American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

North America, United States, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Teewinot, Mt. Owen, Grand Teton, Enchainment

  • Climbs And Expeditions
  • Climb Year:
  • Publication Year: 1999

Teewinot, Mt. Owen, Grand Teton, Enchainment. Fellow Exum guide Hans Johnstone and I took advantage of a rare shared day off in August to finally bag three routes we had never been on by enchaining the North Face of Teewinot, the North Ridge of Mt. Owen and the North Face of the Grand Teton. While our goal was to get into the mountains sans the burden of clients and to cover some major new ground, we also set some simple rules. Number one, we couldn’t skip any of the technical climbing on a route by traversing in high; we basically had to do the route as described in the guidebook. Number two, the route had to be listed in Leigh Ortenburger and Renny Jackson’s guidebook as a prominent north face or north ridge route. Number three, the North Ridge of the Grand was out because we had climbed it. And number four, we had to climb to each peak’s summit.

We began the day by headlamp, around 4 a.m., under a display of aurora borealis rare for the region. Dawn was lipping the horizon as we completed the traverse to the north face of Teewinot and began scrambling up the ramp that crosses the face from east to west and accesses the upper, easy slabs of the northwest ridge. A post-cold front chill made the thought of difficult climbing unpleasant, so we basically put it out of our minds for the time being, hoping to simply get a jump on the day and summit Teewinot via the easiest of the routes up its north face. We topped out around 7:15 a.m.

Then we set out for the descent and traverse all the way over to the base of Mt. Owen’s north ridge. The challenge was to avoid substantial fields and couloirs of snow left from a wet June, while in the meantime avoiding clobbering one another with endless loose boulders. Perhaps over-estimating our route-finding skills, we had brought one diminutive ice ax between us, of which I carefully maintained possession. At the same time, our footwear consisted of some flimsy, sticky rubbered approach shoes (probably the ones worn by Hans in that shoe ad where he’s not wearing a helmet). When crossing frozen snow, I chopped steps while Hans pecked his way along my tracks using a sharp rock for added purchase. Finally, we plunged into the 15-foot bergschrund between the rock and the snow, tunneling our way over to the base of the northeast face. A short but steep, grimy and poorly protected pitch accessed a corner of the face, and from there a series of ramps and benches took us up and across the stream draining the face proper, then around the base of the Crescent Arête and into the bottom of the Run-Don’t-Walk Couloir. After crossing the couloir, we ascended a nice pitch of slab climbing bounded by a comer on the left that led to more ramps that finally led to the striking, diagonal slash that marks the North Ridge proper.

From there the route was obvious, leading up through a couple of interesting chimneys to the Yellow Tower, which we tackled via steep cracks on its west side. More wandering up the east side of the ridge, then onto the spine of the ridge itself, led to an awkward 5.9 slot protected by a piton, which is the first place we roped up for the day. Hans, who doesn’t understand awkward, took the lead, and soon we were on our way again. At that point we felt slightly behind schedule, so we bent the rules slightly at the very top of the route by climbing the final chimney of the Koven Route rather than stay on the more difficult spine of the ridge all the way to the summit.

Then we traversed along the west side of Owen, rapped into Gunsight Notch, scrambled up and left over steep ground to the east side of the Grandstand and zig-zagged down slabs until we were just above the Teton Glacier. A short rappel off an old bolt left behind during a rescue off the north face years ago brought us to the top of the glacier. From there we traversed across loose and gritty rock to what we thought was the base of the regular North Face route. Soon the climbing became more difficult than we knew it should be. Others had made the same mistake, so we used bail slings already in place to rap down and left to the correct line.

We maintained our wayward tendencies as we ascended, getting lost no less than four times before knowing for sure we were on route at the unmistakable Guano Chimney. Having wormed up the chimney, and sporting a fresh coat of guano, we wandered up the slabs of the first ledge, scrambled to the second ledge and got off route yet again when Hans led a striking but tricky pitch of climbing to get off the end of the second ledge. Back on route for the Pendulum Pitch, I led across surprisingly dry rock, stepping around just a couple patches of ice. Hans led the final section, topping out in the soft, burnished yellow of evening sun. We summited the Grand at 7:15 p.m., exactly 12 hours from when we had summited Teewinot.

Moving over all-too familiar terrain on the descent, we made it to the developed trail near the Platforms before having to turn on our headlamps, and back to our car by 10 p.m.

Mark Newcomb

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