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. As we have said elsewhere, this route requires your full attention to your climbing and the environment. The climb is considered to be a Class 5.4 climbing route.

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 and natural threats are abundant. Additionally, 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.

Having said that, 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 very light on the Owen-Spalding route. If you're acclimated to the elevation, fit enough for a round-trip, and comfortable with the exposure then it's well worth the effort to try a one-day ascent when the weather and conditions are in your favor.

See our marked-up Grand Teton images page for more information on camping, the approach, and to see additional route overviews. To examine individual features in more detail (just more pictures), please visit our Grand Teton Features page. This page focuses on the actual climbing challenges above the Lower Saddle but there is a short introduction to the approach. If you haven't done so, please visit our Wyoming Whiskey home page for further information on climbing the Grand Teton in a safe & efficient manner.

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

Many hikers are not paying much attention to their route. They are looking at the trail to make sure they don't trip. Sometimes they leave the Lupine Meadows trailhead when it's dark. It's not uncommon for hikers to take the wrong turn at a well-marked junction. Climbers heading for the Grand have gone to Amphitheater Lake instead of Garnet Canyon. Heading into the South Fork of Garnet Canyon is another common mistake. Stay in the North Fork of Garnet Canyon. Climbers heading back to Lupine Meadows have mistakenly taken the trail to Taggart Lake at the Valley Trail (Bradley Lake) junction. Pay attention, use common sense, study the route: you'll be fine. Or, follow other climbers who know the route.

Click to enlarge

In the image above, the green dots show the approximate location of the dry summer trail. The summer trail leads directly to the Lower Saddle. It's mostly well defined. It will disappear at two boulder fields for 100 feet or so and restart a short distance away to your southwest. Those two boulder fields are marked on the above map. Some very short sections of the trail fade into the landscape. You will be back on track quickly. There are several side trails (forks). Some go to camping spots and some are early-season trails to avoid snow fields. You might see a trail heading up toward the East Face of the Grand Teton which leads to the Jackson Hole Mountain Guides' Corbet's high camp. You are not headed there. Most of the side trails are clearly identified by hikers as side trails and not the well traveled climbers' trail to the Lower Saddle.

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

If you are climbing early in the season when snow covers the canyon floor. then you will take whatever path is safest given the conditions.  Just because you can safely go up a snowy slope in the morning doesn't mean you will have a safe descent in the afternoon, or vice versa. The snow's consistency can vary from bulletproof to a postholing nightmare. Climbers have died on the approach. Respect the snow.

Traveling under darkness is a bigger challenge if you are not familiar with the route. It's not unusual to see headlamps at all hours of the night during the peak season. You might be able to follow others. We would like to say that under the worst-case scenario you will add a few minutes to your day if you wander off the trail; however, distraught hikers have been found wandering around the talus fields for extended periods.

The climbers' trail to the Lower Saddle is usually free of snow by mid-July, sometimes earlier, sometimes later. Contact the Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers to find out if the summer climbers' trail is dry, or to get an estimate for a snow-free approach date. The more experienced rangers will be able to give you a good estimate. If the Fixed Rope at the Lower Saddle's headwall is being used, then the approach should be in pretty good shape. FYI: The Fixed Rope area is a rockfall zone.

View from the Lower Saddle

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.

The ground just east of the Lower Saddle's sign is a natural seepage area. To the southeast of the sign is a constant trickle of water in a very shallow drainage. Its flow varies with the weather. Look for a garden hose in the rocks. It allows you to easily refill your water supply. Because climbers touch the hose with their hands, the hose may not be sanitary. Almost everyone drinks this water unfiltered. Sometimes the water source dries up late in the summer.

View from the Lower Saddle toward the Central Rib

The Black Dike is at the bottom of the picture. It runs a good distance across the mountains.

There's a nice hiking path to the Black Dike, actually more than one. We usually stick to the path along the ridgeline of the saddle. Once past the dike, you're heading toward the center of the Needle until you find an easy route to its western side. Avoid drainages.

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

Most climbers stay within 15 feet or so of the western aspect of the Central Rib's Needle. It's common to find icy conditions here. Tired climbers sometimes let down their guard and trip on the uneven rock surface during descents. Slipping on sloppy trails around the saddle isn't uncommon either.

The above image provides a look at the two most common guided variations to access the Central Rib's Bench: the Eye of the Needle via the Chockstone Chimney variation; and, the Briggs' Slab variation. There are many variations to gain the bench, and many variations to reach the Upper Saddle including bypassing the bench. Conditions may force you to choose a different or more difficult line.

Just a quick safety note to new climbers:

If you're unfamiliar with climbing etiquette, the appropriate thing to do if you kick rocks 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. Better yet, don't cause rockfall.

Nasty conditions by the Needle don't always mean nasty conditions above the Needle. Some climbers turn around even though the poor conditions are often short-lived. Unless the entire place is covered in ice, it's usually worth the careful effort to gain the Central Rib's Bench. If you're climbing during the high season then there's a good chance that any thin ice will burn off quickly as the day warms up. Sometimes the lower elevations have icy conditions while the upper elevations have more manageable snow. This is usually the case during the fall climbing season.

Besides being a serious threat to the welfare of soloing climbers, ice or any slick surface is going to slow you down — possibly double or triple your time on the rock ahead. If dangerous weather is a possibility, those poor conditions will make a quick descent impossible. As we have said before, a rescue under poor conditions or bad weather is never good and may not be possible.  

Turning around and bailing is always the right call if you make it. Smart climbers will never question your decision when you make the safer call. Teams of climbers need to consider the abilities and comfort zones of all members, in addition to the conditions. This mountain and the weather are unforgiving to those who make the wrong call.

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

This area is a mix of scrambling and easy climbing when dry. You can also scramble up the ledge/step/slab system to the left to bypass the lower section of the chimney. Avoid the lower chimney and its rockfall hazards if climbers are above you. If you are with a group, it's always a good idea to spot climbers if they are unroped especially if they are inexperienced climbers. FYI: UWR is the Upper Western Rib.

Options to gain the Central Rib's Bench

The white dots show parts of the Chockstone Chimney / Eye of the Needle variation. Notice that to gain the Briggs' Slab, you are making a big U-Turn after leaving the base of the Chockstone Chimney. You will head past the chimney and turn east into a side drainage as soon as it is easy to do so. You will see the Mini Black Dike if no snow is on the ground. Follow it up the slope and then turn SE toward the Briggs' Slab. The slab is at the southern end of the Central Rib's Bench. You can also climb the rock between the Mini Black Dike and the Chockstone Chimney (see below).

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

A possibly safer and possibly easier variation consists of gaining the Middle Ledge of the Chockstone Chimney and then heading for the the Eye of the Needle. The Middle Ledge can be accessed from right below the Briggs' Slab and from other directions. We have never seen climbers using a rope while taking the Eye of the Needle variation; however, climbers have been seriously injured in this area — usually when it's snowy or icy.

Inexperienced climbers may feel more comfortable with the safety that a rope affords while on the Briggs' Slab. Guides will usually hip belay clients or they will use a friction belay over rock. We just walk around the outside edges of the slab 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. If the slab looks too intimidating, use the Middle Ledge variation to reach the Eye of the Needle.

Overview of variations above the Chockstone Chimney

The BLUE dots near the bottom of the image lead to and from the Middle Ledge of the Chockstone Chimney. Again, the Middle Ledge is often an easier and safer way to access the Eye of the Needle than the lower section of the Chockstone Chimney. And it can be, or feel, safer and easier than the Briggs' Slab.

The above image shows you a few variations around the bench. The view is toward the north-northeast. This area is mostly a scramble so don't worry about taking an exact line. Not all variations are shown. Owen-Spalding climbers are headed up the Central Rib once past the Briggs' Slab. Upper Exum climbers will head east and over the crest of the Central Rib.

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

Those greenish dots lead to the Middle Ledge of the Chockstone Chimney. When heavy stable snow covers this area, you can often bootpack up the corner of the Chockstone Chimney directly below the Briggs' Slab. You can also climb that corner when it's dry if you want a greater challenge.

Looking down into the Chockstone Chimney.

The Middle Ledge of the CC is mostly hidden in the above image.

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

UXM Climbers: The drainage running to the ridgeline of the CR is just an extension of the CC. Stay just to the north of the drainage and follow it to the CR's Lower Crossover to reach Wall Street.

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.

Just another look at the area.

Notice the two variations above: the Black Rock Chimney and the Upper Western Rib.  See below, too.

We'll look at this picture again.

If you take the Upper Western Rib variation, cross back over to the Central Rib as soon as it is easy to do so.

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 higher up the UWR - looking SSE

Directly across from 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.

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 BRC variation. We'll look at that route in a moment.

Overview of the upper Central Rib - looking SE

Again, after ascending the UWR, 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 BRC variation once you reach the western aspect of the Central Rib.

Snow can remain in this area throughout July but there should be plenty of dry rock for safe climbing. Again, many accidents have taken place between the saddles due to unstable snow, slick surfaces, and loose rocks.

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 variation.

The Black Rock Chimney is our preferred route after leaving the Central Rib's Bench but the Upper Western Rib sees a lot of action. 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. Access to the Upper Western Rib is due west of the access to the Black Rock Chimney.

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

Climbers on the BRC's steppy ramp

The longer main chimney is above the steppy ramp. This is very easy climbing when dry.

BRC - looking SW

This is the main chimney above the steppy ramp. Watch out for a few loose rocks. Again, very easy climbing. The chimney is on the western aspect on the Central Rib and just below the crest. 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. 

It is an interesting climb down the eastern aspect of the Central Rib below the BRC (head for one of the Central Rib's crossovers) but it is slower and harder.

The upper exit from the BRC - looking SSE

Cross this short bowl-like opening in the Central Rib.

FYI: Do not take the drainage to Wall Street shown above. It is not a shortcut during a descent. Nor is it a good variation to reach Wall Street for Upper Exum climbers. Many climbers can certainly downclimb the drainage shown above but it will probably slow them down. It slows us down. It's easier to ascend.

If you're doing laps on the Upper Exum — and who isn't? — you can take the Wall Street Couloir from the Upper Saddle. Some don't consider it a safe option but it's fairly easy to navigate back to 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. It is not a shortcut to exit the mountain. If you climb the mountain often, it's good to know the area and some of the less traveled variations off the Central Rib. Conditions or events may force you to use them in the future.

Another overview of the Central Rib

Another look at the bowl-like opening at the top of the Black Rock Chimney which drains to the Wall Street Couloir. Simply scramble across the bowl to the western side of the Central Rib. You may see several sloppy broken footpaths after exiting the bowl. Those footpaths parallel the rib. Some spots 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

Once you reach the Patio, you may want to take a break and grab a jacket if it's available. The Patio is just 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.  From the Patio you can go slightly east 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 shallow 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. If we were advising others, we would say that the slightly eastern approach from the Patio seems safest under sketchy conditions; however, an upper and slightly western route from the Patio can be safely navigated if you really take the time to check your footing. Obviously, there is no guarantee that you wouldn'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. We are looking toward the very top of the Central Rib (mid left)- see footprints. Clearly, the Upper Saddle's western side is much lower than its eastern side. If the photographer were to turn around he would see the view shown in the next two images.

The access to the eastern side of the Upper Saddle

This view is looking up at the variations to access the upper eastern side of the Upper Saddle.

The exposed southern RED route is the most common ascent line. It's a stem move up a rock feature that challenges many climbers. Some very loose dirt & rocks are found above the flake. Take all variations with great care. An experienced guided climber fell into the Exum Gully which runs directly below the RED route. She did not survive.

Almost no one ropes up here but a hip belay may be wise. Consider spotting climbers if you're in a group and not roping up. The BLUE route is a common descent path. It is even more exposed than the RED route. The center GREEN route can be used when snow makes the other options sketchy. Free-soloing climbers can take whatever route suits their fancy.

 Upper Saddle - looking east

Another look at the access to the eastern side of the Upper Saddle. A 4th variation runs above the dark blue 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 but it's a nice alternative if you're bored with the common variations.

Downclimbing route 'B' (see above) - exposed to the north (Valhalla Canyon)

Overview of the Upper Saddle

Seen from the Enclosure

  The Grand Teton's Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle

Most climber get by with a dynamic 60m rope thrown a little to the south. The landing zone slopes downhill and the southern side of the LZ is higher (see 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 that can be used to adjust your position and or check your rope. The Main Rappel has a maintained sling and bolted rings. The bolted rings are north of the sling. The tag on the rings is stamped 40m - the longest line


An overview of the Owen-Spalding Route above the Upper Saddle. Click to enlarge

Another angle of the Owen-Spalding Route

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

This area can be windy, freezing cold. and backed up with climbers. Waiting makes the cold worse. While it's not always freezing cold 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.

People have bailed because they didn't have gloves during the peak summer season. And 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 but we do take gloves on most days, sometimes hand warmers, too.  The 11,600' Lower Saddle weather station should give you a feel for the temperatures at 13,200'. Try subtracting 8 degrees (wind chill not calculated).

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

Another overview of the exposed areas

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 GWC and the Double Chimney is the DC Bypass. From the ledge running to the GWC, there is a small wall that you need to climb. It's a little tricky and outright sketchy to descend. You should end up at the bottom of the Owen Chimney if you take the bypass (another look).

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 DC & 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 DC 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 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 popular variation for stronger climbers who don't want to wait for OS climbers to get past the exposure. 

 Options above the Double Chimney

A dry Catwalk variation is easier than the Owen Chimney. The Catwalk is the preferred descent line for most free-soloing climbers, and all free-soloing FKT runners. A dry Owen Chimney is popular and satisfying. Both are suitable 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. It's a little redundant with multiple members of a local coed soccer team making similar moves; however, it gives you a good feel for what to expect. A longer video of their trip is below. Most of the soccer players were not climbers and had no prior climbing experience.

Belly Roll - go over or under

Belly Roll

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

Belly Roll - go over or under

Belly Roll - go over or under

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 a line that is out of their way. There is a nice foot-sized ledge directly below the Belly Roll. The ledge is tiny at its southern end, however. In the video above, the first climber jumps off the southern end (you can gently step off of it if you are tall). Obviously, taller climbers often have greater flexibility in their choices since their reach is longer.

Belly Roll - view from above

Looking back at the Belly Roll from the ledge before the Crawl.

The ledge between the Belly Roll and the Crawl

Looking toward the Crawl from the ledge

The Crawl with access to the Double Chimney in background

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

 Glenn Exum with partner in the Crawl

Glenn is below the First Entrance of the Double Chimney and he has on foot on the ledge variation.

The Crawl

Descent in Crawl

The area right behind the climbers can be sketchy. Loose rocks, snow, water and ice are common at this location. Additionally, the rock face is sloping into Valhalla Canyon once you leave the Crawl.

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

Looking toward the Double Chimney's two access variations

The two climbers in the background just came of the North Ridge.

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

The climber is grabbing a horn and trying to muscle her way over it. Most climbers give this first chimney a rating higher than 5.4. It's a physically challenging climbing move for many and it's often wet or icy. Sticky climbing shoes make it easier, as does practice, but it's still a cruxy exposed maneuver.

Most climbers favor the 2nd Entrance but some climbers see access to the second entrance as more intimidating. We always use the 1st Entrance when ice or snow covers the entire area, or when the holds are plugged with ice or snow. Additionally, we use it if climbers are backed up by the 2nd Entrance. The fastest way is the 2nd Entrance.

Variations that are not for novice climbers:

There is a variation directly above the horn at the 1st Entrance - 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 can also be used as a variation to access the Catwalk. It is fairly easy when dry; however, non-climbers or novice climbers should avoid it. It can be dangerously wet, icy, or slimy because it is the main drainage for water flowing off the Catwalk.

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

Again, do not go past the 2nd Entrance and toward the Great West Chimney unless you intend to go off-route. The narrow ledge that runs to the GWC 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

 Goofin' around between entrances

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.

 Valhalla Canyon - looking southish

Bodies have ended up at the bottom-most snow field in Valhalla Canyon after falling from above. This is the view from the north side (Cascade Canyon side) of the Grand. This approach up Valhalla Canyon toward the Grand Teton is indeed used by a few 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.

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

The 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

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 inside the 2nd Entrance

The climbers are in the middle of the chimney. It not uncommon to find climbers waiting here on a busy day.

The Open-V

This climber is using the Open-V variation inside the Double Chimney. We feel that the Tunnel variation is easier when dry for novice climbers. Some years, it's never dry but it still might be safer. The Northern Slot (above the tunnel) is usually accessed from the Open-V by climbing up the southwestern part of the flake shown in the center of the picture.

It's a little tricky for many novice climbers to exit the Open-V during a descent and more so when it's icy. Tall climbers may have an easier time. Stem moves are popular in the DC. This is a VERY SKETCHY area with any slick snow or ice. The rock is not flat right below the entrances to the Open-'V' and Tunnel variations. If you slip, you could easily slide into Valhalla Canyon. It demands your attention.

If needed, we will take the time to clean a few patches of icy rock while we are ascending. That makes our descent is safer and quicker. We never carry crampons during the peak of the summer even if we know it's an icy mess. If we made it this far, we will usually take the time to clean the rock instead if turning around. A loose rock can be used to chip away at thin ice if you have nothing else to work with. We sometimes carry a mini screwdriver.

Most free-soloing climbers would wisely turn around under icy conditions. We have the advantage of knowing the mountain's variations very well and we have plenty of experience with an icy OS. However, poor conditions can double or triple our time on the summit block. No one knows how long poor conditions will delay you.

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

Climber exiting the DC - looking northish

The climber is coming out of the Tunnel variation and he's just to the north of it (dark shadow below him). The photographer is on a ledge just above the Open-V (on its south side).

Some exits from the Open-V and Tunnel variations.

There are many variations to get out of the Double Chimney. There is a nice climbing line with better hand holds just to the left of the left side of the photo (obviously unseen). That is a good variation to know especially under poor conditions. The photographer is by the Northern Slot. We are surprised by the number of  climbers who climb out of the eastern corner of the Open-V. It's more popular than we would have imagined. No one downclimbs it.

The common exit from the DC - looking WNW

The slabs just above the climber don't provide bomber monkey-bar holds. There are holds but it's not like you're grabbing a handful of rock. With any snow or ice, these holds can become plugged. Again, on the right side of the image (climber's left side) is a line with slightly better hand holds. And again, that northern line can be a handy factoid for many climbers.

A crab crawl is sometimes used to approach the the Double Chimney during the descent (sit on butt & use feet and hands to move). We have seen climbers slip on this rock. Be thoughtful. Stay low, go slow.

 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 more challenging than the Catwalk which is mostly a scramble. 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.

Variations that are not for 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 alternate access point lets you bypass the lower crack.

A Southern Variation: The Owen Chimney Bypass on the south side of the Owen Chimney may be easier under some conditions. It often has less ice than the Owen Chimney when conditions are poor. It has a mix of climbing features. It can be reached from the Catwalk or the first 'opening' in the Owen Chimney - see below.

Overview of the Catwalk & Owen Chimney area

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

 The Owen Chimney - looking WNW

We'll look at the Catwalk variation first and then go back and look at the Owen Chimney variation. 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. There is an old piton at the tight corner (by the left-most yellow dot in the photo above).

Variations that are not for novice climbers:

The BLUE 'Bypass' in the photo above is the southern Owen Chimney Bypass. Again, it's not too difficult to ascend when dry (maybe 5.4) but it is not recommended for most novice climbers, usually. We are guilty of taking novice climbers up it. They did fine but were clearly uncomfortable with the idea of going up it (it was the only possible line not iced up).

The bottom of the bypass by the Owen Chimney can get very icy (see above). It's usually shaded. You can bypass this section by accessing the southern Owen Chimney Bypass from the Catwalk. The access point is just before a common drainage area which often leaves a section of the Catwalk covered in ice. Pick the easiest ascent line from the Catwalk and it will get you to a ledge that will take you to the bypass.

A view from the Catwalk toward the DC

The Catwalk - looking southish. Climber is descending.

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

The scramble can be intimidating to non-climbers but it's pretty easy climbing. With any ice or snow, it can quickly become technical climbing. During the descent to the Catwalk climbers often crab craw down the rock. If you're standing and you loose your balance, slip, or trip, you won't recover so at the very least stay low and go slow if you're new to this.

The Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle

This is the view from the Main Rap Overlook - looking southish.

Plenty of loose rocks here. Get out of the line of fire as soon as possible if you are rapping or walking below here. 

The alternative raps have some sketchy loose rocks by the second setup. We climb & scramble down to the second setup using a tight chimney instead of rappelling from the 1st setup.

 Main Rap & Sargent's

Notice that a small 'drainage' runs between 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. 

People sometimes complain about the crowds on the OS but there is always the possibility that it's pretty empty between the Belly Roll and the top of the Owen Chimney. We used to have a hard time finding climbers to photograph as we climbed. About 95% of our old photos have no climbers in sight.

The route between the Main Rappel and the summit is used by just about everybody descending from the summit (no matter the ascent route) so you're more likely to see people above the Owen Chimney or the Catwalk. Most are headed for the Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle but it's not uncommon to see free-soloing climbers heading down the entire OS.

Middle of the 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. If it's dry, we find it's faster than taking the Catwalk. The same is true during the descent for us but we have lots of practice. A dry Catwalk will probably be the fastest and easiest variation for most climbers and FKT runners but you never know. FKT runners don't want to check the Owen Chimney because it is likely to be in use. That kills time.

Owen Chimney - by the crux

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

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

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 if they wish. There may be other climbers getting ready to rappel down it. There are some tricky moves midway in the main chimney so be extra careful if you choose to downclimb from Sargent's rappel. The ascent is a little easier. You can climb on either side of the main chimney. We think the southern side of the main chimney is easier on the ascent and descent compared to the northern side but if you're tall, an experienced climber, and you have sticky shoes, you might not think there is much difference.

Sargent's Chimney

Looking up at Sargent's

This is a view from the area by the Main Rappel. The Main Rap is a short distance behind the photographer to the SW. Climbers follow a 'drainage' from Sargent's to the rappel area. Not exactly 'follow' — but zig-zag their way by the drainage-like depression. They usually stay north of the drainage. The safest route will be obvious when you're there.

Lower NW side of Sargent's Chimney

Sargent's Chimney fans out at its bottom. The north side points toward the top of the Owen Chimney. The south side points toward the Main Rappel.

 Sargent's Chimney

This is a view from Sargent's Hidden Exit. The corner crack by climber in the orange shirt is the lower access to the Hidden Exit. It requires extra care on the descent. Pay careful attention to your possible holds on the ascent. This will help with the descent.

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. This is at the corner crack to gain 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.

Sargent's Main Chimney

Again, if you're not taking the Hidden Exit there are two common options for the ascent in the main chimney: the far left and the far right side of the main chimney. We will take either but each option has at least one tricky move for novice climbers.

A view of 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.

Looking NNW.

The climber is ascending the NE corner of a chute at the top of the Hidden Exit.

Again, the top of the Hidden Exit is a small chute.

The Chute & 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.

Looking south from the top of the Hidden Exit and looking toward the top of Sargent's main chimney.

Sargent's Rap


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.

Some climbers will take a 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.

During an ascent, you can also head southeast under the face of the Three Stooges to reach the summit ridgeline along a fairly easy line. That's the long way. However, it is an escape line in the reverse direction 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.

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 directly above the Slabby Wall. 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 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 variations around the Slabby Wall's southern half. They are cutting short a longer switchback option.

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

 Switchback ledge - looking SSW

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

Scramble to the summit. Many variations to the NE.

The last scramble to the summit can be a scramble but it will probably include a few climbing moves if you don't know the easiest way. It's not difficult climbing.

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

In the above picture we are looking south. Most climbers exit the summit by heading southwest. Other climbers go around the eastern aspect of the Horse and gain the western aspect of the mountain after passing the Horse (see below). This may be easier for some climbers. We use that route with children. There are many variations off the summit. Again, just keep in mind that the Slabby Wall is below the Horse.

 An eastern variation off the summit.

This is one option for climbers - go under the Horse's eastern aspect and around its southern end to gain the Owen-Spalding route. You will head slightly northish for a very short distance - use easiest way - after passing around the southern end of the Horse before heading SW to gain the top of the Slabby Wall. The southern end of the Horse is above the Slabby Wall. You will be looking for the switchback ledge above the Slabby Wall.

Descending below the Horse in January

The above photo has Guide Greg Collins in back, his client in the middle, and Dan Carson in front. Andrew Carson says he took the photo just below the Horse, possibly in 2008. Andrew posted it on Mountain Project. Andrew Carson used to own JHMG and he guided many winter climbs. Nowadays, he's semi-retired and living in Wilson. 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 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.

The Main Rappel to the Grand Teton's Upper Saddle

Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle Area

Again, the bottom of Sargent's fans out at the bottom and points toward the Rap on its southern side and the top of the Owen Chimney on its northern side.

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. It's more of a funky scramble than a climb 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 


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

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

Enjoy Safe Climbing