American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Wyoming, Tetons, Grand Teton, ex-Stettner Couloir

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1970

Grand Teton, ex-Stettner Couloir. Even as other cloddish guidebook writers have capitalized on their own blunders (See A.A.J., 1969, 16:2, p. 412), so it was with the first ascent on rock of the so-called Stettner Couloir on the Grand Teton, made on August 17 by Jennifer Ronsiek and me. This couloir separates the Petzoldt ridge from the Underhill ridge on the south side of the mountain and was previously thought to have been ascended on August 31, 1941, by Joseph and Paul Stettner. Through the valiant efforts of Jack Fralick, a review of the evidence, including a movie made by the Stettners during their climb, seems to lead to the conclusion that the Stettner climb was in fact the first ascent of the couloir which separates the Petzoldt ridge from the Exum ridge, the so-called Beckey Couloir. This couloir should now correctly be known as the Stettner Couloir since the climb of Beckey, Matthews, and Widrig did not take place until eight years after the pioneer Stettner climb. This regrettable switch left the old Stettner couloir without a name and without a first ascent. Surprisingly the latter appears not to have been made until June 30, 1964, by a Seattle party of Mark Fielding, Curtis Stout, and Charles and Robert Schaeffer. At such an early season the couloir was filled with snow and was climbed in a straightforward way with crampons and axes to the bowl at the upper end. At this point the top of the Underhill ridge is directly to the east, the tower of the Petzoldt ridge is to the west, and the near vertical beginnings of a secondary ridge are just above. From this bowl the 1964 party cut left on some F6 rock to reach the notch behind the Petzoldt ridge tower and then continued up the Ford couloir to the summit. On August 17, when the climb was made last summer, the snow was almost entirely gone, leaving nothing but a steep, smooth, wet-walled waterfall in the bottom of the couloir, which drains the entire south side of the mountain. Upon reaching the start of the steep section from the Black Dike, we found that unless one wanted to attempt the waterfall, which would have been most unpleasant as well as difficult, one of the two sidewalls of the couloir would have to be climbed. The left (west) wall consists of very steep, massive rocks, smooth and often water-polished with very few cracks. Thus the right wall which did contain a single crack system was selected. Four good leads up these cracks and some small chimneys from the alcove at their beginning brought us to the crux pitch, a 70-foot jam crack. This difficult crack was ascended by a mixture of free and aid climbing, using aid on the wall to the right just below the exit to gain an uncomfortable belay stance out to the left. There appears to be no alternative to this pitch, making the entire route one of the most interesting on the peak. From this belay we moved left directly into the couloir for the first time since starting from the initial alcove. This brought us into the bowl with its choice of moving left to the Petzoldt ridge notch, or right to the Underhill ridge notch. Selecting the latter, in three leads we were under the largest of the three huge chockstones which cap this branch of the couloir. From under the lowest, a rope-length led to a room under the uppermost, and astonishingly a very small tunnel was found permitting exit from the room onto the short slope leading to the Underhill notch. The summit was then reached by the usual route. In all, this proved to be an excellent climb, one of the more difficult but short routes on the peak. The danger of rockfall seems to be less than was expected. NCCS II, F7, A2.

Leigh N. Ortenburger

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