The Grand Teton's Owen-Spalding Route

The Owen-Spalding Climb
~ Lower Saddle to Summit ~

Novice climbers who are unfamiliar with the Grand Teton should stick to the Owen-Spalding route and climb when conditions are dry and the weather is perfect. It's the quickest, shortest, and easiest climb on the Grand. It's easier to turn around if conditions sour or you become uncomfortable with the climb. By climbing up, you'll know the way down and what to expect. Additionally, the OS is a busy place and that's a good thing for safety and route finding. The Upper Exum route is harder and more time consuming. A greater degree of agility on rock is required for those going solo on the Upper Exum when compared to the Owen-Spalding. Climbers on the Upper Exum will need to familiarize themselves with the Owen-Spalding because it's used for downclimbing off the summit block.

Free-soloing the Grand Teton can be a relatively safe activity; however, there are no safe routes on the Grand Teton. This mountain is unforgiving to soloers who make a mistake. Natural threats are abundant.

A round-trip climb in a single day can be extremely taxing. Even the hike to the Lower Saddle takes a toll on many individuals. A one-day round-trip is not suggested for everyone but many athletes summit the Grand Teton in a single day without prior summits in the Tetons and with no climbing experience. They are usually soloing and traveling light on the Owen-Spalding route. If you're used to activities at high elevations and you're fit enough for a round-trip then it's well worth the effort to try a one-day ascent when the weather and conditions are in your favor.

To examine features in more detail, visit our Grand Teton Features page. For more route overviews, visit our Marked-Up Grand Teton Climbing Routes Images page. Visit our Wyoming Whiskey Home Page for further information on climbing the Grand Teton.

The climbers' trail runs from Lupine Meadows to the Lower Saddle

The approach up the Main & North Fork of Garnet Canyon.

In the image above, the red dots show the approximate location of the dry summer trail. The summer trail leads directly to the Lower Saddle. It's mostly well defined; however, it will disappear at two boulder fields and restart a short distance away to your southwest. Some very short sections of the trail fade into the landscape but you should be able to get back on track quickly. The climbers' trail to the Lower Saddle is usually free of snow by mid-July, sometimes earlier, sometimes later. You can contact the Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers to find out if the summer climbers' trail is free of snow, or get an estimate for a snow-free approach date.

If you are climbing under snowy conditions, take whatever path is safest given the conditions. Most climbers will head up the Meadows' headwall near the Middle Teton's NE aspect when snow covers the canyon floor. Snow conditions change constantly during the day so what you can safely go up in the morning may be a greater hazard in the afternoon.

The view between the Lower (11,600ft) & Upper Saddle (13,200)

Stay to the west side of the Central Rib's Needle to gain the Central Rib's Bench.

The above image provides a look at two common variations to access the Central Rib's Bench. There are many variations to gain the bench, or reach the Upper Saddle. Conditions may force you to choose a different or more difficult line. The two variations shown here are the Eye of the Needle via the Chockstone Chimney & the Briggs' Slab. This area is a mix of scrambling and easy climbing when dry. Guides will often belay clients on the Briggs' Slab. Some climbers will rope up to access the bench but most do not. Poor conditions can make this area as dangerous as anything above it. You need to be on the lookout for loose rocks and be careful below other climbers who may kick rocks loose.

View from the Lower Saddle

View from the Lower Saddle toward the Central Rib

Take the Needle's Chockstone Chimney or go for the Briggs' Slab.

Options to gain the Central Rib's Bench

Notice that to gain the Briggs' Slab, you are making a big U-Turn after leaving the base of the Chockstone Chimney. The Briggs' Slab is at the southern end of the small headwall of the Central Rib's Bench. If you took the Eye of the Needle to gain the Central Rib's Bench, you will see the Briggs' Slab on the other side of the chimney as you exit the natural tunnel.

Access to the Briggs Slab and view into the upper half of the Chockstone Chimney

If we are guiding experienced climbers in this area, we usually head for the Briggs' Slab and take the outside edges of the slab (southern edges) to reach the bench. When the rock is dry, a somewhat easier variation from the Briggs' Slab area consists of gaining the middle ledge of the Chockstone Chimney and then heading for the the Eye of the Needle. The easiest way to access the middle ledge is not obvious but it can be accessed from right below the Briggs' Slab if you don't want to look around for an easier variation.

The above image shows you the Central Rib's Bench, Upper Western Rib, Briggs Slab, Chockstone Chimney, etc. This is the area between the Lower & Upper Saddles. The view is toward the north-northeast. 

A look at some of the variations around the Briggs' Slab

A look into the Chockstone Chimney

Another look at some of the options around the Briggs' Slab & Chockstone Chimney

Head for the Upper Saddle after gaining the Central Rib's Bench

Overview of the lower half of the Central Rib

Another overview of the bench area

Looking northish at the CR's Bench

View SE from the Upper Western Rib

Same view below but with snow.

Snow can remain in this area throughout July but there will also be plenty of dry rock. Many many accidents have taken place between the saddles due to unstable snow and loose rocks.

Upper Western Rib Variation - Stay out of the drainage due to rockfall hazards.

Another overview - looking SSE

Instead of using the Upper Western Rib, climbers can use the Central Rib's Black Rock Chimney.

The Black Rock Chimney is our preferred route but the Upper Western Rib sees a lot of action. It's a natural line to follow whereas the Black Rock Chimney isn't an obvious line. The Upper Western Rib has climbers crossing scree and we like to avoid being below climbers crossing scree or causing rockfall.

Climbers on the BRC's steppy ramp

BRC - looking SW

The upper exit from the BRC - looking SSE

Overview of the upper Central Rib

Overview of the upper Central Rib

Stay along the western edge of the Central Rib as you come out of the Black Rock Chimney

Overview of the upper Central Rib - looking SE

A view from the Central Rib's Patio toward the Upper Saddle - looking NE

 Upper Saddle - looking west

A look back down the Upper Saddle and toward the Central Rib - see footprints. The Upper Saddle's western side is much lower than its eastern side.

Gaining the upper eastern side of the Upper Saddle - looking west

Most climbers use a southern approach to the upper eastern side of the Upper Saddle. Snow may force you to use other variations such as climbing between the two variations shown here.

Another look at the access to the eastern side of the Upper Saddle.

 Upper Saddle - looking east

Another look at the access to the eastern side of the Upper Saddle. If  the snow is unstable, we go up the center line. There are 4 variations but one is a variation of the dark blue route — climbing the south-facing wall (follow the seam) by the stem move over the flake.

Overview of the Upper Saddle

An overview of the Owen-Spalding Route above the Upper Saddle

The exposed Belly Roll is at the very NE corner of the Upper Saddle

The Owen-Spalding's exposed Belly Roll, Crawl, & Double Chimney

Overview of the exposed areas

The Wittich Crack (video & first ascent) and the Great West Chimney are options for some free-soloing climbers. The two Candium Cracks between the Belly Roll & the Crawl are interesting but rarely climbed. Novice climbers should stay on the OS. The Wittich Crack is rated a 5.6 to 5.7. It's not uncommon to run into poorer conditions near the top of the WC. The Great West Chimney is a chute of snow and ice; however, when the conditions are somewhat better, it's a viable way of bypassing the DC & the Owen Chimney, and sometimes Sargent's. You can also try variations off the GWC. These variations are not recommend for novice climbers.

 OS's Exposure

The above video takes a look at the Owen-Spalding's Exposure between the Belly Roll and the 2nd Entrance of the Double Chimney.

Belly Roll - go over or under

Belly Roll - go over or under

Belly Roll - go over or under

Video of two climbers going under the Belly Roll

Belly Roll - go over or under - View from above

Belly Roll - go over or under

The ledge between the Belly Roll and the Crawl

Looking toward the Crawl

The Crawl with access to the Double Chimney in background

The Crawl

View from the 2nd Entrance to the Double Chimney - looking back toward the Crawl

View from the Crawl and looking toward the Double Chimney's two access variations

1st Entrance of the Double Chimney - the crux if you take it.

Most climbers give this first chimney a rating higher than 5.4. It's a challenging physical climbing move and often over wet or icy rock. Sticky climbing shoes make it easier but it's still a cruxy exposed maneuver.

Climber at the 1st Entrance with rope leading to the 2nd Entrance

Climber headed for the 2nd Entrance using the hand-in-crack traverse

Climber using the lower ledge to access the DC's 2nd Entrance

Bodies have ended up at the bottom-most snow field in Valhalla Canyon after falling from above. This is the view from near Cascade Canyon and up Valhalla Canyon toward the Grand Teton.

Climber using the lower ledge to access the DC's 2nd Entrance

Gaining the 2nd Entrance

In the short video below, the climber takes a slip as he tries to enter the 2nd Entrance of the Double Chimney. This is a common area for slips as the footholds are more friction than bomb-proof step. He recovers and goes on to make some GT climbing history.

View inside the 2nd Entrance

This climber is using the Open-V variation inside the middle of the Double Chimney. We feel that the tunnel is easier when dry. This is a VERY SKETCHY area when any snow or ice is here. The rock is not flat right below the Open-'V' and it can be covered in ice or icy rock-hard snow. If you slip as you downclimb, you could slide right out of the Second Entrance and into Valhalla Canyon.

The DC's tunnel variation - completely dry (not a common sight)

Climber exiting the DC - looking northish

Exits from the Open-V and Tunnel variations. Most climbers exit this way.

The exit from the DC - looking WNW

 Base of Owen Chimney

This is the view from the exit of the Double Chimney toward the Catwalk & the Owen Chimney. The Owen Chimney Bypass Crack may be easier under some conditions. The Catwalk is the easiest variation when dry. You can reach the Catwalk from the first opening in the Owen Chimney (Green dots), or via the b-line (Yellow dots) right out of the Double Chimney.

Overview of the Catwalk & Owen Chimney area

Base of Owen Chimney

You can access the Catwalk directly from the top of the Double Chimney or from the first opening in the Owen Chimney.

 The Owen Chimney - looking WNW

This is the view from inside the Owen Chimney back toward the Double Chimney. You must go around a tight corner to access the Catwalk from the first opening in the Owen Chimney. There is an old piton at the corner.

Another view

The Catwalk - looking southish. Climber is descending.

The scramble off the Catwalk to the Main Rap Overlook - looking NNW

 Main Rap & Sargent's

Notice that a small 'drainage' runs between Sargent's Chimney & the Main Rap.

We are going back to look at the Owen Chimney variation.

 Base of Owen Chimney as seen for the top of the Double Chimney

Owen Chimney

Owen Chimney

There is a short crux in the middle third of the chimney. When dry, it's pretty easy. When icy, not so much. Either way, it does require effort and careful climbing.

Owen Chimney

Owen Chimney

 Base of Sargent's

This is a look north toward the exit from the Owen Chimney from the base of Sargent's Chimney.

Looking back from Sargent's Chimney toward the Owen Chimney

Looking back from Sargent's Chimney toward the Owen Chimney

Overview of Sargent's Chimney variations

The alternative Hidden Exit out of Sargent's is the most common ascent line. Climbers can climb directly up Sargent's Chimney but other climbers are usually rapping down it. There are some tricky moves midway down the main chimney so be extra careful if you choose to downclimb from Sargent's rappel.

Sargent's Chimney

Lower NW side of Sargent's Chimney

Looking up at Sargent's

This is a view from the area by the Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle - climbers follow a 'drainage'.

 Sargent's Chimney

This is a view from Sargent's Hidden Exit and looking back toward the Main Rappel area and the lower half of Sargent's.

Cannon at the corner crack to gain Sargent's Hidden Exit

Sargent's Main Chimney

A view of the lower part of the Hidden Exit

A view of the middle part of the Hidden Exit

Looking NNW. The climber is exiting the Hidden Exit via a corner crack.

Looking west at a climber exiting the Hidden Exit. The top of the Hidden Exit is a small chute.

The Chute & corner crack out of the Hidden Exit

A view toward the south from the top of the Hidden Exit and Sargent's main chimney

Sargent's Rap


Go north after exiting Sargent's and turn east as soon as it is easy to do so

Follow a straight line to the summit or zig-zag around rock features

You can access Sargent's from just below the Three Stooges

This is not a feature you will recognize on the descent unless you're paying very close attention and look back up after passing it. If you cross in front of the Three Stooges and you are heading to the southeast, you are either lost or you are taking the long way and heading for the southern summit ridgeline and then turning north toward the summit at the ridgeline.

The line between the summit and Sargent's—follow the easiest straight path (or overall straight path).

The Slabby Wall

Switchback around the Slabby Wall or climb its center crack. The center crack points toward the summit and back toward Sargent's. The Horse is a false summit. There is a small ledge along the top of the southern half of the Slabby Wall that is often used as part of any switchback.

Switchback option

Slabby Wall as seen from the small ledge atop its southern half - looking WSW

Slabby Wall as seen from the small ledge atop its southern half - looking NNE

 Switchback ledge - looking SSW

This is the small ledge atop its southern half of the Slabby Wall. It  is being used as a switchback.

Scramble to the summit. Many variations to the NE.

Remember that the Slabby Wall is directly below, and west of, the Horse.

Climbers usually exit the summit by heading westerly then southwest. Some climbers go around the eastern side of the Horse and gain the western aspect of the mountain after passing the Horse. This may be easier for some climbers. There are many variations.

 Going around the southern side of the Horse during the descent or ascent.

The Main Rappel to the Grand Teton's Upper Saddle

Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle Area

Main Rap as seen from the 2nd setup of the secondary 2x70' alternate raps


Mt. Moran, Mt. Saint John, Jackson Lake, Mt Owen, and the Grand Teton as seen from The Enclosure.

The Enclosure features a very small Native American rock formation at its summit. Turn around and go bag the Enclosure (the western spur off the Grand Teton's Upper Saddle) if conditions are really poor on the Grand Teton. The Enclosure has nice views and it's more of a scramble than a climb. You can reach it from about 100 feet below the Upper Saddle by heading to the N-NW from the top of the Central Rib. 

OS via Catwalk - not soloing

The above video is a look at a few areas on the OS from the Belly Roll to the summit, and a look at the downclimb's two raps: Sargent's & the Main Rap to the Upper Saddle. This video does not show climbers navigating all of the difficult spots but it does give you a general idea about how much scrambling is actually taking place. This is an extended and modified version of the exposure video shown above. Free-soloing climbers usually avoid the raps. These individuals were actually members of a local coed soccer team. Most were not climbers.

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

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Enjoy Safe Climbing