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.

Climbers on the Upper Exum route will need to familiarize themselves with the Owen-Spalding route because it's used for downclimbing off the summit block. The Upper Exum route is harder and more time consuming than the Owen-Spalding route. A greater degree of agility on rock is required for those going solo on the Upper Exum when compared to the Owen-Spalding; nonetheless, it is within the reach of many who choose to climb the more crowded Owen-Spalding route and it's a viable alternative for those climbers. Variations can make the UXM closer in grade to that of the OS.

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

A round-trip climb in a single day can be extremely taxing. Even the hike to the Lower Saddle takes a toll on many individuals. A one-day round-trip is not suggested for everyone but many athletes summit the Grand Teton in a single day without prior summits in the Tetons and with no climbing experience. They are usually soloing and traveling light on the Owen-Spalding route. If you're 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.

To examine features in more detail, please visit our Grand Teton Features page. For more route overviews, visit our Marked-Up Grand Teton Climbing Routes page. Both of those web pages will cover the approach to the Lower Saddle in greater detail than this page. This page focuses on the actual climbing challenges above the Lower Saddle. 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

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

In the image above, the red dots show the approximate location of the dry summer trail. The summer trail leads directly to the Lower Saddle. It's mostly well defined; however, it will disappear at two boulder fields and restart a short distance away to your southwest. Some very short sections of the trail fade into the landscape. You will be back on track quickly.

You may encounter multiple trails. This is especially true above Spalding Falls; however, the main trail is well traveled during the peak summer season. Just follow everyone. Some forks in the trail are just seasonal forks that are used to avoid snow fields. They can look like the summer trail; however, they are usually sloppier looking trails. They may be your best option early in the season if patches of snow cover the approach. Traveling under darkness is a slightly bigger challenge if you are not familiar with the route; however, you will be better able to handle the hike with just a little research here. Common sense should keep you going in the right direction.

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, a few individuals have more extended adventures. Distraught hikers have been guided back to Lupine Meadows during the evening after becoming separated from their party and wandering around the talus fields.

In reality, many hikers are not paying much attention to their route. Hikers are often looking down at the trail in order to make sure they don't trip on a rock or root. Some hikers take the wrong trail at a well-marked junction. Climbers heading for the Grand have taken the trail toward Amphitheater Lake instead of Garnet Canyon. Taking the trail into the south fork of Garnet Canyon is another common mistake. Climbers heading back to the Lupine Meadows' trailhead have taken the trail to Taggart Lake instead. Pay attention, use common sense, study the route: you'll be fine.

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 free of snow, or get an estimate for a snow-free approach date — the more experienced rangers will be able to give you a good estimate.

If you are climbing under snowy conditions, take whatever path is safest given the conditions. Most climbers will head up the Meadows' headwall near the Middle Teton's NE aspect when snow covers the canyon floor. Snow conditions change constantly during the day. 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. The snow's consistency can vary from an icy concrete-like substance to a sloppy bowl of noodles as the day warms up. Climbers have died on the approach. Respect the snow.

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

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

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

Rock-fall terrain traps are abundant between the Lower & Upper Saddles. Ice is common on the western side of the Needle and in drainages. Poor conditions can make this area as dangerous as anything above it. You need to be on the lookout for loose rocks and ice under your feet. Avoid being directly below other climbers who may accidentally kick rocks in your direction. Additionally, give other climbers time to clear a hazard zone before continuing your climbing if you might kick rocks loose.

View from the Lower Saddle

View from the Lower Saddle toward the Central Rib

There's a nice path to the Black Dike. Head for the center of the Needle until you find an easy route to its western side. You will often find icy conditions right at the base of the western wall of the Needle as you approach the Chockstone Chimney. This natural seepage area is usually your best approach line even when icy. We stay right next to the western face - within an arm's reach or so. Exercise great care. 

If you find nasty conditions here it doesn't always mean that there will be nasty icy conditions on the route above the Needle. Some climbers decide to 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 summer high season, there's a good chance that any thin ice will burn off as the day warms up. Sometimes the lower elevations have icy conditions but the upper elevations have more manageable, and often safer, snow. This is usually the case during the fall climbing season.

You should turn around if you are uncomfortable with the challenge especially if you don't expect improved conditions as the day rolls along. Besides being a very serious threat to the health and welfare of soloing climbers, ice 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 may make a quick departure impossible. As we have said before, a rescue under poor conditions or bad weather is never good and may not be possible.

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

This area is a mix of scrambling and easy climbing when dry. Guides will often belay clients on the Briggs' Slab (pictures further below). It's good practice to spot climbers here if they are unroped. 

Options to gain the Central Rib's Bench

Notice that to gain the Briggs' Slab, you are making a big U-Turn after leaving the base of the Chockstone Chimney. The Briggs' Slab is at the southern end of the small headwall of the Central Rib's Bench. In other words, the slab is at the SW corner of the "bench". If you take the Eye of the Needle's tunnel to gain the Central Rib's Bench, you will see the Briggs' Slab directly in front of you as you exit the northern side of the natural tunnel.

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

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

Inexperienced climbers may feel more comfortable with the safety that a rope affords. It's fairly common see a roped climber on the Briggs' Slab or around the Chockstone Chimney. Climbers have been seriously injured in this area. Most do without a rope.

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

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

A look into the Chockstone Chimney

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

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

Overview of the lower half of the Central Rib

We like to take a higher route on our way to the Upper Saddle — above the drainage areas when rock is most likely to fall.

Another overview of the bench area

Looking northish at the CR's Bench

View SE from the Upper Western Rib

Same view below but with snow.

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 that was between the Black Rock Chimney variation and the drainage shown here. That line ran near the middle of the left side of the photo. It was a little sketchy but safer than the drainage.

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

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

Another overview - looking SSE

If you don't want to take the Upper Western Rib, you can take the Black Rock Chimney as you leave the Central Rib's Bench. That BRC variation is shown below. Keep in mind that this area does completely dry out as the summer rolls along. Both variations are popular.

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

The Black Rock Chimney is our preferred route but the Upper Western Rib sees a lot of action. 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 and we like to avoid being below climbers crossing scree or causing rockfall.

Climbers on the BRC's steppy ramp

BRC - looking SW

The upper exit from the BRC - looking SSE

Do not take the drainage to Wall Street shown above. If you're doing laps on the Upper Exum — and who isn't? — take the Wall Street Couloir from the Upper Saddle. You could go down the drainage shown here but it's not your best option. It's a little tricky.

Overview of the upper Central Rib

Overview of the upper Central Rib

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

Overview of the upper Central Rib - looking SE

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

 Upper Saddle - looking west

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

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

The image above is a look back down at the access to the upper eastern side of the Upper Saddle. Most climbers use a southern approach to reach the upper eastern side of the Upper Saddle. Snow may force you to use other variations such as climbing between the two variations shown here.

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

This view is looking up at the variations to access the upper eastern side of the Upper Saddle. The photographer is at the lower western side of the saddle. The RED route is the most common ascent line. Take all variations with great care. A guided climber fell into the Exum Gully which runs directly below the RED route. She did not survive. The BLUE route is a common descent path but it is exposed and a hip belay may be necessary for inexperienced, or experienced, climbers depending on conditions and skill levels. Free-soloing climbers can take whatever route suits their fancy. Again, the center GREEN line is usually used when snow makes the other options sketchy.

 Upper Saddle - looking east

Another look at the access to the eastern side of the Upper Saddle. If  the snow is unstable, we go up the center line. There are 4 variations. The 4th one is a variation of the dark blue route. 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.

Overview of the Upper Saddle

Seen from the Enclosure

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

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

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

Overview of the exposed areas

The Wittich Crack (video & first ascent) and the Great West Chimney are options for some free-soloing climbers. The two Candyland Cracks between the Belly Roll & the Crawl are interesting but rarely climbed. They only see some action if the place is backed up with climbers. Novice climbers should stay on the OS and not attack a variation.

The Wittich Crack is rated a 5.6 to 5.7. It's not uncommon to run into poorer conditions near the top of the WC. The Great West Chimney is often a chute of snow and ice; however, when the conditions are somewhat better, it's a viable way of bypassing the DC & the Owen Chimney, and sometimes Sargent's. You can also try variations off the GWC. These variations are not recommend for novice climbers.

 OS's Exposure

The above video takes a look at the Owen-Spalding's Exposure between the Belly Roll and the 2nd Entrance of the Double Chimney. It's a little redundant with multiple members of a local soccer team making similar moves; however, it gives you a good feel for what to expect. A longer video of the 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 - 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.

Belly Roll - go over or under - View from above

It doesn't look like it but there is a nice fat foot-sized ledge below the Belly Roll. At the south end, climbers can hop over the lip of the cleavage or hop off the end of the cleavage. Hopping off the end is the least popular option with inexperienced climbers. Tall climbers may have an easier time with hopping off the end (see video above).

Belly Roll - go over or under

The ledge between the Belly Roll and the Crawl

Looking toward the Crawl

The Crawl with access to the Double Chimney in background

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

The Crawl

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

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

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

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 but it's still a cruxy exposed maneuver. Most climbers favor the 2nd Entrance. A few see the second entrance as more intimidating. Do not go past the 2nd Entrance and toward the Great West Chimney unless you have the skills to tackle trickier terrain. There is a variation directly above the horn at the 1st Entrance - it runs up a tiny 'chimney' toward a ledge above the Double Chimney's Open-V, and toward the Catwalk. It isn't hard but it can be dangerously wet, icy, or slimy.

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

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

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

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.

 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 Cascade Canyon side of the Grand. This approach up Valhalla Canyon toward the Grand Teton is used by a few - A VERY FEW - climbers. This is a tricky approach which includes crossing a roaring creek. This is not the easy way.

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

The climber is above Valhalla Canyon.

Gaining the 2nd Entrance

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

A big slip that didn't slow him down.

View inside the 2nd Entrance

This climber is using the Open-V variation inside the middle of the Double Chimney. We feel that the Tunnel variation is easier when dry. Above the Tunnel & Open-V variation is the Northern Slot variation. The Northern Slot is accessed from the Open-V by climbing up the southern end of the flake shown in the center of the picture.

This is a VERY SKETCHY area if any snow or ice is here. The rock is not flat right below the entrances to the Open-'V' and Tunnel variations. If you slip, you could slide right into Valhalla Canyon. If  the area is completely covered in icy or icy snow, we take the time to clean patches of ice off the rock while we are ascending so that our descent is safer. Icy conditions are one of many reasons why some free-soloing climbers might bring a rope. It can be used to rappel past the nasty conditions during a descent and save you time. We are often without crampons and an axe while climbing under icy conditions. A loose rock can be used to chip away at thin ice.

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

Climber exiting the DC - looking northish

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

The most common exit from the Open-V and Tunnel variations.

Most climbers exit this way but there are many variations to get out of the Double Chimney. The photographer is by the Northern Slot variation.

The common exit from the DC - looking WNW

The slabs just above the exit from the DC don't provide bomber monkey-bar holds. There are holds but it's not like you're grabbing a handful of rock. The less experienced climber will need to exercise thoughtful care in finding and using the various holds. A crab crawl is often used to approach the 'exit' during the descent. If it's icy, we try to clean a few spots during the ascent to make sure our descent is quick, safe and easy. The image below is taken from the point of view of the climbers in the image above (focused in the opposite direction, of course).

 Base of Owen Chimney

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

Overview of the Catwalk & Owen Chimney area

Base of Owen Chimney

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

 The Owen Chimney - looking WNW

This is the view from inside the Owen Chimney back toward the Double Chimney. You must go around a tight corner to access the Catwalk from the first opening in the Owen Chimney. There is an old piton at the tight corner (by the left-most yellow dot in the photo above).

Another view

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. With any ice or snow, its technical climbing.

The Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle

This is the view from the Main Rap Overlook

 Main Rap & Sargent's

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

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

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

Owen Chimney

Owen Chimney

There is a short crux in the middle third of the chimney. When dry, it's pretty easy. When icy, not so much. Either way, it does require effort and careful climbing. When we downclimb this chimney, the crux and speed varies with the conditions but if it's dry we find it's faster than taking the Catwalk and just as easy. Obviously, lots of practice helps.

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

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 to but other climbers are usually rapping 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, or ascend to it.

Sargent's Chimney

Lower NW side of Sargent's Chimney

Looking up at Sargent's

This is a view from the area by the Main Rappel. The rap drops you to the Upper Saddle. Climbers follow a 'drainage' from Sargent's to the rappel area. Not exactly 'follow' — but zig-zag their way by the drainage-like depression.

 Sargent's Chimney

This is a view from Sargent's Hidden Exit and looking back toward the Main Rappel area and the lower half of Sargent's. The corner crack at the lower access to the Hidden Exit requires extra care on the descent. Pay careful attention to your options (holds) on the ascent. This will help with the descent.

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

Sargent's Main Chimney

A view of the lower part of the Hidden Exit

A view of the middle part of the Hidden Exit

Looking NNW.

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

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

The Chute & corner crack out of the Hidden Exit

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

Sargent's Rap


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

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

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

This is not a feature you will recognize on the descent unless you're paying very close attention and look back up after passing it. If you cross in front of the Three Stooges and you are heading to the southeast, you are either lost or you are taking the long way to the summit. There's nothing wrong with going that way but it's not the fastest option. The summit is to the NE from here — a straight shot if you want to make it one (see arrow).

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

The Slabby Wall

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

Switchback option

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

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

 Switchback ledge - looking SSW

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

Scramble to the summit. Many variations to the NE.

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

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

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

The Main Rappel to the Grand Teton's Upper Saddle

Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle Area

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


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

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

OS via Catwalk - not soloing

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

A few trip reports for April through October

July 17th, 2016 (UXM) PNG Variation 
Overview - Upper Exum
Overview - Owen-Spalding
Detailed Look At Specific Route Features

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

Enjoy Safe Climbing