Grand Teton
A Place Called Jackson Hole
A Historic Resource Study of Grand Teton National Park
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Park of the Matterhorns
By Reynold G. Jackson

During the years following his 1872 expedition to the remote and wild Yellowstone region of Wyoming, Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden presented a series of lectures to organized groups and to the public at large. These lectures were illustrated with stunning slide images by photographer William Henry Jackson. Prominent among the dazzling array of pictures were the first views of the Teton mountain range, now, of course, one of the most recognizable and well-known national park regions in the United States. The American public was amazed by the dramatic scenery and the fact that such landforms existed within the country. Imaginations were stirred by visions of needle-like pinnacles and snow-covered, sharply-defined summits. Images of the Teton Range are now so prevalent that the rugged peaks have almost become the symbolic representation of what mountains should look like. Indeed, when we try to picture in our mind the classic mountain image, the craggy peaks of the Tetons almost immediately appear.

The Tetons have played a pivotal role in the historic development of climbing and mountaineering in this country. Phrases such as "the home of American mountaineering" and "the center of United States alpinism" have long been used to describe the region and its relative importance in the evolution of American climbing. [1] There are several reasons for this. At first, exploration of a previously unknown area of the country was sufficient cause for one to endure the hardships involved in traveling to the isolated Tetons. During the last century this relative isolation has, of course, changed, with highways leading virtually to the foot of the peaks. Once the range became easily accessible, mountaineers from all over began to arrive, pulled by the irresistible draw of the high peaks. Today the summit of the Grand Teton is little more than three horizontal miles from the nearest approach road. Additionally, every peak between Death Canyon on the south and Moran Canyon on the north can be climbed in one day from a campsite at Jenny Lake, which is the center of mountaineering activity. And the climbing challenges are tremendous!

Sooner or later, virtually everyone who has done any mountain climbing in the United States visits the Tetons and ascends one or more of the high peaks. There is perhaps no climbing area in the country that can match the Tetons for general mountaineering of an alpine nature with excellent rock and moderate snow. This combination of characteristics provides an excellent training ground for the novice, as well as the vast majority of climbers who simply seek enjoyable and challenging routes. There are also extremely difficult mixed alpine climbs that provide a testing ground for those who aspire to travel to the other great ranges of the world. From the large Himalayan expeditions of the past, to the modern alpine-style ascents of today, Teton climbers have played a key role in pioneering new routes throughout the world.

The Grand Teton has become one of the most popular peaks in the country, ranking as one of the finest mountaineering objectives in the United States. This reputation is certainly deserved. This complex mountain offers a wide variety of challenging routes on its many faces and ridges. Today one has a choice of some 80 routes and variations to the summit, with 15 more available on the adjacent Enclosure. Enjoyable ridge scrambling, high-angle rock walls, moderate snowfields, glaciers, and steep ice chutes are all to be found on this varied peak. This collection of outstanding alpine routes sets the Grand Teton apart from and above the lesser peaks of the range. The Teton Range has seen more climbing than perhaps any other range of equal size in the entire continent.

From the summit of the Grand, almost every other peak in the range can be seen. The most prominent peak from this viewpoint is Teewinot Mountain, its sharp pinnacles silhouetted against the flat plains of Jackson Hole. The Wind River Range forms the eastern horizon and one can easily pick out flat-topped Gannett Peak, the highest in Wyoming. To the north, one can see well into Yellowstone National Park and beyond, to Pilot, Index, and Granite Peaks. The rolling hills and cultivated fields of Idaho complete the vista to the west.

The climbing history of the Teton Range is lengthy and convoluted, and only a very brief outline can be given within these pages. The goal of this chapter is to provide an overview of Teton mountaineering history as complete as possible, from its origins in the middle of the nineteenth century to the present day. In a broader sense, this history is woven intricately into the more complex evolution of climbing in the United States. By taking a look at some of the climbers who passed through the Tetons over the years, we can see not only how they affected Teton climbing history but how they helped shape mountaineering in this country and throughout the world.

Grand Teton: Structure and Nomenclature

Since much of the mountaineering history of the Teton Range is that of the Grand Teton itself, it is necessary to try and understand the complex structure of this amazing peak. On the south, the Grand Teton is bounded by the Lower Saddle (11,600+), which separates it from the Middle Teton. Ferocious winds howl across this broad saddle from which most of the summit climbs of the Grand Teton are launched. The much sharper Gunsight Notch (12,160+) on the north isolates the Grand from its neighbor, Mount Owen. Teton Glacier lies at the foot of the steep and renowned North Face, which is bounded on the east by the pinnacled East Ridge and on the west by the North Ridge. Glacier Gulch forms the major drainage below Teton Glacier. The slabby southeast face of the mountain harbors both the East Ridge snowfield and the Otterbody Snowfield, named for its remarkable resemblance to the animal. Below the steep rock of the southeast face is Teepe Glacier, technically not an actual glacier but merely a prominent snowfield in Garnet Canyon, just south of the East Ridge.

Teepe Pillar and Glencoe Spire, two major pinnacles towering above the north fork of Garnet Canyon, are separated from the upper portion of the mountain by Black Dike, which cuts across the southern portion of the Grand Teton at about 12,000 feet. The three major ridges on the south—Exum, Petzoldt, and Underhill—named for pioneer Teton mountaineers of the 1930s, all rise above this obvious dike. From the Lower Saddle, two large couloirs or gullies extend upward for 1,500 feet to the Upper Saddle (13,160+), which lies at the base of the cliff band that guards the summit of the peak. The Upper Saddle separates the Enclosure, or western spur (13,280+) of the mountain, from the main summit (13,770). The Enclosure itself is supported by a southwest ridge, which extends down into Dartmouth Basin and a very long northwest ridge, with origins in Cascade Canyon, 5,600 feet below. The impressive northern aspect of the Enclosure rises vertically above the upper south end of Valhalla Canyon and is separated from the Grand Teton by the well-known Black Ice Couloir, which terminates at the Upper Saddle. The west wall of the Grand extends from the Black Ice Couloir north to the north ridge that reaches from the Grandstand, above Gunsight Notch, up to the summit.

Mt. Owen and the Grand Teton
Mt. Owen and the Grand Teton from the west. Photograph taken from near the summit of Table Mountain. William Henry Jackson, U.S. Geological Survey

Trappers, Explorers, and Surveyors

The origin of mountaineering in the United States is linked to the early exploration of the North American continent. As European settlers pushed gradually westward across the low-lying hills and then the Great Plains, they were presented with no real physical barrier until they reached the Rocky Mountains. Lieutenant Zebulon Pike's party, which began its exploratory journey westward near St. Louis in 1806, were the first adventurers to attempt an ascent of a high peak when they reached the area now known as the Front Range of Colorado. They ended up climbing what amounted to a minor summit and, as Pike put it, could see his "Grand Peak [later known as Pike's Peak] at a distance of 15 or 16 miles from us." [2]

The next exploration of this region was led by Major Stephen Long of the U.S. Topographical Engineers, during the summer of 1820. One of the objectives was to ascertain the height of Pike's Peak. Edwin James, the botanist of the expedition, led a climbing party to the summit of the peak, which was the first known major ascent in North America. Captain Benjamin Bonneville's curiosity about the interior of the Wind River Range in Wyoming led to the next stage in the development of mountaineering. In September 1833, rather than detour around the range, Bonneville decided to explore the possibility of a direct route through the mountains from east to west. Finding the way rougher than expected, he climbed one of the highest peaks in order to scan the surroundings and find a possible way through. We may now only speculate as to which peak Bonneville's group climbed, but it could have been one of the high mountains in the vicinity of Gannett Peak, Wyoming's highest (13,875). Lieutenant John C. Fremont, led by renowned guide Kit Carson, was the next explorer to visit the Wind River Range in 1842. His group climbed what they believed was the highest peak in the range and, quite possibly the highest in the Rocky Mountains, unfurling the Stars and Stripes on the summit. Again, it is unknown as to which peak was actually climbed, but speculation centers on either Fremont Peak or Mount Woodrow Wilson.

The next peaks to attract the attention of mountaineers were the volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest. In 1853, Thomas Dryer climbed Mount Saint Helens. Climbing parties reached the crater rim of Mount Rainier in 1852, 1855, and 1857. In 1870, the first documented ascent was made when Hazard Stevens and Philemon Van Trump finally reached the summit. Edmund Coleman, who had climbed Mount Baker in 1868, dropped out during the approach.

After much lobbying by geologist Josiah Dwight Whitney, the California legislature established its Geological Survey in 1860. Whitney became its chief, and his ambitious plan was to accomplish a complete inspection of the state. Among various scientific objectives, Whitney became curious as to which mountain was the highest in the state and if it was, perhaps, the highest in the country. He and his assistant, William Brewer, climbed Mount Shasta in the northern part of the state with this idea in mind. In 1864, a portion of the Geological Survey journeyed to the High Sierra. Among the group was Clarence R. King, who later became the first director of the U.S. Geological Survey. (The race for this highly esteemed directorship was hotly contested between King, Ferdinand Hayden, and Major John Wesley Powell.) Climbing what they believed was the highest peak, which they named Mount Tyndall, King's group observed a yet higher summit to the south, applying the name of their chief: Whitney. The loftiest peak in the continental United States was finally climbed in 1873 by three local men from the Owens Valley.

The Grand Teton was well known to travelers in the early nineteenth century as an important landmark of the headwaters of the Columbia River. The Tetons were a focal point for the fur-trapping business that prospered in the beaver-rich rivers and streams that surrounded the range. Fur trappers were the first Europeans to explore much of the wild area of western America, and their stories and exploits have now become legendary. The Grand, Middle and South Tetons were the famous "Trois Tetons" (roughly translated, three breasts), well-known landmarks to the few individuals who journeyed through this section of the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century. There has been much written elsewhere about these hardy mountain men. They were more interested in the abundant game in the valleys, and thus had little time for mountain climbing and exploration. This chapter will, therefore, only deal with those who were directly involved with climbing, and about whom there exists a written record.

One such individual was an expatriate Brit by the name of Richard "Beaver Dick" Leigh who came to the Rockies in 1849, and who made his home in Teton Basin from 1863-1899. Leigh spent most of his time trapping in the canyons on the west side of the range, but there is some indication that his explorations penetrated into the very heart of the mountains. As Leigh noted in a letter to the editor of the Rocky Mountain News:

. . . as I know no liveng man as ever crossed from the East to the west side of the range althow I believe it can be done in one plas only without going to the conant trale north of the Trale creek pass south and that it over the sadle betwene grand teton and the one on the south of it altho myself and John Lunphara of Bitterroad vally tryet in 58 but it was too much for us. . . [3]

This passage places Leigh and his companion in Garnet Canyon, later regarded as the hub of Teton climbing, sometime during the year 1858.

Beaver Dick Leigh is the well-known guide for many of the expeditions to both sides of the Tetons during the latter half of the nineteenth century. This included the 1872 Hayden Survey expedition, during which the first recorded attempt to ascend the Grand Teton occurred. Leigh may have been Nathaniel P. Langford's source for an 1873 article in Scribner's Monthly, in which Langford reported that a mountain man named Michaud had attempted the ascent of the Grand Teton in 1843, 29 years earlier:

About the year 1843 an old trapper named Michaud provided himself with ropes ladders etc. but failed to reach the top, though he made the most strenuous efforts. [4]

The identity of Michaud remains uncertain. He may have been Michaud LeClaire, who served as a messenger for the Hudson's Bay Company, carrying dispatches from Fort Hall (near present-day Pocatello, Idaho) to Montreal, Canada. The ledger books of the Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company for 1837 also include a page for a Mitchael LaClair but whether this is the person to whom Langford was referring to may never be known for certain. [5]

Beginning in 1867, Dr. Ferdinand V. Hayden began a series of exploratory ventures into relatively unknown areas of the American West for the purpose of surveying their natural resources. Hayden was successful in obtaining appropriations from the U.S. Congress for these explorations and his parties were comprised of a number of naturalists, scientists and their assistants. The published annual reports of the surveys met with great popular approval, so much so that the congressional appropriations steadily grew. The 1872 Hayden Survey Expedition (properly the U.S. Geological Survey of the Territories) marks the beginning of recorded exploration of the Teton Range. This was the second of the famous "Hayden Surveys," as they have come to be known, to explore the Yellowstone region, and Congress allotted $75,000 for the expedition.

Ferdinand V. Hayden had the distinct knack of convincing extremely talented individuals to join him on these daring, exploratory ventures. One such individual was William Henry Jackson, who at that time was just beginning his career as a photographer. Through the use of the relatively new medium of photography, Hayden wished to convince others in Washington D.C. that certain choice areas of the West should be established as natural preserves that would be protected from exploitation and preserved for future generations. While the idea that Yellowstone, the world's first national park, did not originate with Hayden, he is now recognized as having been the first to promote the concept in public. [6]

We are mainly concerned here, however, with that segment of the 1872 Hayden expedition known as the Snake River Division, which fell under the capable leadership of James Stevenson, Hayden's right-hand man and long-time friend. The main objectives of the Snake River Division were to explore, map, and report on the Teton Range and the country to the east and west. One of the party's guests was Yellowstone's newly-named first superintendent, Nathaniel Pitt Langford, who had lectured, written articles, and lobbied tirelessly to have the park established. The Snake River Division traveled north from Ogden, Utah, by horseback along the old stagecoach route to Fort Hall. Converting to a pack train at this point, they then ventured east and established a base camp at the mouth of Teton Creek on the west side of the range on July 23, 1872. This base camp was occupied for nine days until August 2.

On July 27, a party of six including William H. Jackson, Charles Campbell, Philo Beveridge, Alexander Sibley, and perhaps John M. Coulter, explored the north fork of Teton Canyon for the first time. They also made the first ascent of Table Mountain, where just below the summit Jackson exposed his now-famous negatives, and gave the world its first glimpse of these mighty peaks. Meanwhile, 14 other members of the expedition attempted an ascent of the Grand Teton, leaving camp on July 28 and establishing a high camp in the south fork of Teton Canyon. Two of the 14, Nathaniel Langford and James Stevenson, claimed to have reached the summit via an ice cliff from the Upper Saddle on July 29, 1872. Three other members of the expedition reached the Lower Saddle. Frank Bradley, a geologist, stopped at the saddle to wait for the mercurial barometer carried by Rush Taggart, assistant geologist; while two 17-year-old boys, Sidford Hamp and Charles Spencer, continued some distance above the Lower Saddle but, in all probability, stopped short of the Upper Saddle. There is no question that Langford and Stevenson reached the Upper Saddle and the Enclosure, as they were the first to describe the archeological structure located at that lofty site. Langford mentioned this structure in an article that later appeared in Scribner's Monthly. His first description of the site was given to a reporter from the Helena Herald the day after the expedition was finished, and is probably the most accurate:

The top of the Teton, and for 300 feet below, is composed entirely of blocks of granite, piled up promiscuously, and weighing from 20 to 500 pounds. On the apex these granite slabs have been placed on end, forming a breastwork about three feet high, enclosing a space six or seven feet in diameter; and while on the surrounding rocks there is not a particle of dust or sand, the bottom of the enclosure is covered with a bed of minute particles of granite not larger than the grains of common sand, that the elements have worn off from these vertical blocks until it is nearly a foot in depth. This attrition must have been going on for hundreds and, perhaps, thousands of years, and it is the opinion of Mr. Langford that centuries have elapsed since the granite slabs were placed in the position in which they were found. [7]

The Enclosure
The Enclosure on the summit of the western spur of the Grand Teton. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Hence we see the origin of the name of the "Enclosure," which now refers not just to the structure, but to the entire western spur of the great peak. Who actually built the Enclosure? It is possible, of course, that it was the mysterious Michaud during the course of his attempt. It is more likely, however, that American Indians constructed it long before 1843, possibly as a vision quest site.

Much of the controversy that was to later erupt after the 1898 Rocky Mountain Club ascent of Grand Teton centers on whether or not Langford and Stevenson went beyond the Enclosure to the summit of the Grand. An interesting illustration that appears in Langford's article, entitled "Looking off from the summit of Mount Hayden," was made by famed landscape artist Thomas Moran from a sketch by William Henry Jackson. [8] Behind the two figures on the "summit," rises what very well could be the higher, true apex of the Grand Teton. Additionally, in many of the newspaper articles that appeared immediately following the 1872 climb, such as Langford's, the man-made structure (Enclosure) was erroneously reported to be on the actual summit of the peak. These errors subsequently led to confusion and, therefore, considerable doubt as to the validity of the Langford and Stevenson climb.

The question of whether or not Langford and Stevenson actually continued up to the summit from the vicinity of the Upper Saddle remains the basis of the famous and continuing controversy over who made the first ascent of the Grand Teton. In 1898, when William O. Owen and party reached the summit, they found no evidence of prior human passage. No cairn had been erected, and nothing had been left behind. Also, no photographic evidence exists from the 1872 climb. Of course, Langford and Stevenson may not have had enough time to do much of anything except to find their way safely down off the peak. It may be safe to say that we will never know if they actually made the climb, but it is clear to this author that a concise, objective presentation of the facts concerning their attempt has yet to be made.

On August 13, 1872, the two divisions of the Hayden Survey finally reunited in the Lower Geyser Basin of Yellowstone National Park. On August 16, the entire expedition assembled, listened to remarks by their intrepid leader Hayden, and were immortalized in several photographs taken by Jackson. Nathaniel Langford then came forward with a surprising proposition. He proposed that the great peak that had been climbed by he and Stevenson be known as Mount Hayden. The proposal was met with cheers and Hayden not only accepted, but stated that he considered it the highest honor of his life. However, the name never took hold, and the toponymy reverted back to the trappers' somewhat crude "Grand Teton."

Another attempt of the Grand Teton was made by members of the Hayden Survey party in 1877. In July of that year, Thomas Cooper, Stephen Kubel, Peter Pollack, and Louis McKean reached the Lower Saddle from the west and continued toward the Upper Saddle for several hundred feet. At this point, Pollack and McKean apparently stopped while Cooper and Kubel continued a considerable distance further. The various accounts of this climb differ, and it is not certain whether they reached the Upper Saddle and the Enclosure.

In 1878, sheer chance prevented a successful ascent of the Grand Teton by a third Hayden Survey party. James Eccles, a member of the Alpine Club (London), together with his Chamonix, France guide Michel Payot, accompanied the Hayden expedition to the Teton-Yellowstone region; they were slated to attempt the peak with triangulator A. D. Wilson, and his assistant, Harry Yount, (and perhaps also A. C. Ladd) on August 20. Eccles and Payot were detained at the last minute by a necessary search for two mules that strayed from their camp in the Hoback, and they were unable to join Wilson. If they had, it seems probable that they would have reached the summit since Payot was a professional guide and Eccles an experienced mountaineer. The previous summer, on July 31, 1877, Eccles and Payot had climbed a technically difficult route on the south face of Mont Blanc in the French Alps. That they were now in the Tetons is significant from the standpoint of having a guide-client type of climbing party for the first time planning an ascent of the Grand Teton, a precursor to the thousands of guided parties who now climb the peak each summer. As it was, Wilson's party got as far as the Enclosure, where he took a series of readings with his heavy surveying instruments. By extraordinary chance, 97 years later in 1975, a metal matchbox with "A. D. Wilson," inscribed in his own handwriting, was discovered by Leigh N. Ortenburger in a crack in the rocks at the summit of the Enclosure. Not only was Wilson the most experienced climber in the Survey at that time, but he may well have been the best climber in the United States in the 1870s. He had climbed many of the higher peaks of the United Stares, including Mount Rainier, and was very disappointed at not having reached the summit of the Grand.

In 1880, while passing through Jackson Hole during a hunting expedition, a well-to-do, itinerant Englishman and member of the Alpine Club, William Baillie-Grohman, explored the environs of the Grand Teton and reached the Lower Saddle in a haphazard attempt from a low camp. From his journal entries it seems reasonable to assume that Garnet Canyon had been explored for the second time in recorded history. [9]


The second unsubstantiated ascent of the Grand Teton was by Captain Charles Kieffer, Private Logan Newell, and a third man, probably Private John Rhyan, about September 10, 1893. The only evidence for this ascent is a letter from Kieffer to William O. Owen on April 3, 1899, in which Kieffer describes his climb. [10] Kieffer's military records show that he was stationed at Fort Yellowstone during the summer of 1893 and, hence, presumably did have the opportunity to make the ascent. If Kieffer's drawing, which accompanies his letter, is to be taken literally, it shows his route to have been the Exum Ridge! (This technically difficult route was named for Glenn Exum's remarkable solo ascent in 1931.) Kieffer's letter also indicated that he returned in 1895, but failed because "the gradual snow field . . . had fallen and left a steep jump off that we could not climb."

In 1891, William O. Owen made the first of several attempts to climb the Grand Teton. With his wife, Emma Matilda, Mathew B. Dawson, and wife Jennie Dawson, Owen apparently reached a point somewhere between the Lower and Upper Saddles via the couloir from Dartmouth Basin. Owen returned in 1897 with Frank Petersen and made several unsuccessful attempts from different directions, one in the couloir descending to Teepe Glacier from above the Second Tower. He was nearly killed during a glissade on the glacier below, a precursor to the most common type of climbing accident today.

Finally, on August 11, 1898, a party of six sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Club (formerly the Rocky Mountain Climbers Club, or R.M.C.C., established in 1896 in Denver, Colorado) started toward the Grand Teton from a camp in the cirque north of Shadow Peak. At the Lower Saddle, Thomas Cooper, veteran of the 1877 attempt, decided not to continue; and Hugh McDerment elected to go no further at the Upper Saddle. The remaining four, Franklin Spalding, William O. Owen, Frank Petersen, and John Shive continued to the summit with Spalding largely responsible for leading and finding the route.

Shive, Spalding, Petersen on summit
John Shive, Franklin Spalding, and Frank Petersen on the summit of the Grand Teton on the first certain ascent, 1898. William O. Owen

The Rocky Mountain Club climb was the first documented ascent of the Grand Teton. Two days later, Spalding, Petersen, and Shive returned to the summit to build a cairn and leave their names chiseled in the summit boulder while Owen obtained photographs from the Enclosure. The site of Owen's camp in the cirque between Shadow Peak and Nez Perce, along with a cache of 27 very heavy eyebolt "pitons" discarded in 1898, was discovered by Leigh Ortenburger in August 1969. One of these pitons, quite solidly placed, can be found even today in a boulder at this 1898 campsite. On July 6, 1984, the only piton actually placed by Owen on the Grand Teton was found by Rich Perch and Dan Burgette in the lower end of the Stettner Couloir. Others had been found abandoned on the rocks in 1934 on the upper Owen-Spalding Route and in 1948 at the start of the Pownall-Gilkey Route.

The now famous controversy between Owen and Langford broke out immediately after Owen's publication of a full-page article in the New York Herald shortly after the 1898 ascent, in which he claimed to have been part of the first group to ascend the Grand Teton. The outdoor magazine, Forest and Stream, then became the primary forum in which the controversy played out before a national audience. In a series of letters to the editor and in various statements and affidavits, Owen waged verbal war with Langford. The debate continues to the present day, and may be the greatest of all American mountaineering controversies. Since historical "proof" is extremely unlikely to be forthcoming for either side of the argument, it may be best to just say that in 1872 Langford and Stevenson may have climbed the Grand Teton; in 1893 Kieffer, Newell, and Rhyan may have climbed it; and in 1898 Spalding, Owen, Petersen, and Shive definitely did succeed in reaching the summit.

Ten days after the ascent of the Grand Teton in 1898, the Bannon topographic party ascended Buck Mountain and saw the banner left by the Owen party on the summit of the Grand Teton. This topographic party also climbed several of the easy peaks along the divide during their work, which culminated in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Grand Teton quadrangle map. Although the 1898 ascent of the Grand Teton received considerable publicity, it had little influence in attracting other mountaineering visits. During the summer of 1912, Professor Eliot Blackwelder, while studying the geology of the sedimentary strata, mostly on the west slope of the Tetons, made a few ascents of peaks on and west of the divide.

The ascent of the north summit of Mount Moran in 1919 by LeRoy Jeffers was accorded more publicity than perhaps any other single Teton ascent. This ascent was due, in part, to an article that appeared in a 1918 issue of Scientific American containing this challenging statement: "The summit has never been attained and probably never will, as the last 3,000 feet of the mountain are sheer perpendicular walls of rock." [11] The Jeffers climb then provided the competitive motivation for a party of three that included Dr. L. H. Hardy, Ben C. Rich, and Bennet McNulty to make the first ascent of the higher south or main summit. The party beat Jeffers by ten days when he returned to make what he disappointingly discovered to be the second ascent in 1922.

Peaks and Historic Mountaineering Sites of the Teton Range

1. The Wall

This relatively minor summit was probably the first Teton peak to be climbed. In 1872, James Stevenson and Nathaniel P. Langford reached the top of a peak on the divide, which may have been this summit. The Bannon topographic party also may have climbed this peak in 1898.

2. Table Mountain

The first ascent of Table Mountain was around July 27, 1872, by William Henry Jackson, Charles Campbell, Philo J. Beveridge, Alexander Sibley and, perhaps, John Coulter. William Henry Jackson took the first photographs of the Teton Range from this peak.

3. Icefloe Lake

Icefloe Lake was the first high alpine lake in the Teton Range to be reached in a documented climb. Several members of the Snake River Division of the Hayden Survey visited the lake on July 29, 1872.

4. Dartmouth Basin

This large alpine basin immediately west of the Lower Saddle received its first documented visit on July 29, 1872, by members of the 1872 Hayden Survey on their way up to the Lower Saddle.

5. Lower Saddle (11,600+ ft.)

Located between the Grand and Middle Tetons, the Lower Saddle is often the scene of ferocious winds that prevail from the west. The first documented climb of the Lower Saddle was on July 29, 1872.

6. The Enclosure

The name "Enclosure" now applies to the entire western spur of the Grand Teton. Originally, this name described only the circular man-made structure on the summit of this subpeak.

7. Grand Teton (13,770 ft.)

The debate over who was the first to climb the Grand Teton may be the greatest American mountaineering controversy. Nathaniel Langford and James Stevenson claimed to have climbed the Grand in 1872, but the first documented climb was made in 1898 by William Owen, Frank Petersen, John Shive, and Franklin Spalding.

8. Garnet Canyon

Garnet Canyon is the "epicenter" of Teton mountaineering. Richard "Beaver Dick" Leigh may have explored this canyon as early as 1858.

9. Garnet Canyon, Petzoldt Caves

Paul Petzoldt used this area as a campsite during the early days of mountain guiding in Grand Teton National Park.

10. Garnet Canyon Trail

Glacier Trail and the 1.1 mile spur trail to the "Platforms" area of Garnet Canyon were among the first trails constructed in Grand Teton National Park.

11. Shadow Peak Cirque

From a camp at the eastern edge of this cirque, William Owen and his fellow climbers launched their successful ascent of the Grand Teton in 1898.

12. Glacier Trail

Like Garnet Canyon Trail, the Glacier Trail was one of the first trails constructed in Grand Teton National Park.

13. Amphitheater Lake

This lake served as a base camp for many historic first ascents on the north side of the Grand Teton. A memorial plaque honoring Theodore Teepe, who was killed in 1925 while descending Teepe Glacier, is affixed to a boulder on the eastern shore of the lake.

14. Valhalla Canyon

Jack Durrance and Henry Coulter entered this canyon on their historic first ascent of the west face of the Grand in 1940.

15. Mount Owen

This peak is named for William O. Owen, organizer of the 1898 ascent of the Grand Teton. Robert Underhill, Fritiof Fryxell, Kenneth Henderson, and Phil Smith made the first documented climb of Mount Owen on July 16, 1930.

16. Middle Teton

The first ascent of the Middle Teton, the third highest of the Teton peaks, was made by Albert Russell Ellingwood on August 29, 1923, via the steep southern couloir that now bears his name.

17. Mount Moran

Named for artist Thomas Moran, Mount Moran is the most complex and massive mountain in the range. LeGrand Haven Hardy, Ben C. Rich, and Bennet McNulty made the first ascent on July 27, 1922.

18. South Teton

South Teton is the fifth highest peak in the range. Its first ascent was on August 29, 1923 (the same day as the first ascent of the Middle Teton) by Albert Ellingwood and Eleanor Davis.

19. Buck Mountain

Topographer T M. Bannon and his recorder, George A. Buck, ascended Buck Mountain ten days after the Owen-Spalding party climbed the Grand Teton in 1898. On the summit, they built a large cairn known as "Buck Station."

20. American Alpine Club/Grand Teton Climbers' Ranch

Originally the Double Diamond dude ranch, this ranch has been leased by the American Alpine Club since 1970 and serves as a hostel for mountaineers.

21. Lucas-Fabian Homestead

Homestead of Geraldine Lucas, the first local woman to ascend the Grand Teton. The first woman to climb the Grand was Eleanor Davis.

22. Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp

Built by the CCC, the "C-Camp" became home and general hang-out for the numerous climbers who passed through Grand Teton National Park.

23. Jenny Lake Ranger Station

The park's first visitor center, the Jenny Lake Ranger Station has been the focal point of mountain climbing in the Teton Range since the park's establishment.

24. Jenny Lake Boulders

A popular climbing area, these boulders were chronicled in the humorous Guide to the Jenny Lake Boulders, written in 1958 by John Gill and Yvon Chouinard.

Mountaineering Map of Grand Teton adapted from the "Shaded Hiking Relief Map," Earthwalk Press. (click on image for an enlargement in a new window)


Grand Teton
Upper west face of the Grand Teton, showing the Owen-Spalding route, with figure waving the American flag near summit. William O. Owen

The summit of the Grand Teton was not visited again for 25 years. This lack of attention is truly astonishing since wide notice was given to the 1898 ascent, and there was much climbing activity in the United States and Canada during the intervening quarter century. The Teton Range was still relatively isolated, however, from any major population center and, therefore, was left alone and remained largely unexplored. The next phase of activity began on August 25, 1923, when three students from Montana State College made a remarkable climb of the Grand Teton. Quin Blackburn, the leader (who later served in the Antarctic with Byrd), David DeLap, and Andy DePirro made the third documented ascent (the Owen party climbed the peak twice) and descent via the Owen-Spalding Route in a single day without ropes or any technical climbing equipment!

The trio of Montanans had passed an encampment of eight other mountaineers, who were there at the invitation of Horace Albright, then the superintendent of Yellowstone National Park. Albright had contacted several climbing clubs with the express purpose of attracting the attention of mountaineers to the unlimited climbing potential of the region. This, he hoped, would then generate publicity about the Teton range—an area that Albright passionately felt should be protected and preserved as a national park. The group that was camping in Bradley (Garnet) Canyon included Albert Russell Ellingwood and Eleanor Davis (Ehrman), who were both members of the Colorado Mountain Club. [12] Ellingwood, a professor of political and social science, had learned to rock climb in the English Lake District while attending Oxford University. He was easily one of the strongest climbers of the day and had made the first ascent in 1920 of Lizard Head in Colorado, the most technically difficult climb in the United States at the time.

The group's climb of the Grand Teton on August 27, 1923, completed two days after the group from Montana, marked the first ascent of the peak by a woman. Davis, a physical education instructor at Colorado College, where Ellingwood also taught, was a strong climber and a vice president of the Colorado Mountain Club. This early climb by a woman is very significant. Strong female climbers were rarely seen in the predominantly male-dominated sport of mountaineering. Yet, here we see in the Tetons a tradition that has continued to the present day, namely, noteworthy alpine achievements by women who could hold their own in the sport. It is also interesting to note that, for the first time, mountaineers were traveling to the Tetons from their home ranges, pursuing climbing in their leisure time as a recreational activity and as a component of adventure travel.

Ellingwood climbing
Albert R. Ellingwood on the first ascent of the northeast ridge of Mt. Moran. Carl Blaurock

On August 29, Ellingwood, accompanied once again by Davis and E. W. Harnden, approached Middle Teton by way of the previously unexplored south fork of Bradley (Garnet) Canyon. Intent upon making the mountain's first ascent, Ellingwood did so via the steep couloir that now bears his name. His companions waited a short distance below the summit while a brief storm slammed into the peak. After the storm cleared and, after descending to the high saddle between the Middle and South Tetons, Ellingwood and the indomitable Davis then went on to make the first ascent of the northwest couloir of South Teton. All in all, this was an incredibly productive trip by the visiting Colorado mountaineers. Ellingwood returned the following year with fellow Colorado Mountain Club member Carl Blaurock, climbed the Grand Teton once again, and then pioneered the northeast ridge route to the top of Mount Moran. Photographs taken by Blaurock during the ascent show Ellingwood climbing in his trademark leather gauntlet gloves.


Guided climbing in the Teton Range traces its origins to Paul Petzoldt and the year 1924. Paul Petzoldt began his lengthy career as a world-class climber and professional mountain guide with four ascents of the Grand Teton made in 1924. On one of these climbs, Petzoldt guided some Jackson Hole locals up the Grand, including 59-year-old Geraldine Lucas, a retired schoolteacher and Jackson Hole homesteader, who was the second woman to reach the summit. On another climb, William O. Owen, a day shy of his 65th birthday, got to the summit a second time, thanks to Petzoldt's quickly developing expertise. On August 4, 1925, after the first successful ascent of the Grand Teton that year, the first known mountaineering fatality in the range occurred when Theodore Teepe was killed while descending the large snowfield/glacier on the upper eastern face of the peak. This feature has been referred to as Teepe Glacier ever since. Petzoldt was instrumental in the recovery of Teepe's body.

The summers of 1925 and 1926 saw the first climbs of Phil Smith and Fritiof Fryxell who, during the next decade, made much of the climbing history of the range. Fryxell's excellent account of Teton climbing history up to 1931 appears in his book, The Teton Peaks and Their Ascents. Smith made the first ascents of Disappointment Peak and Mount Wister in 1925 and 1928. Horace Albright's dream of a Grand Teton National Park became reality on February 26, 1929, and Fryxell and Smith became the first members of the ranger staff. Fryxell had this to say about the park's establishment: "The peaks—these are the climax and, after all, the raison de'etre of this park. For the Grand Teton National Park is preeminently the national park of mountain peaks—'the Park of Matterhorns'." [13]

The Golden Age

Petzoldt, Lucas on summit
Guided by Paul Petzoldt, 59-year-old Geraldine Lucas, a retired school teacher and local homesteader, reached the summit of the Grand Teton in 1924. One year earlier, Eleanor Davis became the first woman to climb the Grand Teton. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

Fryxell and Smith seized the moment and began systematically exploring the range, making many first ascents, and placing summit registers on the prominent peaks. A complete record of the climbing history of the range is available, beginning in 1898, due largely to the fact that Fryxell painstakingly transcribed these summit registers to a card file. Fryxell and Smith also initiated the practice, in force up through 1993, of requiring climbers to check in with park authorities as a safety measure and to report all new routes and unusual climbs. In 1929 and 1930, they made first ascents of Teewinot Mountain, Nez Perce Peak, Mount St. John, and Symmetry Spire. Fryxell, climbing solo, made the first ascents of Rockchuck Peak and Mount Hunt. With others he climbed Mount Woodring (Peak 11,585) and Bivouac Peak for the first time.

Many of the climbers who had made important first ascents and who were key players in the development of Teton climbing up to this point were members of the various mountaineering and outing clubs that were scattered throughout the country. The Rocky Mountain Climbers Club (1896), the American Alpine Club (1902), and the Alpine Club of Canada (1906) were among the first of these organizations. Universities such as Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, and others, all had mountaineering clubs that were formed in the 1920s. These clubs produced many strong climbers, and provided a framework for the organization of climbs and expeditions. A healthy spirit of competition existed between groups and, year after year, they began to come to the fabled Teton Range.

In 1929, the first climb of the Grand Teton by a route other than the Owen-Spalding Route of 1898 was made by Robert Underhill and Kenneth Henderson, both with previous climbing experience in the Alps. Underhill and Henderson, both members of the Appalachian Mountain Club, successfully ascended the East Ridge. Ellingwood and others had attempted this formidable route, but Underhill and Henderson found the key to getting around the Molar Tooth, a needle-like gendarme part way up. During the previous year, Underhill had climbed both the Peuterey Ridge and the Brenva Spur on Mt. Blanc in the French Alps. Besides being proficient alpinists, both he and Henderson were also technical rock climbers who learned their craft at New Hampshire's Cannon Mountain and other now well-known New England areas. In 1930, with Fryxell and Smith, they climbed the summit knob of Mount Owen, which had balked three attempts in 1927 and one in 1928. Underhill and Henderson also climbed the spectacular Teepe Pillar in 1930. Underhill's travels took him across the United States, and he may well have been the person most responsible for the development of roped climbing in this country at that time. His article, "On the Use and Management of the Rope in Rock Work," was requested by Francis Farquar, editor of the Sierra Club Bulletin. Underhill was invited to the Sierra to share his revolutionary techniques and provide instructional training. A landmark climb, the East Face of Mount Whitney, was climbed by Underhill and the strongest climbers in California at the time. This select group included Norman Clyde, sometimes referred to as the "dean" of the Sierra Club climbers, Glen Dawson and Jules Eichorn. [14]

The summer of 1931 was very important in the history of Teton mountaineering. On July 15, 1931, Glenn Exum, while working as Petzoldt's assistant guide and at Paul's suggestion, made his famous solo ascent of the ridge on the Grand Teton that now bears his name. On the same day, Underhill and ranger Phil Smith pioneered the easternmost of the three great ridges on the Grand's southern flank. Underhill also teamed up with Petzoldt for the first ascent of the East Ridge of Mount Moran. Underhill and Fryxell, in quick succession, then climbed the East Ridge of Nez Perce, the North Ridge of the Middle Teton, and the North Ridge of the Grand Teton.

It is this final climb that has become the touchstone for generations of Teton climbers. At the time of its first ascent, the North Ridge of the Grand Teton was regarded as the most difficult alpine climb in the United States. Even today, it has a reputation as the classic climb in the range. Previously dismissed as unclimbable by all who examined it, Underhill and Fryxell secretly believed that it was worth a try, especially after Underhill's solo reconnaissance of the route in 1930. Leaving their campsite at Amphitheater Lake at 5:30 A.M., the two climbers proceeded up and across Teton Glacier and arrived at the top of the Grandstand at 9:55 A.M. The serious climbing then began, and they soon found themselves beneath the infamous "Chockstone Chimney." Fryxell describes the crux of the climb:

Five feet out on the sheer west wall of the chimney we both found toe-room, and I climbed to Underhill's shoulders, then to his head. I could touch the chockstone but nowhere find the slightest hold. When exhausted by futile efforts I lowered myself to Underhill's side and we resorted to pitons. Underhill drove a first piton at the limit of his reach, and, from my shoulders, a second one three feet higher. A ring was snapped into each. After we were both roped securely to these, Underhill mounted to my shoulders and, using the upper ring, launched an offensive. But because of the absence of holds he likewise failed and dropped back to my shoulders. When rested he tried a second time, with the same result. At the third attempt he found a foothold well out to the right and, somehow, pushed himself over onto the chockstone—a magnificent exhibition of rock climbing. [15]

Underhill, Owen, Fryxell, Exum
Left to right: Robert Underhill, William O. Owen, Fritiof Fryxell, and Glen Exum, 1931. Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum

What Fryxell does not mention is his final, hoarse whisper to Underhill, "Stand on the piton!" Underhill was a major player who greatly influenced the development of technical climbing in North America. One sees in the above quote the reluctance with which these climbers used pitons. The use of pitons was still regarded unfavorably by the older generation. Underhill was visionary in that he firmly believed that pitons would test new limits of a climber's skill, and open a whole new realm of climbing possibilities.

That same summer, Fryxell made the first climbs of Cloudveil Dome, East Horn, Storm Point, and Ice Point. Hans Wittich climbed the Dike Route on Mount Moran and the Wittich Crack on the Grand Teton. During the next three years, the following major first ascents were completed, chiefly as a result of the efforts of Fryxell and Smith: Rendezvous Peak, Rolling Thunder, Eagles Rest, Doane Peak, Ranger Peak, Veiled Peak, and Prospectors Peak. Fred and Irene Ayres made their first visit to the park in 1932 and subsequently accomplished many first ascents, notably Rock of Ages and other pinnacles around Hanging Canyon, the West Horn, and Traverse Peak.

After 1935, interest shifted to the making of new routes. Throughout the 1930s, Petzoldt was guiding during the summers and made many important new climbs, such as the first ascents of Thor Peak, the North Face, West Couloir of Buck Mountain, the West Ridge of Mount Moran, and the Koven Route, West Ledges, and Northeast Snowfields of Mount Owen. The pioneering first winter ascent of the Grand Teton was made by Paul Petzoldt, his brother Eldon, and Fred Brown on December 17, 1935. They skied to the Caves in Garnet Canyon on the first day. and then spent two days ferrying loads to the Lower Saddle. From there, they proceeded to the summit via the Owen-Spalding Route. The group experienced a pleasant temperature inversion that allowed them to be in shirtsleeves on the summit while the valley below was locked in a frigid -20°F deep freeze.

In the same decade, T. F. Murphy, the chief of the party assigned by the U. S. Geological Survey to map Grand Teton National Park, ascended a great number of vantage points in order to determine elevations and sketch the topography. During the summers of 1934 and 1935, he climbed most of the peaks south of Buck Mountain, almost all the peaks of the divide, a few of the peaks west of Mount Moran, and many of the peaks bordering Webb Canyon. A climber visiting one of these lonesome peaks may still find a cairn that was probably built by Murphy and his assistants, Mike Yokel Jr., and Robert E. Brislawn.

Jack Durrance, Alpinist and Rock Climber

On August 25, 1936, during his first summer in the Tetons, Jack Durrance teamed with Paul and Eldon Petzoldt to make the first climb on the North Face of the Grand Teton—the most famous north face in the United States. Durrance had come to the Tetons to work for Petzoldt's burgeoning guiding business. Previously, he had spent eight years in Germany, attending high school in Garmisch and working in Munich. There, he came in touch with mountaineers climbing at the highest standards in the Alps, including the Schmid brothers, who had made the stunning first ascent of the North Face of the Matterhorn.

For their ascent of the North Face, the trio had left the valley very early in the morning in order to sneak by another group who were camped at Amphitheater Lake. This strong group included Fritz Wiessner, Bill House, and Betty Woolsey, and rumor had it that they were in the Tetons to attempt the same climb. Earlier that same summer, Wiessner and House had made the impressive first ascent of the south face of Mount Waddington in British Columbia, which was the most difficult climb in North America. Woolsey had rock climbed back east, and was captain of the U.S. Women's Olympic Ski Team from 1937 to 1940. After being scooped on the Grand's North Face, Wiessner satisfied himself by completing the first free ascent of Underhill's North Ridge Route a few days later. This was a magnificent achievement, quite possibly the country's first climb at the 5.8 level of difficulty. Wiessner, an expatriate from Germany, was an outstanding rock technician and alpinist. Both Durrance and Wiessner were brilliant climbers who greatly influenced the American climbing scene; their paths crossed once again in the Himalaya on the legendary K2 expedition of 1939.

Jack Durrance was a passionate rock climber whose favorite routes were the ridges. With Henry Coulter and other Dartmouth climbers, he made many new routes: the East Ridge of Disappointment Peak, the Durrance Ridge of Symmetry Spire, the North Face of Nez Perce, the Southwest Ridge and Northwest Ridge of Mount Owen, the lower half of the Exum Ridge, the Southwest Ridge of the Enclosure and the West Face of the Grand Teton. The West Face had been considered by Underhill and Fryxell to be the last remaining problem on the Grand. It required the skill and experience of the next generation, however, to make the first successful ascent.

On August 14, 1940, Durrance and Coulter climbed up into the pristine cirque on the northwest side of the peak that they named Valhalla Canyon. In Jack Durrance's words, they had taken "everything we owned," including two light sleeping bags, a large, rubberized-cloth bivouac sack, and a Primus stove and pot. Their technical arsenal included "a short ice axe, ten rock pitons imported from Europe and a 120 foot, linen climbing rope from the Plymouth Cordage Company." [16] Climbing in high-topped, smooth-soled sneakers, they also included, in case the rock was wet, Durrance's felt-soled kletter-shoe and Coulter's rope-soled sandals. Legend has it that as Durrance was beginning the crux final pitch of the climb, he turned to Coulter, wondering if the belay was on, and was met with a loud snore. Durrance unleashed an abusive tirade and Coulter, by now wide awake, assured his friend that he could indeed safely proceed. This was a landmark climb and, even today, the West Face of the Grand Teton, a route that is seldom done, has a well-deserved reputation of being one of the most classic and difficult alpine climbs in the range.

Many of Durrance's routes are now considered classics and, at the time they were pioneered, represented the highest caliber of American rock climbing. Jack Durrance was a pivotal figure in the climbing scene in the Tetons and the United States. With Durrance, we see the transition from the "gentleman climber" to the totally committed climber and alpinist. The American climbing scene was about to change, but it would have to wait until the world was not preoccupied with war. In the final development of new routes before World War II, Petzoldt in 1940 and 1941 led the now popular Chicago Mountaineering Club and North Ridge Routes on Mount Moran, and the Petzoldt Ridge on the Grand Teton.

World War II

Climbing in the Tetons ground to a halt during the war years. Many of the climbers were in the service, some enlisting in the Tenth Mountain Infantry Division that was formed in July 1943. The first element of the Division was formed at Fort Lewis, Washington, and the soldiers trained on the slopes of Mount Rainier. Camp Hale, Colorado, later became the primary training center. Several of the climbers and mountaineers who were to later make significant contributions to American climbing served with this famous group. Men such as Paul Petzoldt and David Brower acted as instructors, imparting their knowledge and expertise to the troops. A significant war time advancement was the development and later availability of specialized equipment, in the form of surplus, such as nylon climbing rope, ring angle pitons, and aluminum carabiners. The war also brought climbers from different areas together for the first time, which allowed for much information sharing. [17]

Grand Teton, North Wall

Between 1936-1940, the number of climbers who successfully ascended the Teton peaks each year was in the 200-400 range. The years following World War II brought an enormous increase in the number of climbers visiting Grand Teton National Park, with a corresponding rise in the investigation of new routes and old routes that had been climbed only once. New walls, ridges, and couloirs, purposely avoided by the pre-war climber as being too difficult, were now sought out and explored for the first time with a competence matched rarely by earlier climbers. Several ascents now considered classics were successfully completed. The most important new routes and first ascents of this period include: the North Northwest Ridge of Buck Mountain, the West Chimney of the North Face of Mount Wister, the direct South Ridge of Nez Perce, the North Face of Cloudveil Dome, the Southeast Ridge of the Middle Teton, the West Face of the Exum Ridge, the Red Sentinel, the Southwest Ridge of Disappointment Peak, the North Face and Northwest Ridge of Teewinot Mountain, the North Face and North Ridge of Mount Owen, the Southwest Ridge of Storm Point, the direct Jensen Ridge of Symmetry Spire, the East Face of Thor Peak, the South Face I of Bivouac Peak, and the direct finish on the North Face of the Grand Teton. Nearly all of these were pioneered by a small group of active mountaineers including William Buckingham, Donald Decker, Richard Emerson, Art Gilkey, Paul Kenworthy, Robert Merriam, Leigh Ortenburger, Richard Pownall, and Willi Unsoeld. Many of these men served prestigiously either as climbing guides or seasonal climbing rangers.

The direct finish on the North Face of the Grand represents the major achievement of the time period. Climbers have a peculiar fascination for cold, icy, and foreboding north faces. The great north faces of the Alps, best represented by that of the Eiger, were long considered the ultimate alpine objective, wrought with danger from falling rock and ice. Since the time of the ascent by the Petzoldt brothers and Jack Durrance, the North Face of the Grand had taken on this mystique. Pre-war climbers had avoided the uppermost section, or "head-wall." It was the challenge of the headwall, the Direttissima north face, that now beckoned to the next generation. By the time climbing guides Dick Pownall and Art Gilkey teamed up with Ray Garner in August 1949 to attempt the climb, the North Face had become the stuff of legend. Pownall brilliantly led the now-famous "Pendulum Pitch," tensioning across a blank section and gaining access to the highest of the four upward-sweeping ledges that are found on the face. After 17 hours, the best climbers of the day found themselves on the summit.

In 1953, the final portion of the North Face was unlocked by climbing guides Leigh Ortenburger and Willi Unsoeld and climbing ranger Richard Emerson. Because of the face's fearsome reputation, prospective climbers had to overcome an enormous amount of inner fear to even attempt the climb. During the ascent, Emerson, a master rock technician who had learned his craft in the Tenth Mountain Division, led the "Pendulum Pitch" free, as well as the delicate friction traverse into the "V". The classic direct North Face of the Grand Teton had been climbed. Both Emerson and Unsoeld participated in the 1963 American Mount Everest Expedition. During that trip, Unsoeld teamed up with Thomas F. Hornbein and together they made the first ascent of the West Ridge Route, one of great mountaineering feats in the history of the sport. Leigh Ortenburger, besides being the primary climbing historian of the Teton Range, became Americas foremost Andean mountaineer. Durrance's west face route received its second ascent during the summer of 1953 by Ortenburger and Mike Brewer. Ortenburger and Emerson, as well as Don Decker, also pioneered the direct south buttress of Mount Moran. Durrance's climbs had been equaled and surpassed, and a new generation was making its mark.

The second postwar decade, from 1955 to 1964, saw a rapid advance in climbing ambition, courage, competence, and equipment. In step with rock-climbing progress throughout the United States, new routes were pioneered that required a high level of technical skill in free climbing and pitoncraft. The use of expansion bolts as a means by which blank faces could be ascended saw its debut during this period although, surprisingly, rock-drilling equipment had been used as early as 1898 during the Owen ascent of the Grand. The first bolts used in the United States were those placed by David Brower and his team, who had successfully climbed Shiprock in New Mexico in 1939. There is a great proliferation of bolts in some areas of the country today, especially since the advent of portable, motorized hand drills. Fortunately, there are, even now, few bolts in Teton rock. Direct aid or artificial climbing, which was a rarity in the Tetons prior to 1958, became an accepted practice and was required on many of the most difficult new routes.

Rock Climbing in the 1960s, The Yosemite Influence

By 1960, the number of climbers in the Tetons had grown to 2,300. The most significant climbs of this era were made by Fred Beckey, William Buckingham, Yvon Chouinard, Barry Corbet, William Cropper, John Dietschy, David Dingman, David Dornan, John Gill, James Langford, Peter Lev, Frederick Medrick, Leigh Ortenburger, Irene Ortenburger, Richard Pownall, Al Read, Royal Robbins, Pete Sinclair, Herb Swedlund, Willi Unsoeld, and Ken Weeks. In many instances the new climbs, often variations rather than routes, were made on smaller faces and ridges. With a new emphasis on rock climbing rather than general mountaineering, three important areas—the south ridges of Mount Moran, the South Ridges of Disappointment Peak, and the buttresses in Death Canyon—were extensively developed, although the routes in general do not lead to any summit. The easier sedimentary peaks of the north and south ends of the range, which remained untouched by previous climbers, were explored by Arthur J. Reyman, John C. Reed Jr., Robert Stagner, and Leigh and Irene Ortenburger. A partial list of the more important climbs of this era includes: the Raven, the Snaz, the Pillar of Death in Death Canyon, the Wedge on Buck Mountain, the direct North Face of Mount Wister, the Big Bluff of Nez Perce, the Robbins-Fitschen and Taylor Routes on the Middle Teton, the Northwest Chimney and the Medrick Ortenburger on the North Face of the Grand Teton, the Black Ice Couloir on the Enclosure, the North Face and Northeast Face of Teepe Pillar, the North Face of Red Sentinel, the several north face and south ridge routes of Disappointment Peak, the Northwest Face of Teewinot, the Serendipity Aréte and Crescent Arte of Mount Owen, the three east face routes on Table Mountain, the East Face of Yosemite Peak, the South Face of Ayres' Crag 5, the direct South Face of Symmetry Spire, the several ridge and buttress routes and the North Face of Mount Moran.

The deliberate search for difficult rock climbs, new in the Tetons, became the goal of many climbers. Through and into the 1950s, the range had been regarded as primarily a mecca for alpinists. Now, the type of climber who passed through the Tetons may have just been to Yosemite, the Bugaboos, or the Shawangunks. Climbers who had learned their craft at one of these areas brought with them to this, the most accessible of alpine ranges, a level of rock climbing skill not seen in preceding generations. Home for many of the climbers of this era was the abandoned Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, located at the south end of Jenny Lake and originally known as Camp NP-4. This camp was built in 1934 and occupied through 1942, as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, one of many programs designed to lift the nation out of the worst depression in its history. By some estimates, up to 500 CCC workers built trails, backcountry cabins, and removed inundated trees from around the shore of Jackson Lake, whose surface area increased 50 per cent by the dam constructed in 1916. The Park Service eventually established a more official climbers' campground at the site of the old CCC camp, with a camping limit of 30 days, as opposed to the then usual ten. The "C-Camp," as it was called, became home and general hangout for the numerous climbers who passed through on their way to and from the other climbing destinations across the country.

Among the CCC camp's occupants in 1957 were Southern Californians Yvon Chouinard and Kenneth Weeks, who had started climbing during nest-raiding excursions as falconers. Chouinard is now looked upon as being one of the most influential figures in modern American and world mountaineering. His talent and expertise encompassed all of the various climbing disciplines from rock and ice craft to bouldering and aid climbing. Chouinard's ice tools and pitons, products of the Great Pacific Iron Works Company, revolutionized rock and ice climbing techniques everywhere. Among his many first ascents in the Tetons, he is, perhaps, most remembered for opening up several routes in Death Canyon, including the Snaz and the Raven Crack. He also co-authored the tongue-in-cheek Guide to the Jenny Lake Boulders with America's most notable bouldering specialist, mathematician John Gill. Also during the summer of 1957, the first ascent of the classic Irene's Aréte was accomplished by John Dietschy and Irene Beardsley. Beardsley continued to knock off cutting-edge alpine climbs, including the first all-female ascent of the North Face of the Grand Teton with Sue Swedlund in 1965. Later, while managing to pursue a career as a physicist and mother, this remarkable individual became the first woman to climb the fearsome Annapurna I, an 8,000-meter peak in Nepal.

Royal Robbins and Joe Fitschen were active in the Tetons during this period. Robbins was one of the strongest rock climbers in the world, as evidenced by such legendary climbs as the first continuous ascent of the Nose, and the first ascents of the alathe and North America Wall routes on El Capitan in Yosemite. Since the Tetons were the crossroads of American mountaineering at the time, the passage of individuals such as these through the climbers' camp brought new ideas, expertise, and an era of intense competition. A few days after the first ascent of the awesome Northwest Chimney Route on the Grand Teton by Leigh and Irene Ortenburger and Dave Dornan, the route saw its second ascent by Robbins, Chouinard, and Fitschen. The Californians upped the ante by free climbing a pitch that the others had used direct aid on, and by finishing with the crux pitches of Durrance's West Face. As a result, the Teton regulars were stirred up and, inevitably, change would come once again to the home of American climbing.

Another Yosemite climber who traveled to the fabled Teton Range during this era was Herb Swedlund, who began as an Exum guide in 1961. Swedlund had a strong background in rock climbing, exemplified by his success with Warren Harding and Glen Denny on the southwest face of Mount Conness in the high Sierra a few years before. On July 29, 1961, Swedlund, partnered by Ray Jacquot, made the first ascent of the Black Ice Couloir on the Grand Teton, perhaps the classic ice route in the United States. Generations of climbers had peered into the depths of the couloir from the Upper Saddle and simply shaken their heads, dismissing the gully as too dangerous to be considered seriously as a climbing route. It had repulsed several attempts by the leading ice specialists of the day, including Yvon Chouinard. After the first successful ascent by Swedlund and Jacquot, it joined the ranks of other legendary climbs—those that were often discussed but seldom repeated. Swedlund had climbed the elegant South Buttress Right on Mount Moran four days earlier with local climber David Dornan, thus completing the first ascents of the finest rock and ice routes in the entire range in a week-long tour-de-force.

The years from 1965 to 1975 saw a continuation of the search for new routes. New snow routes on Cloudveil Dome (Zorro Snowfield), Moran (Sickle Couloir), and the South Teton (Southeast Couloir) proved notable. Ice climbing was sought and found in the infamous Run-Don't-Walk Couloir on Owen, and the Hidden Couloir of Thor Peak. New mixed rock-and-ice climbs of major proportions were discovered or pieced together on the northwest flank of the Grand Teton, such as the combined Black Ice Couloir-West Face and the Lowe Route on the formidable north face of the Enclosure. This last climb marks the first time that climbers ventured onto what was the final, unexplored region of the Grand Teton. Following the only weakness in the huge wall, George Lowe and Mike Lowe were faced with difficult aid and free climbing in an immense chimney system.

Winter Alpinism

Beginning in 1965, with the first winter ascent of Mount Owen, a small group of committed and talented climbers from the Salt Lake area began a systematic series of other pioneering winter climbs in the Teton Range. The knowledge and experience gained from such ascents established this group as the new powers in the range. From February 28 to March 2, 1968, the North Face of the Grand Teton was climbed in one alpine-style push by Rick Horn, George Lowe, and Greg and Mike Lowe. This extraordinary ascent shattered the psychological barriers for winter climbing and encouraged similar challenges during the next few years. The first winter ascent of the West Face of the Grand Teton by George Lowe and Jeff Lowe in 1972 is perhaps the finest example of this kind of extreme alpine winter ascent. Both of these climbers went on to make other cutting-edge climbs throughout the world, with George among those to make the first ascent of the East Face of Mount Everest and Jeff becoming America's foremost ice specialist.

After 1965 and continuing well into the 1970s, the major emphasis once again centered on rock climbing. New faces were found: South Face of Spalding Peak; Middle, Briggs-Higbee Pillar on the North Face of Middle Teton; West Face of the Enclosure; Owen, Northwest Face; Crooked Thumb, direct North Face; Moran, West Buttress and North Buttress; and Bivouac, South Face routes II and III. Untrodden ridges were also climbed: Prospectors, upper North Ridge; Wister, Northwest Aréte; and Second Tower, South Ridge. The small pinnacle of the Red Sentinel yielded two new and difficult routes. A new pinnacle, McCain's Pillar, provided a difficult ascent. Some of the better climbs were but variations on previous routes, such as Garnet Traverse on the direct South Ridge of Nez Perce; the Direct Buttress on the Northwest Ridge of Teewinot; and the Italian Cracks on the Grand Teton. Other innovative climbs included the South Buttress Central of Moran and the Southeast Chimney and Simpleton's Pillar on the Grand Teton. There were only a few new climbs in Death Canyon (Escape from Death, Widowmaker, Doomsday Dihedral) on Moran's No Escape Buttress, and on the Glacier Gulch Artes. A significant technical advance was made with the first free ascent of the South Buttress Right in 1973 by Steve Wunsch and Art Higbee, using a bypass of the main aid pitch. The major contributors of these climbs were Roger Briggs, Peter Cleveland, Jim Ericson, Art Higbee, John Hudson, Dave Ingalls, Ray Jacquot, Peter Koedt, Juris Krisjansons, George, Dave, Mike, and Jeff Lowe, Leigh Ortenburger, Rick Reese, Don Storjohann, Ted Wilson and Steve Wunsch.

The Modern Era

The period through 1993 has seen important developments, many in novel directions. The existing Teton extremes of the climbing spectrum—both mixed alpine climbing and pure rock climbing—were explored and extended. The year 1977 saw the beginning of both types, with the new High Route on the north face of the Enclosure and new severe rock routes in Death Canyon (Yellow Jauntice) and on No Escape Buttress of Moran (No Survivors). The south face arena of Cloudveil Dome was opened that year (Cut Loose, Armed Robbery) and extended the following year (Silver Lining, Contemporary Comfort). But the explosion in rock climbing came with the frantic activity of 1978 and 1979, when seven new, very high standard routes were made on the same Death Canyon buttress that houses the now classic Snaz (Lot's Slot, Vas Deferens, Fallen Angel, Cottonmouth, August 11th Start, Caveat Emptor, Shattered). These remain today as some of the most difficult rock routes in the Tetons.

After the closing of the C-Camp in 1966, the Jenny Lake campground became the gathering place for climbers during the next few years, until the opening of the Grand Teton Climbers' Ranch around 1970 (previously the Double Diamond Dude Ranch). A certain degree of conflict arose during this interim period between the typical, vacationing park visitors and the more raucous climber-types, who were quite often in the Tetons for more extended periods of time. These conflicts were the source of considerable consternation to the Jenny Lake rangers who were tasked with keeping law and order in this region of the park. [19] One early inhabitant of the Climbers' Ranch was Mike Munger, an exceptional rock climber and alpinist from Boulder, Colorado. Munger emerged as the most powerful rock climber of the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the summer of 1977, Munger began a systematic exploration of the range, opening up many of the routes in Death Canyon mentioned above. He and others were also responsible for free climbing a number of existing aid climbs such as The Open Book on Grunt Aréte in Garnet Canyon, now considered a classic rock climb in the range.

A number of additional rock-climbing routes were discovered in Stewart Draw on Buck Mountain (Peaches), in Leigh Canyon on No Escape Buttress (Direct Avoidance, Spreadeagle, Gin and Tonic), on buttresses and a pinnacle in Avalanche Canyon (Blind Man's Bluff, Abandoned Pinnacle), and on buttresses in Hanging Canyon (the three "bird" Arétes: Avocet, Ostrich, and Peregrine). A major objective, the free ascent of the original South Buttress Right on Moran, was finally achieved on August 2, 1978, by Buck Tilley and Jim Mullin. The proximity to Jenny Lake of the southwest ridge of Storm Point has resulted in several new variations on generally good rock in the vicinity of Guides' Wall. The most recent new climbs in Death Canyon (Aerial Boundaries, 1985; Sunshine Daydream, 1987) are two of the finer routes among the many in that area.

The Grand Teton yielded five more routes or variations on its broad eastern expanse: Horton East Face, Beyer East Face I and II, Keith-Eddy East Face, Otterbody Chimneys. The golden rock of the direct East Ridge of Teewinot was also first climbed. A second major area for long routes of first-class climbing was extended on the huge diagonal west face of the south ridge of Mount Moran. To complement the Western Buttress (1969) the new West Dihedrals and Revolutionary Crest were added.

Perhaps the major accomplishment of recent times has been the emergence of the new, mixed, and very difficult routes on the north and west sides of the Grand Teton. In 1979, the Route Canal was established. In 1980, the prolific alpinist Steve Shea established two difficult ice lines on the north face of the Grand. In 1981, two important climbs, Loki's Tower and the Visionquest Couloir, were completed. Alberich's Alley was added in 1982 to the other classic ice lines on the west sides of the Grand and Enclosure. The first ascent of Emotional Rescue, a route put up on the golden rock of the Enclosure buttress, occurred during the summer of 1985. The set was extended in 1991 with the impressive and improbable Lookin' For Trouble on the north face of the Enclosure. These alpine climbs, when added to the existing routes—North Ridge, West Face, Black Ice Couloir, Northwest Chimney, Lowe Route, and High Route—provide an alpine climbing arena unmatched in the United States.

The return of truly alpine conditions to the Tetons brought on by generally poor weather during the summer of 1993 directed attention toward un-traveled, ephemeral ice lines and major mixed climbs. The north chimney of Cloudveil Dome (Nimbus) was finally climbed, and the south-facing chute on the Second Tower was linked with the upper East Ridge of the Grand. The High Route on the Enclosure was done largely as a thin ice climb, and the Goodro-Shane Route on the north face of the Grand repeated in difficult late fall conditions.

Many climbers contributed to these most recent advances in Teton mountaineering and rock climbing, notably Jim Beyer, Dan Burgette, Yvon Chouinard, Jim Donini, Charlie Fowler, Paul Gagner, Keith Hadley, Paul Horton, Renny Jackson, Ron Johnson, Tom Kimbrough, Stephen Koch, Alex Lowe, Jeff Lowe, Greg Miles, George Montopoli, Mike Munger, Leigh Ortenburger, Steve Rickert, Steve Shea, Jim Springer, Mike Stern, Jack Tackle, Buck Tilley, Tom Turiano, Mark Whiton, Jim Woodmencey and Steven Wunsch.


The Teton Range occupies a special place in the history of American climbing. Many of those who have passed through here have been intimately involved with the evolution of mountaineering in the other great ranges of the earth. Throughout the world and here in the United States, climbing has exploded as a recreational activity. Approximately 10,000 climbers visited Grand Teton National Park in 1991 and attempted an ascent of one of the 800 routes available on some 200 peaks in the range. Park managers struggle with the management and preservation of extremely crowded, high-altitude regions such as the Lower Saddle, through which thousands of climbers pass on their way up the Grand Teton each year. In the past, the bulk of the activity occurred during the summer months. With the popularity of backcountry skiing, ski mountaineering, and climbing, winter use in the interior portions of the range has also significantly increased. Exploration of the range has also extended into some of the more extreme areas of the sport of climbing. The Grand Teton has been descended now on skis by at least three different routes. Climbers have skied and snowboarded the Black Ice Couloir. The direct North Face of the Grand Teton has been climbed in a single day from the valley, solo, and in the winter. As we enter the next millennium, what the future may have in store with regard to climbing is anyone's guess. Undoubtedly, mountaineers will forever be drawn to the Teton Range and the long, classic alpine routes leading to the summits of the peaks.


AID CLIMBING: Climbing that involves the use of various types of paraphernalia (pitons, nuts, camming devices, etc.) to support body weight to accomplish upward progress. AID CLIMBING is distinguished from FREE CLIMBING.

ALPINE CLIMBING: Climbing routes in the mountains that may require a mixture of rock, snow, and ice climbing techniques. This type of climbing can also be referred to as MIXED CLIMBING. An ALPINIST is a practitioner of the sport of mountaineering who is well-schooled in all of these various techniques that may be required during an ascent of a high peak.

BELAY: To feed a rope either in or out (depending upon whether the climber is leading or following) in such a manner as to be able to hold a fall. This may be accomplished either by passing the rope around one's body or by passing it through some sort of friction device. The belayer is secured to the mountain by way of "bomb proof" anchors.

BOLT: A device that is placed into a previously drilled hole in the rock. Bolts are of various types including the expansion type that exerts outward pressure on the interior of the drilled hole. Bolts are used to accomplish upward progress on blank stretches of rock, protection during free climbing, and in belay anchors. The use of portable drilling equipment recently has caused a proliferation of bolts in certain climbing areas of the country.

CAIRN: Rocks that are stacked that act as a marker on a mountain summit or that indicate a hiking or scrambling route through a section of terrain.

CARABINER: A metal snap-link that is used to attach the climbing rope to the various types of climbing equipment that are in use today including pitons, cams, bolts, etc.

COULOIR: A steep gully or chute. Couloirs form as drainage paths and often channel various types of debris including water, rock, ice, avalanches, etc.

CRUX: The most difficult portion of a climb. This term can be used to refer to the most difficult pitch or the most difficult single move or moves on a particular climb.

DIFFICULTY RATINGS: A classification system in which the difficulty of a particular climb is assigned a specific grade. For rock climbing in the United States, the Yosemite Decimal System is used and currently this scale extends from 5.0 to 5.14.

FREE CLIMBING: Climbing in which upward progress is unsupported by the various types of equipment available to the climber. This equipment is placed only to safeguard the climber through the belay in the event of a fall.

KLETTERSCHUE: A German term referring to tight-fitting rock climbing boots.

PITCH: The distance between one belay position and the next. Some climbs are multi-pitch.

PITON: A metal device that is usually driven into a crack in the rock with a hammer tapering at one end and having an eye through which a carabiner is clipped on the other. Pitons come in many different sizes.

ROCK CLIMBING: Climbing that primarily consists in upward travel on rock. A great variety of technical equipment has been developed for this type of climbing, including "sticky rubber" soles for shoes and many different types and sizes of protection devices.


General references: Lorraine and Orrin H. Bonney. The Grand Controversy (New York, NY: The AAC Press, 1992); Bob Godfrey. Chelton, and Dudley, Climb! Rock Climbing in Colorado (Boulder, CO: Published for the American Alpine Club by Alpine House Publishing, 1977); Chris Jones, Climbing in North America (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: Published for the American Alpine Club by the University of California Press, 1976); Leigh N. Ortenburger, and Reynold G. Jackson, A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range (Seattle, WA: The Mountaineers, 1996); and Alfred Runte, National Parks, The American Experience (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1979).

1. Chris Jones, Climbing in North America (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press for the American Alpine Club, 1976).

2. Z. M. Pike, The Journals of Zebulon Montgomery Pike, ed. Donald Jackson (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma, 1958).

3. Richard [Beaver Dick] Leigh, Letter to Mr. Editor, (Denver) Rocky Mountain News, probably late December 1894.*

4. Nathaniel P Langford, handwritten manuscript, the first version of his subsequent article in Scribner's Monthly, Yellowstone National Park library. Wyoming.*

5. Fort Hall Ledger Book, 1837, Columbia River Fishing and Trading Company. Manuscript 938, p. 136, Oregon Historical Society, Portland, Oregon.*

6. Mike Foster, The Life of Ferdinand Vandeveer Hayden. (Niwot, CO: Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1994), p. 235.

7. Nathaniel P. Langford, "Dr. Hayden's Geological Survey." Helena Daily Herald, September 9, 1872, p. 1, c. 2.*

8. Nathaniel P Langford, "The Ascent of Mount Hayden," Scribner's Monthly 6 (2) (June 1873): 146.

9. Baillie-Grohman, Camps in the Rockies.

10. The Kieffer letter was first uncovered in the Owen papers at the Western History Research Center, University of Wyoming, Laramie, by Leigh N. Ortenburger in the spring of 1959.*

11. "The Jackson Hole Country of Wyoming," Scientific American, March 30, 1918, p. 272.

12. At a meeting held June 3, 1931, the United States Geographic Board gave official status to 61 place names in Grand Teton National Park, which had previously been approved by the National Park Service. Garnet Canyon was originally named for the geologist on the 1872 Hayden Survey. Frank Bradley, who was one of the members of the expedition that made it to the Lower Saddle.

13. Fritiof M. Fryxell, "The Grand Tetons: Our National Park of Matterhorns," American Forests and Forest Life 35 (August 1929): 455.

14. Jones, Climbing in North America, p. 127.

15. Fritiof M. Fryxell, The Teton Peaks and Their Ascents (Grand Teton National Park, WY: The Crandall Studios, 1932), pp. 56-57.

16. Interview of Jack Durrance and Henry Coulter by Renny Jackson, September 23, 1988.

17. Interview of Gerald B. Cullinane, member of 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment, F Company. 10th Mountain Division, by Renny Jackson, December 6, 1997.

18. Daugherty, John, "A Place Called Jackson Hole: A History," draft, Grand Teton National Park, National Park Service.

19. Pete Sinclair, We Aspired: The Last Innocent Americans (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1993).

*Notes marked with this symbol were taken from an as yet unpublished manuscript by Leigh N. Ortenburger on the history of the Teton Range in the nineteenth century, and based on research done by that author. Ortenburger is considered by many to be the climbing historian of the range.

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Last Updated: 24-Jul-2004