American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing
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North America, United States, Wyoming—Tetons, Grand Teton, Northwest Chimney

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1961

Grand Teton, Northwest Chimney. This large chimney is perhaps the most prominent feature of the Grand Teton when viewed from the north-west, as for example from the lower part of Valhalla Canyon. Leigh Ortenburger first considered this chimney as a possible route in 1953, while approaching the west face route with Mike Brewer. He returned in 1957 with his wife, Irene, and Fred Ayres to attempt this chimney, but it was too early in the season and difficult iced rock made the climbing too slow for success, so they retreated before even reaching the base of the chimney. On July 26 the Ortenburgers with Dave Dornan again set out to investigate this chimney at three a.m. Using information gained from a reconnaissance the day before while traversing from the Lower Saddle, they quickly reached and ascended the second large diagonal shelf leading to the base of the chimney. The top of this shelf was separated from the chimney proper by a vertical section of massive, solid rock which was cut by only two cracks. The right crack had no feasible entrance, so it was necessary to choose the left one even though there was ice-cold water trickling down one side. Ortenburger made a 120-foot lead up this very difficult crack to a semi-satisfactory belay spot; another rope-length led to a perch alongside a 40-foot wide sheet of pure ice in the bottom of the chimney proper. After cutting across this ice, Ortenburger established a solid belay point to protect Dornan who faced the crux of the climb, the very steep, slightly loose back wall of the chimney leading up toward a huge chockstone. Skillfully using a few direct aid pitons, Dornan was able to pass the worst section and then free climb up to a very small, exposed ledge where we joined him. This was doubtless the hardest pitch of the climb. Dave then led up another pitch, also using direct aid, until he was above the chockstones. From here Ortenburger cut steps up 80 feet of pure ice (it is doubtful that the sun ever penetrates to the bottom of this chimney) to reach the last steep part of the chimney. Stemming up this portion, Ortenburger found a large, loose block which it would be difficult to pass without endangering the lives of those below. Much time was spent in finding a very small ledge from which to belay, and then belaying both Irene and Dave up into a small cave where they would presumably be out of danger of the falling block. The block was then pushed off and shot down the steep ice, bounding from side to side before disappearing from sight into Valhalla Canyon. Dornan was then able to come out of the cave and belay while Ortenburger finished the last few feet of the pitch into a small bowl of black rock which represented the end of the chimney. It was now late afternoon and it was imperative that the route be finished in haste. From the bowl, a traverse to the left led to a series of cracks near the north edge of the west face, which took the party in about four leads to the wide scree bench leading from the end of the north face second ledge over to the Crawl of the Owen route. On familiar territory at this late hour, they decided, rather than continue on to the summit, to traverse over to the Crawl and descend to the Lower Saddle.

This route is perhaps the most difficult on the Grand Teton, which is quite a statement considering the reputations of the north face, north ridge, and west face. Yet the accomplishments of this party were surpassed on August 4 when Royal Robbins, Joe Fitschen, and Yvon Chouinard repeated the climb to the bowl of black rock without using direct aid below the chockstone. Furthermore, they traversed right and up from the bowl onto the upper and difficult part of the west face route, thereby combining the two most difficult routes on the peak into an outstanding climb.

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