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. If you're climbing with ropes, conditions on the OS are less of an issue.

Everyone should be familiar with the Owen-Spalding's layout and the route back to the Lower Saddle. All of that information is covered in great detail on our Owen-Spalding climbing route page but some is highlighted here.

Unlike the Owen-Spalding, safely downclimbing the Upper Exum is considered to be a very time consuming and questionable proposition for many 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. In other words, if you're free-soloing then don't expect a quick retreat if the weather changes or if you become uncomfortable with the climb. Obviously, a few climbers can downclimb the UXM with relative ease but that is not the case for most of the people climbing this route.

The UXM is not a sustained Class 5.5 climbing route. There are only a few Class 5.5 moves. Not everyone who climbs this route needs to be a climber but it helps to have some mountaineering experience. Free-soloing athletes should consider climbing the Owen-Spalding route first if they haven't done so. If the OS is easy for you then this is worth considering. If you're roping up and being guided then you're ready to go.

JLCR's Conditions Reports

Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers' blog
JLCR (summer): 307-739-3343
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911 also works for texting in Teton County, WY

Upper Exum Climbing Route Overview
 Click to enlarge image

This webpage focuses on the actual climbing challenges above the Lower Saddle and presents only a brief introduction to the approach. The approach is fully covered on our page of marked-up Grand Teton images. To examine individual features in more detail (just more pictures), please visit our Grand Teton Features page. Please visit our Wyoming Whiskey home page for more information on a Grand Teton climbing trip.

The Trailhead & Approach

FYI: The above map is a little misleading. The summer trail above Spalding Falls actually rises more to the NW along many switchbacks for a good distance before traversing west toward the Lower Saddle. Same issue with this next map....

Click to enlarge

The approach will be snow free at some point during the summer. Usually by mid-July, sometimes earlier, sometimes later. The sunny Upper Exum route often cleans up before the approach.

You're heading for the Grand's Lower Saddle which sits between the Grand Teton and the Middle Teton in the North Fork of Garnet Canyon. The climbers' trail runs all the way to the Lower Saddle.  The trail is mostly well defined but it does disappear at two boulder fields for 100 feet or so (see above map). In both places you will regain the trail to your southwest after the scramble through the boulders. At the first boulder field near the Platforms Camping Zone, you will find the trail restarting next to Garnet Creek. At the second boulder field, you will regain the trail next to a sign for the Moraines Camping Zone. The sign is to your south and just above a small drainage. It is also within a stone's throw of the most eastern camping spot.

The trail disappears in an insignificant way in a few spots that are easily navigated. Usually, the trail continues just in front of you. It helps to examine the approach in more detail if you're traveling when it's dark. You may see a few side trails. Some spurs go to camping spots, other trails are sometimes used to avoid early-season snow.

A closer look at the Meadows' Headwall 

During the final transition to a snow-free approach at the Meadows' Headwall some climbers will use the red snow route shown above while others will start taking variations of the summer trail. There is a very sloppy & splintered hiking trail by the red route. You might not notice it until you're on the headwall.  Which way you go is up to you. Both can hold sketchy patches of snow during this time.

It is usually wise to avoid the snow routes when the summer trail is dry, and wise to avoid all routes by Spalding Falls when snow covers that area. Obviously, conditions might demand deviations from planned or preferred routes in the backcountry.

Climbers typically AVOID the area between Spalding Falls and the green snow route at all times of the year. Sure, you can try climbing it. That may have been the location of this accident in June of  2015, involving a man who was solo climbing a 4th class slab just above the Meadows.

The following information is mostly for climbers who are traveling outside of the peak season and under snowy conditions.

A snowy Meadows' Headwall

Most climbers ascend the Meadows' Headwall by the Middle Teton's NE aspect when snow covers the canyon floor. It looks far easier and safer than it is. Climbers then continue up the snow-covered drainage leading to the shrinking Middle Teton Glacier and the Morainal Camping Zone. There's an elevated morainal mound just north of the glacier which may be the safest place to travel if the possibility of an avalanche (or flushing) exists. Avalanches & rock slides from the north have crossed the mound, however. That mound holds much of the summer trail through the moraines.

 Approach above 10,000' - Lower Saddle's Headwall, & the Moraines

The climbing guides start taking clients up the Grand during the second half of June. They are traversing on foot over snow to reach the Lower Saddle. The snow above 9000' starts consolidating in a meaningfully way by mid to late spring so it's pretty easy to walk on at many locations. Obviously, new snow is still falling throughout the spring.

Once at the Lower Saddle's Headwall, you may encounter an early-season bootpack that runs across the face of the headwall (common in June, or early July). It can be a sloppy mess with warm temperatures. We prefer to bootpack straight up & down the headwall when conditions make that easy.

As the snow melts off, the summer trail takes you to a rope that is permanently affixed to the saddle's headwall. The area by the rope is a drainage so it can be wet and icy. That Fixed Rope is very useful under those conditions. If you struggle with the climb by the headwall under good conditions then free-soloing this climb is not for you. You can contact the Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers to find out if the approach is free of snow or if the Fixed Rope is being used.

 Lower Saddle's Fixed Rope

Sometimes it is useful to travel by the Fixed Rope under snowy conditions. It's an option that has some advantages under some snow conditions. Do not travel directly above the Fixed Rope when that area is dry due to the high probability of causing rockfall on climbers below you. All climbers follow a sloppy path toward the SE corner of the Lower Saddle.

Climbers have died on a snowy Meadows' Headwall and on the Lower Saddle's Headwall. Water is undercutting the snow in many locations. Postholing can bury a leg and cause injuries. Sinking footsteps are sapping your energy. And snow conditions can go from safe to sketchy in a very short period of time. Shallow unconsolidated snow during the fall season is full of hazards like hidden foot traps and very slick surfaces. The approach can be far more dangerous than the climb at certain times of the year. Respect the snow. Don't expect to find the trail if a modest amount of snow is on the ground.

Having said all that, it's alpine mountaineering. Mixed conditions are part of the challenge and part of the reward.

If you want the safest and easiest approach, wait for the snow to melt before climbing the Grand.

Free-soloing the Upper Exum 2007

David Gonzales took his talents and a video camera up the Grand in 2007. The result was this fine gem of cinematography which was also YouTube's first video of free-soloing climbers on Grand Teton. 


Middle Teton shown at 0:28
Lower Saddle's Fixed Rope at 0:38
Lower Saddle at 0:51
Central Rib's Lower Crossover at 0:56
Wall Street's Step Across at 1:03
Golden Stair at 1:20
Jern Dihedral with Ken Jern climbing out of it at 1:31
Upper Friction Pitch at 1:43
V-Pitch at 1:52
West -Leaning Chimney at 2:03
Boulder Problem in the Sky at 2:07
Owen-Spalding's Belly Roll (downclimb) at 2:19

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

The UXM and OS climbing routes start at the Lower Saddle. The more demanding & exposed climbing for UXM climbers starts at the end of Wall Street. It starts at the Upper Saddle for OS climbers.

After reaching the crest of the Lower Saddle, you can take a well deserved break or continue on. A small section of garden hose allows you to collect drinking water near the SE corner of the saddle. It sits in a drainage that is SE of a metal trail sign and at the toe of the rocky north-facing slope. You may see a cairn marking its location.

If you need to take a whizz, do so on the western side of the saddle to protect the water sources on the eastern side. There is a non-functioning toilet for privacy on the western aspect of the saddle. You are required to pack human waste off the saddle using wag bags.

The climbers' trail runs by the location of the Climbing Ranger's hut (& Exum Mtn Guides' hut) and then continues to the Black Dike on the north side of the saddle. You're heading for the Central Rib's Needle above the dike. The scramble begins once you pass the dike.

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.

Overview of the two most common variations

Once you gain the Central Rib's Bench, you'll head east and over the Central Rib. An extension of the Chockstone Chimney takes you to the ridgeline to the Central Rib where you will find the Central Rib's Lower Crossover. From there you can see the large shelf called Wall Street which takes you to the Upper Exum Ridge.

Let's take a look at our options in more detail.

The Chockstone Chimney on the western side of the Needle.

Rockfall is a hazard if climbers are above you in the chimney. You can scramble on the ledges, steps, and slabs to the left of the chimney. That allows you to enter the chimney from a slightly higher position and avoid some of the rockfall threats. Additionally, you can bypass the lower chimney and head for the Briggs' Slab area. From there you can re-enter the chimney or use the Briggs' Slab.

Variations around the Central Rib's Bench
Click to see enlarged image

Using the Middle Ledge of the Chockstone Chimney (seen above) to reach the Eye of the Needle might be easier and safer for some climbers when compared to using the lower section of the Chockstone Chimney to reach the Eye of the Needle. You can reach the Middle Ledge from the Briggs' Slab via a small chute, or from a lower western approach. Not many people use the Middle Ledge but it does get used. It can be very useful under many conditions.

If you climbed the lower Chockstone Chimney then you will end up at an obvious ramp (Lower Ledge shown above) heading south and out of the chimney. Once out, you will make a u-turn and go into a natural tunnel called The Eye of the Needle. The Eye may be plugged with snow early in the season.

You will be heading for the Belly-Roll Almost after leaving the Eye of the Needle. The Belly-Roll Almost is slightly exposed but with good holds when dry. You can go over the top of the BRA or go under it. Conditions may favor one over the other. If you pass under the BRA, you will be looking for a small foothold that is hidden from view until you are on top of it. The handholds are very good when dry.

After passing the Belly-Roll Almost, you will be heading for the ridgeline of the Central Rib.

FYI for FKT: The approach line that runs between the Mini Black Dike and the Chockstone Chimney is an easy scramble when dry but the full path isn't obvious and it is rarely used. In the above image, it is the path at the middle-bottom of the image marked "Not Exact Path".  It should not be taken on a descent unless you have made the ascent. It is not well marked on the above image (take easiest path) and it can be difficult to figure out the descent's easy exit into the main drainage (exits north at bottom). It can be very useful under icy fall conditions. If we were running the Grand for a FKT, that might be our route to and from the Briggs' Slab. It is the most direct line and quick.

 The Central Rib Overview

The BLUE dots by the Briggs' Slab show two variations to gain the Middle Ledge of the Chockstone Chimney. It's mostly a scramble. The bottom section of the Chockstone Chimney is not shown in the above photo.

Variations that are not usually taken by novice climbers:

The Cracks of Doom and the Sack o' Potatoes are harder variations for many people. They are just north of the Briggs' Slab. There is a slightly exposed horizontal traverse variation of the Sack o' Potatoes that isn't fully shown in the above image — you approach from the north (out of the picture frame) and head southeast. That variation isn't too difficult when dry. As with the SOP, there are several lines on the COD. Climbing up or down the COD is a very short fun variation.

Obviously, some new lines may be available if deep and stable snow is acting as a climbing aid or providing a more direct path to your destination. 

FYI: The drainages by the Upper Western Rib (see below) are not used by UXM climbers. And rarely used by OS climbers due to conditions and rockfall hazards, usually.

Let's get back to our standard route options.... 

Another look at variations around the CR's Bench

Upper Exum climbers are headed east and over the Central Rib via the Lower or Upper Crossovers. Owen-Spalding climbers are headed for the Upper Saddle via the Black Rock Chimney or the Upper Western Rib. Those red lines are common descent lines for Upper Exum climbers. The bench area is mostly a scramble so don't worry about taking an exact route to various features.

 Another look

We almost always go around the outside edges of the Briggs' Slab like the climber shown above. If you follow us, it helps to have good leg and arm reach as you exit the slab because there's a short exposed gap above the Chockstone Chimney that you need to reach across. With sticky shoes it is pretty easy to climb other lines. Guides usually hip-belay clients on the Briggs' Slab instead of setting gear, or simply run a rope around a rock feature to belay clients. They often do that on much of the technical climbing, too.
All the different variations provide more options when conditions are poor and you're free-soloing. Keep in mind that sometimes this area is icy while the climbing above is less of a hazard. It's not uncommon to find easier-to-manage snow or dry rock further up the mountain if there is a modest amount of icing here.

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

Overview from above & looking south

We avoid being low in drainages due to rockfall hazards. Our finger is pointing toward a higher line of travel that we favor during a descent from the Upper Saddle. This area is just a scramble so don't worry about taking an exact line of travel. Choose anything that looks easy and safe. Again, UXM climbers are crossing the Central Rib using one of the two crossovers.

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. Take whatever route that works for you.

The Fang at the Lower Crossover

This might be a tight squeeze if you're carrying a big pack. Some folks climb on the outside of the Fang. Right after passing the Fang, you will drop down into another tight squeeze. The Upper Crossover doesn't have similar narrow crossings.

Variations that are not usually taken by novice climbers:

South of the Fang is a slab that is sometimes used by climbers ascending the eastern side of the Needle. That off-route eastern variation meets our path by the Lower Crossover. There is no real time advantage by taking the eastern variation and it is not recommended. Having said that, it is worth trying at least once if you are up here often as are most variations within your abilities. There are other eastern variations but they are wisely avoided by most novice climbers.

Let's get back to our standard route options....

Upper Crossover - looking east

You can reach the Upper Crossover from the Lower Crossover should you wish to do so — one of the climbers is doing just that in the photo.

Looking back west after passing the Fang at the Lower Crossover.

Ditto. Looking west toward the Lower Crossover

Upper Crossover - looking back west after crossing the Central Rib

Looking back 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.

BTW: Unless you can fly, never descend to the bottom of the Wall Street Couloir.

Wall Street Gully - loose rocks everywhere

The WS Couloir is at the bottom of this side gully.

Wall Street

Rap to Wall Street.

This rap (maybe 60 ft) is rarely used; however, it's a good escape option. The rap starts just above the Golden Stair. It's not maintained and it's unlikely you'll 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 so you can check your landing. Some Lower Exum climbers who aren't going to the summit will use the rap instead of tangling with Upper Exum climbers at the pinch point of Wall Street's Step Across.

Wall Street

The very narrow 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 he gets around the corner. Many guides have their clients use the lower ledge. The upper ledge is pretty steep, steeper than the Wall Street slab leading to it. The lower ledge is pretty flat.

 Reaching for safety as he exits the upper ledge

 Staying upright on the upper ledge - one variation.

We only use the upper ledge if the winds are calm. It's slightly more thrilling. We stand totally upright and work our way around the corner on the upper ledge. The footholds are awkward and narrow but we trust 'em. There are no great handholds. As with the lower ledge, if your feet slip, your handholds will not save you. We will use the lower ledge if we are leading other climbers, or if wind is blowing. Not everyone stands upright like this climber - see below.

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

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 strong gust of wind. Those are not bomber handholds. Every climber has their own method of attacking this corner. We are not aware of anyone falling at this corner, ever (that's the kiss of death comment). Everyone is very careful. We feel that the lower ledge is safer for us but everyone sees things their own way. The upper ledge may be safer for you. The footholds are certainly bigger on the Upper Ledge. Short climbers may favor the upper ledge. Not being short ourselves, it's hard to say.

Step Across - upper ledge

Step Across - upper ledge

Step Across - upper ledge

He takes the gloves off.....

We dislike climbing with gloves on. We don't consider it to be the safe option unless the alternative is frostbite.

If our soles are wet or this area has a slick surface then we use the lower ledge. We will clean any icy holds if we need to. Please don't free-solo this route under nasty conditions unless you have the appropriate experience. 

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 modified lieback (or layback) forces you into an awkward body position that doesn't instill great confidence but it works fine for this climber.

Let's take a look at the lower ledge variation......

The fat lower ledge disappears.... you round the corner. This is the southern side of the lower ledge.

The eastern side looks far different....

Upper & Lower Ledges

A look at the eastern aspect of the Step Across. 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 so you might want to try it first.

Glenn Exum leaped across the exposed gap on his first ascent

We are not sure if he was leaping from the lower or upper ledge. 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 many climbers but that doesn't mean they want to try it without a rope like Ol' Glenn.

On the same day that Glenn made the first ascent of the Upper Exum Ridge, Paul Petzoldt soloed the route after climbing the Grand with two clients via the Owen-Spalding route. That was probably the first lap on the mountain.

You might be able to lower yourself down from the lower ledge to get around the corner. Lower Exum climbers do ascend this corner (sometimes by mistake, sometimes on purpose). It's not difficult ascending the corner from a lower position but you have to get to the lower position from the lower ledge. Climbers have utilized that option.

Climber on the lower ledge.

The above photo was shot from a weird angle with heavy fog. It looks far worse than it is. Or maybe it looks even worse in person for some climbers. The lower ledge does disappear as you round the corner. There is one nice finger-tip hold that's on the flat part of the upper ledge. Again, your handholds will not save you if you lose your footing on either variation. You might be able to grab something as you fall, but it's unlikely. You probably won't give the Lower Ledge a second thought with sticky shoes. Or maybe you will.

Obviously, some shoes are better at smearing on friction, or edging, etc. You really never know how well a shoe will do until you try it. Practice at the valley floor and not here if you're free-soloing.

The Step Across - Glenn Exum leaped across this gap.

Lower Ledge - The Step Across

Lower Ledge  - The Step Across

Lower Ledge - The Step Across

Not much of a foothold.

Soloing the Golden Stair.

The Golden Stair has nice holds but it still requires careful climbing. Some of those holds may not seem obvious to non-climbers. 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. Clearly, 'nice holds' is in the eye of the beholder.

In the image above, Brody Leven is out with Robin Hill free-soloing the Golden Stair. They sailed up the GS like it was a sidewalk. The handholds keep you moving quickly if you have the arm and grip strength. Your feet just kind of follow on small holds and friction if you're going fast. Few are.

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. Old-timers used different names and spellings so feel confident that your name works just fine. The Bonney's used 'Golden Staircase' in their early guidebooks and it's common to hear that name. They made it into the Wyoming Outdoor Hall of Fame in 2019 —  JHN&G story.

Golden Stair

Variations that are not usually taken by novice climbers:

The cracks variation

This is just around the corner from the base of the Golden Stair and it's a little harder. With sticky shoes and some natural ability a novice might find it a viable option. If you go even further to the NE, you will find even harder cracks to play with. Past those, you may end up in a drainage if you can get there. The drainage is sometimes used by climbers coming off the Petzoldt Ridge. It's a direct line toward the Wind Tunnel.

The cracks variation

Let's get back to our standard route options....

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. See below. 

 Access to the Wind Tunnel - scramble back down.

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

The gully below (far right side of photo) leads to the Petzoldt Ridge

Lower access to the Wind Tunnel.

Wind Tunnel access - just before the boulder problems

Wind Tunnel's boulder problems.

Wind Tunnel's boulder problems

This little boulder (white one at center) can be done in many ways. It's the crux of the Wind Tunnel's blocky 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 (it's right along the eastern wall). One of the great things about the UXM route is that there are all sorts of variations.

Wind Tunnel's boulder problems.

Wind Tunnel Gully.

Climb out of the Wind Tunnel to an open ledgy area. It's where the gully ends and the ridgeline rises out of it. From there you can assess various options. You can use the Friction-Pitch Bypass Chimney (5.4ish) or the Puff-N-Grunt Dihedral (5.6ish) to the east. Those variations allow you to skip the Jern & the Friction Pitch. The variations are worth trying at some point if you climb this route often, as is the full Western Chimney variation which is to the west. The PNG is not usually taken by novice climbers. The Jern is the dihedral in the center of the ridgeline. The Friction Pitch is at the top of the Jern Dihedral. At some point, we may find out what variations Glen and Paul took on their first ascents up this ridge.

The ledgy area just above the Wind Tunnel Gully.

The climbers are headed for the Jern. Behind the photographer is easy access to the Western Chimney variation.

 View into Wind Tunnel

We're looking back down at the ledgy area just above the Wind Tunnel. We are just below the Jern Dihedral.

A look up the crestline (center).

The Double Cracks along the eastern crest (center of image) were a popular variation as was the Western Chimney. These days, most climbers take the Jern to the Friction Pitch. How you get to the Jern is up to you. Some climbers will take a western approach. The climber above is on a more direct line.

Variations that are not usually taken by novice climbers:

The complete eastern crestline — (from the bottom of the picture to the top of the FP) — is not the easiest line. You should have sticky shoes and be able to manage a more difficult ascent. Many people climb the easier parts of the eastern crest.

We figure that the large Puff-n-Grunt dihedral is 5.6ish at two very short cruxes. In the book "A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range", the authors call it a "difficult (5.6 to 5.7) corner". We say 5.6ish because it doesn't feel as difficult as it should when we're wearing very large winter-insulated hunting boots. In other words, it almost feels like a solid 5.6 with our shoes but not quite a 5.7 so we'll stick with a 5.6. Ratings are pretty subjective and yours may vary. A short climber may have a harder time than a tall one.

Let's get back to our standard route and its easier bypass.... 

Friction-Pitch Bypass Chimney

The FP Bypass Chimney is 5.4ish and it looks harder than it is at its top because the easiest exit line isn't obvious. To exit the chimney, you can go right or left near the top of the chimney and maintain a 5.4 rating if conditions permit. The left-side exit isn't obvious and it's contorted (the exit, not your body) but you'll figure it out. The right-side exit is easier to see but that doesn't make it easier to navigate. Conditions may force you to choose one side or the other. You will find loose rocks in the chimney but plenty of solid holds. You're likely to find a mix of ice and snow early in the season in which case the bypass may not be the easiest ascent line.

You might be able to downclimb the FP Bypass Chimney if the weather looks threatening and you need to turn around. Keep in mind that chimneys are not safe places to be in a lightning storm. Additionally, the gully above could send debris down the chimney if it's pouring rain. We have never been in the chimney during a big storm so we don't know how bad it could be. It's not too hard to downclimb if you know the easiest way. For that reason, it's good to climb it at least once if you are up here often.

The Western Chimney

The entire Western Chimney which exits at the top of the Friction Pitch is a fun variation. The Western Chimney's rating varies with the exit location. The most common exit line is to the base of the Friction Pitch (by an old cam stuck in the rock) and you will be looking at a 5.4ish exit (maybe closer to a 5.5 exit for a short climber with non-climbing shoes). The next two photos highlight the most common exit line to the bottom of the Friction Pitch. The chimney is a good way to bypass slow climbers to the east. It's a fairly quick ascent - quicker than the Jern if you're headed for the Friction Pitch.

The Western Chimney is another downclimbing option. If you are at the bottom of the Friction Pitch, that might be your best option for retreating if you wish to get lower on the ridgeline. It is very easy to downclimb the lower section of the Western Chimney but accessing it (descending into it) from the ledge that runs along the base of the Friction Pitch can appear intimidating to many novice free-soloing climbers. 


From a point closer to the bottom of the Western Chimney, you can head for the western crest of the Jern Dihedral along small but good holds. It's a nice 5.4 line along the crest which is looking down on the Jern Dihedral's right-facing corner.

Free-soloing down the Double Cracks or the Jern Dihedral is not suggested for novice climbers.


The pink line (see above) exiting the Western Chimney is by an old cam. It is also by a very large step in the chimney. It's a down-step step. You will see a fairly obvious exit line above you to the east. After leaving the chimney, you will be on a ledge that runs along the base of the Friction Pitch.

If you exit the Western Chimney just before the pink line, you can quickly get into 5.5 territory.

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 the nice soloing video we highlighted above.

You can see the previously mentioned western crest of the Jern Dihedral in the above photo (far left). You can also see the Double Cracks section of the eastern crestline variation in the image above and below.

Climbers on Jern & on Friction Pitch

One of the climbers slips three times while attempting the Friction Pitch's eastern crest.

The climber who slips has mountaineering boots with firm soles that aren't very sticky. He is at a more difficult location (slightly harder friction holds) & at a more dangerous location (edge of the crest) for using those shoes. He moves away from the crest and ends up by the Knob Line.

The Friction Pitch's short crux is sometimes considered to be the only feature rated a 5.5 on the Upper Exum Ridge. Some climbers feel that other features on the UXM, like Wall Street's Step Across, etc, are more disconcerting than the Friction Pitch. As we say, everyone experiences a climb differently.

By using variations like the Friction Pitch Bypass Chimney you can lower the rating of the UXM to something more in line with the OS. However, the UXM is longer with more sustained 5.4 climbing and it usually takes more time to evaluate many of the climbing moves on the UXM compared to the fairly straight forward moves on the Owen-Spalding route.

Climber headed for the Friction Pitch's Knob Line.

We usually go left from the knob. We think it's a little safer for us (we have tried all the variations). If you plan to go left off the Knob, you might want to have your right foot land on the top knob, and vice versa if you plan on going right. There are no bomber handholds, or even tiny mildly-comforting handholds (unless your name is Honnold). You need to trust your friction footholds. Hopefully, you're not wearing loafers and the soles are dry.

The guidebook A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range seems (seems) to suggest that going right off the knob - foot in a small depression - is easier. In the book Teton Rock Climbs by Aaron Gams, he suggests that going left off the knob is the better option. Richard Rossiter, who wrote both "Teton Classics: 50 Selected Climbs in Grand Teton National Park", and "Best Climbs Grand Teton National Park", suggests going up from the knobs and "right to a shallow grove and upward to the top of the slab."

Obviously, all advice should be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to the highly personal experience of climbing. Again, with sticky shoes all lines are pretty similar on the Friction Pitch's crux.  If you see others making easy work of a line and they have similar abilities and shoes, you should probably follow them.

The crux of the Friction Pitch can't be fully protected from below. It might be possible to spot a climber if you are just below them as they enter the crux (you're by the knobs). This isn't an option for most climbers. Most climbers do just fine on the Friction Pitch.

Again, you might want to test your shoes on friction (try various types of rock) a few feet off the ground before climbing the Upper Exum. There is a psychological barrier that many climbers need to cross when they have no bomber handholds (or bomber footholds) while friction climbing.

While free-soloing El Cap's Freerider, Alex Honnold, took a 20-move detour to get around a single slippery friction section. He also bailed on Freerider's friction slabs during his first free-solo attempt. Friction is the bane of many free-soloing climbers.

Friction Pitch

One or two moves gets you past the crux.

Friction Pitch —

The Vaginal Line is just to the left of the above climber by a foot or so. He is on the Knob Line.

Some climbers like the Vaginal Line. It is a friction zone and we don't consider it any easier than the other variations. Many climbers find it to be a real pain in the ass if they lack sticky shoes. Some find it easier to start the Vaginal Line and exit to the right before going up the main channel, others climb straight up it. We have done every line in shoes that were not made for climbing; however, it's far easier and safer with sticky soles. Our large hands used to have a very powerful grip which was helpful as we could grab the wide vulva-like surfaces with ease and climb with questionable shoes.

Some climbers go left, some go right at the knobs

Those look like pretty good footholds in the above picture. When you're on the rock, your perspective is different. The footholds seem less secure. We would like to say that with sticky climbing shoes this area won't seem like much of a crux.

So many variables come into play while climbing: your shoes, your foot size, your experience with friction, your arm reach, your eyesight, your grip strength, your body position, etc. Tall climbers usually have an easier time on the OS & the UXM. This route has been carefully climbed by seniors and children with all sorts of different body types and abilities. It's a puzzle that is different for every climber. In any area, soloing climbers should probably contemplate which line is the safest line, and/or easiest to back off from, if two lines look similar.

We have seen a few roped climbers get so frustrated with the crux that they simply pull themselves up by the rope that's protecting them. It works, it's quick, and it's comforting to those who fear slipping (real or imagined). If you are hip-belaying novice climbers from the top of the Friction Pitch, be prepared for a yank. Some guides do indeed hip belay clients from the top of the FP. You might be surprised by how little pro some guides actually set with gear on the OS and the UXM.

Friction Pitch

A closer look from above at the crux of the Friction Pitch

Not much in the way of bomber handholds. We are on the tiny ledge just past the crux.

Friction Pitch's crux

Friction Pitch - western side

There are some rarely climbed ascent lines that run between the Western Chimney and the standard Friction Pitch line. They are not for novice climbers. If you think the entire ridge is too easy, it's because you are making it that way.

Friction Pitch — Vaginal Line at center

Big-wall climbing shoes make you feel like a Spider-man, less so in Walmart work boots (pic of our trusty Walmart Shoes at Wall Street). Climbers have used variations of the work boot since the golden days of climbing. 18-year-old Glenn Exum borrowed a pair of leather-cleated football shoes two sizes too big to free-solo this route on its first ascent.  

Friction Pitch - view from eastern side of crest

This is the most common approach line to the Knob and the crux of the Friction Pitch.

Friction Pitch

Friction Pitch's crux

FP Crux

Friction Pitch's crux

A look back down the FP and Wind Tunnel

Carman's Pinnacle (sometimes spelled Carmen's Pinnacle) is a detour for bored climbers. It has many names.  That name comes from Dave Carman or his brother. Dave was an Exum Guide and happened to help build the JHMR Via Ferrata climbing area.

Friction Pitch - above crux

Easier climbing but still be careful.

Exiting the Friction Pitch

The Notch Gully above the Friction Pitch

Run up the gully or climb the western ridgeline - both easy. The ridgeline is a good option with sketchy or postholing snow in the gully.

View toward the V-Pitch from the Notch Gully.

We don't recommend the escape ledge just above the Notch Gully. You can more easily exit the ridge and head for the Main Rap to the Upper Saddle after exiting the V-Pitch or its bypass crack.

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. It's part crack, part chimney.

Variations that are not usually taken by novice climbers:

The variation to the far east is off route. That far eastern route is a worthy variation for some climbers. Its got a great friction line with a few tiny finger holds. Again, it's off route. It will take you to the eastern side of the summit ridgeline and past the Boulder Problem in the Sky (or to it). It's an interesting line if you're bored with the traditional route. An eastern variation can also be started from just above the V-Pitch via some slick slabs.

Let's get back to our standard route options....

Climbers by the bypass crack (middle-right of photo), and one just above the Notch Gully (bottom center).

The easy bypass crack to the east of the V-Pitch

 View to the SW

We're looking back from a far-eastern crack/slab variation and looking toward climbers approaching the V-Pitch. We are just below the eastern aspect of the summit ridgeline. Again, this is off route. You can take several off-route lines on the far eastern side. The line we took included some friction moves similar to the Friction Pitch.

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

Easy V-Pitch bypass crack / chimney

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


Unsoeld's Lieback runs along the eastern edge.


 V-Pitch July 2018

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

West Leaning Chimney / Petzoldt's Lieback

The West-Leaning Chimney/Crack is a little tricky. It's a short combo of options: slab, crack, chimney, and lieback. It can be tackled in many ways. It also has many many names. After getting above the West-Leaning Chimney, you can head east toward the ridgeline to reach the Boulder Problem in the Sky.  

FYI: The friction slabs that dip down and around to the eastern side of summit ridgeline are funkier than they look. Climbers have taken slips there. Have sticky shoes. If you're comfortable with that variation, you can use it to avoid a crowded WLC/BPITS. Common sense will get you where you need to go (gain the summit ridgeline from the eastern side once it is easy to do so - choose easiest path, or hardest).

EMERGENCY EXIT: Right above the V-Pitch is an easy exit for climbers needing to bail off of the ridgeline. It runs to the main rappel to the Upper Saddle. Follow the slabby terrain (a ledge system) along the toe of the wall to your right until you reach a low point. You will be directly below Sargent's Chimney. Follow a 'drainage' to the west until you reach the blocky-looking Main Rappel Overlook which hangs above the Upper Saddle. From there you can downclimb the Catwalk, etc, or use the Main Rappel.

Additional Emergency Exit Lines:  Just south of the Boulder Problem in the Sky is a rappel option on the southern prow of the summit ridgeline between the V-Pitch and the West-Leaning Chimney (see above). If you're past the BPITS, it's an easy NW beeline for the Three Stooges or the Slabby Wall (take the path of least resistance). At the very least, climbers should cross under the southern end of the Horse and gain the top of the Slabby Wall. Don't go to the summit. You might be able to retreat further down the Exum Ridge if you just want to wait out a storm. Five minutes can be the difference between life and death on this mountain so make your choices carefully.

West-Leaning Chimney

L-Shaped Notch (LSN) feature northeast of the WLC

Instead of heading directly for the ridgeline after exiting the West-Leaning Chimney, you can also head for the LSN. Most climbers head for the ridgeline unless they want to bypass the BPITS.

Climbers heading for the ridgeline after leaving the WLC

Again, after the West-Leaning Chimney, you can go directly east to the ridgeline or head for the L-Shaped Notch. From the  L-Shaped Notch, you have two options. You can head directly east to the ridgeline and access the Boulder Problem in the Sky's Southern Jam Crack. Or, at the L-Shaped Notch, you go also go down into a gully and take a bypass variation up 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 from just above the LSN

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

The shaded rock on the far right in the picture above is the western aspect of the Boulder Problem in the Sky. You can also access the bypass from here. It may look a little intimidating to novice free-soloing climbers but many pull it off without a hitch.

After the bypass or the BPITS, you may see climbers below you on the Owen-Spalding route to the N-NW. 

 Vanessa just below the BPITS

Boulder Problem in the Sky's Southern Jam Crack

Boulder Problem in the Sky's Southern Jam Crack

Some people give this crack a 5.5 rating. We think there is a 5.4 line in there but there is a 5.5 line if you want to make one.

Many ways to ascend.

Take your time and examine all your options, you should be fine. It's a very short crack but with some exposure to the east. This crack can be a real challenge to get up quickly for novice climbers. As always, sticky shoes are helpful but they aren't necessary if you take your time and find the holds.

David at the Boulder Problem in the Sky's Southern Jam Crack

Exiting the BPITS

Looking Northwestish - Just a few variations

 The summit ridgeline

Run along the ridgeline and go under the eastern aspect of the Horse to gain the summit. Take the path of least resistance. You can also climb the Horse (start on the SW corner). Or, you can cross over to the Owen-Spalding route in front of the Horse's south end and approach the summit from the western side.

Rescue off the Exum Ridge

FYI: Bailing via the Chevy & Stettner Couloir can be a gamble and it is not recommended unless you're exceptionally well prepared for that descent, know the conditions, and understand the risks. It should go without saying, but we will, most narrow couloirs should be avoided during bad weather due to runoff, and they should be avoided when high temperatures may cause flushing from snow fields. Runoff / flushing can include rocks, snow and water. Those couloirs can hold ice and snow all year long. Narrow couloirs are terrain traps even when dry.

~ The Downclimb ~ 

Features around the Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle

Downclimb Features from the Upper Saddle.....

Upper Western Rib
(Variation to reach Central Rib's Bench)

  (Variation to reach Central Rib's Bench)

Briggs' Slab or Eye of the Needle
 (Back where you began)


A few trip reports for April through October

July 17th, 2016 (UXM) PNG Variation 


Overview - Upper Exum
Overview - Owen-Spalding
Detailed Look At Specific Route Features
The Approach & Route Overviews

All images may be used without permission or attribution for all not-for-profit purposes. 

Enjoy Safe Climbing