Grand Teton in April


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The Guyser

Mountain climber
New Zealand
Topic Author's Original Post - Apr 6, 2013 - 03:42am PT
Hey folks

Visiting the US in April and keen to climb the Grand in late April...any advice on what route would be suitable for the time of year and current snow pack would be handy...


Trad climber
Elk Creek, Idaho
Apr 6, 2013 - 07:00am PT
Hi Guyser,
Most Grand Teton routes are feasible in spring months...a few are more practical (given good conditions) if one's principle interest is rock climbing rather than a mixed alpine effort.

The easiest passage, the Owen-Spalding, is usually sheathed in ice and snow (in April) requiring cautious travel over the more exposed obstacles. Manifesting the most expedient descent...especially to new climbers unversed in the Grand's topography, the OS is worthwhile...while not conveying the peaks most eloquent aspects.

The Upper Exum is a beautiful low moderate climb (5.5)...actually, most of it proceeds over class 3 and 4 rock. A few pitches, such as the wind tunnel, will be ice and snow laden...but most of the ridge is blown free of snow in the high winds of winter.

The Complete Exum is even more captivating, but significantly more difficult...and the chimneys tend to become choked with snow/ice...especially after wet snowstorms.

The Petzoldt Ridge routes, offer delightful climbing on largely snow-free rock, which terminate well below the summit...followed by a traverse to the Upper Exum which conducts the party up final solid rock to the highest point.

The Stettner Couloir presents a steep, narrow snow/ice passage which is somewhat popular with spring climbers. It's a good option for those versed in alpine climbing...a traverse to the Exum Ridge or Ford Couloir after reaching the forks takes you to the top.

The Stettner is to be avoided later in the season...rock fall has been heinous in recent years!

Another southern ridge, the Underhill, is a possibility. I've never climbed the Underhill Direct but the chimneys of the regular Underhill route tend to be icy that time of year.

The spring months are avalanche prime time in the Tetons...non-freezing nights combined with steep moisture laden snow and dangerous slabs of wet snow can thunder down on the approach to the mountain. But night temperatures ARE usually below freezing...April in the Teton high country...

Have a pleasant journey in the U.S. and best wishes for your adventure on the Grand...

Trad climber
Ouray, Colorado
Apr 6, 2013 - 08:35pm PT
Jennie had it right, the Exum Ridge is the ticket either complete or upper. It faces south and cleans up nicely, also, the approach to the Lower Saddle will mostly be easy to moderate snow.
The Guyser

Mountain climber
New Zealand
Topic Author's Reply - Apr 19, 2013 - 11:58pm PT
Thanks folks!

Trad climber
Where the Hoback and the mighty Snake River meet
Apr 20, 2013 - 09:03am PT

They might be about ready to shut down for the season, but you can still find good info here
Brian in SLC

Social climber
Salt Lake City, UT
Apr 20, 2013 - 03:23pm PT
Heard the north face of the Grand is in good nick as a ski route...


Guides ski the Grand Teton's North Face

Collins and O’Neill linked series of ledges to complete the technical first descent.

Brendan O’Neill stands on a narrow ledge during the first ski descent of the North Face of the Grand Teton. GREG COLLINS / COURTESY PHOTO

By Miller N. Resor, Jackson Hole, Wyo.

April 10, 2013

The backcountry in Grand Teton National Park shook with the rumble of wet-slide avalanches on Easter Sunday, but on the North Face of the Grand Teton Greg Collins and Brendan O’Neill found powder stashes nobody had skied before.

For decades the North Face of the Grand Teton has loomed large in the annals of American mountaineering, a goal of climbers worldwide, but on March 31 it became a ski run.

On a descent they are calling the Direct North Face, Collins and O’Neill rappelled from the top of the mountain and skied down a series of landmark ledges, reached the Grandstand, a nearby shoulder, and completed a ski-mountaineering descent that Jackson mountaineers have considered for years.

The duo ascended the 13,770-foot Grand by the traditional approach — up the Tepee Glacier and into the Stetner, Chevy and Ford couloirs.

They hoped to be able to ski from the summit, but wind had blown it dry. So they descended across icy rocks in their crampons to a V-notch and rappelled down the Pendulum Pitch to the third ledge.

The third ledge runs into the second ledge and appears near the top of the North Face of the Grand like an S-shaped handhold in the sheer face.

Below the top two ledges, the first ledge perches, still thousands of feet above Teton Glacier.

The plan was to ski all three ledges, the Grandstand and Teton Glacier back to their car far below.

Collins and O’Neill are both professional mountain guides — Collins with the Alaska Mountaineering School and O’Neill with Exum Mountain guides — and during the past year they had climbed the North Face of the Grand several times and observed it in winter from vantage points on Mount Owen and Teewinot.

A week before Easter, O’Neill had guided Jeremy Jones and Bryan Iguchi down the Otterbody, an east-facing ski descent on the Grand, as the professional snowboarders started filming the latest in Jones’ three-part series, “Deeper, Further, Higher.”

O’Neill had spoken with people about the route before leaving. He said Grand Teton snowboard pioneer Stephen Koch had talked about it since the early ’90s.

This collective knowledge convinced him and Collins the ledges were wide enough to ski, the objective was a natural progression of their mountaineering skills and that there might be some powder to be had.

Before they arrived at the top of the third ledge, however, there was no way to know if the snow would be skiable. The south-southwest winds and recent snowfall, followed by high pressure and no wind, boded well for their plans. But they couldn’t be certain until their boots touched down.

O’Neill described feeling a “little bit” of apprehension facing the unknown as he dropped into the first committing rappel. But overall, he said, he trusted himself and his partner and did not feel he was getting in over his head.

In the end, Collins and O’Neill had judged the conditions correctly and found 4 inches of powder on top of a stable layer.

The most intimidating part of the trip for O’Neill came immediately after.

A narrow crux at the top of the third ledge forced O’Neill and Collins to pick their way through a rocky narrow section and then straight line across an extremely narrow ledge, stopping abruptly in a concave section of the cliff face.

Collins described the crux as a 5.5 slab — a climbing rating that suggests moderate moves over rock requiring elementary techniques.

Going down such terrain on skis is another matter.

“We skied the third and second ledge on very steep and very exposed, soft snow,” Collins wrote in an email.

Almost 2,000 feet above the highest point on the glacier below, on a ledge only slightly wider than their skis, catching an edge or getting turned around and sliding backwards, would have been disastrous.

From the bottom of the second ledge they rappelled to the top of the first ledge.

To take advantage of the 1,000 vertical feet of good snow on the first ledge, they skied the slope, and, using crampons, climbed back to where they started from to make their final rappel down the Merrick-Ortenburger to the Grandstand.

The logistics of finding and building anchors was the most difficult part of the trip, O’Neill said. They made 10 rappels in the descent but could have done it in six or seven if they had had a longer rope.

From the Grandstand, they skied down to the Teton Glacier and back to the parking lot.

The trip took them 15 hours.

O’Neill said for him the trip was an evolution of years of ski mountaineering and a season of ski mountaineering.

“You get more and more comfortable skiing extremely exposed terrain with experience,” he said, “You build up experience over years, but also over a season.”

O’Neill, who has skied mountains around the world, said the Direct North Face, while hard to compare with 7,000-meter mountains, is as “technical a ski descent as there probably is.”

At the end of the trip, Collins, who could be reached by a series of Facebook messages, wrote, “We clicked sticks and confirmed it was good to be alive.

“We only looked back once, to check the conditions on the East Ridge (next run?). Then we stepped on the gas, trying unsuccessfully to avoid the refreeze,” he wrote.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Apr 20, 2013 - 04:39pm PT
yikes Jennie, do you write articles for Better Cols and Ridges?
that was marvelous..."the OS is worthwhile...while not conveying the peaks most eloquent aspects."

Trad climber
Elk Creek, Idaho
Apr 20, 2013 - 05:26pm PT
Thanks, Ed.

Being impassioned with the Grand, I suppose I turn too mellifluous... :-)
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Apr 20, 2013 - 07:16pm PT
never summited the Grand... though I tried once...
maybe I'll get it one of these days (sooner better than later)


Trad climber
Choss Creek, ID
Apr 20, 2013 - 10:41pm PT

Thank you for sharing the

Simply Astounding!

report of those folks making the first ski descent of the North Face of the Grand Teton.

my jaw is still slack, but I'm not quite drooling.
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