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North America, United States, Wyoming—Tetons, Mount Owen, Northwest Face

Mount Owen, Northwest Face. It is a characteristic of mountains and their climbers that routes are developed most extensively on the side offering the easiest approach. This would seem to be the principal explanation for the unclimbed status of the northwest face of Mount Owen as late as 1965. This major, terraced face rises from the lower Valhalla Canyon to the last large tower on the north ridge of Mount Owen. It is bounded on the right (south) by Serendipity Arête and on the left (north) by the Northwest Couloir, the deep chute which defines the northwest ridge and separates the Great Yellow Tower from the remainder of the north ridge above. It was August 4 when Herbert Swedlund and I set out to try this face, which we had studied during a previous ascent of the northwest ridge of the Grand Teton. Leaving in the early afternoon of the 3rd, we crossed the cold Cascade Creek and struggled past the bush to the entrance to Valhalla Canyon. In order to establish as high a bivouac site as possible, we took the snow-filled couloir just to the right of the main Northwest Couloir to pass the first small cliffband onto the first talus/scree slope. We leveled a more or less comfortable site near the base of the prominent waterfall in the cliffband above. Starting at the first light in the morning this cliffband was found to be easy (F3) via the rock between the waterfall and the Northwest Couloir. The next scree slope was crossed to the small buttress which led to the beginning of the main wall. The first serious pitch led up steep slabs to the right to a chimney, whose left wall yielded access to further slabs leading back to the left. Scrambling and easy climbing up and left then took us to a large ledge cutting horizontally across the face. We traversed right on this ledge until about 100 feet past the large, obvious jamcrack which can be seen from the valley floor as the only break in this portion of the face. The next pitch involved a hand traverse back left to the crack which was climbed (F6) to a large ledge leading up to the right. A short chimney at the right end of this ledge (F5) took us onto the final large ledge below the upper wall. The immense, yellow flake which we saw above this ledge as we traversed along it to the south was not attempted although there is a recess behind it. Instead we continued along this ledge until a moderate vertical chimney was found in black rock. This proved deceptive since the first 50 feet were indeed moderate but near the end of the long rope-length the climbing became a strenuous F6. At this point a series of ominous black clouds, accompanied by distant sounds of thunder, urged us to take the quickest route to the summit, rather than continue the climb on the original face. So with all possible speed we traversed right out to the Serendipity Arête and reached the summit by that route. It appears that there were two or three pitches of climbing remaining on the face when we traversed out onto the ridge from the top of the final chimney. The climb, while on a major face of one of the finest Teton peaks, does not have any outstanding characteristics. The rock proved to be good to excellent in spite of its northwest aspect. If the flake alternative would go, the climb might be very exciting indeed; as it was it could be rated III, F6.

Leigh N. Ortenburger