When you put your faith in God, He always makes sure to put you in the place you are supposed to be; that is the mantra I use for myself when I am climbing in the mountains. So, this describes for me how I felt when I was climbing the East Ride of the Grand Teton. Though it is only a grade III, the East Ridge is, according to the rangers at Jenny Lake, one of the longest routes to be climbed on the peak. This is most likely because it is one of the routes that you are actually climbing on soonest; that is closest to the trailhead from where you start hiking; not that the actual technical nature of the route is the longest by any means, when it is really pretty short, and most of the route is just a slog. Don’t take that too lightly though; this route throws a lot at you over a great deal of varying terrain.
When looking at available guides for climbing in the Tetons, it is clear that there are a multitude of variations that are possible on this route. So, this description will stick to the climb I did, and I am looking forward to seeing input that other people may add on the route as well. I started at the end of the terminal moraine of the Teton Glacier, turned the Molar Tooth via the Tricky Traverse, and skirted the Second Tower on the North side to reach the summit snow fields, finishing up near where the Upper Exum route would reach the summit.
Basically, the easiest start to this route begins literally from the end of the terminal moraine of the Teton Glacier, where it butts up against the side of the mountain. In other words, follow the normal route that you would take to approach the Teton Glacier from Amphitheater Lake, and take a left from atop the highest point on the moraine, following its crest until you bump into the mountain. Most likely, there will be a series of cairns to follow once you reach the top of the terminal moraine. A series of bivy sites can also be found atop the terminal moraine once you get close to where the route begins.
To me it seems logical to break the route up into four different sections; the lower part of the ridge from the end of the terminal moraine to the Molar Tooth, turning the Molar Tooth, up to and around the Second Tower, and the upper snow fields leading to the exit for the summit block.
Lower Part of the Ridge
For the first section; once you reach the end of the terminal moraine, start climbing directly from its end through a short, but steep section that will give way directly to a series of tree covered ledges allowing access to gain upward progress on the eastern slopes of the mountain. Most of the climbing in this section is fairly easy; rather it would be more like scrambling rather than technical climbing. Most likely a rope will not be needed for this part of the climb other than for the very first part if you are not comfortable with how steep the first 50 feet or so of the climb are. Continue climbing up the broad, but easy slopes of the face of the mountain until you begin to bump into the Molar Tooth. You will know you are at this point because the climbing will suddenly begin to become much more technical in what is being presented to you.
The Ortenburger/Jackson guide describes a bowl that you should be climbing into at this point, but a bowl was something that I could not distinguish. Rather, I had the feeling that the climbing was going to become significantly harder, and I started to traverse in a leftward manner (to the south); looking for a chimney/corner system that should be pretty easy to pick out. Don’t bother messing around with trying to climb this chimney/corner system. The better thing to do is to keep traversing further around to the left until you reach a crest that is easily climbed to gain upward progress in order to reach a break in the ridge that is called the “window”.
From the window is where the Tricky Traverse begins; this traverse will allow you to bypass a descent/rappel into a snow filled gully that must be climbed up to and over a large chockstone. The traverse climbs some technical terrain that bypasses the chockstone, putting you into the notch above the chockstone, bypassing some snow and wet rock climbing into and back out of the gully. Somehow I began the Tricky Traverse in a way that seemed to be much too low, but that is how it goes in the mountains sometimes. However you do it, you will have to climb/traverse above the gully on a steep and exposed wall trying to gain ground above the chockstone to reach the notch. I began by traversing and then down climbing only to realize that I was much too low. Looking upwards; you may spy a few slings around a block, which clearly indicates the way you should be going.
Getting back on route with where the topo said I was supposed to be, the climbing was much easier, but the rock was not so great either. As I side note, I did this climb on the 40th anniversary of the 1969 Woodstock Festival. While driving to the Tetons, various news broadcasts were reminiscing about the PSA for how the “brown acid was not so good….”. That definitely struck a chord with me about some of the rock that I was forced to climb upon and over during parts of the Tricky Traverse, and also on higher parts of the mountain. I was a little nervous about the nature of what I had to climb up onto and stand upon in order to gain higher progress, but at least it stayed in place, and I did not take a big ride back down to the glacier.
Once you have gained sufficient height above the chockstone via the Tricky Traverse; downclimb into the snow filled gully above the chockstone, and climb upwards along the side of the snow where it meets the rock until the notch is reached. Cross over to the other side of the notch.
Once upon the other side of the notch, there is a short but technical section of solid 5.7 climbing past 2 fixed pitons allowing access to the upper slopes that approach the Second Tower. Upon examination, the upper of the 2 pitons was loose to the touch, but the lower of the 2 seemed to be OK. This bit of climbing really feels like more of a slippery boulder problem than a full pitch of climbing. Also the exposure is not near as great here as it feels like on the Tricky Traverse just below.
Notch to Second Tower
When you climb out of the notch, continue upwards on slopes that are very similar to the beginning of the East Ridge; i.e. not too steep, rather more like 4th class in nature. I was drawn to the crest of the ridge, but this really only served a purpose of showing me how I needed to proceed around the Second Tower and into the notch that would connect me with the upper snow slopes. The key to turning the Second Tower lies in finding a break in the tower on the left side (south) that is similar in which access was gained to the window on the Molar Tooth. In other words, keep traversing around to the left or south until it is easy to climb up and gain a window in the crest of the ridge itself that allows an easy access back to the north side of the tower. If this sounds confusing; perhaps it is better to take a visit to the ridge crest itself as you are approaching the Second Tower in order to suss out the difficulty of obtaining the face which will allow you to traverse beneath the north side of its face.
Once you get onto the north side of the Second Tower, make a delicate, up and down traverse across the tower to get to the notch. Find a huge detached flake and traverse behind it. There may be several rappel slings in the area where it appeared that people were rappelling across this section instead of climbing it. The Ortenburger/Jackson guide next describes climbing a chimney that becomes flakey as you get higher into it. To me this seemed more like a short bouldery section that involved yarding on chossy and broken rock; more of that brown acid type of climbing… However, it doesn’t last for too long, and once you get to the top of this section, it is just a short, easy traverse to get into the notch itself.
Upper Snow Fields
Depending on the time of year, it may be necessary to put on your crampons at this point in order to go across a bit of a snow field to get to the other side of the notch. Once across the notch, ascend in an upwards traverse to the right to reach the crest of the ridge where the north face meets the East Ridge. The exposure here is exhilarating as you get to look down over the North Face and North Ridge routes. There are also a couple of really neat looking bivy sites if the time of day is late or you are into that sort of thing. Perhaps these might also give some insight into just how involved this climb is for being a mere grade III.
At some point you will be forced into climbing up onto the snow slopes above. At first, ascend the snow slopes along the crest of the ridge, and then start making a rising traverse back to the left, aiming for a break in the rock band beneath an obvious chimney through the summit block. This chimney is described as the original route of ascent; however a more appealing option is available if you continue traversing to the left (South) until you reach a break in the summit block that is simpler looking in what it will take to reach the top. There are a number of different options for climbing the summit block, such as going back to the right, towards the North Face; so pick whichever way seems most reasonable to you.
Once I got off the snow, I chose the left most variation for solving the summit block. From atop the summit block; climb on an angle back to the right (North) in order to gain the highest point on the summit. Pat yourself on the back for a route well climbed! Descend via the Owen-Spalding route.
This route begins from the end of the terminal moraine of the Teton Glacier.
A standard rack should suffice; crampons and an axe would be very helpful too.
By Robert Henderson
From: Wilson, WY
Aug 31, 2009
I don't mean to offend, but this convoluted route description is in need of major editing. It reads more like trip report than a guide. Very confusing.
By Andrew Carson
From: Wilson, WY
Dec 31, 2009
A nice alpine variation skips the lower 2,000 feet of scrambling by climbing from Teepe Glacier to the notch behind the Molar Tooth, directly up the unmistakeable couloir. When 'in', there are some good mixed pitches and excellent neve up to the giant chockstone. It adds some technical difficulty and is a fun, more sustained alternative.
When the ridge dries out, later in the season, it has some rather unpleasant scree benches, alot of loose stuff lying around, and I'd skip it for snowier conditions.
This was Paul Petzoldt's favorite route on the peak.
Aug 5, 2012
Did this route 4th week of July '12.
Took 18hrs car-to-car; had some minor route finding issues dealing with finding the 1st notch to get to Tricky Traverse.
There was maybe a total of ~400 ft of 'real' climbing. Lots and lots and lots of 4th/low 5th scrambling. Overall, it felt like a great adventure with lots of varied terrain.
We brought a few doubles of small/medium cams which was unnecessary. 5-6 cams (including a gold and possibly blue Camalot) and a set a small set of nuts would be adequate. We brought a single 60m 8.2mm rope which seemed fine.
Make sure to have the right gear to deal with the snow field before the summit pitch.
Overall, a fun / big day.