American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Wyoming, Tetons, Grand Teton, Black Ice Couloir

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1962

Grand Teton, Black Ice Couloir. Almost everyone who has climbed the Grand Teton has been impressed by the great drop-off on the north side of the Upper Saddle and below the Crawl pitch on the traditional route. Though three routes from this general direction, the northwest ridge to the Enclosure, the west face, and the northwest chimney, had been worked out over the years, prior to 1961 no one had actually reached the Upper Saddle from such a northern approach. Objective danger had proved a deterrent, for virtually every party that had ventured into Valhalla Canyon had witnessed rockfall in the couloir leading to the Upper Saddle. The only direct attempt on this route had been made on July 7, 1958, by Yvon Chouinard, Ken Weeks, and Frank Garneau, who were forced by “very heavy ice and rockfall” to retreat from the lower part of the route. Ray Jacquot and Herb Swedlund, who made the first successful ascent on July 29, adopted tactics more familiar in the Alps in order to minimize the rockfall problem. With hard hats (an essential on this climb) they started at 1 a.m. in preplanned moonlight. Since the climb required 11½ hours, luck was with them after daybreak when clouds came in and prevented the sun from loosening the rocks in the ice. The second shelf of the Durrance west-face route was abandoned some 80 feet before the rotten chimney at its end was reached. By diagonaling up and right in the black rock band, the edge of the icefield below the west face was reached. The party then traversed across this steep ice to the obvious couloir leading up and slightly right. This couloir was then followed to the Upper Saddle from which the Owen-Spalding route was used to reach the summit. Seven leads of steep ice climbing involved the use of about 30 ice pitons, although belays were made from rock ledges wherever possible.

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