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 ropes in a single day. The Owen-Spalding is a busy place during the summer which is a good thing for safety and route finding. Additionally, it's fairly easy to turn around if you become uncomfortable with the climb. Previous climbing experience is not a prerequisite before undertaking this adventure but it isn't for everybody.

If you're agile, acclimated to the elevation, actually fit enough for the round-trip and have a good feel for the challenge — including the exposure — then it's well worth the effort to try a one-day ascent when the weather and conditions are in your favor. Summit or not, the backcountry of GTNP is still a nice place to be.

Free-soloing the Owen-Spalding 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. The entire route requires the undivided thoughtful attention of every climber to their climbing and the environment.

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."

Fearmongering that lacks context is a popular tool of bureaucrats. And blanket statements about who shouldn't do this or that is a specialty of the nanny state. They don't trust you to use information responsibly and they are predictably incapable of being forthright. This is the same team that is afraid to share webcam images from their winter weather stations. Seriously spooked. Keep in mind that GTNP is also making money off of the guiding services.

Sure, bad juju happens. Ain't nothing bubble-wrapped on this mountain. The truth is that the Grand gets free-soloed all the time and very few free-soloing climbers ever get injured or killed. The second party to summit the Grand Teton (2nd verified party) would never have made it had Quin Blackburn, Dave DeLap, and Andy DePirro paid any attention to the kind of advice coming from today's Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers. Those three men climbed the Grand Teton with no similar climbing experience, no gear and no knowledge of the area — free-soloing and on-sighting the Owen-Spalding route in a single day back when there was no climbers' trail, no guidebook, and no internet.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with camping overnight or using protection. Those may be the right choices for you. And conditions may warrant protection. We have climbed with individuals who truly needed, wanted, and used protection. Everyone is different. Some climbers make it a one-day trip using protection (it's a long hard day so start earlypossibly midnight for some parties). It's a demanding undertaking with or without ropes. Not all athletes can get up and down this mountain in a single day 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.


This page focuses on the actual climbing challenges above the Lower Saddle and has only a short introduction to the approach. Our page of marked-up Grand Teton images covers the approach. To examine individual features in more detail (just more pictures), please visit our Grand Teton Features page. If you haven't done so, please visit our Wyoming Whiskey home page for further information on climbing the Grand Teton.

JLCR's Conditions Reports

Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers' blog
JLCR (summer): 307-739-3343
JL Ranger Station is open 8 to 5pm daily during the summer
GTNP Emergency Dispatch: 307-739-3301
307-690-3301 (summer only) for emergency texting 
911 also works for texting in Teton County, WY

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

We run into climbers every year who took the wrong turn at a well-marked junction. Pay attention and you'll be fine.

Traveling under darkness is a bigger challenge if you are not familiar with the approach. It's not unusual to see headlamps at all hours of the night during the summer so you might be able to follow others headed to your destination.

Most free-soloing climbers wait for dry conditions before running up the Grand. The summer trail is usually in play as we roll into July but a completely dry trail may not arrive until mid-July (sometimes earlier, sometimes later). The actual climbing conditions on the Owen-Spalding route take longer to clean up.

Free-soloing the upper mountain with snow or ice underfoot is not for the faint-hearted and demands a certain skill set that novice climbers usually lack. Of course, a little bit of snow and ice is pretty common and you may find it easy to 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. If novice climbers are heading out under more demanding mixed conditions it is usually with protection and an experienced partner. 

Let's look at the approach above 9000':

Click to enlarge

The high-season summer trail to the Lower Saddle is mostly well defined and easy to navigate. It will disappear at two boulder fields and restart a short distance away — about 100' to your southwest. The 1st Boulder Field is by the Platforms Camping Zone. The 2nd Boulder Field is by the Morainal Camping Zone. Their general location is marked on the above map.

Climbers typically avoid the summer trail by Spalding Falls during the spring (or early summer) when snow still covers the canyon floor. Under those conditions most climbers pass by the Meadows' Camping Zone and take a path closer to the Middle Teton's NE aspect. 

On your approach to the Morainal Camping Zone you might see a trail heading 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. FYI: JHMG is now called The Mountain Guides.

Some very short sections of the trail fade into the landscape. The trail usually continues just in front of you. Some sloppy forks in the trail are early-season routes to avoid snow fields. Most of the side trails are clearly identified as side trails. 

 The Meadows' Headwall is to the north of the Middle Teton

A snowy Garnet Canyon

 Lower Saddle's Headwall

Climbers will use a bootpack to gain the top of the Lower Saddle as we enter the summer season. As the snow melts off, the summer trail takes you to a rope that is permanently affixed to the saddle's headwall. The area by the rope can be wet & icy so that Fixed Rope is pretty handy. If you struggle with the climb by the Fixed Rope under good conditions then this climb may not be for you.

Climbers have died on a snowy approach. Respect the snow. The snow's consistency can go from bulletproof to very unstable during a typical spring day (or early summer). With good timing you will find firm snow that's slightly punchy. 

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.

View from the Lower Saddle

To the 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. Occasionally the water source dries up or freezes over (typically in September). It can spring back to life with the changing weather.

 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, do so on the western side of the saddle. Do not contaminate the water sources on the eastern side. There is a "rest stop" on the west side of the saddle 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 should you wish to drop some weight. Anyone can use the bear boxes to store food. Two huts are assembled at the saddle every season. One hut is utilized by backcountry rangers. The other hut is use by Exum Mountain Guides. There is also a weather station at the saddle that collects weather data.

View from the Lower Saddle toward the Central Rib

You're headed for the Central Rib's Needle which is on the northern side of the saddle. The Black Dike is shown at the very bottom of the picture. It runs a good distance across the mountain. The scrambling begins once you pass the Black Dike.

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.

There is another climbers' trail that runs to the east of the saddle's ridgeline before you reach the Black Dike. It leads to the Lower Exum Ridge, Petzoldt Ridge, etc. You're not headed there. 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.

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. That's the best place to be even though it's common to find icy conditions. It's shaded and it's a seepage area. Tired climbers sometimes let down their guard and trip on the uneven rock surfaces during descents. Slipping on the sloppy trails around the saddle is pretty common, too. We do that all the time.

The above image provides a look at the two most common guided 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. 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 when it comes to falling rock. Better yet, don't cause rockfall.

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

We avoid the lower chimney and its rockfall hazards if climbers are above us. You can scramble up the ledge/step/slab system to the left if you wish to bypass the lowest section of the chimney. Most climbers don't rope up in this area because it's a mix of scrambling and fairly easy climbing when dry. Of course, spotting climbers is a common courtesy if you're in a group.

 Looking at some variations in the lower Chockstone Chimney

Looking down into the Chockstone Chimney

The climber directly below the photographer is on the Lower Ledge that takes you out of the Chockstone Chimney. The Briggs' Slab is just to the right of the photographer and unseen. "EOTN" stands for the Eye of the Needle.

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 a route further west as seen above.

There is an approach ("not exact path" seen above) to the Briggs' Slab & Middle Ledge that runs between the Mini Black Dike and the Chockstone Chimney. It is rarely used. It is an easy scramble when dry; however, it should not be taken on a descent unless you have made the ascent because route finding at the very bottom is tricky. The line of travel from the main drainage rises about 5 feet before access to the ledge system is obtained. You're heading SSE to start. 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. It is often dry when other routes are iced up during the shoulder seasons.

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

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 on an FKT attempt, 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. We find it's quicker for us to climb the lower chimney and skip the Runners' Slab. FKT runners might want to consider a Briggs' Slab variation. The difference between the fastest round-trip time on the Grand and the 2nd fastest time is about one minute....almost a meaningless difference but seconds add up. 4 seconds per mile if the round-trip is 15 miles.

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.

The BLUE dots near the bottom of the image lead to and from the Middle Ledge of the Chockstone Chimney. Again, using the ledge to reach the Eye of the Needle might be easier and safer for some climbers when compared to using the lower section of the Chockstone Chimney to reach the Eye of the Needle. Of course what's safest can change with conditions. And 'easy' is relative but we find it to be a good variation under many different situations.

We have never seen climbers using a rope while taking the Eye of the Needle variation; however, climbers have been injured in this area — usually when it's snowy or icy. If you're guiding a young child then you should keep them on a short leash or be prepared to aggressively spot them. 

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. Stay on the north side of the drainage and follow it to the CR's Lower Crossover to make your way to Wall Street. Owen-Salding climbers are not headed for the crossovers.

Let's go back and take a quick look at the Briggs' Slab variation...

Overview of access to Briggs' Slab

The white dots show parts of the Chockstone Chimney / Eye of the Needle variation.

If you are heading for the Briggs' Slab area then you are making a big U-Turn after leaving the base of the Chockstone Chimney. You'll head past the chimney and turn east into a small 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 for a short distance and then turn SE toward the Briggs' Slab. The Briggs' Slab is at the southern end of the Central Rib's Bench and right above the Chockstone Chimney (see below).

 The Briggs' Slab

We just walk around the outside edges of the 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. 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 Briggs' Slab. Guides will usually hip belay clients on the slab, or use a friction belay over rock. The other climber in the photo is next to the Belly Roll Almost.

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


The area above the Briggs' Slab is just a scramble so don't worry about taking an exact line. Owen-Spalding climbers are heading for the Upper Saddle via the Central Rib's Bench once past the Briggs' Slab (utilizing one of the red variations). Upper Exum climbers will head east and over the crest of the Central Rib. 

Just another look at the area.

Notice the two variations above: the Black Rock Chimney and the Upper Western Rib.
The drainages by the Upper Western Rib are usually avoided due to conditions, rockfall hazards, or the extra time involved. We might consider ascending the eastern drainage under perfect conditions during a FKT attempt. The western drainage between the Upper and Lower Western Ribs seems to delay climbers more than the eastern drainage. Again, those lines are usually avoided. If you are up here often, all variations that don't exceed your abilities are worth trying at some point when it's safe to do so. You may find a bootpack up the drainages when winter snow covers the area.

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.

We'll look at this picture again.

If you take the Upper Western Rib variation, cross back over to the Central Rib after the main drainage starts to open up (widen and flatten). Cross the main drainage at any location that looks fairly easy.

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

The tips of the two drainage arrows shown above point to the location where climbers leave the Central Rib's sloping bench and access the Upper Western Rib. 

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. The location of the photographer shown above is just below where climbers would cross the main drainage and head back toward the Central Rib (see below).

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 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 variation.

The Central Rib's Black Rock Chimney 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. 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 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. 

If you did pass by the Steppy Ramp during the descent, you will find one tricky climbing move on the eastern aspect of the Central Rib if you find the easiest line. Once past that, you would head for the Central Rib's Upper Crossover and cross back over to the Central Rib's Bench. That variation is more time consuming and harder than taking the Steppy Ramp off the ridgeline.

The upper exit from the BRC - looking SSE

Cross this short bowl-like opening in the Central Rib. Do not take the drainage to Wall Street shown above. It is not a shortcut during a descent.

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. 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 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 (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

You may want to take a break and grab a jacket if it's available once you reach the Patio. 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 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. 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 BLUE route is a common descent path. It is more exposed than the RED route. You might want to examine it before heading up the RED route. The center GREEN route can be used when snow makes the other options sketchy. It has much smaller holds. Free-soloing climbers can take whatever route suits their fancy.

The exposed southern RED route is the most common ascent line. There's a short stem move (most common) up a rock feature that challenges many climbers. Almost no one ropes up here but a hip belay may be wise for weaker climbers. Consider spotting all climbers if you're in a group and not roping up. Some very loose dirt and rocks are found by the stem move. 

An experienced and guided climber fell into the Exum Gully which runs directly below the RED route. She did not survive. No one is sure, but we suspect she slipped on the loose rocks.

 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.

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. Verglas is a very thin layer of ice which can appear as dry rock. You need to be looking for it. The majority of the holds above here are stable holds but not all holds on this mountain are. Make sure your holds aren't loose. You can't avoid loose rocks under your feet in some locations but you can move gently over them. And you can change your center of gravity so that it is closer to the ground. Have good handholds at all times. Your feet are more likely to lose their grip than your hands. You are not safe if your mind isn't thinking about safety with each move that you make. Additionally, 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.

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

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 rings is stamped 40m - the longest fall line. Most climbers get by with a dynamic 60m rope thrown a little to the south. The landing zone slopes downhill. 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 check your rope.

A Secondary Rappel is broken into two 70' sections. It can be reached from the Main Rappel station's sling (climb up a very short chimney directly above the sling and then head south). It's a funky area to rap from and rarely used but it is useful for some climbers. The lower 70' section is shown in red (see above). The topmost 70' rap can be avoid if you can downclimb a tight slanting chimney. BTW: It is not a 70 foot drop at the first rappel station by the slanting chimney. The sloping distance between the two raps is about 70'. The drop from the second setup to the Upper Saddle is 70'. You will find loose rocks by both raps......


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

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.

Another angle of the Owen-Spalding Route (the OS)

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.  People sometimes complain about the crowds on the OS but there is always the possibility that it's reasonably empty. 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. That's less common today but not totally uncommon.

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.

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 on most days and sometimes hand warmers (life savers!) when we expect below freezing temps. Thin gloves are better than no gloves if it's cold. 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

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 the 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 minutes or so 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 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. It's outright sketchy to descend that small wall back to the ledge. 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 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 popular 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. A longer video of their entire trip to the summit is below. You may find better videos on YouTube. 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 whatever line 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 the end if you are tall). Obviously, taller climbers have greater flexibility in their choices since their reach is longer.

Belly Roll - view from above

You can see snow on the ledge below the Belly Roll.

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 & 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.

The Crawl

Descent in Crawl

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 deep snowy conditions hide features. Unstable snow can slide off the slope and take you with it (see below, too). Stay close to the wall. While sketchy, it isn't too hard to manage if you know the area and understand how to deal with the inherent hazards of snow along exposure. Novice climbers should not be here under poor conditions. 

FYI: There is an old piton on the wall above you as you come out of the Crawl. There were several pieces of old pro around the 1st Entrance to the DC. A very old piton is just above the horns on right side of the 1st Entrance.

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 off 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. Again, there is an old piton to her right. There might be an old cam or nut still stuck in the rock around here - it is pretty common to find pro stuck in rocks.

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 usually taken by 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 probably avoid it. It can be dangerously wet, icy, or slimy because it is the main drainage for water flowing off the Catwalk. When dry, it can be faster than the other variations after climbing the 1st Entrance if you exit via the ledge above the Open-V. It is a good way to bypass slow climbers.

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

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 or you just want to check it out. 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 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.

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

This climber is just above the location of the climber in the previous image.

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 many novice climbers. Some years, it's never dry but it still might be safer and easier. The Northern Slot (above the tunnel) is usually accessed from the Open-V by climbing up the southwestern part of the flake (right above the descending climber shown here).

It's a little tricky for novice climbers to exit and enter the Open-V and even trickier 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 slightly polished rock is sloped right below the entrances to the Open-'V' and Tunnel variations. If you slip, you could easily slide out of the chimney and into Valhalla Canyon. 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.

We will clean a few patches of icy rock while ascending if needed. That makes our descent 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 of turning around. Again, a loose rock can sometimes be used to chip away at thin ice if you have nothing else to work with. If we need a blow torch, we turn around.

Most free-soloing climbers would wisely turn around under icy conditions especially if they lack appropriate gear. 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 still double or triple our time on the ascent of the upper mountain. We won't proceed if the possibility of unstable weather exists due to the slower retreat times. Additionally, we will probably retreat if temperatures are falling and there is any chance that wet rock may freeze over.

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. He's just to the north of it (see dark shadow below him). The photographer is on a ledge just above & south of the Open-V.

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 southeastern 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 more direct line (Yellow dots) right out of the Double Chimney. Choose the path that is best for you given the conditions. The are similar in difficulty when dry. Descending the more direct line off the Catwalk shown in yellow may be more intimidating than the OC variation.

A dry Owen Chimney is popular and satisfying. Both 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 they know it is dry.

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 alternate 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 OCB from the first opening in the Owen Chimney. It can also be accessed from the Catwalk (see below).

Overview of the Catwalk & Owen Chimney area

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. There is an old piton at the tight corner (by the left-most yellow dot in the photo above).

Variations that are not usually for novice climbers:

Access to the southern Owen Chimney Bypass is shown in the photo above. 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 (it was the only ice-free line of ascent). They did fine but they were clearly uncomfortable with the idea of going up it. It looks much harder.

The very bottom of the Owen Chimney Bypass (seen above) is shaded and it can get very icy. Again, you can climb this short NW-facing corner to get to the sunnier part of the bypass or you can access the bypass from the Catwalk. If you use the Catwalk to access the bypass, pick the easiest ascent line from the Catwalk and it will get you to a ledge that will take you back to the OC bypass. The easiest ascent line to the OCB from the Catwalk is a very short distance from the tight corner you pass to gain the Catwalk. It is also just before a common drainage area which often leaves a section of the Catwalk covered in ice. There is only one location that really provides easy access from the Catwalk. It may look a little challenging but it has good holds and the climbing moves to gain the ledge which runs back to the sunnier part of the OCB are at most 5.4 moves.

FYI: You may find a very old piton by that icy drainage area mentioned above. The Catwalk has a couple old pieces of pro. The tales they could tell....

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

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 technical climbing.

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.

The Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle

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

Plenty of loose rocks are by the rappels. If you use the rap, get out of the line of fire as soon as possible after landing. Avoid standing directly below the rappel. Use a helmet if you're rappin'.

At the Secondary 70' Raps, we downclimb to the second setup using a tight chimney instead of rappelling from the 1st setup. It's pretty easy but it is a very tight chimney. You might need to remove a backpack. Soloing climbers rarely use the raps.

 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. We strongly recommend the Catwalk if things are going slowly.

Middle of the Owen Chimney

We are looking back down at the first 'opening' in the chimney (middle of image), and at the bottom of the Owen Chimney (top right near icy snow patch).

Free-soloing the Owen Chimney

There is a short crux in the middle third of the chimney. Some find the climbing right above the first 'opening' in the chimney to be cruxy. When dry, it's pretty easy. When icy, not so much. If it's dry, we find the chimney is faster than taking the Catwalk. The same is true during the descent for us but we have lots of practice.

During a descent, 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.

Owen Chimney - by 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.

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.

 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 GWC 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 GWC to bypass the DC & OC (harder than it looks), you might want to exit to 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.

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

Sargent's Chimney

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 variations

From the ledge at the bottom of Sargent's, the easiest path into Sargent's is 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 will find the Hidden Exit safer and easier under dry conditions.

Lower NW side of Sargent's Chimney

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

The photographer is in the middle third of Sargent's Hidden Exit. 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.

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.

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 the chute that is at the top of the Hidden Exit. About 20' behind the photographer is the top of Sargent's main chimney where you will find its rap slings.

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

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 top of Sargent's main chimney.

Sargent's Rap

Looking down Sargent's main chimney

The crux is by the bulge in the middle of the image (closer to the bottom of the bulge) - both sides.

Looking up Sargent's Main Chimney

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. There are some tricky moves midway in the main chimney so be extra thoughtful in choosing to downclimb from Sargent's rappel. The ascent is easier than the descent. 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 then there isn't much difference.


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 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.

 Pretty easy scramble when dry

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. 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 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 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, perhaps.... or with some children).

The Summit

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 and then they gain the western aspect of the mountain after passing the Horse (see below). Again, this may be easier and safer for some climbers under some conditions. We use that route with children. 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 wall during the descent and use it as part of a switchback around the wall.

 An eastern variation off the summit.

If you are descending below the Horse's eastern aspect and going around its southern end to gain the Owen-Spalding route, you will find a fairly easy scramble.

Once at the bottom of the Slabby Wall, look for its Center Crack. Again, the Center Crack in the Slabby Wall points toward Sargent's Chimney. Follow the easiest descent line (overall straight line) until you can go no further. Look for Sargent's to your south. You should find rap slings during the summer at the top of the chimney. 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.

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 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

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.

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 


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