbers on the Upper Exum are exiting via the Owen-Spalding route so make sure it's in good shape before you free-solo this route.

Unlike the Owen-Spalding route, safely downclimbing the Upper Exum route is considered to be a very time consuming and dicey proposition for most free-soloing climbers. This is especially true for climbers near the limits of their climbing ability and for those who don't know the mountain well. If you need to bail on this ridge and you don't have a rope, you may need to reach the top of the V-Pitch before you can safely and easily exit the ridge.

Bailing via the Chevy & Stettner Couloir can be a gamble and it is not recommended unless you're well prepared for the descent, know the conditions, and understand the risks. It should go without saying, but we will, couloirs should be avoided during bad weather due to runoff and when high temperatures may cause runoff from snow fields. Runoff can include rocks and water.

Upper Exum Climbing Route Overview

To see more route overviews, see our Marked-Up Grand Teton Images page. To see features in more detail, visit our Grand Teton Features Page. Both of those links cover the approach to the Lower Saddle from the trailhead. This page focuses on the climbing above the Lower Saddle and only has a brief introduction to the approach. 

An early season approach.

From the Lupine Meadows' trailhead, you're headed into Garnet Canyon and up to the Lower Saddle that sits between the Grand and the Middle Teton. The approach will be snow free at some point during the summer. Usually by mid-July, sometime earlier, sometimes later.

There's a summer climbers' trail that runs all the way to the Lower Saddle. It's mostly well defined but it disappears in a significant way in two boulder fields. After a hundred feet or so in the boulders, you should be able to regain the trail to your southwest during the ascent. The trail also disappears in an insignificant way during a few spots that are easily navigated.

The trail splinters in a few locations especially above Spalding Falls. Take the most well-worn, packed-down trail if you are unsure of your path ahead but keep an eye out for a better looking trail just in case you take a slight detour in the wrong direction. Usually, other climbers will be nearby and on the trail during daytime hours if you're climbing during the summer high season.

When snow covers the area, most climbers ascend the Meadows' Headwall (see above) where it's closer to the Middle Teton's NE aspect. Climbers then run up the drainage coming out of the Middle Teton Glacier to reach the Lower Saddle. You may see the skin tracks from skiers or a bootpack from hikers on the headwall. Their path may not be the safest for you. Choose carefully. At times, this can be a very sketchy area. Climbers have died on a snowy Meadows' Headwall. And sloppy loose rocks can be found on the early-season trail up the Meadows' Headwall as the snow melts off. Water can undercut the snow in many locations. Snow conditions can go from safe to deadly in a short period of time, or vice versa. If you want the safest and easiest approach, wait for the snow to melt before climbing the Grand.

The route between the Lower & Upper Saddles.
Head for the western side of the Central Rib's Needle

A closer look at your options for gaining the Central Rib's Bench

From the western side of the Needle, take the Briggs' Slab variation or the 'Chocktone Chimney to the Eye of the Needle' variation to reach the Central Rib's Bench. There are many variations but those two are the most common.

Take the blue route that runs behind the Needle.
Avoid the green route on the eastern side of the Needle.

Once you reach the 'backside' of the Needle from the Briggs' Slab, or the Eye of the Needle, head east and over the Central Rib. Most climbers take the Central Rib's Lower Crossover to reach the Wall Street Couloir. From there, they continue to the eastern side of the couloir to reach a scree-filled gully that leads up to Wall Street. To see more details on the variations to gain Wall Street, see our Marked-Up Grand Teton Images.

Most climbers use the Chockstone Chimney or the Briggs' Slab to access the Central Rib's Bench

Variations around the Central Rib's Bench

Another look at variations around the CR's Bench

Variation to reach the crossovers to Wall Street

The above image was taken from the Central Rib's Bench. The Briggs' Slab (unseen) is on the north side of the Chockstone Chimney. The light blue dots run between the Briggs Slab and the Lower Crossover.

Another look at the same area

The Lower & Upper Crossover are comparatively equal in terms of ease of use but conditions may favor one over the other during certain times of the year. We use the Lower Crossover simply because it's quicker.

A look toward the east after exiting the Briggs' Slab area

This will be a tight squeeze if you're carrying a pack. Right after passing the 'fang', you drop down into another tight squeeze. The Upper Crossover doesn't have any narrow crossings.

Looking west after passing the Fang at the Lower Crossover.

Looking west toward the Lower Crossover

Upper Crossover - looking east

You can reach the Upper Crossover from the Lower Crossover or from the west.

Upper Crossover - looking west

Looking west from Wall Street

 Access to Wall Street

Notice that the easiest approach to the Wall Street Gully is from the north - further up the couloir. The gully is a dangerous place to be if climbers are above you due to some very loose rocks.

Wall Street Gully

Wall Street

Rap to Wall Street.

The rap starts just above the Golden Stair. It is not maintained and it's unlikely you will see any evidence of it. Notice that this rap takes these climbers back to the fat part of Wall Street and not the narrow upper end. You can see the Wall Street slab from above the Golden Stair. This rap is rarely used; however, it's good to know your escape options. Some Lower Exum climbers will use the rap instead of tangling with climbers ascending the Upper Exum at the pinch point of Wall Street: the Step Across.

Wall Street

The very end of Wall Street where you work your way around the corner.

 The Step Across

The climber is using the lower edge at Wall Street's Step Across. Bomber footholds disappear once you get around the corner.

Climber on the upper ledge at Wall Street's Step Across.

We usually use the upper ledge if the winds are calm. We will use the lower ledge if we are leading other climbers or the wind is blowing. We stand upright and work our way around the corner on the upper ledge. There are no great handholds and the footholds are awkward and narrow. We feel that the lower ledge is safer but everyone sees things in their own way.

Upper Ledge

Check out the body position.

If she had a heavy pack, this woman's body position could tip her off balance with the help of a gust of wind. Those are not bomber hand holds. We will stand upright as we work our way around the corner. We trust our footholds if there's no wind. Our handholds aren't going to save us. Every climber has their own method of attacking this corner.

Step Across - Upper Ledge

Step Across - Upper Ledge

Step Across - Upper Ledge

This is a common hold - pulling up on the gap

Many climbers pull up on the bottom of the gap to maintain their position. This lieback is in fact the most popular hold. The awkward body position doesn't instill great confidence but it usually works just fine. The lower ledge is less awkward but the small & frictiony footholds look a little too intimidating for some people. Again, if the wind is blowing, we recommend the lower ledge. It's easy to back off the lower ledge if you don't like it.

The lower ledge

Upper & Lower Ledges

Glenn Exum leaped across the exposed gap on his first ascent, and others.

If you ever look at a picture of him leaping, it doesn't look quite right. We are not sure if he was leaping from the lower or upper ledge but leaping from either ledge is not suggested for most climbers. We are still awaiting the video of anyone trying. It is certainly within the abilities of some climbers.

Climber on the lower ledge.

The above photo was shot from a weird angle with heavy fog. It looks far worse than it is. The lower ledge does disappear as you round the corner, however. There is one nice handhold for those on the Lower Ledge that's on the flat part of the Upper Ledge.

The Step Across - Glenn Exum leaped across the gap.

Lower Ledge - The Step Across

Lower Ledge  - The Step Across

Lower Ledge - The Step Across

Soloing the Golden Stair.

The Golden Stair has great holds but it still requires careful climbing. While climbing with a companion, Hannah Marshburn, age 24, of Jackson took a fall at the Golden Stair and sustained a facial injury and possibly a head injury. In the image above, Brody Leven is out with Robin Hill free-soloing the Golden Stair. BTW: It's Golden Stair, not 'staircase' if you go by the guide book "A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range"; however, there are often many different names for the same features on this mountain. Most people couldn't care less if you say staircase or stair.

Golden Stair

The cracks variation

This is just around the corner from the base of the Golden Stair and it is a little harder. If you go even further to the NE, you will find even harder cracks to play with.

The cracks variation

A little boulder problem just above the Golden Stair.

It's mostly a scramble to the Wind Tunnel from here. These guys are also at the location where you can set a rap back to Wall Street.

The scramble to the Wind Tunnel....

You will scramble up the rock and then back down the NE side of the rock to reach the entrance to the Wind Tunnel.

 Access to the Wind Tunnel

We're looking down at the entrance to the Wind Tunnel from the rock we just climbed up.

The gully below (to the east, right)  leads to the Petzoldt Ridge

Entrance to the Wind Tunnel.

Wind Tunnel - just before the boulder problems

Wind Tunnel's boulder problems.

Wind Tunnel's boulder problems

This little boulder (white- center) can be done in many ways. It's the crux of the Wind Tunnel's little chockstone boulders. You can also go east and use the eastern side of the gully to bypass this boulder if conditions permit — it's not an obvious line.

Wind Tunnel's boulder problems.

Wind Tunnel Gully.

Where it opens up to the east (top right) is where you can easily access the Friction-Pitch Bypass Chimney and the Puff-N-Grunt Dihedral. At the only obvious opening you will just head east to the two variations if you wish to skip the Jern & the Friction Pitch. The FPBC is definitely the way to go if you wish to bypass the Friction Pitch (many do). The variations are worth trying at some point if you have been on this route before or plan on coming back. You might, might, be able to downclimb the FP Bypass Chimney in an emergency. It's a little tricky at the top but far easier than downclimbing the Friction Pitch (not suggested) if you're soloing.

 View into WT

We're looking back down the Wind Tunnel from just below the Jern Dihedral

Just above the Wind Tunnel Gully.
Climbers headed for the Jern.

A look up the crestline.

You can climb the eastern crestline (center of image) to the double cracks below the Friction Pitch. The crestline to the Friction Pitch is more difficult than the Jern to the Friction Pitch. Most climbers take the Jern to the Friction Pitch. The complete eastern crestline — that goes along the far eastern edge of the Friction Pitch (from the bottom of the picture to the top) — will test you skills more than most of the other lines. You should have sticky shoes for two short cruxy areas and be able to manage a more difficult pitch.

How you get to the Jern is up to you.

The PNG is 5.6ish. The FPBC is 5.4ish and it is harder than it looks at its top. The Western Chimney's rating varies with the exit location but if you exit at the base of the Friction Pitch by an old cam stuck in the rock you will be looking at a 5.4ish exit line.

The pink line from the Western Chimney is by an old cam and it dumps you at the base of the FP

Climber just below the Jern

Climber at the Jern

The Jern Dihedral is named after climbing guide Ken Jern. He slipped on ice and fell 50 feet down its face. You can watch Ken point out the location in this great soloing video

Climbers on Jern & on Friction Pitch

This climber slips three times while attempting the Friction Pitch's eastern crest.

The climber could have slipped off the east side of the crest and slammed into the PNG variation. A rope only protects you so much if you are on a ridge or crest line.

Climber headed for the Friction Pitch's Knob Line.

Friction Pitch

Friction Pitch — The Vaginal Line is just to the climber's left. He is on the Knob Line.

Most climbers take a western line off the knob but some go east.

Some climbers go left, some go right at the knobs

With sticky climbing shoes, this area won't seem like much of a crux but it does require careful and thoughtful moves. We prefer to go left from the knob. We think it is safer and easier; however, A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range seems to suggest that going right - foot in a small depression - is easier. To each his own. If you plan to go left, make sure that your right foot lands on the knob, and vice versa if you plan on going right. Some climbers find that the Vaginal Line is the easiest line with sticky soft climbing shoes.

Friction Pitch

A close look at the crux of the Friction Pitch
Not much in the way of bomber hand holds.

Friction Pitch's crux

Friction Pitch - western side by Vaginal Line.

Friction Pitch — Vaginal Line at center

There are variations further to the west if you're interested in another challenge.

Friction Pitch - view from eastern side of crest

Friction Pitch

Friction Pitch's crux

FP Crux

The dark rock (bottom right) is a small ledge just past the crux.

Friction Pitch's crux

A look back down the FP and Wind Tunnel

Carmen's Pinnacle is a detour for bored climbers.

Friction Pitch - above crux

Exiting the Friction Pitch

The Notch Gully above the Friction Pitch

Run up the gully or climb the western ridgeline - both easy

View toward the V-Pitch from the Notch Gully. We don't recommend the exit ledge just above the Notch Gully. You can easily exit the ridge and head for the Main Rap after the V-Pitch.

Notch Gully - looking back down

Above the Notch Gully and below the V-Pitch

The Crack Variation to the east of the V-Pitch is easier when dry. The variation to the far east is off route. That far eastern variation is easier for some climbers than the traditional route from here to the Boulder Problem In The Sky but only if you know where you are going.

The easy crack to the east of the V-Pitch

 View to the SW

We're looking back from the far-eastern crack variation toward climbers approaching the V-Pitch. We are just below the eastern aspect of the summit ridgeline.

The V-Pitch - center right - is being bypassed due to conditions

Easy V-Pitch bypass crack

The crack and the V-Pitch might be covered in snow (or filled w/ ice) during the start of the summer season.



Climber on the eastern crest of the V-Pitch after using the bypass crack

West Leaning Chimney (PL)

Right above the V-Pitch is an easy exit to the NE to reach the main rappel to the Upper Saddle. The West-Leaning Crack is a little tricky. It's a short combo of a slab, crack, chimney, lieback and can be tackled in many ways. After getting above the WLC, you can head east toward the ridgeline to reach the Boulder Problem in the Sky.  FYI: There's also a rap location near the southern prow of the summit's ridgeline. It's near the very top of the above picture. It, of course, lands you back between the West Leaning Chimney/Crack/Lieback and the top of the V-Pitch.


L-Shaped Notch feature NE of the WLC

Instead of heading directly for the ridgeline after exiting the WLC, you can also head for the LSN.

Climbers heading directly east after leaving the WLC

After the WLC, you can go directly east to the ridgeline or head for the L-Shaped Notch. From the LSN, you can then head directly east to the ridgeling and directly access the Boulder Problem in the Sky's Southern Crack. At the LSN, you go also go down into the gully and take a bypass variation back to the ridgeline to avoid the BPITS. You can also access the gully from higher up - just below the BPITS's jam crack. The bypass can be a little tricky especially if there's slick snow or ice.

The western aspect of the summit ridgeline after exiting the V-Pitch

A look up toward the BPITS

Looking over at the exit from the bypass that's under the western aspect of the BPITS

Looking over at the exit from the bypass that's under the western aspect of the BPITS

Boulder Problem in the Sky's Southern Jam Crack

Boulder Problem in the Sky's Southern Jam Crack

Boulder Problem in the Sky's Southern Jam Crack

Exiting the BPITS

Looking Northwestish

Run along the ridgeline and go under the eastern aspect of the Horse to gain the summit.
Take the path of least resistance.

Rescue off the Exum Ridge

~ The Downclimb ~ 

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Enjoy Safe Climbing