American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

The Grand Teton

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1930

The Grand Teton

Kenneth A. Henderson

THE Grand Teton, the landmark of the fur traders in the last century and the inspiration of travelers to the Yellowstone, stood solitary and aloof for many years. The first ascent was made by a comparatively easy route which has been followed by everyone who has since climbed the mountain. Knowing this situation, we camped last summer at Amphitheatre Lake (9,600 ft.), with the intention of putting a new route up the mountain. The ridge which came down on the east, splitting the Teton Glacier into two equal arms, seemed to offer the most obvious possibility. We examined it from the bottom, side, and top, and finally on July 22nd felt justified in making a try for it.

My companion, R. L. M. Underhill, and I started out at 6 a. m. on our fateful enterprise. We crossed the ridge from camp to the Teton Glacier and thence to the end of our chosen ridge. We gained the rocks about one-half hour later without difficulty and rose some two thousand feet on easy slopes on the left of the crest to more difficult rocks where we put on the rope. Just above us towered the sheer wall of the first gendarme which had stopped most of our predecessors. Underhill donned his sneakers and tried several alternative ways but we finally gave them up as too hard and unpromising. A ledge along the right side of the gendarme seemed to offer a solution. We dropped back a ways and, fixing a rope sling, rappeled a short distance to the ledge which we followed about a hundred feet to an icy couloir. This we crossed and then climbed up a short rotten chimney to a continuation of the ledge. We followed this to a second ice couloir up which we cut our way. A few comparatively easy rocks at the top brought us to the col beyond the first gendarme.

The ridge upon which we stood was very narrow and before us loomed the endless down-sloping and overhanging slabs of the big gendarme. Up these we carefully forced our way for about five hundred feet until they gradually merged into respectable ledges. A short traverse to the right to enable us to look around the side of the gendarme showed us a ledge higher up. We could not see its farther end, but if it should prove to be the same as that we had seen from the top, our troubles would soon be over.

We stopped for a while at a snowbank on our easy ledges and ate a meagre lunch while discussing the merits and possibilities of the climb. Then starting again about 1 o’clock we traversed upward to the left, and arrived, after a hundred feet or so, opposite an opening in the ridge which we judged should lead us to our ledge. It did, but the ledge soon ran out, so it was necessary to rappel to a lower one a few feet below, although at another point we could probably have climbed down. We followed the ledge about a hundred feet to an overhang beyond which we had been unable to see. Here we changed leads and Underhill went up to find the ledge continuing around the gendarme and coming out at the snow col beyond.

We followed the knife-edge of snow to the other side of the col and then climbed to the right over twenty feet of easy rocks to the foot of a snow ridge. In order to save time, we mounted on the bare rocks to the right, just beneath the crest of the ridge, a few hundred feet until we were forced to take to the snow. At first we could easily kick steps, but that condition soon gave way to an icy surface where we were compelled to cut. The distance was about four hundred feet and the labor strenuous, so Underhill was only too willing to yield the lead when we reached the summit rocks.

These we ascended directly toward the top, finding just below it the remains of the American flag placed there a few years ago. The rocks were difficult and at one point a passage had to be forced by means of a courte-echelle. We came out on the north ridge thirty or forty feet from the summit (13,747 ft.), where we arrived at four o’clock just ten hours after our start. After about an hour on top, we coiled up the rope and romped down the regular route back to camp, arriving about three hours later in time for a late dinner.

In conclusion it may be said that this climb offers about four thousand feet of the finest kind of climbing. The rock is good; if it were not, the climb would be impossible. There are some easy slopes and easy rocks but there are also very difficult sections and many of them. In contrast with most climbs in this country it also possesses variety, for some of the ice couloirs present quite difficult problems and step-cutting on the upper snow slope cannot be avoided. It is a long climb and one of continuous and varied difficulties, not to be lightly undertaken even by experienced mountaineers. It may justly be ranked with such first-class Swiss climbs as for instance the Schalligrat or the Zmuttgrat.

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