The Grand Teton's Owen-Spalding Route

The Owen-Spalding Climb
~ Lower Saddle to Summit ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Teton's Owen-Spalding Climbing Route


This page focuses on the actual climbing challenges above the Lower Saddle and has only a short introduction to the approach. The Wyoming Whiskey homepage provides additional information that is not covered here. Occasionally, our homepage has updated information on conditions, news, accidents, weather, hazards, wildfires, bear sightings, and recent pics from our climbs. Similar information is usually available via social media, Mountain Project Forums, the Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers, etc.

JLCR's Conditions Reports

APPROACH Conditions

Emergency Information

GTNP Emergency Dispatch is open 24 hours a day during the summer season. As of 2020, they still have limited hours outside of the summer season. They can be reached at 307-739-3301. Using a different telephone number, you can also send an emergency text message to GTNP's Dispatch Center during the summer. Use 307-690-3301 for emergency texting to contact GTNP directly (again, limited hours outside of summer). 

911 also works for texting in Teton County, WY. 911 calls go to the Teton County Sheriff's Office. Text messages may not include location coordinates like emergency voice calls do.

Obviously, you can drop your location (place name or GPS coordinates) into an emergency text message that you compose. The Teton County Backcountry SOS App will drop a GPS location into a text message for you if your phone's GPS is on.


The summer trail to the 11,600' Lower Saddle is usually in play as we roll into July but a completely dry approach may not arrive until mid-July or later. Even then, a small patch of snow can remain on the approach throughout the summer.

Optimal conditions on the upper mountain for free-soloing may not arrive until late July or early August. Every year is different. Sometimes it's early July. Most free-soloing climbers wait for dry conditions before running up the Grand. It is not uncommon to see climbers soloing under mixed conditions but it's a less popular activity which is usually limited to climbers with experience on this mountain, or climbers with previous alpine experience under adverse conditions.

The climbers' trail runs from Lupine Meadows to the Lower Saddle. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Before you leave the trailhead, your water supply can be refreshed at the South Jenny Lake Store. There's a filtered outdoor water station on its western side. Water from Cottonwood Creek (the drainage from Jenny Lake) should probably be filtered. People will drink it unfiltered but it is directly south of one of the busiest areas in the park so you never know what's coming your way. You'll find plenty of water sources along the trail. Some need filtering, some don't.

There is a pit toilet at the trailhead. Climbers are advised to bring WAG Bags for upper elevations. You can bury human waste at lower elevations.

We run into climbers every year who took the wrong turn at a well-marked junction. Pay attention and you'll be fine. Stay to the right at the first junction (do not take the Valley Trail to Bradley/Taggart Lakes). Go left at the second junction to get inside Garnet Canyon (do not head for Surprise/Amphitheater Lakes).

It's about 1/2 hour to 1st junction if you're moving light and fast (speed walking). The second junction is about 1/2 hour from the first junction. And it's another 1/2 hour to the Meadows Camping Zone inside Garnet Canyon if you maintain speed. That's 1.5 hours total to the Meadows. From there it's about an hour to the Lower Saddle (2.5 hrs total). Very few people can or will move that quickly. Some are faster but the average person can take several hours to reach the Lower Saddle. Most people are not free-soloing on a fast & light round-trip.

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

Approach above 9000 feet. Click to enlarge

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

The dry summer trail to the Lower Saddle is mostly well defined and easy to navigate; however, it does completely disappear at two boulder fields. The general location of the two boulder fields is marked on the above map.

The distance you travel through the boulders varies with the path you take but it should not be more than 100 meters or so. You shouldn't have any problems regaining the trail if you are traveling during daylight hours. The 1st Boulder Field is by the Platforms Camping Zone. It is 4.1 miles from the trailhead according to the National Park Service. You regain the trail next to Garnet Creek. Stay near the north side of the creek after you exit the boulders and you'll find the trail even under darkness.

The 2nd Boulder Field is by the Morainal Camping Zone. You regain the trail next to a metal sign for the Morainal Camping Zone. That very small metal sign will be to your southwest as you enter the boulders. The sign is near the eastern-most camping spot and just above a small drainage/depression. Most free-soloing climbers aiming for a morning ascent will pass the 2nd Boulder Field under daylight. Everyone travels at different speeds with different needs at different times but most climbers pass the 2nd boulder field during daylight hours while heading up the mountain.

The trail disappears in an insignificant way for a short distance in a few spots that are easily navigated. Usually, the trail continues just in front of you. It helps to examine the approach in more detail if you're traveling when it's dark. If you are not familiar with the approach, traveling under darkness will be a bigger challenge once you're fully inside Garnet Canyon. Many climbers on one-day adventures start well before daybreak (2 a.m. or earlier). This is especially true of climbers using protection, or when the advantageous weather window is short.

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

A snowy Garnet Canyon

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

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

June approach above 10,000 ft.

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

As the snow melts off, the completely dry summer trail takes you to a rope that is permanently affixed to the saddle's headwall. The rope is handy under poor conditions. When wet, the rock here is very slick. Guides usually belay clients at the rope so you may be slightly delayed. If you struggle with the climb by the rope under good conditions then free-soloing is not for you. You can contact the Jenny Lake Climbing Rangers to find out if the approach is free of snow or if the Fixed Rope is being used. The area by the Fixed Rope is a rockfall zone.

 Lower Saddle's Fixed Rope - Rockfall Zone

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

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

To the southeast of the sign is a constant trickle of water in a very shallow drainage. Its flow varies with the weather and time of day. Look for a garden hose in the rocks at the toe of the north-facing slope. You might see a cairn (pile of rocks) marking its location. It's next to one of the bigger rocks at the edge of the slope. The hose allows you to easily refill your water supply. Because climbers touch the hose with their hands, the hose may not be sanitary. The hose sits in running water and sometimes sunshine so it might be cleaner than expected at times. 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. It might also be buried under snow but still flowing. You can get water from the Middle Teton Glacier if water disappears at the saddle (a time consuming option if descending off the saddle).

 Location of the water hose

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

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

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

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

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

There are several small 'caves' on the western aspect of the saddle if you need cover but they are not safe locations during thunderstorms.

 Overview of southern ridges, towers, etc


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

View from the Lower Saddle toward the Central Rib

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

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

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

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

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

Avoid ascending the drainage on either side of the Upper Western Rib during the summer. Stick to the ribs. You can cross a drainage. Rockfall is a serious hazard in the drainages. The drainage on the eastern side of the Upper Western Rib was a common line of travel back in the old days when the mountain saw fewer climbers during the summer. These days, the main drainage sees weekly rockfall events caused by other climbers during a typical summer. Bowling alley is the favored description. Being a drainage, it usually has poorer conditions than other options. Having said that....

If you're an extreme mountaineering runner, there are many variations you might consider. A drainage is one of them. It all depends on how strong a climber/runner you are, how well you know the variations, how well you manage hazards (to you and others), and what risks you are willing to take. You are likely to cause rockfall if you're moving fast so don't make the decision to ascend a drainage and put people below you at risk. If none is around, and the timing is right, so be it.

There are also oddball variations out of the drainage to access the Central Rib's Bench which might be the fastest ascent line (there's no real time savings on descent). AGAIN, TO BE CLEAR: Most climbers should stay out of the main drainages whenever possible.

Head for the Central Rib's Bench

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Overview of the Chockstone Chimney

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

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

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

Overview of access to the Briggs' Slab


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

Variations that are less common:

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

The Mini Black Dike runs directly to the Sack o' Potatoes variation. Climbing the top end of the Mini Black Dike is not the easiest line of attack in the Sack o' Potatoes. The easier options are more likely to be found to the north or south. Novice climbers usually stay away.

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

 Climbers going over the Belly-Roll Almost. Uncommon variations below them.

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

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

Let's get back to our standard variations and look at the Briggs' Slab for a moment:

 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. There are tiny holds if you don't have the leg reach but novice climbers are usually hesitant to use them.

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

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

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

 Looking at some variations in the lower Chockstone Chimney

The best line of travel on the Runners' Slab is closer to the bottom of the slab in our opinion. Not everyone agrees. Not everyone is comfortable using the Runners' Slab, too.

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

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

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

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

Another overview of some variations

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

If we were roping up under dry conditions, we would most likely use the Briggs' Slab. Every climber has a different comfort zone and skill set so sometimes your plans change as you go along and encounter new obstacles.

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

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

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

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

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

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


The area above the Briggs' Slab is just a scramble so don't worry about taking an exact line. It is wise to choose a path that provides some protection from rockfall. That path can change when other climbers are above you. 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).

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

Notice the two variations above: the Black Rock Chimney and the Upper Western Rib. You will take one of those. The fastest one is usually the Black Rock Chimney if you're in a hurry on the ascent but it's pretty close time wise.

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

Let's get back to the normal route:

Overview of the lower half of the Central Rib

Scramble anywhere that's safe. We like to take a higher route on our way to the Upper Saddle. That keeps us above the drainage where rocks tend to roll. We prefer to use the Central Rib's Black Rock Chimney variation to reach the Upper Saddle but many climbers and guides use the Upper Western Rib variation. We will look at both options. You may see scrappy 'footpaths' between here and the Upper Saddle. Some are useful, some not so much.

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/safe. You might find a sloppy path back to the Central Rib.

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

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

Main drainage with snow

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

The tips of the two 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. Marked path is general direction of travel.

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.

It is also possible to bypass the steppy ramp shown above by heading northwest for a short distance and then following a section of black rock toward the ridgeline (see the long line of black rock on the left side of the above image). Either way, climb toward the ridgeline and follow it to an open 'bowl', pass through the bowl and continue up the Central Rib's western aspect.

 Two options. 

We will take the red variation to avoid climbers above us on the blue variation. Conditions may also force us to take another variation.

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 on the western aspect of the ridgeline. This is very easy climbing when dry.

Looking down the BRC about 20 feet above the steppy ramp

 On the descent, go all the way down until you are forced to take the eastern aspect of the ridge or the ramp to the west. Take the ramp.

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

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

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

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

Another overview of the Central Rib

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

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

A view from the Central Rib's Patio

You may want to take a break and grab a jacket if one'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 northeast and look for a broken footpath to reach the western side of the Upper Saddle. There is no best path when it's dry. They are all pretty easy.

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

 Upper Saddle - looking west

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

Variations to access the eastern side of the Upper Saddle.

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

An experienced and guided climber fell into the Exum Gully which runs directly below the RED route. She did not survive. She most likely slipped on the loose rocks but no one really knows.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Overview of the Upper Saddle as seen from the Enclosure

  The Grand Teton's Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle

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

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 and the north side has a longer drop. 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 (on the south side) 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'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. It is useful if the Main Rappel is backed up with a dozen climbers. In the above photo, the lower 70' section of the alternative rappel is shown in red. The topmost 70' rap can be avoided if you can downclimb a tight slanting chimney. It is not a 70 foot drop at the first rappel station. The sloping distance between the two raps is about 70'. The drop from the second setup to the Upper Saddle is 70', however. You will find loose rocks by both raps......


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

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

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

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

People have bailed because they didn't have gloves during the peak summer season. The climbing rangers have rescued climbers who lost dexterity and grip strength due to low temperatures. We don't use gloves in high-consequence areas that require critical contact with the rock but we do take gloves and sometimes hand warmers (life savers!) when we expect temperatures below 40°F. Thin gloves are better than no gloves if it's cold. The 11,600' Lower Saddle weather station should give you a feel for the temperatures at the summit. Try subtracting 12 degrees for the worst-case temperature difference (wind chill not calculated).

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 Great West Chimney and the Double Chimney is the Double Chimney Bypass. From the ledge running to the GWC, there is a small wall that you need to climb. It's a little tricky. 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). There is no advantage to taking this variation. It is simply a variation for bored climbers.

The Great West Chimney is almost always a chute of poor conditions during the summer but sometimes it's a viable way of bypassing the 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 variation for stronger climbers who don't want to wait behind OS climbers. 

 The Wittich, Great West Chimney, DC Bypass, etc

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

 OS's Exposure

The above video takes a look at the Owen-Spalding's exposure between the Belly Roll and the 2nd Entrance of the Double Chimney. It's redundant with multiple members of a local coed soccer team making similar moves; however, it gives you a good feel for what to expect. Most of the soccer players were not climbers and had no prior climbing experience. While none of these climbers got turned around, many climbers have freaked out at the exposure and never make it past this point. A longer video of their entire trip to the summit is below. With modest effort, you will find better videos on YouTube. 

Belly Roll - going over it

Belly Roll - Going over it

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

Belly Roll - going part-way under it

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

Belly Roll - going totally under it

Belly Roll - view from above

 Belly Roll - ascent

Video of two climbers going under the Belly Roll

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

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

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

Looking toward the Crawl from the ledge.

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

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

 Glenn Exum with partner in the Crawl

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

The Crawl - descent

Crawl - descent

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

Area between 1st Entrance & Crawl

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

Snow had a very unstable 'cornice' over the exposure

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

Looking at the Double Chimney's entrance variations.

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

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

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

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

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

On the downclimb, it is usually much harder for novice climbers to safely downclimb out of the 2nd Entrance and gain the lower ledge. Most will exit the Double Chimney using the hand-in-crack traverse during the downclimb. You can also lower yourself down the 1st Entrance. We do that when the 2nd Entrance is too icy or when climbers are utilizing the 2nd Entrance. It's not an option everyone prefers but it is an option.

If we are going fast on a descent, we usually grab the cleavage (hand-in-crack traverse) at the bottom of the 2nd entrance and let our feet slide (with friction) over the rock until we hit a good foothold. Obviously, we trust our handholds. With sticky shoes, there isn't too much sliding. Tiny footholds usually allow a slower climber to avoid the initial slip & slide that faster climbers may experience during a descent but it depends upon the shoes.

BTW: The two climbers in the background just came off the North Ridge.

1st Entrance of the Double Chimney

The climber is grabbing a horn and trying to muscle her way over it. Climbers give this first entrance a rating higher than 5.4. It's a physically challenging climbing move. The entrance is often wet or icy. Sticky climbing shoes make it easier, as does practice, but it's still a difficult cruxy exposed maneuver for most OS climbers. FYI: There is an old piton to the right of her right hand.

Again, most climbers favor the 2nd Entrance not only because it is the fastest way but because it is considered the easiest way by most climbers when it's dry. As we suggested above, we use the 1st Entrance when ice or snow covers the entire area or plugs holds. Additionally, we use the 1st Entrance if climbers are backed up by the 2nd Entrance.

Again, downclimbing the 1st Entrance isn't common but it's a good option under some circumstances for some climbers. We lower ourselves from the horn - it's pretty quick.

Variations that are not usually taken by novice climbers:

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

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

Again, do not go past the 2nd Entrance and toward the Great West Chimney unless you intend to go off-route 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

Who needs footholds?

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

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

 Valhalla Canyon - looking southish

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

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

 Lower ledge - heading for the 2nd Entrance

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

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

Gaining the 2nd Entrance

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

 Access to 2nd Entrance from lower ledge

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

In the short video below, the climber takes a slip as he tries to enter the 2nd Entrance of the Double Chimney. This is a common area for minor slips as the footholds are more friction than bomb-proof step. He recovers and goes on to make some GT climbing history. Climbers have fallen to their death around this area. One involved a lightning strike and another involved a novice free-soloing climber who was climbing under adverse conditions. He was alone and his exact location & the exact cause of his fall is unknown. There have been others.

A big slip that didn't slow him down.

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

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

 Looking back at variations mid-way in the Double Chimney

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heading up the North Slot

 North Slot

This climber was actually descending the chimney. We reversed the order of the above images. Most climbers don't descend the Northern Slot in this manner. He did a nice job quickly.

Taking a break at the entrance to the Open-V

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

While it's a little tricky for novice climbers to exit & enter the Open-V, it's even trickier when it's icy. This is a VERY SKETCHY area with any slick snow or ice. The slightly polished rock is sloping right below the entrances to the Open-'V' and Tunnel variations. If you slip on any slick surface, you could easily slide out of the chimney and into Valhalla Canyon. There are no monkey-bar handholds where you really need them. It demands your attention.

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

The red line is a typical line of travel for those who use the Open-V variation.

Most people go to the far eastern end of the Open-V and exit to the north. They move above the exit from the Tunnel. This northeastern exit from the Open-V is another puzzle to solve for many climbers.

This picture also shows some of the other exit lines out of the Double Chimney.

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

We think the holds on the left side are better than the more direct line by the rope. Both lines work fine under dry conditions. The left side usually has better options if you're without crampons or shoe spikes while traveling under poor conditions. The rope is coming out of the Tunnel variation. The slabs above the DC run to the bottom of the Owen Chimney. The Owen Chimney runs a little sideways to the southeast so you can't fully see its interior as you exit the Double Chimney.

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

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

Downclimbing the tunnel variation.

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

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

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

We usually stem on opposing or adjacent walls but sometimes we climb a corner. The Tunnel is rarely the fastest variation for experienced climbers when everything is dry.

Climber just above the tunnel - looking northish

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

The common exit from the DC - looking WNW

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

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

 Base of Owen Chimney

This is the view from the exit of the Double Chimney. You can head toward the Catwalk or the Owen Chimney. The complete Owen Chimney is not very difficult when dry but it is 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. They are similar in difficulty when dry. During a descent, taking the more direct line off the Catwalk (yellow dots) may be more intimidating for novice climbers than downclimbing the short bottom section of the Owen Chimney from the north end of the Catwalk.

A dry Owen Chimney is popular and satisfying. Both variations are suitable for novice climbers when dry. The Catwalk is the preferred descent route for most free-soloing climbers, and for all free-soloing FKT runners. Strong FKT runners should consider the Owen Chimney during an ascent if it is dry and empty.

Variations that are not usually taken by novice climbers:

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

We will look at the southern Owen Chimney Bypass variation in just a bit. For now, notice that you can access the southern bypass from the first opening in the Owen Chimney. It can also be accessed from the Catwalk (see below).

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).

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

Variations that are not usually for novice climbers:

Access to the southern Owen-Chimney Bypass Crack is shown in the above photos. It's not too difficult to ascend when dry (maybe 5.4) but it is not recommended for most novice climbers. The very bottom of the this bypass is shaded and it can get very icy. It faces NW. The rest of the bypass faces SW. You can climb the short NW-facing corner to get to the sunnier part of the bypass or you can access the bypass from the Catwalk. If you use the Catwalk to access the bypass, you will pass the tight corner to gain the Catwalk and then look for the easiest location to gain a small ledge above you. It is just a short distance up the Catwalk on your left. It is at the only location that looks like a reasonable section to climb. You will gain a nice ledge that runs back north to the bypass.

Let's get back to the regular route variations:

A view from the Catwalk toward the DC

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

The Catwalk - looking southish. Climber is descending.

The Catwalk  - looking northish - downclimb

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

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

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. As with the Owen's Main Rappel to the Upper Saddle, there are PLENTY of loose rocks by the secondary rap!

 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. Or another bypass option.

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). We usually stick to the right side of the chimney when it's dry as we start our climb and then transition to the left side by the crux which is above here.

Free-soloing the Owen Chimney

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

During a descent, 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. We find a descent to be quicker in the chimney if it's dry and empty.

Owen Chimney - near the crux

Top of the Owen Chimney

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

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

Variations that are not usually taken by novice climbers:

Had you climbed up the Great West Chimney to bypass the DC & OC (harder than it looks), you might want to exit 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. There are too many variations to mention but they are worth exploring if you have the time.

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

Sargent's Chimney

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 may 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 exit out of Sargent's main chimney. That exit from the main chimney is just to the north of the Rap Station in Sargent's Chimney. The chimney continues further up the mountain but most climbers exit onto this ledge. During the winter, it is sometimes easier to climb the snow to the very top of Sargent's and continue to the summit.

Sargent's Rap.

Again, the exit location is to the north by the photographer if you're climbing up Sargent's. Yep, you can exit further up but most don't. The arrow is pointing toward the summit. It is possible to climb in that direction to reach the summit. Most climbers head northish on the ledge that runs to top of the Hidden Exit before heading for the summit on a more direct NE line of ascent. The photographer is on the ledge running to the Hidden Exit (which is about 15 ft behind him).

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.

 The downclimbing climbers are coming from the Hidden Exit area.

The ascending climbers are going up main chimney. Six free-soloing climbers were in the chimney (including photographer). It is not unusual to see that many free-soloing climbers on the mountain but six in one spot is not too common.

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 (or the holds are more obvious). 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. The Hidden Exit is probably easier for most climbers when it's dry. BTW, Sargent is a guy's name, not the military title with a different spelling.


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 - follow 'wall' on your south.  Climbers are descending.

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

The Slabby Wall

Switchback around the Slabby Wall or climb its center crack. The center crack points toward the summit and back toward Sargent's. Remember that.

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

Switchback option shown in pink

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

Switchback option - many options

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

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

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

 Switchback ledge - looking SSW

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 or with weaker climbers.

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

 An eastern variation off the summit.

Once at the bottom of the Slabby Wall, look for its center crack. Again, the center crack in the Slabby Wall points toward 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 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' alternative raps


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

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Different angle on the Owen-Spalding Route

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

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

OS via Catwalk - not soloing

The above video is a look at a few areas on the OS from the Belly Roll to the summit, and a look at the downclimb's two raps: Sargent's & the Main Rap to the Upper Saddle. Free-soloing climbers usually avoid the raps. This video does not show climbers navigating all of the difficult spots but it does give you a general idea about how much scrambling is actually taking place. This is an extended and modified version of the exposure video shown above. Obviously, the internet is full of other Teton climbing videos that may help you get a better feel for the route.

Owen-Spalding Climbing Route
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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
Wyoming Whiskey Home Page 

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

Enjoy Safe Climbing