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 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. You may need to reach the top of the V-Pitch before you can safely and easily exit the ridge if you need to bail and you don't have a rope.

Upper Exum Climbing Route Overview
Click to enlarge image

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.

Click to enlarge

An early season approach

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

The summer climbers' trail is mostly well defined but it disappears in a significant way in two boulder fields. You should be able to regain the trail to your southwest during the ascent after a hundred feet or so in the boulder fields. 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, look for the Moraines Camping Zone sign to your south to regain the trail. The trail also disappears in an insignificant way during a few spots that are easily navigated.

The trail also 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. The trail zig-zags along switchbacks  above the Caves Camping Zone for a good distance before traversing toward the Lower Saddle. Usually, other climbers will be on the trail during daytime hours during the summer. It's very unlikely that you will get terribly off track but it has happened to a few people.

When snow covers the area in the spring and early summer, 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, the snowy slopes can be extremely sketchy. Climbers have died on a snowy Meadows' Headwall. Keep in mind that water can undercut the snow in many locations and snow conditions can go from safe to very sketchy in a short period of time.

By the Morainal Camping Zone, climbers may want to stick to the elevated rib just to the north of the Middle Teton Glacier if the possibility of an avalanche exists. Avalanches can come at you from any of the surrounding slopes. The safest route varies with the weather and conditions. The elevated rib runs toward the Lower Saddle's Fixed Rope and it holds the summer trail. When dry, the elevated rib has several trails. We stick to the highest one on the rib. 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 (just above the Briggs' Slab), 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.

The Chockstone Chimney on the western side of the Needle.

There is a ledge system to the left of the chimney that can be used to avoid climbing the lower part of the chimney.

 The Central Rib area — IMAGE 1

Most of the Chockstone Chimney is not shown in the above photo. The BLUE dots by the Briggs' Slab show two variations to gain the Middle Ledge of the Chockstone Chimney. The easiest variation is usually the lower, mostly horizontal, variation. Usually, climbers will take the BLUE variation to reach the Briggs' Slab but some will use that variation to reach the Middle Ledge of the Chockstone Chimney and cross the Chockstone Chimney to reach the Eye of the Needle.

  — IMAGE 2

Most climbers use the Chockstone Chimney or the Briggs' Slab to access the Central Rib's Bench but you can choose whatever way that suits your fancy. Not all ways are easy or safe.

Variations around the Central Rib's Bench — IMAGE 3
There are no exact routes - choose easiest path.

In our opinion, the safest and easiest way to gain the bench when dry (and often when icy) for non-climbers involves taking a variation near the two climbers in the white helmets in the above photo. From their location, follow the Lime-Yellow line along a mostly horizontal path around the rock band until you reach the Middle Ledge in the Chockstone Chimney — see IMAGE 1. After crossing the Middle Ledge, use the Eye of the Needle (RED line) to gain the Central Rib's Bench. The 'Belly-Roll Almost' is slightly exposed but with good holds. Most climbers go under it. Of course, many non-climbers do perfectly fine on the Briggs' Slab. There are many variations to suit various abilities.

The Cracks of Doom and the Sack o' Potatoes are harder climbs for many climbers. 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-ish. That variation isn't too difficult.

Another look at variations around the CR's Bench — IMAGE4

You can go around the outside edges of the Briggs' Slab. Or, whatever works for you. Guides usually hip-belay / rock-belay clients on the slab (no set gear). You can also use the rock on the northern side of the slab as a 'handrail' or climb it.

Confused? Don't worry. You'll figure it out when you get there. All the different variations provide more options when conditions are poor and you don't have gear. Keep in mind that sometimes this area is icy while the climbing above here is less of a hazard. Many people turn around due to poor conditions here because they think that the entire mountain is in a similar condition.

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 (closer to photographer). The blue dots run from the Briggs Slab and toward the Lower Crossover.

Another look at the same area - just a scramble, go anywhere.

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. The area in the photo is just a scramble and hike. Take whatever route seems safest and easiest. There are no exact routes that you need to take to get to your destination. We avoid being low in drainages due to rockfall hazards.

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

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.

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. You can also easily reach the Upper Crossover from a 'drainage' that runs to the west.

Upper Crossover - looking back west after crossing the Central Rib

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 - loose rocks everywhere

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'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 you get around the corner. There are two small finger holds on the upper ledge for climbers on the lower ledge. Many guides have their clients use the Lower Ledge.

 Reaching for safety as he exits the upper ledge

 Staying upright on the upper ledge - one variation.

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 if 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 but we trust 'em. Most climbers do NOT stand upright like we do. We feel that the lower ledge is safer but everyone sees things in their own way. Perhaps safer, easier and quicker for many.

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. Every climber has their own method of attacking this corner.

Step Across - Upper Ledge

Step Across - Upper Ledge

Step Across - Upper Ledge

He takes the gloves off.....

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 is a 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.
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 many climbers but that doesn't mean they want to try it without a rope like Ol' Glenn.

On the same day that Glenn Exum 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. 

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 fairly nice hold (finger tips' hold) for those on the Lower Ledge that's on the flat part of the Upper Ledge. With sticky shoes, you probably won't give the Lower Ledge a second thought. Or maybe you will.

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. And, old timers often 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.

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. Past those, you may end up in a drainage.

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 (far right side of photo) 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. One of the great things about the UXM route is that if you feel unchallenged, there is always a line that's harder just a few feet away. And there might be an easier line, too.

Wind Tunnel's boulder problems.

Wind Tunnel Gully.

You can easily access the Friction-Pitch Bypass Chimney and the Puff-N-Grunt Dihedral at the location where the gully opens up to the east (top right in photo and in sunshine). At the only obvious opening you will just head east to reach the two variations. They 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.

You might, might, be able to downclimb the FP Bypass Chimney in an emergency. We are guessing that the gully above could send water and rocks down the chimney. We have never been in the chimney during a big storm so we don't know how bad it could be. It's a little tricky at the top but far easier than downclimbing the Friction Pitch (not suggested) if you're free-soloing. The Western Chimney is another downclimbing option for a few hardy individuals.

 View into Wind Tunnel

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

The fat ledge 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 Double Cracks were a popular variation for many years as was the Western Chimney (see below). At some point, we will find out what variations Glen and Paul took on their first ascent up this ridge. The crestline to the Friction Pitch is slightly more difficult than the Jern to the Friction Pitch in our opinion. These days, most climbers take the Jern to the Friction Pitch.

The complete eastern crestline — (from the bottom of the picture to the top) — will test your skills more than most of the other lines. You should have very sticky shoes for two short cruxy areas and be able to manage a more difficult pitch if you try the complete eastern crestline that runs from the top of the Wind Tunnel all the way to the top of the Friction Pitch. Novices should not be on the full crestline.

How you get to the Jern is up to you.

We figure that the Puff-n-Grunt is 5.6ish at two very short cruxes; however, 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.

The FPBC is 5.4ish and it is harder than it looks at its top because it's easy to pick the 'wrong' exit line. Just back track and choose another line. To exit the chimney, you can go right or left at the top of the chimney and maintain a 5.4 rating if conditions permit. The left exit isn't obvious and neither is the right-side exit but you'll figure it out. Conditions may force you to choose one side or the other. You will find loose rocks in the chimney but plenty of solid holds. It is also likely to be a mix of ice and snow early in the season as seen in the above photo.

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 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. From down low in the Western Chimney, you can head for the western crest of the Jern Dihedral. It's a 5.4 line looking down on the JD from the crest. If you exit the Western Chimney just before the exit to the base of the Friction Pitch by the old cam, you can quickly get into 5.5+ territory.


The pink line exiting the Western Chimney is by an old cam and it dumps you at the base of the Friction Pitch. That's the most common line out of the Western Chimney. Don't like that option? Just continue to the top of the chimney and exit at the top of the Friction Pitch, or whatever.

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. You can see the western crest of the Jern in the above photo. It's a nice place to take photos of climbers in the Jern, and a fun variation.

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 eastern side of the crest and slammed into the PNG variation. A rope may not protect you very well if you are literally within one foot of the edge. The crux of the Friction Pitch can't be properly protected from below.

Difficulty ratings in the climbing community are a fairly subjective and it's easy to move just a few feet to your left or right on the Exum Ridge and encounter a move that is more difficult, or easier, than expected.

The Friction Pitch is usually the only feature rated a 5.5 on the Upper Exum Ridge, and only at its short crux. That's why we often say that the Bypass Chimney can lower the rating of the UXM to that of the OS; however, the UXM is longer with more sustained 5.4 climbing and with features that are trickier than most features on the Owen-Spalding. Some climbers feel that other features on the UXM, like Wall Street's Step Across, are more disconcerting than the Friction Pitch. As we say, everyone experiences a climb differently.

Climber headed for the Friction Pitch's Knob Line.

Friction Pitch

Friction Pitch —

The Vaginal Line is just to the climber's left by a foot or so. He is on the Knob Line. Most climbers take a western line off the knob but some go east off the knob. There are many variations off the Knob and Vaginal lines. There are no bomber handholds, or even tiny mildly-comforting handholds. You need to trust your friction footholds.

Some climbers like the Vaginal Line; however, it is a friction zone and we don't consider it any easier than the other variations. The Vaginal Line isn't its name — it's just a memory aid. Many climbers find it a pain in the ass if they lack sticky shoes, or even with 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 with sticky soles. You might want to test your shoes on friction rock that's just a few feet off the ground before climbing the Upper Exum if you're not used to friction climbing.

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; however, everyone is different. It does require careful and thoughtful moves.

So many variables come into play while climbing: your shoes, your shoe size, your experience with friction climbing, your height & reach, your eyesight, your grip strength, your body position and weight distribution, etc. Tall climbers usually have an easier time on the OS & the UXM but short climbers come by the thousands and bag this mountain.

We prefer to go left from the knob when we're in a hurry. We think it is a little safer and easier for us (and we have tried all the variations); however, A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range seems to suggest that going right - 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. To each his own. If you plan to go left off the Knob, you might want to have your right foot land on the knob, and vice versa if you plan on going right.

Friction Pitch - friction footholds look nice...from this perspective

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.
Many Variations.

Friction Pitch — Vaginal Line at center

There are variations further to the west if you're interested in another challenge but they are less traveled and the rating varies.

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

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. It has many names, BTW.

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

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 cracks.

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 a worthy variation for some climbers but only if you don't mind more friction with tiny finger holds. Again, it's off route. It will take you the 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.

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 the far-eastern crack variation 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 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.

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

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 along the toe of the wall to your right until you reach a small 'drainage' or low point. You will be directly below Sargent's Chimney. Follow the 'drainage' to the west, along its north side, until you reach the Main Rappel Overlook. From there you can downclimb the Catwalk, etc, or use the Main Rappel.

The West-Leaning Chimney/Crack is a little tricky. It's a short combo of a 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: 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 Crack and the top of the V-Pitch. It's not used often but it is used.


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

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

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 Jam Crack. 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

Looking over at the exit from the bypass.

The shaded rock on the right is the western aspect of the Boulder Problem in the Sky.

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

 Vanessa just below the BPITS

Boulder Problem in the Sky's Southern Jam Crack

Boulder Problem in the Sky's Southern Jam Crack

Many ways to ascend.
You can use the crack or use other holds to ascend the BPITS.

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 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.

~ The Downclimb ~ 

The Approach & Route Overviews

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Enjoy Safe Climbing