The Grand Teton's Owen-Spalding Route


The Owen-Spalding Climb
~ Lower Saddle to Summit ~



This is the quickest, safest, and easiest climb on the Grand Teton when the route is dry and the weather is perfect. Under those conditions it is a suitable objective for many athletes who wish to climb this mountain without a rope in a single day. Previous climbing experience is not a prerequisite before undertaking this adventure but it isn't for everybody. You'll need the right combination of physical and mental agility to make it up this mountain — with or without a rope. The route is rated at 5.4 on the YDS scale of difficulity.

The Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers believe that "climbers should not attempt a one-day ascent of the Grand Teton without prior experience on this LARGE mountain and familiarity with technical ascents in the Teton Range" and they warn that "soloists have been injured or killed attempting these routes." 

The second party to summit the Grand Teton (2nd verified party) had no knowledge of the area, no similar climbing experience, and no gear. They free-soloed the Owen-Spalding route in a single day back when there was no climbers' trail, no guidebook, and no internet. Quin Blackburn, Dave DeLap, and Andy DePirro did that in 1923. One year later, 16-year-old Paul Petzoldt, with no climbing experience, made his first climb up the Grand Teton while wearing cowboy boots (poor choice). It stands to reason that more than a few people can follow in their footsteps with the resources available today.

Free-soloing this route under mixed conditions is not recommended. Of course, a little bit of snow, ice, or wet rock is pretty common and some climbers can recognize and manage small hazards. Taking on the additional challenge to free-solo under passable mixed conditions is a decision best left for yourself. Professional guides have misjudged hazards and died on this mountain so don't make the decision lightly.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with camping overnight or using protection. Many climbers make it a one-day trip using protection. No matter the itinerary, it's a demanding undertaking and a long day for most climbers. Not all athletes can get up and down this mountain, and not all non-athletes are excluded from joining the ranks of those who can.

If you're looking for bubble-wrapped adventures, visit Six Flags Magic Mountain.


Grand Teton's Owen-Spalding Climbing Route

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This page focuses on the actual climbing challenges above the Lower Saddle and has only a short introduction to the approach. The Wyoming Whiskey homepage provides additional information that is not covered here. Information on current conditions is usually available via Mountain Project Forums,  social media, the Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers, etc. 
 

JLCR's Conditions Reports


APPROACH Conditions
OWEN-SPALDING Conditions

Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers' blog
JLCR (summer): 307-739-3343
JL Ranger Station is open 8 to 5pm daily during the summer
 
 
A forecast is good for about 6 hours. Even within 6 hours, it is of questionable value for the Tetons. The weather can change quickly and unexpectedly, especially highly localized mountain weather. Be prepared to read the weather as you travel and bail (or wait it out) when necessary. 
 
A passing storm can leave snow and ice on the mountain at any time of year. It may melt quickly or stick around. As we leave August and enter September, weather and conditions can become much more challenging as the days become shorter and colder. The best conditions and weather for the free-soloing usually arrive between mid-July and mid-to-late August. 
 
 
 Wildfires
 
 
You're more likely to encounter wildfire smoke as we enter August. In 2021, wildfire smoke blanketed the Teton by mid-July. It is very rare to have a smoke-free summer in the Tetons. You can track wildfire smoke on most satellite images. A look at  Active Fires & Smoke Plumes. Forecast models: Canada's Smoke Map, the National Weather Service's Air Quality interface, and NOAA's HRRR Smoke Map. Or get a forecast for the jet stream.


Sat Images from GEOS
(some GEOS updates are 5 min apart)
 
 
Emergency Information


GTNP's Emergency Dispatch is open 24 hours a day during the summer season. As of 2021, they still had limited hours outside of the summer season (daytime service mostly). They can be reached at 307-739-3301. Using a slightly different telephone number, you can send an emergency text message to GTNP's Dispatch Center during the summer. Use 307-690-3301 for emergency texting to contact GTNP directly during the summer (again, limited hours outside of summer). 

911 also works for texting in Teton County, WY. 911 calls go to the Teton County Sheriff's Office. Calls to the Sheriff's Office get transferred to the Park Service. A 911 call might receive priority status by a cellular service provider. If you have an emergency in the GTNP backcountry, calling or texting the park's dispatch center is the quickest way to reach knowledgeable help during the summer.

Sometimes a text message will get through to emergency services when a voice call will not. And sometimes, battery life needs to be conserved and a text message uses less power than a voice call. Currently (as of 2021), text messages do not include location coordinates like emergency voice calls do. That may change going forward. Of course, you can drop your location (place name or GPS coordinates) into an emergency text message that you compose. The Teton County Backcountry SOS App will drop a GPS location into an emergency text message if your phone's GPS is on (afterwards, turn it off in an emergency if you need to conserve battery life).

 
Summer Climbing


Again, most free-soloing climbers wait for dry conditions before running up the Grand. Inexperienced mountaineers who wish to summit in a day without using protection are strongly encouraged to wait for the driest conditions possible. Optimal conditions for free-soloing may not arrive until late July or early August. Just depends on the weather. 
 
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The climbers' trail runs from Lupine Meadows to the Lower Saddle. CLICK TO ENLARGE


Make sure you have the supplies necessary for a safe trip before venturing to the trailhead. Headlamp with fresh batteries? Water? Toiletries? Proper clothing? Food? Phone? First Aid? Helmet? Gloves? Hiking poles? Free-soloing climbers don't need much in the way of supplies but they should be prepared for unexpected challenges especially if they haven't climbed the Grand before. Free-soloing runners (the select few) carry next to nothing and wear clothing totally unsuitable for most climbers.
 
You can refresh your water supply at the South Jenny Lake Store. There's a filtered outdoor water station on its western side. Water from Cottonwood Creek (the drainage from Jenny Lake) should probably be filtered. People will drink it unfiltered but it's directly south of one of the busiest areas in the park so you never know what's coming your way. You'll find plenty of water sources along the trail. Some need filtering, some don't.

There is a pit toilet at the trailhead. Climbers are advised to bring WAG Bags for upper elevations. You can bury human waste at lower elevations. Park regulations require the use of disposable WAG bags at many locations. None wants to see human waste while climbing. And none wants to drink contaminated water.
 
Assuming you're trying to go light & fast, it's about a half hour to 1st junction from the Lupine Meadows' trailhead if you're speed walking (not running). The second junction adds another half hour from the first junction. And it's another half hour to the Meadows Camping Zone inside Garnet Canyon if you maintain speed. That's 1.5 hours in total to reach the Meadows. By the way, Lupine Meadows is the name for the meadows at the trailhead, not the meadows inside Garnet Canyon. From the Meadows Camping Zone in Garnet Canyon it's about an hour to reach the Lower Saddle (2.5 hrs total). Very few people will move that quickly. Some are faster but the average person can take many hours to reach the Lower Saddle. Most people are not free-soloing on a fast & light round-trip.
 
We run into climbers every year who took the wrong turn at a well-marked junction. Pay attention and you'll be fine. Stay to the right at the first junction (do not take the Valley Trail to Bradley/Taggart Lakes). Go left at the second junction to get inside Garnet Canyon (do not head for Surprise/Amphitheater Lakes).

The extra weight that protected climbers carry can easily double their time to reach the Lower Saddle. Climbers carrying protection often take 5 to 6 hours to reach the Lower Saddle, and sometimes much longer. For that reason, many climbers on one-day adventures start well before daybreak (2 a.m. or earlier). They may leave even earlier if the weather window is closing early in the day. We usually leave at daybreak if the forecast is nice. We have the advantage of knowing how fast we will move throughout the trip.


Approach to the Lower Saddle - a very accurate rendition of the trail for the most part.
All Garnet Canyon Data from GAIA GPS
(best viewed on a desktop/laptop computer)


Approach above 9000 feet. Click to enlarge

4.1 Miles to the Platforms. Maybe 5.25 miles to the Caves.


The dry summer trail to the Lower Saddle is mostly well defined and easy to navigate; however, it does completely disappear at two boulder fields, and a few rocky spots require a close eye to stay on the trail. The general location of the two boulder fields is marked on the above map. It isn't too difficult to get through the boulders and back on the trail during daylight hours. And your overall direction of travel is pretty obvious if you bothered to look at a map.

The distance you travel through the boulders varies with the path you take but it should not be more than 100 meters or so. The 1st Boulder Field is by the Platforms Camping Zone. It is 4.1 miles from the trailhead according to the National Park Service. You regain the trail next to Garnet Creek. Stay near the north side of the creek after you exit the boulders and you'll find the trail even under darkness. The trail follows the creek until you start ascending the trail near Spalding Falls.

The 2nd Boulder Field is by the Morainal Camping Zone. You regain the trail next to a metal sign for the Morainal Camping Zone. That very small metal sign will be to your southwest as you enter the boulders. The sign is near the eastern-most camping spot and just above a small drainage/depression.

The trail disappears in an insignificant way for a short distance 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. If you are not familiar with the approach, traveling under darkness will be a bigger challenge once you're fully inside Garnet Canyon. Most people do just fine.

You may see a few side trails inside Garnet Canyon. Some spurs go to camping spots. Some are shortcuts. Some are trails to other climbing areas. Others are used to avoid early-season snow. The Park Service would probably like everyone to stay on well-traveled paths whenever possible, or stay on rocky surfaces and not vegetation whenever possible if you must go off-trail.


A snowy Garnet Canyon


When snow covers the canyon's floor, climbers typically ascend the Meadows' Headwall near the Middle Teton's NE aspect. They avoid the summer trail by Spalding Falls. Climbers have died on a snowy approach. Respect the snow. The snow's consistency can go from bulletproof to unstable during a typical spring day (or early summer). With good timing you'll find stable snow that's slightly punchy. Managing unconsolidated snow covering scree and boulders during the fall season can be tricky. It's a dangerous lubricant that hides foot traps, and hides the good-footing of the summer trail.

You're headed for the North Fork of Garnet Canyon, not the South Fork. The Lower Saddle is mostly out of view until you are completely inside the canyon's North Fork above Spalding Falls. Parts of the saddle can be seen from a few areas as you approach the Meadows Camping Zone but most of it hides behind the Meadows' Headwall.


June approach above 10,000 ft.


Climbers use a bootpack to gain the top of the Lower Saddle as we enter the summer season, and sometimes well into the summer season. The blue dots show the approximate location of the bootpack.

As the snow melts off, the dry summer trail takes you to a rope that is permanently affixed to the saddle's headwall. Sometimes the fixed rope is removed (fall of 2020), and replaced at some point by guides or rangers. The rope is handy under poor conditions.
 
Guides usually belay clients at the Fixed Rope so you might be slightly delayed. If you struggle with the climbing by the rope under good conditions then free-soloing 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. The area by the Fixed Rope is a rockfall zone.


Lower Saddle's Fixed Rope


 Lower Saddle's Fixed Rope - Rockfall Zone
 

 
View from the Lower Saddle toward the Grand's Upper Saddle


The sign encourages you to stay off the saddle's vegetation. FYI: We climb throughout the year so our snowy pictures are not a depiction of typical summer conditions. Of course, it can snow at any time of year.

To the southeast of the sign is a constant trickle of water in a very shallow drainage. Its flow varies with the weather and time of day. Look for a garden hose in the rocks at the toe of the north-facing slope. You might see a cairn (pile of rocks) marking its location. It's next to one of the bigger rocks at the edge of the slope (kind of a super large bathtub-sized rock). The hose allows you to easily refill your water supply. Because climbers touch the hose with their hands, the hose may not be sanitary. The hose sits in running water and often sunshine so it might be cleaner than expected. Almost everyone drinks this water unfiltered. Running water can often be found in the seepage area to the north of the hose if the hose isn't running well.

It is possible for the saddle's water source dry up or freeze over (typically in September). It can spring back to life with the changing weather. It might also be buried under snow but still flowing. You can get water from the Middle Teton Glacier if water disappears at the saddle (a time consuming option if descending off the saddle).


 Location of the water hose


Many climbers are starting to feel the effects of the altitude and exhaustion as they gain the 11,600' Lower Saddle. It's a good place to take a break.

If you need to piss in the wind, please do so on the western side of the saddle. Do not contaminate the water sources downstream on the eastern side. And none wants the entire saddle smelling like horse barn. It can get that way in September, BTW, (natural processes).

There is a "rest stop" on the western side for privacy. It is not a functioning toilet. You are required to pack out human waste from the saddle.

There is also a gear hanger on the western side of the saddle should you wish to drop some weight. A bear box is available for anyone to use if you need to store food. Marmots and pikas are common sights at the saddle. It's rare to see bears and foxes at the saddle but they have made visits. It is also rare to see bighorn sheep and mountain goats but the saddle has been part of their home range (mountain goats are considered non-native and the park has tried to cull them).

Two huts are assembled at the saddle every season. One hut is utilized by backcountry rangers. The other hut is used by Exum Mountain Guides. There is a weather station at the saddle. Saddle temperatures can stay in the 50's on the warmest summer nights. On the coldest summer nights, temperatures dip below freezing. It can snow at the saddle during the summer, and it has a well-earned reputation for strong winds.

There are several small 'caves' on the western aspect of the saddle - most are just north of the "rest stop". They are not safe locations during thunderstorms.


 Overview of southern ridges, towers, etc

CLICK TO ENLARGE

Keep in mind that conditions may force you to alter your line of travel into more difficult (or, by comparison, safer/easier) terrain.

View from the Lower Saddle toward the Central Rib


You're headed for the Central Rib's Needle which is on the north side of the saddle. The Black Dike is shown at the very bottom of the above picture. It runs a good distance across the mountain. The scrambling begins once you pass the Black Dike. You may see hiking poles by the Black Dike, by the Fixed Rope, or elsewhere around the Lower Saddle. Leave all hiking poles where you find them. They are not abandoned, just set aside temporarily while climbing.

Many people get cellular service at the saddle & on the summit. New telecommunications towers will expand the coverage area but it is currently difficult to get a signal in the interior of Garnet Canyon. A text message might be easier to send during an emergency.




The hiking path to the Black Dike actually splits into two main paths which rejoin above the Black Dike. We usually stick to the path along the ridgeline of the saddle. Sometimes the wind or lingering snow forces you off trail. You're heading toward the center of the Needle until you find an easy route to its western side. We usually avoid the drainage routes for safety reasons.

FYI: There is a spur trail that runs to the east just before you reach the Black Dike. It leads to the Lower Exum Ridge, Petzoldt Ridge, etc. It's part of the Black Dike Traverse. You're not headed there. There is also a traverse off the saddle that wraps around the western aspect of the Enclosure's SW ridge. It's the Valhalla Traverse.


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


Avoid ascending the drainage on either side of the Upper Western Rib during the summer. Stick to the ribs. Obviously, you may need to cross a drainage or travel along the side of one to safely reach your destination. Rockfall is a serious hazard in the main eastern drainage. The drainage on the eastern side of the Upper Western Rib was a common line of travel back in the old days when the mountain saw fewer climbers during the summer. These days, the main drainage sees weekly rockfall events caused by other climbers during a typical summer. Bowling alley is the favored description. Being a drainage, it usually has poor conditions after storms. Having said that....

If you're an extreme mountaineering runner, you might consider a run up a drainage. You are likely to cause rockfall if you're moving fast so don't make the decision to ascend a drainage if people are in a rockfall path below you. If none is around, and the timing is right, so be it. There's no real time savings on a descent to using the very narrow part of the drainage between the Upper Western Rib and the Central Rib's Bench. The other drainage on the western side of the Western Rib is a slow way up the mountain, btw.

  AGAIN, TO BE CLEAR: Most climbers should stay out of the drainages whenever possible.


Head for the Central Rib's Bench
(not to scale)

The above image provides a look at the two most common variations to access the Central Rib's Bench: 1) the Eye of the Needle via the Chockstone Chimney variation; and, 2) the Briggs' Slab variation. There are many variations to gain the bench, and many variations to reach the Upper Saddle including bypassing the bench. Again, conditions may force you to choose a different or more difficult line. The Briggs' slab is the most common guided variation. The slab is easy to get to and it's easy for guides to quickly belay clients across the slab. Guides will utilize other variations when the need arises.

If you're an experienced mountaineer, you can probably look at our route overviews and reach the Upper Saddle without getting into the fine details shared below. No matter your experience, don't blindly follow other climbers. People head off in questionable directions all the time. Other climbers might end up in locations that are ill suited for safe and/or efficient travel by you. You can certainly follow the guides. It's everyone's mountain. Guides will probably encourage free-soloing climbers to pass when it's safe to do so. While guides can move quickly, their clients rarely do.


Just a quick safety note to non-climbers:

If you're unfamiliar with climbing etiquette, the appropriate thing to do if you kick rocks down the mountain, or see rocks falling down the mountain, is to holler 'ROCK'! even if you see none below you. It's like saying FORE! when you make an errant golf shot. Your safety and the safety of others is everyone's responsibility when it comes to falling rock. Better yet, don't cause rockfall (easier said than done, sometimes). It takes real mental & physical effort to be safe on this mountain.


Overview of the western aspect of the Needle & variations to access to the Central Rib's Bench


There is only one chimney at the most western aspect of the Needle - the Chockstone Chimney.
 

The guided climbers in the above image are descending from the Briggs' Slab and about to pass the Chockstone Chimney. They are staying on a ledge system above the actual drainage. Most climbers just follow the edge of the drainage if they are using the Briggs' Slab variation. We will look at the Briggs Slab variation shortly. After passing the chimney, these climbers will stay within 20 feet or so of the western aspect of the Needle on their way back to the Lower Saddle. That's usually the best place to be — ascent or descent — even though it's common to find poor conditions. It's a seepage area. There is a path further west that can be tried if this area is a wasteland of ice but it is usually just as bad. Avoid descending the main drainage once past the western aspect of the Needle on your way to the Lower Saddle. Take a meandering line directly below the middle of the Needle's south aspect to avoid rockfall in drainages.


FYI: Tired climbers sometimes let down their guard and trip on uneven rock surfaces, or slip on the wet surfaces, during descents. It is why you'll often see guides keeping clients on a short leash.


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


The chimney starts out as a narrow chute with a gentle slope. The middle of the chimney is full of loose rocks so you may wish to bypass the chimney if others are directly above you. You may also wish to avoid the chimney under poor conditions or if you're traveling with weaker climbers.

You could scramble up the ledge/step/slab system just to the left of the chimney if you wish to avoid the lowest part of the chimney. You can then use a small ledge, or the Runner's Slab, to re-enter the chimney. Head for the Briggs' Slab if those options look unappealing. It's usually simple to turn around and make your way to the Briggs' Slab should you choose to do so. We avoid taking others up & down the complete chimney but we enjoy climbing it.


 Overview of the Chockstone Chimney


Most people who climb the chimney will exit by scrambling up an obvious ledge heading south. Once out of the chimney, climbers make a U-Turn to the east to gain the Eye of the Needle (a natural tunnel - watch your head). After going through the tunnel, climbers gain another ledge that runs above the Chockstone Chimney. That upper ledge takes them to the Belly-Roll Almost.
 
 
 Climbers going over the Belly-Roll Almost. Many climbers traverse under the Belly-Roll Almost. Both work fine.


Over or under the BRA
 
 
You can go over or under the Belly-Roll Almost. If you go under it, you will be looking for a small foothold that is out of view until you are directly above the foothold. You are dipping down from the ledge if you go under the Belly-Roll Almost. There are excellent handholds. Going under the BRA is probably the fastest and most common option but going over the top is popular with climbers who are uncomfortable with the more exposed lower line. After passing the Belly-Roll Almost, climbers then cross to the other side of the Chockstone Chimney to gain the Central Rib's Bench.

We'll come back and look at the Chockstone Chimney in more detail in just a bit. For now, let's take a look at the Briggs' Slab and some variations near it.


Overview of access to the Briggs' Slab


 Overview


Climbers who are bypassing the Chockstone Chimney are usually heading for the Briggs' Slab or a variations near the Briggs' Slab. They will travel up the main drainage for a short distance and eventually make a big u-turn back toward the Chockstone Chimney. From the main drainage, they will ascend a small side 'drainage' containing the Mini Black Dike. The Mini Black Dike runs up toward the Central Rib's Bench. Leave the Mini Black Dike and scramble toward the south end of the bench when it is easy to do so. The Briggs' Slab is between the Chockstone Chimney and the Cracks of Doom.

Since we have the above image in front of you, let's take a look at some variations that are less common. We will get back to the Briggs' Slab in a second:

The Cracks of Doom variation is a viable alternative for the capable novice climber. The Briggs' Slab is usually faster but conditions on the slab may force you to choose another variation.

The Mini Black Dike runs directly to the Sack o' Potatoes variation. Climbing the top end of the Mini Black Dike is not the easiest line of attack in the Sack o' Potatoes. The easier options are more likely to be found to the north or south. Inexperienced climbers usually stay away. 
 
There is an approach to the Briggs' Slab that runs between the Mini Black Dike and the Chockstone Chimney (see "option under poor conditions" above). It is rarely used (mostly by us) but it's sometimes easier to manage when other routes are iced up. It should probably be avoided on a descent unless you have made the ascent because route finding at the very bottom is tricky. You exit to the north after taking the easiest line of travel down the slope. It is not well marked on the above image but the easiest path is the right way. In other words, if it looks difficult, you're in the wrong place (the bottom is a little funky). Like the Chockstone Chimney, this variation has a nice collection of loose rocks. 

There are many variations in the Chockstone Chimney. Strong climbers can skip the Eye of the Needle and climb a more direct line to reach their destination (going directly up the chimney).

It is possible to use the Chockstone Chimney to access the Briggs' Slab from the south. Most climbers access the slab from the north and skip the chimney. Using the chimney to access the slab usually defeats the purpose of using the slab. The exception might be for strong climbers using a more direct line of travel to reach the bench.

Let's get back to our standard variations and finish looking at the Briggs' Slab:


 The Briggs' Slab


We just walk around the outside edges of the Briggs' Slab (like the climber shown above) but it helps to have good leg & arm reach as you leave the slab if you follow us. You need to reach across a small exposed gap. There are fine but smaller holds if you don't have the leg reach but novice climbers are usually hesitant to use them.

With sticky shoes, it's pretty easy to ascend any line on the slab. Inexperienced climbers may feel more comfortable with the safety that a rope affords while on the slab. Guides often use a friction belay over rock to quickly move clients over the slab. The other climber in the photo is next to the Belly Roll Almost. He took the Eye of the Needle variation.


If the slab looks too intimidating, use the Middle Ledge of the Chockstone Chimney


Let's go back and take a closer look at the Chockstone Chimney. Remember, all this detail isn't necessary for most climbers but it will be useful for some.


 Looking at some variations in the lower Chockstone Chimney


The best line of travel on the Runners' Slab is closer to the bottom of the slab in our opinion. Not everyone agrees. Not everyone is comfortable using the Runners' Slab, too. If you are a stronger climber, go wherever you want.


Looking down into the Chockstone Chimney. The Briggs' Slab is just to the right of the photographer and unseen.


The climber directly below the photographer is on the lower ledge that takes you out of the Chockstone Chimney and to the Eye of the Needle (EOTN). BTW: The Eye of the Needle's tunnel is a tight fit if you have a big backpack.


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


We had no crampons or shoe spikes on this day so we took the Middle Ledge to reach the Eye of the Needle.


Another overview of some variations


The Middle Ledge of the Chockstone Chimney can be used to reach the Eye of the Needle. It allows you to bypass the lower chimney. There are two common ways to reach the Middle Ledge. You can downclimb a short chute right below the Briggs' Slab to gain the Middle Ledge or you can gain the Middle Ledge from an easier route further west as seen above (by the black rock - take easiest traverse).

If we were roping up others under dry conditions, we would most likely use the Briggs' Slab.

The quickest line of travel under dry conditions between the bottom of the Chockstone Chimney and the Central Rib's Bench is open to debate. While attempting a fastest known round-trip time (FKT) on the Grand Teton, Kilian Jornet and Emelie Forsberg used the Eye of the Needle variation during their descent and they took the Runners' Slab near the bottom of the Chockstone Chimney. Her round-trip time was 3 hours and 51 minutes. He was almost an hour faster the following day. We find it's quicker for us to climb the lower chimney and skip the Runners' Slab. Everyone is different. FKT runners should consider the Briggs' Slab. The difference between the fastest round-trip time on the Grand and the 2nd fastest time is about one minute....a meaningless difference unless you're going for the record books. Seconds add up.


The Fastest Two Runners (2018)
Andy Anderson, 2h53m02s, August 22, 2012
(1:48:02 up, 1:05:00 down)
Kilian Jornet, 2h54m01s, August 12, 2012
~ Trailhead to Summit and back ~


Overview of variations above the Chockstone Chimney.
Click to enlarge.

CAUTION:
The Central Rib's Black Rock Chimney variation (as shown above) has become very dangerous with loose rock. There are safer variations of the BRC just to the west. They will become more obvious upon arrival. The BRC is discussed in more detail below. You can certainly climb the chimney with great care or utilize the more stable rock on the west side of the interior of the chimney.
 

Let's take a look at the Central Rib's Bench now that we have examined how to access it:


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


UXM Climbers: The drainage running to the ridgeline of the Central Rib is just an extension of the Chockstone Chimney. Follow it (inside or out) to the Central Rib's Lower Crossover to make your way to Wall Street if you wish to climb the Upper Exum Ridge. Owen-Salding climbers are not headed for the crossovers.


Overview


The area just above the Briggs' Slab is a scramble so don't worry about taking an exact line. It is wise to choose a path that provides some protection from rockfall. That path can change when other climbers are above you. Once past the Briggs' Slab, Owen-Spalding climbers are heading for the Upper Saddle via the Central Rib's Bench  (utilizing one of the red variations, usually).


Just another look at the area. Red dots just show overall direction.


Notice the two variations above: the Black Rock Chimney and the Upper Western Rib. You will take one of those. The fastest one is usually the Black Rock Chimney. It's pretty close time wise on an ascent (seconds not minutes). On a descent, the UWR might be faster.

Variations that are usually avoided by all climbers:
 
As we mentioned before, the drainages by the Upper Western Rib are usually avoided due to conditions, rockfall hazards, or the extra time involved. Again, the drainage between the Central Rib's Bench and the Upper Western Rib is particularly dangerous if climbers are above you. You may find a bootpack up the drainages when winter snow covers the area. If the snow is stable, it's a good ascent path.

Let's get back to the normal route:

Overview of the lower half of the Central Rib


Scramble anywhere that's safe. We like to take a higher route on our way to the Upper Saddle. That keeps us above the drainage where rocks tend to roll. We prefer to use the Central Rib's Black Rock Chimney variation to reach the Upper Saddle but many climbers and guides use the Upper Western Rib variation. We will look at both options. You may see scrappy footpaths between here and the Upper Saddle. Some are useful, some not so much. 
 
UPDATE: Again, the Black Rock Chimney variation that runs up the ramp and follows the ridgeline has experienced serious erosion and contains many loose rocks which present a hazard to climbers. Most climbers can easily climb the western side of the chimney to get around the worst spots, or use the variation to the west (not shown directly below, but discussed shortly)


We'll look at this picture again.


If you took the Upper Western Rib variation, cross back over to the Central Rib after the main drainage starts to open up (widen and flatten). If you wait too long to cross back over the the Central Rib, you might end up in some sketchier scree (just depends). Cross the main drainage at any location that looks fairly easy/safe. You might find a sloppy path back to the Central Rib. Some get well worn with summer traffic.

The Upper Western Rib Variation


Let's take a look at the Upper Western Rib variation first. We will examine the Black Rock Chimney variation afterward.


Another overview from higher up the UWR - looking SSE


Directly west of the Black Rock Chimney's access point is where climbers access the Upper Western Rib. The UWR is a natural line to follow so most climbers choose it.

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


Main drainage with snow


Climbers have taken slides to their death due to the tricky snow conditions. On this day, pictured above, we ended up taking a line on the western aspect of the Central Rib. We climbed near the middle of the left side of the photo. It was a little sketchy but safer than the drainage. This snow was not safe. This area does completely dry out as the summer rolls along.

The tips of the two arrows shown above point to the location where climbers leave the Central Rib's sloping bench and access the Upper Western Rib. Avoid traveling down or up the lower narrow drainage. That's a major rockfall terrain trap. It's also pretty sketchy if there is any ice.


Western aspect of the Central Rib

UWR: Upper Western Rib
EOTN: Eye of the Needle


The red dots seen above show parts of the traveled path used by climbers taking the Black Rock Chomeny variation. We'll look at that route in a moment. 
 

Overview of the upper Central Rib - looking SE. Marked path is general direction of travel.


Again, after ascending the Upper Western Rib, head back to the Central Rib once it is easy to do so. Sometimes you will find a well worn path that heads east from the Upper Western Rib. Snow, water, rockfall, & people move rocks around every year so you never know. Be careful not to kick loose rocks down the mountain as you cross the main drainage. You'll end up on the same path as climbers taking the Black Rock Chimney variation once you reach the western aspect of the Central Rib.


The Black Rock Chimney Variation


Let's go back down the Central Rib and take a look at the Black Rock Chimney variation.


The Central Rib's Black Rock Chimney variations.

 
There are two variations of the Black Rock Chimney. The more western variation is a direct line to the crest of the Central Rib. It's more of a scramble up a rock face than up an extended chimney. The other variation via the ramp runs to the crest of the ridge and then up a chimney that runs under the crest along its western aspect. Both variations top out at the same location: an open 'bowl'. 
 
Again, the Black Rock Chimney variation that runs up the ramp and follows the ridgeline has experienced serious erosion and contains many loose rocks which present a hazard to climbers. If you climb along the west side of the chimney to get past the sketchy areas, you should be OK. Another variation is the one further west, the "direct line" variation shown above. You can also scramble just above the drainage if a safe path presents itself.

The Central Rib's Black Rock Chimney (direct variation) is our preferred route but the Upper Western Rib sees a lot of action. Again, the Upper Western Rib is a natural line to follow whereas the Black Rock Chimney isn't an obvious line. The Upper Western Rib has climbers crossing scree which is often unstable. And, once gain, access to the Upper Western Rib is due west of the access to the Black Rock Chimney.

The "ramp" in the above photo is shown below.....


Climbers on the BRC's Steppy Ramp


A longer main chimney of black rock is above the Steppy Ramp and it runs just under the western aspect of the ridgeline (see below). This is very easy climbing when dry. Watch out for a few loose rocks. Climb the chimney to an open 'bowl', pass through the bowl and continue up the Central Rib's western aspect.


Climbers heading down the BRC toward the Steppy Ramp.


 BRC along the western aspect of the Central Rib's ridgeline

This is where the loose rocks are. Climbers can climb the more stable rock on the right side of the image. If you're heading for the Steppy Ramp on the descent, go all the way down the BRC until the ridgeline opens up. You are forced to take the eastern aspect of the ridge or the ramp to the west. Take the ramp to the west. Again, very easy climbing. The chimney is on the western aspect on the Central Rib and just below the crest. Again, don't go too far down the chimney during the descent and end up on the eastern aspect of the Central Rib. The Steppy Ramp is right at that demarcation or transition point. 


 Stay along the western aspect of the Central Rib here.

If you did pass by the Steppy Ramp during the descent, you might find some tricky climbing moves on the eastern aspect of the Central Rib over some slabs and ledges. Our advice: Turn around. Yeah, it's easy climbing for many people but that might not be you. That variation is more time consuming and harder than taking the Steppy Ramp off the ridgeline. Again, we don't recommend it.


The upper bowl-like exit from the BRC - looking SSE


Cross this short bowl-like opening in the Central Rib. Do not take the drainage to the Wall Street Couloir shown above. It's not a time-saving shortcut. It's a tricky descent for a novice climber. Additionally, the Wall Street Couloir is not a shortcut off the mountain — it cliffs out.


FYI: If you are doing laps on the Upper Exum — and who isn't? — you can take the Wall Street Couloir from the Upper Saddle to reach Wall Street. From an area near the top of the Central Rib, we usually head for the eastern half of the Wall Street Couloir if we choose go down it. Going up or down the Wall Street Couloir is not recommended for anybody who doesn't need to be there. Again, it is not a shortcut to exit the mountain.


Another overview of the Central Rib


Another look at the bowl-like opening (between pink and yellow arrowheads) at the top of the Black Rock Chimney. Again, the bowl drains to the Wall Street Couloir. Simply scramble across the bowl and continue along the western side of the Central Rib.

You may see sloppy & broken footpaths after exiting the bowl. Those footpaths parallel the rib. Some footpaths are too sloppy for us and we just scramble up the rock. It is best to stay very close to the Central Rib and out of the main drainage.


A view from the Central Rib's Patio


The Patio is a natural flat area at the top of the Central Rib where guides often take a break. The wind tends to blow and the temps seem to drop as you gain the Upper Saddle so the patio is a good place to add an extra layer and take a break. From the Patio you can go slightly northeast and look for a broken footpath to reach the western side of the Upper Saddle. There is no best path when it's dry. They are all pretty easy.

When unconsolidated snow covers foot traps (fall season, often), the best path to the saddle can be difficult to navigate if you don't know the area well. The slightly eastern approach from the Patio seems safest under sketchy conditions; however, a higher and slightly western route from the Patio can be safely navigated if you really take the time to check your footing. There is no guarantee that you won't run into a foot trap on the eastern approach but the odds seem lower.


 Upper Saddle - looking west


This picture is from April or May. The top of the Central Rib is where footprints end on the left side of the image. Clearly, the Upper Saddle's western side is much lower than its eastern side. If the photographer were to turn around while ascending the Upper Saddle, he might see the view in the next image.


Variations to access the eastern side of the Upper Saddle.


The exposed southern RED route is the most common ascent line. On that variation, there's a short stem move up a rock feature that challenges many climbers—many climbers. Almost no one ropes up here but it may be wise to provide a leg up to weaker climbers, and spot them. Or use a rope. Some very loose dirt and rocks are found by the stem move. Move with great care.

An experienced and guided climber fell into the Exum Gully which runs directly below the RED route. She did not survive. She most likely slipped on the loose rocks but no one really knows. She was not roped up. It does illustrate once again that you have to make every move with thought and care, no matter how simple that move is.


 Close-up view of access to the eastern side of the Upper Saddle


We swapped our green & blue colors in this image compared to the last image.

In this photo, the GREEN route sees more descents than ascents. It is very exposed to the north and it is often an awkward line for novice climbers. If it looks easy for you to ascend, take it. The center BLUE route is especially useful when conditions make the other options sketchy. It has much smaller holds. Again, the RED route is the most common route. It is a bit tricky for weaker climbers. Free-soloing climbers can take whatever route suits their fancy. A 4th variation runs above the red route shown here. You are climbing along a seam on the south-facing wall by the stem move over the flake. It is almost never used.


 Looking back down at the red variation to access the eastern side of the Upper Saddle


SAFETY REMINDER

Take your time and be thoughtful about your movements as you climb. Inexperienced climbers tend to be extremely cautious but they don't always recognize hazards and they may not take enough time to assess the best move in any given location. You're looking for the best holds for a given body position. If it doesn't feel right, back off and reconsider your options. Additionally, watch out for loose holds that seem secure until your full weight is upon them. Most of the holds on the OS are nice stable solid holds but never assume they are.

Verglas is a very thin layer of ice which can appear as dry rock. You need to be looking for it — everywhere. We have seen several climbers take slips on verglas while walking on ledges. They let down their guard because they're walking on a ledge and not 'climbing'.

You are not safe if your mind isn't thinking about safety constantly. The mental exercise of figuring out how to safely and efficiently move over rock is part of the fun of climbing. Embrace it. There is no reason to hurry up and get hurt. Take the time to be safe. Tired climbers are rarely vigilant. Making calculated safety choices with every move is time consuming, sometimes mentally draining, but very necessary. Climbers really need to be on their toes and take corrective action to stay safe. Even the best climbers can let down their guard for just a second at the wrong place or wrong time.


Overview of the Upper Saddle as seen from the Enclosure


Almost without exception, free-soloing climbers do not use the rappel. Under adverse conditions free-soloing climbers may carry a rope and find it useful to rappel. An emergency escape rope (usually thinner and shorter than a standard 60m rope) might help free-soloing climbers get past areas which are too sketchy to free-solo in a safe and efficient manner. Most free-soloing climbers avoid climbing under very sketchy conditions but stuff happens (changing weather).

The Main Rappel has a maintained sling and bolted rings. The bolted rings are north of the sling. The sling is sometimes threaded inside a cut section of fire hose to protect it. The tag on the bolted rings is stamped 40m - the longest fall line. Most climbers get by with a dynamic 60m rope thrown a little to the south. The Upper Saddle's landing zone slopes downhill. The north side has a longer drop than the south. The southern side of the landing zone (LZ) is higher (see picture further below). Make sure your rope is truly 60m and dynamic (not every climber has a handle on that). Just after leaving sight of the rappel setups, it's possible to land on a nice ledge (on the south side) that can be used to adjust your position and check your rope.

 

 Main Rappel area, & access to Secondary 70' Raps

 
A Secondary Rappel is broken into two 70' sections. It can be reached from the Main Rappel's sling (climb up a very short chimney directly above the sling and then head south). The upper 70' station might be out-of-view until you are upon it (it's a mess of tat). It's also a funky area to rap from and rarely used. It is useful if the Main Rappel is backed up with a dozen climbers. There have been 2-hour delays at the rappel (like on a hot Labor Day weekend with perfect conditions during a pandemic).  

 
Main Rappel Area

The topmost 70' rap can be avoided if you can downclimb a tight slanting chimney. It is not a 70 foot drop at the first rappel station. The sloping distance between the two raps is about 70'. The drop from the second setup to the Upper Saddle is 70', however. You will find loose rocks by both raps......
 
 
AVOID STANDING DIRECTLY BELOW THE RAPPEL AREA
THIS IS A ROCKFALL ZONE


From the Upper Saddle it's about 600' to the summit. Only a small fraction of that is Class 5.4 climbing when dry. That class rating can be thrown in the trash under poor conditions. It won't represent the real challenge.


The Owen-Spalding Route (the OS) - Click to Enlarge (rt-click to open in new tab).


 Climbers at the Belly Roll (far left side)


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


This area can be windy, freezing, and backed up with climbers. Waiting makes the cold worse. While it's not always freezing and clogged with climbers, you should be prepared for that possibility. Most free-soloers can safely pass other climbers but it's good etiquette to make sure those climbers are comfortable with the idea, and that those climbers don't put your safety at risk, or vice versa. And avoid stepping on another climber's rope.

People have bailed because they didn't have gloves during the peak summer season. The climbing rangers have rescued climbers who lost dexterity and grip strength due to low temperatures. We don't use gloves in high-consequence areas that require critical contact with the rock but we do take gloves and sometimes hand warmers (life savers!) when we expect temperatures below 40°F. Thin gloves are better than no gloves if it's cold.
 
While 40°F isn't very cold to us, the wind can make 40°F feel miserable with light layers. The 11,600' Lower Saddle weather station should give you a feel for the temperatures at the summit. Try subtracting 12 degrees for the worst-case temperature difference (wind chill not calculated). A warm day at the valley floor does not mean it will be a warm morning on the Grand. If it's 90° in Jackson, the Grand will probably be in the 60's at some point. Global warming may change averages; but currently, temperatures at or above 90° are pretty rare in GTNP.


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


Another overview of the exposed areas


Plenty of climbers turn back at the exposure. We never question that decision nor do we encourage anyone to continue if they make that call. It is a psychological challenge for many.

If you make it this far and decide to bail because of conditions or the challenge then you might want to consider tackling the Enclosure which is the second highest point in the Teton Range. The Enclosure is a western spur off the Upper Saddle. There is a very small Native American rock formation on its summit and it has outstanding views of the Teton Range. You can also watch climbers on the western aspect of the Grand Teton. From the top of the Central Rib (near the Patio), head northish and scramble along the easiest path to reach the top of the Enclosure. The scramble is harder than it looks but it shouldn't take more than 15 to 20 minutes when conditions are good. Here is a photo of the scramble.


Variations that are not for novice climbers:

The cracks between the Wittich and the Double Chimney have been climbed but it's very uncommon.

Between the Great West Chimney and the Double Chimney is the Double Chimney Bypass. From the ledge running to the GWC, there is a small wall that you need to climb. It's a little tricky without sticky shoes. It can be outright sketchy to descend that small wall back to the ledge. You will end up at the bottom of the Owen Chimney if you take the bypass (another look). There is no advantage to taking this variation. It is simply a variation for bored climbers.

The Great West Chimney is almost always a chute of poor conditions during the summer but sometimes it's a viable way of bypassing the Double Chimney, the Owen Chimney, and/or Sargent's. Variations along the sides of the GWC are also available. Again, these variations are not recommend for novice climbers. It takes just a minute or so to check out the GWC from the Second Entrance of the Double Chimney should you wish to do so. There's a small but easy ledge running right to it (see above).

The Wittich Crack (video & first ascent) is rated a 5.6 (CGTTTR) to 5.7 (MP). It's not uncommon to run into poorer conditions near the top of the Wittich after a cold wet spell because it's well shaded. However, it's not part of a major drainage area like the First Entrance of the Double Chimney. It is a variation for stronger climbers who don't want to wait behind OS climbers. 


 The Wittich, Great West Chimney, DC Bypass, etc

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


 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. It's redundant with multiple members of a local coed soccer team making similar moves; however, it gives you a good feel for what to expect. Most of the soccer players were not climbers and had no prior climbing experience. While none of these climbers got turned around, many climbers have second thoughts at the exposure and never make it past the Upper Saddle. A longer video of their entire trip to the summit is below. With modest effort, you will find better videos on YouTube. 


Belly Roll - going over it


Belly Roll - Going over it


Albert Ellingwood atop the Belly Roll (Bellyroll in those days)


Belly Roll - going part-way under it


Another climber, maybe 11 or 12-years-old, riding the bottom of the Belly Roll but above the lower ledge


Belly Roll - going totally under it

 
Belly Roll - view from above


 Belly Roll - ascent



Video of two climbers going under the Belly Roll


We tend to go under the Belly Roll during the descent and over it on the ascent but you can take either variation in either direction. If we are passing other climbers, we use whatever line is out of their way. There is a nice ledge directly below the Belly Roll. The ledge is tiny at its southern end.

In the video above, the first climber jumps off the southern end which isn't the wisest move to emulate. Had he landed on a small patch of ice, or lost his balance, he could have sailed over the cliff. Once he let go of his handhold, only his feet were keeping him on the mountain. You can gently step off the end if you are tall. Obviously, taller climbers have greater flexibility in their choices since their reach is longer. The shorter second climber climbs over the lip of the cleavage once he passes the Belly Roll. That was a wise decision for him.


The ledge between the Belly Roll and the Crawl. Upper Saddle in background


Looking toward the Crawl from the ledge.


The Crawl with access to the Double Chimney in background - descent

Go outside, inside, or partly outside & inside the Crawl.


 Glenn Exum with partner in the Crawl


Glenn is below the First Entrance of the Double Chimney and he has one foot on the ledge variation used to access the 2nd Entrance of the DC.

 Entering the Crawl


The Crawl - descent


Crawl - descent


The area right behind the climbers and in front of the photographer can be sketchy. Loose rocks, snow, water and ice are common at this location. Additionally, the rock face is sloping into Valhalla Canyon. Be careful as you leave the Crawl — see below....


Area between 1st Entrance & Crawl


This picture will give you a feel for what's underneath you if snowy conditions hide features. Unstable snow can slide off the slope and take you with it (see below, too). Stay close to the wall. FYI: There is an old piton on the wall above you as you come out of the Crawl. A few small handholds are along the wall.


Snow had a very unstable 'cornice' over the exposure

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


Looking at the Double Chimney's entrance variations.


You have a couple of variations to choose from to gain the interior of the Double Chimney. Obviously, this area is very exposed and it is critical to perform thoughtful climbing moves.

1) The 1st Entrance is a challenging climb up an exposed nook but it sees plenty of action. It is the crux of the entire climb if you take it. 

2) The 2nd Entrance is considered to be the fastest and easiest variation. It is the most popular variation. It can be reached in two ways. 

     a) Your handholds are along the obvious cleavage above the sloping rock. Your feet are on the sloping rock. Good handholds are critical. The footholds are small and some holds may be more frictiony than you're expecting (helps to have sticky shoes). If you take your time, you will find small footholds on most of the traverse. Some footholds are low on the slope, some high. The crux is usually moving into the 2nd Entrance on frictiony footholds while letting go of a handhold to grab another handhold.

     b) From the 1st Entrance, you can downclimb onto a small ledge that runs toward the 2nd Entrance. You will find good holds if you are a good climber (helps to be tall); maybe so-so holds if you're a weaker climber. It isn't easier or harder than option 'a' but every climber has personal preferences so we don't recommend one over the other. Conditions may favor one over the other.

On the downclimb, it is usually much harder (psychologically & physically) for novice climbers to safely downclimb out of the 2nd Entrance and gain the lower ledge. Some do fine but most will exit the Double Chimney using the hand-in-crack traverse during the downclimb which itself can feel a little awkward as you position yourself to leave the 2nd Entrance and onto the slabish rock.

If we are going fast on a descent, we usually use the hand-in-crack traverse and let our feet slide (with friction) over the rock until we hit a good foothold. Obviously, we trust our handholds. With sticky shoes, there isn't much sliding. Tiny footholds allow a slower climber to more gracefully exit the 2nd Entrance on the downclimb if they choose to do so. The best footholds may not be obvious to an inexperienced climber.

BTW: The two climbers in the background just came off the North Ridge. There is a fairly quick, but not quicker variation which we call the DC Bypass in that direction. It's about halfway to the Great West Chimney. It can be wet and slimy after rain but a good climber can make it up the short walls when dry. It's a little dicey to descend especially if you haven't been up it.


1st Entrance of the Double Chimney


The above climber is grabbing a horn and trying to muscle her way over it. Many climbers give this entrance a rating higher than 5.4. Others feel the entire route has a 5.4 rating only because of the 1st Entrance. Sticky climbing shoes make it easier, as does practice, but it's still a difficult cruxy exposed maneuver for many OS climbers. The area is often wet or icy.  FYI: There is an old piton to the right of her right hand. We favor stemming with our body facing northish if the south wall is wet (mirror the image of the woman). We are also much taller than the climber shown here. Usually, our shoes stick better to the northish sloping wall than the steep southish wall.
 

Seen from above


Again, most climbers favor the 2nd Entrance because it is considered the fastest & easiest way when it's dry. In the image directly above, many climbers are backed up at the 1st Entrance. Half of 'em could have used to 2nd Entrance to speed things along. 
 
Again we use the 1st Entrance when ice or snow covers the entire area. Additionally, we use the 1st Entrance if climbers are backed up by the 2nd Entrance, or vice versa. Sometimes we will use the Double-Chimney Bypass to the north of the 2nd Entrance if the entire chimney is clogged (the bypass isn't really difficult but it is not recommended for novice climbers).

Downclimbing the 1st Entrance isn't common but it's a good option under some circumstances for some climbers (poor conditions by 2nd entrance, or backed up with other climbers). We lower ourselves from the horn - it's pretty quick. We're tall.
 
Variations that are not usually taken by novice climbers:

There is a variation directly above the horn at the 1st Entrance (directly above this climber's right arm). It runs up a tiny chimney to your right and it can be used to access a ledge directly above the Double Chimney's Open-V. It is a good way to bypass slow climbers if this variation is dry. It can also be used as a variation to access the Catwalk. It's fairly easy; however, it can be dangerously wet, icy, or slimy because it is the main drainage for water flowing off the Catwalk. In our experience, novice climbers find it too intimidating. Downclimbing that variation is even more unsettling for many. It's got exposure and it's a small space with holds that look suspect above a drop to your death.

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

Again, do not go past the 2nd Entrance and toward the Great West Chimney unless you intend to go off-route (DC Bypass) or you just want to check it out. The narrow ledge that runs to the Great West Chimney from the 2nd Entrance is along the same cleavage as the Crawl, etc. The two Double Chimney entrances are about 15 feet apart.


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


Who needs footholds?


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


The Climber is directly below the 2nd Entrance. The Great West Chimney can be seen along the left side of the photo. It's the REALLY BIG chimney. Again, that's not the OS route. The Wittich Crack is on the right side of the photo.


 Valhalla Canyon - looking southish


Bodies have ended up at the bottom-most snow field in Valhalla Canyon after falling from the OS's exposure and rappel. This is the view from the north side (Cascade Canyon side) of the Grand.

FYI: The approach up Valhalla Canyon toward the Grand Teton is indeed used by a few climbers (not OS climbers). It includes crossing a sometimes-roaring Cascade Creek. Climbers who wish to access this side of the Grand usually take the Valhalla Traverse from the Lower Saddle. They avoid the Cascade Canyon approach.


 Lower ledge - heading for the 2nd Entrance

 Not the most popular belay location but it gets used. The 2nd Entrance.
 
Instead of passing on through, we would usually descend or ascend the 1st Entrance if a belay was here.
 

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


The free-soloing climber is above the Black Ice Couloir (far right) / Valhalla Canyon (below). Just a quick aside to say that climbers can be below you anywhere on the Grand. That includes below the climber shown here. Be mindful about rockfall.

Gaining the 2nd Entrance


This climber is just above the location of the climber in the previous image but he didn't use the lower ledge. This move into the chimney is a critical move. The footholds are frictiony and you have to find a good handhold to pull yourself inside while on those modest footholds. On a descent, most climbers place their hands on the cleavage (running under his lower hand) and use their handholds to get them to the first good foothold if they lack sticky shoes.


 Access to 2nd Entrance from lower ledge

As with many locations, it helps to be tall. We have used this lower-ledge variation on a descent (usually to get into a position for spotting descending climbers above us), but we rarely use it on a descent. It is faster to stay high, and usually safer to stay high if we're going fast.

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 minor slips as the footholds are more friction than bomb-proof step. He recovers and goes on to make some GT climbing history. Climbers have fallen to their death around this area. One involved a lightning strike and another involved a novice free-soloing climber who was climbing under adverse conditions. He was alone and his exact location & the exact cause of his fall is unknown. There have been others.


A big slip that didn't slow him down.


View from the 2nd Entrance toward the middle of the DC


The climbers are near the middle of the chimney and waiting to enter the Open-V. It not uncommon to find climbers waiting here on a busy day. The 1st Entrance of the Double Chimney tops out by the climber looking at the photographer.


 Looking back at variations mid-way in the Double Chimney. 
 
We forgot to show a line going into the tunnel which is a very popular variation when dry.


We will look at several variations to move around the Double Chimney:


The crack along the southwest corner of the Open-V ends on a nice ledge. Just walk off to the east above the Open-V.


The Double Chimney's Open-V. Tunnel variation below.


This free-soloing climber is descending the Open-V variation inside the Double Chimney. He is about to exit the western side of the Open-V. This is harder than it looks. Novice climbers regularly use the Open-V but it can be a challenge for them to enter and exit gracefully. The Tunnel variation is considered easier by many climbers. Take your time and consider the best variation for you. Stem moves are very popular in the interior of the DC.


Access to the Northern Slot variation - two free-soloing climbers


The Double Chimney's North Slot is often gained from further inside the Open-V. The above climber is tall and has an easier time ascending the flake's western edge without fully entering the Open-V. Going further inside the Open-V before accessing the slot is less intimidating to novice climbers, and sometimes safer. This is just one way to navigate around the Open-V; and again, just one of many variations inside the DC.


 Stemming to move in or out of the Open-V is common.


Heading up the North Slot


 North Slot

This climber was actually descending the chimney. We reversed the order of the above images. Most climbers don't descend the Northern Slot in this manner. He did a nice job quickly.
 
While it's a little tricky for novice climbers to exit & enter the Open-V, it's even trickier when it's icy. This is a VERY SKETCHY area with any slick snow or ice. The slightly polished rock is sloping right below the entrances to the Open-'V' and Tunnel variations. If you slip on any slick surface, you could easily slide out of the chimney and into Valhalla Canyon. There are no monkey-bar handholds where you really need them. It demands your attention.

Jackson Hole Mountain Guide Allan Bard (44), who was also a highly respected & experienced guide of the Palisades School of Mountaineering in Bishop, California, died after slipping on ice and falling 130 feet on a rope while leading the Double Chimney.
 

 
Taking a break at the entrance to the Open-V


North Slot directly below photographer. Rope in Tunnel. Open-V at top of image.
 

The red line is a typical line of travel for those who use the Open-V variation. You can exit anywhere along the line. The "Most Difficult" exit from the Open-V isn't too bad if you can stem the walls.


Many people who use the Open-V go to its far eastern end and exit to the north. They move over the top of the exit from the Tunnel. This exit from the Open-V is another puzzle for climbers to solve. Pick whatever line seems best for you. Again, lots of stem moves get used in the chimney. The difficulty of using any exit depends upon a variety of factors. The Tunnel is usually considered the easy way when it's dry. The SE corner seems to be the most difficult for the average climber on this route but some nail it with ease. If you take the most common exit out of the DC, you will climb up the following rock face:


Ascend this short rock face to completely leave the DC (see next image, too)


This area is sketchy with ice. Good news? It's usually easy to shatter. Try a rock, screwdriver, crampon, axe, etc. We think the holds on the left side are better than the more direct line by the rope. Both lines work fine under dry conditions. The rope is coming out of the Tunnel variation. 
 

The woman is exiting the DC. The man is at the bottom of the Owen Chimney.

The slabs above the Double Chimney run to the bottom of the Owen Chimney. They can be very slick. Small loose rocks are around here. The Owen Chimney runs slightly sideways to the southeast so you can't see into its interior as you exit the Double Chimney.

Let's go back and look at the Tunnel variation.


Downclimbing the tunnel variation.


The free-soloing climber is exiting the lower part of the tunnel (she went up the Upper Exum Route). Again, the rock slopes downhill and it can be difficult to safely navigate when the slabs are slick. The DC's tunnel variation is a tight fit with a backpack. It is often icy. When dry, it is a very popular variation.


This is where you pop out of the tunnel on the ascent.


Can you climb out of this? Many people have trouble figuring out the best way to exit. Take your time. Back off a line if it doesn't feel quite right and reconsider your options.


We usually stem on opposing or adjacent walls but sometimes we climb a corner if we take the tunnel.


Climber just above the tunnel - looking northish


He will exit the Double Chimney to his right. The photographer is on a ledge just south of the Open-V.

The common exit from the DC - looking WNW


The slabs by the climber have modest handholds when dry. They work fine. With any snow or ice, those holds quickly become plugged. Again, on the right side of the image (climber's left side) is a line with slightly better holds. That northern variation might be easier to navigate under difficult conditions, or easier to clean. It is also easier to see your footholds on the exit wall during a descent if you're on that line.

A crab crawl is sometimes used to approach the the Double Chimney during the descent when conditions are slick (sit on butt & use feet and hands to move). We have seen climbers slip on this rock. The slabs above the Double Chimney can be very slick when wet. Be thoughtful. Stay low, go slow if you are uncertain about your safety. Again, some small loose rocks can be found between the Double Chimney and the Owen Chimney. Those are slip hazards.


 Base of Owen Chimney


This is the view from the exit of the Double Chimney. You can head toward the Catwalk or the Owen Chimney. The complete Owen Chimney is not very difficult when dry but it is slightly more challenging than the Catwalk which is mostly a scramble. We find the chimney to be the fastest line of ascent when dry.

You can reach the Catwalk from the first opening in the Owen Chimney (Green dots), or via the more direct line (Yellow dots) right out of the Double Chimney. Choose the path that is best for you given the conditions. They are similar in difficulty when dry.  
 
During a descent, taking the more direct shortcut off the Catwalk (yellow dots) may be more intimidating for novice climbers than going around the tight corner at the north end of the Catwalk and then downclimbing a very short section of the Owen Chimney.

A dry Owen Chimney is popular. Both variations are suitable for novice climbers when dry. The Catwalk is the preferred descent route for most free-soloing climbers, and for all free-soloing FKT runners. Strong FKT runners should consider the Owen Chimney during an ascent if it is dry and empty.  Under mixed conditions, the Owen Chimney is often a better variation than the Catwalk. Just depends.

Variations that are not usually taken by novice climbers:

A Northern Variation: Notice the crack & chimney variation on the left side of the photo & left of the Owen Chimney. It's not marked in the photo. It tops out on the same ledge as the Owen Chimney. It is a harder variation but it's a nice way to bypass climbers or just get a change of pace. The chimney section can also be accessed from just above the first 'opening' in the Owen Chimney. That alternative access point lets you bypass the lower crack.

We will look at the southern Owen Chimney Bypass variation in just a bit. For now, notice that you can access the southern bypass from the first opening in the Owen Chimney. It can also be accessed from the Catwalk (see below). The bypass is a mixed bag of climbing: part crack, chimney, corner, etc.


Overview of the Catwalk & Owen Chimney Bypass (part crackish , part chimney), etc
 
 
Let's get back to our standard route options.... 


Base of Owen Chimney


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


The Catwalk Variation


We'll look at the Catwalk variation first and then go back and look at the Owen Chimney variation. 


 The Owen Chimney - looking WNW


This is the view of the first opening in the Owen Chimney from inside the Owen Chimney. We are looking back toward the Double Chimney. You must go around a tight corner to access the Catwalk from the first opening in the Owen Chimney. "Tight" means it's a passageway where there isn't much freedom to move around. There is an old piton at the corner (by the left-most yellow dot in the photo above).


 Access to the Catwalk from the Owen Chimney goes around a tight corner


Variations that are not usually for novice climbers:

Access to the southern Owen-Chimney Bypass Crack is shown in the above photos. It's not too difficult to ascend when dry but it is not recommended for most novice soloing climbers if better options are available. The very bottom of the bypass is shaded and it can get very icy. It faces NW. The rest of the bypass faces SW. You can climb the short NW-facing corner to get to the sunnier part of the bypass or you can access the bypass from the Catwalk and skip the lower NW-facing corner. If you use the Catwalk to access the bypass, you will look for the easiest location to gain a small ledge above you. It is just a short distance up the Catwalk on your left. It is at the only location that looks like a reasonable section to climb. You will gain a nice ledge that runs back north to the bypass. You could also take that ledge to the south if you want a different challenge (not for inexperienced climbers, usually).

Let's get back to the regular route variations:


A view from the Catwalk toward the DC

The direct ascent line from the Double Chimney to the Catwalk is pretty easy when dry.


The Catwalk - looking southish. Climber is descending.


The Catwalk  - looking northish - downclimb


The scramble between the Catwalk & the Main Rap Overlook - looking NNW


Once past the flat Catwalk there is a short scramble toward the Main Rap Overlook. The scramble can be a little intimidating to non-climbers but it's pretty easy climbing/scrambling. With any ice or snow, it can quickly become challenging.

Climbers often crab craw down the rock during the descent to the Catwalk. You won't recover (YOU WILL DIE) if you lose your balance, slip or trip in this area. So, at the very least stay low and go slow if you're new to this.


Exit off the Catwalk - Looking Eastish

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


The Owen Chimney variation


Let's go back and look at the Owen Chimney variation for those who don't want to take the Catwalk.


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


The Owen Chimney can get backed up pretty quickly with a group of climbers — unlike the Catwalk. We strongly recommend the Catwalk if things are going slowly. Or another bypass option.


Middle of the Owen Chimney


Another view looking back down at the first opening in the chimney, and at the bottom of the Owen Chimney (obvious icy snow patch).


The Owen Chimney - nice steppy footholds when dry


There is a short crux in the upper half of the chimney. When dry, it's pretty easy. When icy, not so much. If the top half of the chimney is icy, the northern side usually has the best holds (left side as you climb). Dry or wet, most climbers stay a little to the right in the bottom half, and to the left in the top half. It's pretty obvious when you're inside the thing.

During a descent, most free-soloing FKT runners don't want to check the Owen Chimney because it is likely to be in use, or in poorer condition. That kills time. For us, a descent in the chimney is the quickest option if it's dry and empty. And often quicker than the Catwalk if both are icy.


Owen Chimney - near the crux


Top of the Owen Chimney


Suddenly see lots of people? Just about everybody uses the same descent route. That descent route is the upper half of the Owen-Salding route. You're likely to see many more people above the Owen Chimney or above the Catwalk. Most of those people are headed for the Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle. 
 
 

 Main Rap to Summit - the busy area but lots of space



 Base of Sargent's


We are looking north toward the exit from the Owen Chimney. We are at the base of Sargent's Chimney. This ledge system at the base of Sargent's runs between the Great West Chimney and the Exum Ridge.

You can check out the Great West Chimney by walking to the northern end of this ledge. If you need to take a piss, it's usually a good place. There isn't much privacy on this route but there are a few nooks and crannies.

Variations that are not usually taken by novice climbers:

Had you climbed up the Great West Chimney to bypass the DC & OC (harder than it looks), you might want to exit onto this ledge system and gain Sargent's Chimney. There is also a climbing line on the south side of the GWC and at the ledge's northern end. It allows you to bypass Sargent's. You can see it on this overview of the western aspect. There are too many variations to mention but they are worth exploring if you have the time.

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


Sargent's Chimney

Again, at the bottom of Sargent's, on the southern side, a small 'drainage' runs to the Main Rap to the Upper Saddle


Looking up at Sargent's


Sargent's Chimney fans out at its base. The bottom southern wall of Sargent's points toward the Main Rap. The northern wall points toward the top of the Owen Chimney.

In the above image, the Main Rap is a short distance behind the photographer to the SW. Climbers follow a drainage-like depression from Sargent's to the rappel area. The safest route will be obvious when you're there. Again, be careful with the loose rocks.


Looking back from Sargent's Chimney toward the Owen Chimney


Looking back from Sargent's Chimney toward the Owen Chimney

This is taken from the same location as the above picture.


Overview of Sargent's Chimney
 
From the ledge at the bottom of Sargent's, the easiest path into Sargent's is usually along the northern side (see above -or- below). It's mostly a scramble. The southern route is pretty easy when dry.

The alternative Hidden Exit out of Sargent's is the most common ascent line. Novice climbers may find the Hidden Exit safer and easier under dry conditions. Just depends.

If climbers are not using Sargent's Hidden Exit, they will climb up the main chimney. Once they come upon Sargent's rap, they will find an easy exit on the north side of the chimney (first opening to the north). It's a scramble to a nice ledge that takes them to the top of Sargent's Hidden Exit variation. The actual chimney continues a little further up the mountain but it is rarely used as an exit location. In other words, once you reach the standard rappel location inside Sargent's start exiting to the north/NE even though the actual chimney continues a little further up the mountain. A sling is almost always at the rap location.


Lower NW side of Sargent's Chimney


 Sargent's Chimney
North is on the right side of the image


The climber is at the start of the Hidden Exit which takes you out of Sargent's main chimney. That corner requires extra care on the descent. Pay careful attention to all the possible holds. Try a few. This will help with the descent.


This is the alcove containing the Hidden Exit. Climb NW corner crack.


Cannon in the light blue jacket. We are pretty sure Cannon was 8-years-old at the time the photo was taken. Her dad is above her. The corner crack is at the start of Sargent's Hidden Exit. There is an often overlooked foothold near Cannon's upper body. It is truly useful during a descent for us. Cannon didn't need it because she could almost fit in the corner crack. There are plenty of  holds but not always where you really want them.


The lower part of the Hidden Exit


A view of the middle part of the Hidden Exit

The climber in the yellow shirt is in the small chute that extends to the top of the Hidden Exit.

Let's take a look at a variation of the Hidden Exit that some climbers might find fairly easy, and useful if the area is busy:


Looking NNW.

The climber in the blue jacket by the green arrow is next to a variation of the Hidden Exit. You are climbing up a very short wall to a nice ledge/slope (all unseen in photo). Easier with sticky shoes, slightly sketchier to downclimb. We use it when guides are belaying clients down the Hidden Exit, or anytime it's a clusterf*.

Let's get back to the normal Hidden Exit variation.....

Again, the top of the Hidden Exit is a small chute. The northern side is the most popular descent line.


The Chute & its corner crack out of the Hidden Exit

You can go up either side of the chute, or the center, but the northern corner crack is usually easier.


 View south

Looking past the Hidden Exit and toward the exit out of Sargent's main chimney. That exit from the main chimney is by the Rap Station in Sargent's Chimney. Again, Sargent's Chimney continues a little further up the mountain (unseen) but most climbers exit onto this ledge.


Sargent's Rap. This is by the first opening (to the north) in Sargent's upper chimney


This is the exit location that most climbers will utilize if they climb directly up Sargent's main chimney (exit is toward the photographer). You could exit further up the chimney. Very few climbers will do that. The arrow is pointing toward the summit and not the most common path out of the chimney (some will climb in that direction and go by the 3 Stooges).

Again, most climbers head toward the photographer who's on the ledge that runs to top of the Hidden Exit. They go past the top of the Hidden Exit, and past the rock band to their right that blocks their view. They then turn right as soon as they can take a more direct NE line of ascent to the summit (literally a straight line to the summit if you choose it).


Looking down Sargent's Chimney (Middle Main Chimney)


The crux of Sargent's Chimney is by the bulge in the middle of the image (closer to the bottom of the bulge) - both sides. We feel that the south side is easier if you don't have sticky shoes, or if you are short; however, none really knows what's easier for you. The south side of the cruxy area also seems safer to downclimb for us. It's not difficult climbing but the best holds aren't always obvious at first glance. The ascent is easier than the descent (or the holds are more obvious). Try the Hidden Exit if this direct line up the main chimney looks too difficult.


 The downclimbing climbers are coming from the Hidden Exit area.


Most climbers who are ascending the main chimney will approach the cruxy bulge from the north side (less icy, usually). You can see climbers doing this in the image above. They are just below the crux in the main chimney and heading for the south side. Six free-soloing climbers were in the chimney (including photographer). It is not unusual to see that many free-soloing climbers on the mountain but six in one spot is not too common.

While you can certainly climb directly up Sargent's main chimney if you wish to, you should avoid it if other climbers are getting ready to rappel down it. The Hidden Exit might be easier for most climbers when it's dry but it's not a big difference overall. BTW, Sargent is a guy's name, not the military title with a different spelling.
 

Overview Main Rappel to Summit




Go north after exiting Sargent's or its Hidden Exit and turn east (turn right) as soon as it is easy to do so. The climber using the Blue variation is simply taking a easier zig-zag around some rock. The direct line is the Red variation shown above. It's a straight shot to the summit from here.
 

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




The Three Stooges is not a feature you will recognize on the descent unless you're paying very close attention and looking back up after passing it. It is just a short distance above Sargent's Hidden Exit.

Some climbers will take a shortcut variation under the face of the Three Stooges to reach Sargent's Rap during the descent. Most descending climbers go further west until they are by the Hidden Exit and then they head south to reach the top of Sargent's.

If you expect to climb the Upper Exum route at some point, it's useful to know that you can exit the summit ridgeline from the north side of the Upper Exum's Boulder Problem in the Sky and head northwest along a very easy escape line that takes you under the face of the Three Stooges. It is one of several escape lines for climbers on the Upper Exum route. You might want to take a look at that variation if you spend much time on the mtn. You can climb southeast to the summit ridgeline from the Three Stooges to get a feel for the fastest escape line and then head back north toward the summit along the ridgeline.


 Pretty easy scramble when dry - follow 'wall' on your south.  Climbers are descending.

The scramble line between the summit and Sargent's is pretty straight — 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. Remember that.

The Horse is a false summit directly above the Slabby Wall. There is a small ledge along the top of the southern half of the Slabby Wall. That small ledge is often used as part of any switchback.


Switchback option shown in pink


Using switchbacks, you will head to the SE to bypass the wall and then head NE. Follow the easiest path.


Switchback option - many options


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


These climbers are using one of many easy variations around the Slabby Wall's southern half. They are cutting short a longer switchback option. None are on a rope.


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


 Switchback ledge - looking SSW


Scramble to the summit. Many variations to the NE.


The last scramble to the summit will probably include a few climbing moves if you don't know the easiest way. It's not difficult climbing. You could also reach the summit by going around the southern aspect of the Horse, then going under its eastern aspect to reach the summit. Sometimes that is an easier and safer alternative to reach the summit under sketchy snow conditions or with weaker climbers.


The Summit


DOWNCLIMB


In the above picture we are looking south. Most climbers exit the summit by heading southwest. Sometimes climbers go around the eastern aspect of the Horse (to the left in photo) and then they gain the western aspect of the mountain after passing the Horse (see below). There are many variations off the summit. There is an easy exit to the north, too. It wraps back around to the south. Again, just keep in mind that the Slabby Wall is below the Horse. You want to gain the small ledge above the southern half of the Slabby Wall during the descent and use it as part of a switchback around the wall. That ledge is directly below the southern end of the Horse.


 An eastern variation off the summit.


Once at the bottom of the Slabby Wall, look for its center crack. Again, the center crack in the Slabby Wall points toward your way back to Sargent's Chimney. Follow the easiest descent line (overall straight line) until you can go no further. Look for Sargent's to your south. Downclimb Sargent's main chimney or downclimb Sargent's Hidden Exit variation. If you have a rope, you can rap down Sargent's. We suggest using the Hidden Exit under most summer conditions. It's quick and fairly easy compared to the main chimney when both are dry. The guides will often throw a rope over a rock and belay clients down the Hidden Exit.


Descending in January


The above photo has Guide Greg Collins in back, his client in the middle, and Dan Carson in front. Andrew Carson thinks he took the photo in 2008. Andrew posted it on Mountain Project. Andrew Carson used to own JHMG and he guided many winter climbs. His career took him into real estate, conservation work, climbing, and the non-profit world. He participated in Paul Petzoldt’s very first course at the National Outdoor Leadership School in 1965. He and his wife Nancy moved to Wilson, WY, in the late ’60’s.

Nowadays, winter or winter-like ascents are mostly for ski mountaineers. Alpine mountaineering in the Tetons during the winter has lost much of its luster and public interest. Personally, we have no desire to climb when it's cold from sunrise to sunset nor do we have any desire to pack skis all the way up the mountain. We dislike packing lunch. Skis are a great way to cover the approach when snow covers the ground.


The Main Rappel to the Grand Teton's Upper Saddle


Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle Area
 
 
Again, free-soloing climbers are usually heading down the entire OS and skipping the rap. A fast-moving free-soling climber will take less time to reach the Upper Saddle than someone who needs to setup a rap.

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


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Click to Enlarge


The Grand Teton's Owen-Spalding Climbing Route as seen from above. Click to Enlarge


Click to Enlarge (full size version)


Different angle on the Owen-Spalding Route


Larger Image - Open in new tab or click to enlarge.
 


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


Again, 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. It's a funky scramble but it still requires your full attention. 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. Free-soloing climbers usually avoid the raps. 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. Obviously, the internet is full of other Teton climbing videos that may help you get a better feel for the route.


Owen-Spalding Climbing Route
Click to enlarge



A few trip reports for April through October


July 17th, 2016 (UXM) PNG Variation 

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


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Enjoy Safe Climbing