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North America, United States, Wyoming—Tetons, Mount Owen, First Winter Ascent

Mount Owen, First Winter Ascent. The astonishingly short list of successful winter climbs in the Tetons was lengthened significantly on December 19 and 20, when the first winter ascents of Mount Owen were made by a group from the Wasatch Mountain Club and the Ogden Steinfiels: Tom Stevenson, George Lowe, Mike Lowe, Steve Swanson, Lenny Nelson, and Jon Marsh. A reconnaissance climb on November 13 to the Owen-Teewinot ridge showed that the couloir east of the regular Koven couloir would probably provide a route with least avalanche danger, although it implied a traverse of the East Prong, not a simple task even in summer. On December 17 the party of six departed from the Jenny Lake area at eleven a.m. on skis, reaching Surprise Lake for the first campsite without problems. The next morning under clear sunny skies they tackled the first difficulty, the traverse under the north face of Disappointment Peak. The initial cable area was protected by placing a fixed rope through a piton plus a karabiner on the cable itself, allowing the climbers to make the traverse by removing their skis even though four to five feet of snow covered the rocks. The Teton Glacier was then reached with no further difficulty other than that of breaking the trail in variable snow. Enough time remained to examine the two couloirs. The Koven couloir was chosen since the snow conditions were excellent; up to that time the snowfall in the Tetons had been exceptionally light. George and Mike led the couloir, passing a four- foot overhanging section, to the first snowfield of the east ridge of Owen; fixed lines were left to facilitate the climb the next day. Camp was made on a small snow ridge near the base of the couloir. Two ropes of two, George Lowe and Nelson, Mike Lowe and Swanson, left at 6:30 a.m. the next morning, December 19, for the summit; Stevenson and Marsh had drawn the short straws and served as support party in camp. George led the chimney onto the upper snowfield, where he and Nelson turned to the east-ridge route, while Mike and Swanson attacked the Koven route. The east-ridge party found the standard summit knob pitch from the east impossible and so utilized the southeast cracks where there was less snow. They reached the summit at 10:30 A.M. and were met 30 minutes later by the Koven route party, whose most serious problem was the pitch up onto the crest of the south ridge. Descent was made by the combined party down the Koven route to camp at 3:30 P.M. The east ridge was again climbed the following day by two ropes, Mike Lowe and Stevenson, and Swanson and Marsh. The east pitch on the summit knob again proved too much for numbed fingers, so the southeast cracks were used. The 21st was spent skiing back to Jenny Lake via the Amphitheater Lake trail. Avalanche danger was apparently minimal and temperatures were not extreme, averaging between 0° and 10°. It seems likely that during winters with a normal snowfall, the difficulties might well have been noticeably greater. As it was, such a pitch as the summit knob was significantly more difficult in the winter. This carries an implication for the winter climbing of the more difficult routes in the range.