American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

Teton Ridges and Faces

  • Feature Article
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1944

Teton Ridges and Faces

M. Beckett Howorth

A GOOD season seemed in store for us. There had been more snow in the Tetons during the spring than many an old-timer had ever seen. Ten-foot depths had been measured in Hoback Canyon. Several thousand elk, accustomed to partial feeding by the Government, had perished of starvation. Two hundred moose, driven down to Jackson Hole by the snow, had been shot by hunters or people afraid of them. Togwotee Pass over the Wind Rivers had been snow bound until July. Frank Gabelein, in early July, had found glare ice filling Garnet Canyon to the Middle-South Teton Saddle. Fritz Wiessner, in later July, had found snow throughout the regular route on Owen. But the weather was fine when we arrived early in August, and promised to remain so.

Transportation had not been good. The railway stations had swarmed with people. The trains were packed and only two meals were served daily. A cow had wrecked a freight train, and a mile of new track had to be built around the wreck, which saved our getting off at Rock Springs before daylight. Our bus was packed with baggage, standees, and cigar smoke. A would-be comedian talked continually above the roar of our very old and tired engine. His simple-minded female companions giggled, shrieked, and howled, without knowing why. Our passenger bus was also mail truck, so had to stop at every wayside mailbox and post office on the 200-mile route from Rock Springs to Jackson.

Susie Simon had gone ahead with a long list of food “for six people for seventeen days,” and had produced nine cartons and three paper bags of food, all waiting at the Jenny Lake store. These were piled into the bus, and we were shortly piling them out again at the Jenny Lake campground. A short-handed force of park rangers kindly helped us get settled near the tent of the only other camper in the Park. We were soon introduced to Bill Shand, of the Sierra Club and a former Washburn Alaskan expedition. Hans Kraus appeared with Dick Fernay, on leave from the African Army Air Force, and agreeable to joining us on the morrow. A fair number of mosquitoes, unusual for the campground, moved in with us. During the night a bear completed the party, having early breakfast before the rest of us. We were told that as he was a

Government bear, our food points might be replaced on application to Washington.

Symmetry Spire seemed the logical first choice for our party, mixed in experience and condition.1 The boatman delivered us at the foot of Cascade Canyon trail, and soon we were enjoying Hidden Falls, through the spray and mist at their feet. We learned later that the boatman spent most of the day watching “those nuts” through his telescope. Leaving the trail just beyond the switchbacks we followed the cobbled stream bed toward the big couloir between Storm Point and Symmetry Spire. Climbing the 100 ft. cliff at its foot, we found plenty of snow in the couloir. As soon as the grade increased, Mary Cecil and Dick, our beginners, were instructed in stopping and recovering from falls with the ice-axe, and quickly became quite adept at it.

Bill and Dick climbed The Needle while Roger Wolcott, Mary and I puffed up to the base of the Spire, at the foot of the S.W. ridge. Lunch provided not only fuel, but a welcome rest. It was Dick’s first roped climb, and Mary’s first long one. The first pitches, directly up the ridge, were steep, but fairly easy. A short chimney with a layback proved more interesting. Another chimney, followed by an overhang, brought us onto a face where a piton was found, probably left by Burt Jensen on the previous ascent. A vertical wall with partly rotten rock, became almost difficult for some of us. The exposure increased, and the views enlarged. Across Cascade Canyon, the N. faces of Teewinot, Owen and The Grand appeared terrible in the shadows. Far below, Jenny Lake, almost the color of Crater Lake, and the distant Absarokas and Wind Rivers on the eastern horizon were beautiful in many shades of blue. Great cumulus clouds hung over the Gros Ventres, one now and then bursting open to let out the rain.

Our relative anemia began to tell in the last pitches, but they became easier as they led to the summit ridge. On our left the smooth W. wall of Symmetry Spire dropped 1000 ft. to the high couloir. The broken and narrow summit ridge rose slowly to the topmost rocks, made colorful by the late afternoon sunlight. The route over the N. side and down the high couloir was surprisingly easy, and there was a long fast glissade down the main couloir. The Tetons were casting long, jagged shadows across Jackson Hole as the sun neared the horizon, and we had a cool ride across the lake in the twilight.

Our day of rest was spent in organizing camp, chopping wood, dodging thundershowers, and photography. The bear provided a night of unrest, raiding our supply of eggs, butter, cereal and prunes. Our visitor clawed a large hole in the foot of Roger’s one-man tent, and not even the prunes discouraged another visit.

“Timberline” Rapp’s model-T Ford, chauffeured by a beautiful young lady, delivered us at the foot of the Taggart Lake trail, en route to Avalanche Canyon and Buck Mountain. We knew that the trail up the canyon was rarely used, grown up, and not cleared of blowdowns, but were not prepared for the branching and unmarked old Forestry Service trails, and soon took what proved to be the wrong fork. There were fine views of the main peaks, and later of Taggart Lake, from the ridge between the lakes. A shelf along the N. bank of Taggart, marked here and there by the bedding of many deer, led us with our heavy packs into some rough going. The heat was terriffic, the mosquitoes tenacious, but in time we reached the brook. The water was too high and rough for a crossing at this point, so we climbed a rock shelf with a nice view, and had lunch of dried beef, bread, cheese, honey and prunes. Tough bushwhacking took us back to the stream, where we found a slippery log for a precarious crossing. Muddy moose tracks led us shortly to the trail, but a big blowdown presently necessitated a tortuous detour. The trail soon led into the stream. This log crossing was even less inviting, as stumps of branches protruded in every direction. Hans, Bill, and I crossed, whereupon Roger first tested the log sideways, then forward, and finally came over on all fours, rucksack uppermost, a most surprising sight ! Presently the trail vanished in bogs and the gullied and boulder-strewn fan of a huge avalanche. Several small streams were forded, then the main stream from the N. fork, bringing us to the big scree slope at the foot of Mount Wister. The falls of the N. fork were full and thunderous, while the cascades of the S. fork roared above us. The climb up the scree slope was hardest of all, but we eventually reached the floor of the hanging canyon of the S. fork, and pitched camp at a spot I had selected from the year before.2 The N. face of Buck stood in sharp relief high above us, and we spent some time in re- connoitering possible routes. The Ayres-Cameron route up the central of the three N. ridges appeared long and difficult, but feasible, while the Petzoldt route up the western ridge of the three offered an alternate. As the sun neared the horizon, it cast a soft red glow on the peak, fully justifying its other name, Alpenglow.

Our pots and plates had been left behind, so we used Bill’s one- man set and three cans to cook and serve a meal of soup, ham, peas and peaches. Parkas, kerchiefs, rainsuits, smoke, cigarets and pipes, violence and verbal abuse were used against the myriad mosquitoes from the swamp above, but alternate members of our party vanished in clouds of them at intervals. Fortunately our tents were mosquito-proof, and we lost little time in getting into them.

Up at dawn, our quick, nourishing breakfast of dried milk, grape- nuts and sugar was soon disposed of, and sunrise found us far up the canyon. Opposite the foot of the N. face we surveyed the routes again, and chose a course almost directly up the long snow slope between the E. and central ridges. The flat-iron shaped face at the foot of the central ridge appeared too smooth and water-worn for climbing, but a chimney to the left of it appeared more promising. The lower part of the chimney proved to be a staircase. Then we traversed to the right on a steep face, and 100 ft. up the face to an overhanging corner which was wet and slippery. The step around the corner on wet footholds proved to be the only difficult spot of the day, and represented a fine job of leading on the part of Hans. A traverse and smooth face with only friction holds then led up to a sloping ledge at the foot of the large left E. snow couloir. Now the next portion of the route could be seen, the long steep right face of the couloir, leading up to the summit ridge. The route is exposed but not difficult, and we climbed without rope. Late lunch was eaten on a wide ledge, well up on the ridge above the flatiron. Roger and Hans napped, while Bill and I took pictures. The summit ridge was easy, and we were soon on top. Several thunderstorms were breaking, one apparently coming our way. Buck is a fine viewpoint, highest peak S. of the South Teton, and somewhat set off from the others.

The knife edge of the E. ridge was not yet free of snow, and is quite exposed on the N. side, with an impressive view of the impossible looking ridge we had just climbed. We followed it to the E. saddle, then swung left of the W. peak along a broad plateau and down a large morainal gully and a long scree slope to the canyon just above camp. The others decided to remain overnight, but I went down to report. It rained hard as I descended the canyon, and I was thoroughly soaked below the waist by the wet undergrowth and high grass. Following the S. side of Taggart Lake through dense woods, bogs and blowdowns, I reached the main trail at the foot of the lake by dark. “Timberline” rescued me at headquarters, and hot soup at Jenny Lake soon thawed me out.

The rodeo at Kelly provided a welcome diversion. The weather was perfect, and the Tetons a magnificent background. Many of the best cowboys had gone to war, so some of the horses failed to buck, most of the calves escaped unroped or unthrown, the cows unmilked, and few of the wild mules were ever saddled, but there was plenty of fun and excitement.

We packed up to Garnet Canyon with food for three days, camping, climbing and photographic equipment, planning to climb The Grand by the W. S. ridge next day. The tree covered shelf above the brook crossing made a fine campsite, while a snow-bank nearby served as ice-box for chilling the jello. Soon the moon shone into the canyon, and the Middle Teton was exquisitely beautiful in the soft light.

Petzoldt’s cave had taken on a deserted air. A strong wind swept down the moraine of Middle Teton Glacier as we pushed up it, but the Middle-Grand saddle was really windy ! The W. S. ridge is reached by following the N. slope of the saddle to the foot of the couloir between the W. peak and The Grand, and traversing the ridge and couloir to the right. A long sloping gallery crosses the face and leads up to an exposed corner on the ridge. The ridge was first climbed by Durrance and Henderson, the westerly variation by Exum, and by Petzoldt. The route follows the ridge, a mixture of exposed faces, cracks and chimneys, not difficult, but up all the way. Near the summit ridge the route comes out on a ledge immediately above the vertical W. face, very exposed, but with fine views. A small face and a chimney then lead to the summit ridge, narrow and broken, with two or three interesting spots. A pleasant hour was spent at the top under a cloudless sky, enjoying the panorama extending from Yellowstone to the Salt River Range, and from the Wind Rivers to the Sawteeth mountains.

There was ice in the chimneys of the Owen route, which was descended to the Middle-Grand Saddle. Petzoldt had left sleeping-bags and a tarpaulin at his high camp in the saddle. As we planned to do the W. ridge of Teepe’s Pillar next, we decided to bivouac in the saddle. The tarp, with the aid of sticks, stones, and rope, was converted into a sort of Adirondack style lean-to, just large enough for the four of us. A strong wind blew gustily across the saddle, whipping and cracking the canvas most of the night, but we were quite comfortable inside.

We followed the saddle up to the dike, and along the dike across the several couloirs and ridges of the S. side of The Grand to its junction with Teepe’s Pillar. The W. ridge was first climbed by Hans and Susie, again by Petzoldt, and by Wiessner and Geering. It had previously been climbed from the E. by Underhill and Henderson, and by Rice. The Kraus route starts just to the right of the ridge, up a long steep crack which becomes a chimney at the top, with a chockstone. It zigzags up two small faces on the ridge, then traverses to the right across the W. face to an exposed corner whence it goes up the face to a large broken ledge, and finally up easy rocks to the summit. The route is of moderate difficulty but considerable exposure. The summit is hardly large enough for a large party. The views of the southeast face of The Grand and the peaks along Garnet Canyon are superb. After a pleasant sunbath we climbed down the same route and returned by the saddle to our Garnet Canyon camp. A porcupine had consumed the leather straps of Roger’s large rucksack while we were away. Bill came up from Jenny Lake that night to join us.

Frank Gabelein and I had been stopped at the E. peak of the E. ridge of Nez Percé the year before by a thunderstorm,3 and I was anxious to complete the E.-W. traverse. It had been done previously by Underhill and Fryxell, the Ayres and Cameron, and by Durrance, Hawkes, and Margaret Smith. Hans, Bill and I ascended the scree slope below the high wall on the N. side of the E. ridge, swinging to the left to reach the ridge at a beautiful little alp at the foot of a snow slope. Mounting a steep tongue of snow, we followed an irregular chimney to a high basin above the wall, and ascended the scree to a notch below the large gendarme on the true E. ridge. The ridge was ascended directly to the E. peak without using the rope. A spectacular notch, some 200 ft. deep, nearly vertical on the near side, separates the peak from the twin summits. We climbed down about 50 ft. to the first rappel piton, roped down the same distance, and descended to the second piton where the wall overhangs. Here we roped down over the overhang, spinning with increasing speed as we slid down the rope to the notch, about 10 ft. away from the wall. We roped-up for climbing the 30 ft. wall on the other side. Crossing to the N. side of the ridge, we followed a gallery to a shallow chimney running slightly leftward up the face. The chimney led onto the ridge again, which took us directly to the E. summit. The notch between the two summits is about half as deep and not so sharp as that below the E. peak. We climbed down half way, then rappelled down a steep Verschneidung to the saddle, and walked up to the slightly higher W. summit. Numerous thunderstorms were visible over the vast expanse of mountains and desert. The views of the south side of The Grand, and the N. face of Buck were particularly striking, as well as the lakes in the hanging canyon below Wister. We zigzagged down the regular route on the N. W. side of the mountain to the notch, and rappelled into it, then swung down across several ridges and couloirs to the cirque between Nez Percé and Cloudveil Dome. This route is little easier than the E. ridge, but more dangerous because of loose rock. The E. ridge is not difficult and the rock is good. The W.-E. traverse would be more difficult because of the reverse ascent of the notches.

Snow filled most of the canyon to our campsite, so we glissaded down in quick time, collected our equipment, and continued down to Jenny Lake.

There were thunderstorms most of the next day, but Bill and I, with Margaret Smith, decided to go up to Amphitheatre Lake by moonlight that evening. A doe and fawn, and a cow and bull moose stood motionless, watching us. The picture of Jackson Hole from the trail junction, Teewinot, and finally the E. ridge of The Grand bathed in moonlight were among the most beautiful I have ever seen. Bill and Margaret talked of the Aurora Borealis, and cosmic rays. Amphitheatre Lake was mysterious in dim lights and deep shadows. It was difficult to find a dry spot after the drenching rains, so we pitched our tent on a grassy slope against a huge boulder, and lost no time in getting to sleep.

The glacier trail was still partly covered with snowbanks below the N. face of Disappointment Peak. Jackson Hole was completely hidden by a layer of clouds sparkling in the early sunlight as we topped the moraine of Teton Glacier. There was much snow in the big couloir leading up to the E. ridge of Owen, and on the ridge. A little waterfall splashed and sprayed over us as we climbed the chimney to the large snowfield below the final ridge. The N. face of The Grand, with varying lights and shadows as clouds formed and whirled about the summit, stood close at hand. Moran reared above the clouds to the N., and now and then the blue of Jackson Lake appeared through breaks in the clouds. The smooth vertical E. face of the E. ridge was turned to the left. We climbed onto the ridge by the easy rocks just beyond, and followed it to the summit tower. The rope was used for this pitch, steep and smooth, with little more than friction holds. Lake Solitude and Cascade Canyon were clearly seen from the summit, while the checkered green fields of Idaho faded into the distance.

We descended the chimneys and ledges of the regular route to the snowfield. Bill glissaded the steep slope, but Margaret and I found it too steep, rough, and hard, though the lower slopes were fun. A swim in Amphitheatre Lake cooled us off considerably. The others arrived from Jenny Lake just in time for a big hot supper.

The route up the E. ridge of The Grand, pioneered by Underhill and Henderson, Fryxell and Ayres, is a pleasant walk as far as the gendarme below the Molar Tooth. This was turned to the left, and a broken face climbed to the knife edge between it and the tooth. A rappel down the N. side, a traverse across the N. face of the tooth, another rappel down an icy couloir, and another traverse took us into a long and very rotten couloir. It took some time to climb the treacherous rock safely to the little saddle, under constant bombardment, whence a short but difficult face led to the crest of the ridge again. A walk up the left side of the ridge, and a series of chimneys swinging right, brought us to the notch below the grand gendarme, whence a traverse across its N. face led to the final notch below the big snowfield E. of the summit. A scramble up the water-worn face took us to the snow, which we followed along the right hand edge overlooking the great N. face and Teton glacier far below. The snow was hard, furrowed, and partially developed into nieves penitentes. It became quite steep under the summit face. A series of chimneys brought us to the cairn, whence the vast expanse of much of Idaho and Wyoming in a radius of 100 miles lay at our feet. The late afternoon sunlight cast long shadows, which caused each ridge of all the surrounding ranges to stand out in bold relief.

The sunset was beautiful as we descended the Owen route to the saddle. Our tarpaulin was soon pitched, and Bill was able to get the stove to work. There were no pots, but soup was cooked in individual cups, followed by hot chocolate, corned beef, and apricots. There was less wind than for our previous bivouac, and we managed to arrange the tarp so that it flapped less. It was well filled with the five of us, and there was plenty of warmth.

Sunrise found us cooking again, corn instead of cereal, preceded by lemon juice. The eggs had not been laid yet ; in fact there were no hens to lay them, here at nearly 12,000 ft.

Hans, Bill and I decided to try the N. face of Nez Percé despite a questionable sky. After a fast glissade to the canyon fork, we headed up the boulder slope to the foot of the face, at the junction of the two big hourglass couloirs. Sneakers were donned, and we zigzagged up the face through a series of sloping ledges to a sloping gallery below an extensive overhang. We got out of this over a treacherous corner on the right and entered a long narrow couloir sloping the same way. This ended against a smooth wall of rotten rock. Twenty yards to the right a piton was found beneath an over-hang, but the wall looked simpler and more direct. The sky now was black with thunderclouds racing over from the hidden side of the mountains, so we waited until it cleared. Bill led up the face, with very small holds in the loose and crumbling rocks. Evidently Durrance, Coulter and Ayres had first climbed the face by way of the overhang as they described the rock as sound and secure. A long chimney, partially blocked by a large chock- stone, took us to a little wall whence a damp mossy ledge with an overhang led to a gravelly face. The rest of the route was easy, and soon we were on the summit. A wall of cloud just above the level of our heads was racing toward us from the W., scattering cloudbursts here and there, but it was clear beyond. The rocks were singing and hissing with electric discharges. Quickly getting into what rain garments we had, we climbed down the regular route as rapidly as we dared. Our belongings were collected at the “hourglass,” a fast glissade took us to the canyon floor, and soon we were climbing one of the opposite couloirs to Surprise Lake. A little stream cascaded down one side of the couloir, and along its banks was the greatest profusion of the largest and most beautiful wild flowers we had seen in the Tetons.

Susie arrived with fresh food, and we feasted at Amphitheatre Lake after two days of light meals of dried foods. Roger and I packed down next morning, as we had to catch the early bus for Rock Springs the next day. Clouds were rolling and twisting about the summits of The Grand and Owen as we paused in the field below Surprise Lake. As we descended the glacier trail, huge cumulus clouds, their summits all but bursting with rapid expansion, floated lazily over Jackson Hole. Reluctantly packing up at Jenny Lake, we headed down to Jackson, gazing wistfully at the mighty mountains beside us. The Teton ridges and faces would call again some day.

1 The climbs described in this article approximate Grade 4 of the Dolomite scale of difficulty.

2 Appalachia, viii (Dec. 1942), 199.

3 Appalachia, loc. cit.

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