American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, U.S., Wyoming, Wyoming Rockies, Teton Range, First Ascent of the W. Ridge of the Grand Teton August 8th-10th, 1938

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1939

First Ascent of the W. Ridge of The Grand Teton August 8th-10th, 1938. On account of the heavy snow coyer in 1938, serious rock climbing in the Tetons was delayed until late in the summer. On August 8th, Durrance and the writer left Jenny Lake at 2 a.m. and headed up Cascade Cañon prepared for a two-or three-day climb. From the forks, seven miles above the lake, we continued a half mile up the S. Fork, and building a cairn to mark the spot turned off across the stream to the left (eastwards). After a two-hour climb up talus, grass and small cliffs, we approached the N. W. ridge of the first tower of the main W. ridge. Here we roped and changed from nailed boots to sneakers.

The first two pitches offered no difficulty but an overhang in the black rock above forced a slight traverse to the left to find a vulnerable spot. The ridge was followed for several more pitches with easy climbing until a short scree slope brought us to the base of a 40-ft. chimney with loose rocks at the top which had to be handled with the utmost care. Above this two easy pitches brought us to the top of the first tower and the main ridge of the mountain.

From here the second tower rising several hundred feet above us looked quite formidable. Upon reaching the col below it, however, it was found that a series of chimneys and ledges along the ridge line brought us to the top quite easily. The descent which looked as if a rappel might be necessary, developed into a climb down a chimney to the left, and thence by a left and right traverse to the second saddle.

We crossed the sharp, knife-like saddle, keeping on the ridge, to a small tower of loose rock 20 ft. high which we climbed over. Thence we followed a meagre ledge of dirty scree to a talus slope up which we went into a gully full of loose rock. Above the gully, we made a long traverse to the left around a corner facing N. E. The top of the third tower was reached in several pitches above the corner, and we walked together along the sharp but level ridge to the first of the five fingers.

The first finger, a 60-ft. pinnacle, was traversed to the left and climbed from the S. The same procedure was followed on the second finger, while the third finger was traversed but not climbed. The fourth finger, 180 ft. high, was traversed to the left and climbed from the S. and W. A desire for water and a storm kept us in the col between the fourth finger and the thumb for an hour and a half.

The storm having passed, we changed to Kletterschühe and started off at 5 p.m. ; traversing the thumb on the W. An easy scramble took us to the top. From this point we followed along below the crest of the ridge on the W. until stopped by a wall. Gaining the crest of the ridge we followed it to the top of the tower of which the wall was a part. From here the way was some what easier, leading to the right under a tower and left under a second tower of loose rock.

This finished the horizontal portion of the ridge, and before us rose the vertical section. Above us rose a 60-ft. tower of loose red rock the ascent of which led us to one of the most difficult pitches of the whole climb, a 30-ft. wall with a 10-ft. overhang at the top. By climbing the wall to the overhang and then traversing to the right to a corner we were able to get over at a point where the overhang was only about 2 ft. A talus slope above this point provided us with a spot for a bivouac.

We waited for the sun before starting in the morning so that it was 8.30 before we got under way. Above this 300-ft. talus slope on which we had bivouaced, we climbed a small cliff and 500 ft. of slabs, in about an hour and a half. After a short digression to the right for water, we ascended the nearly perpendicular wall above us. A small crack led up the face for 70 ft. and a short right traverse led us to a niche in the wall. We continued slightly to the left and then straight up to the right of a block to an embarrassingly small ledge in the black rock. We traversed this for about 180 ft. to the right, where we turned to another face, up another little crack, through an exhausting chimney, and out onto a receding bit of rock some 80 ft. above. A short pitch brought us to another ledge which we followed 200 ft. to the left, to some loose black boulders. Above these a descending traverse to the right led us to a 30-ft. chimney which brought us to a smooth, steep face with an overhang above. A finger traverse 40 ft. to the right under the overhang and a traverse to the left above it brought us a section of straightforward climbing. At a fair-sized pocket, marked by a thin flake of rock, we turned leftwards and after a short distance climbed a long (160 ft.) gullylike chimney. Still working left, we reached a platform below a series of chimneys which led us to another platform above. As it was now 6.30 p.m. we camped in a cave to the right below us.

Again a late start was made the next morning. The great tower above us proved most formidable and was only climbed by traversing to the right to a water-worn crack up which we climbed to a chimney which led to a talus gully leading to the top of the tower. This is the key to the whole climb. The next tower was climbed by the last crack to the right, following right around the overhang. Some easy going up a chimney and up a wall to the Enclosure, the real summit of the ridge. The Enclosure was reached at noon and the summit of the mountain by the usual route from here at 1 p.m. The descent was by the usual route through Garnet Cañon reaching Jenny Lake at 8 p.m. [Route shown on lower photo facing p. 367.]

Michael M. Davis, Jr.

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