Everything about the Grand Teton, from its name, to its awe-inspiring silhouette, to the plethora of iconic routes snaking up its ramparts, is enough to motivate climbers to travel from around the world to attempt this classic peak. The Grand’s walls hold routes ranging from 5.4 all the way up to 5.12, so there’s something for everyone here, whether you’ve been climbing for decades or have never roped up in your life. Let’s learn more!
Where is the Grand Teton?
The Grand Teton (or “The Grand,” as it’s often called) is located in Grand Teton National Park, which spans 310,000 acres of northwestern Wyoming. Grand Teton National Park is a mere 10 miles south of the far more popular Yellowstone National Park, but it still receives over three million visitors annually.
At 13,775 feet, the Grand Teton is the highest point in the Teton Range, a subrange of the Rockies which stretches 40 miles north to south along Wyoming’s western border with Idaho. The Grand is also the second highest peak in the state of Wyoming, after Gannett Peak (13,810 feet) in the Wind River Range.
Though not quite as high as the 14,000-foot peaks found in Washington, California, and Colorado, the Grand has a well-deserved reputation as one of the most iconic and worthy objectives in North American mountaineering.
What Makes the Grand So Special?
The Grand Teton is so famous for several reasons. For one, it has a lengthy history in the world of mountaineering, spanning back over 100 years. There were a couple of dubious ascents claimed in the 1870s and 1880s, but the first confirmed ascent was made on August 11, 1898, by William Owen, Franklin Spalding, Frank Peterson, and John Shive. Their team pioneered a route leading upward from the southwest to the “Upper Saddle” between Enclosure Peak (13,285 feet), a subpeak on the Grand’s west. From there, it ascends the main western mass of the Grand to the rugged summit.
Today, this route is known as the Owen-Spalding. At YDS 5.4, it is the easiest route on the peak from a technical standpoint and is considered the “standard” line to the summit of the Grand.
The park maintains summit logs dating back to 1927 (almost 100 years!), so there is a storied history of climbing on the Grand, and you’ll become a small part of that history when you make your own attempt at the summit! In addition to this rich history, unlike many mountains the Grand is a worthy objective year-round, holding challenging winter routes on snow and ice in addition to the plethora of rock routes.
How Many Routes Are on the Grand Teton?
Today, there are dozens of routes on the Grand. SummitPost claims 35 named routes, with 50 variations on those routes, but other sources have noted as many as 40 routes with nearly 60 variations. As noted above, many of these are viable in both winter and summer conditions. Routes on the Grand range from easy scrambles, a hair’s-breadth from a technical climb (Owen-Spalding), up to 5.12 trad variations, like Flipping Tokens to Hoboken (5.12b) a 300-foot route that can be used to reach the Exum Ridge.
While the Owen-Spalding is the standard route on the peak, the most popular route is the Exum Ridge (5.5), named for the famed American mountaineer and founder of Exum Mountain Guides, Glenn Exum. Exum made the first ascent of this 1,700-foot line alone in 1931. The Exum Ridge is significantly longer and more sustained than the Owen-Spalding (which only holds one true “technical” section). It is also more committing, in that it’s much harder to get off of if the weather turns south, though technical difficulties do not go above 5.5 YDS.
The Exum Ridge route is also sometimes referred to as “Upper Exum Ridge,” as there is a lower portion of the same ridgeline (Lower Exum Ridge) and the two can be linked together to form one massive route. Adding this lower portion entails an additional 800 feet of climbing and difficulties up to 5.7, so it is less common for beginner parties.
What Do I Need to Climb the Grand Teton? Can I Climb It?
Registration and Fees
Luckily, no permits or fees are required specifically to climb the Grand. However, it’s recommended to check in with the Jenny Lake Ranger Station before you head up. Also, since the Grand Teton is located inside Grand Teton National Park, accessing the mountain requires a $35 park entrance fee per vehicle (but it’s free if you have an America the Beautiful Pass or another national park pass). You’ll pay $20 per person if hiking or on a bicycle, and $30 per motorcycle. These entrance fees are valid for seven days in the park.
You’ll also need a backcountry camping permit if you plan on camping in the backcountry at all. This includes if you intend to use a high camp before you make your summit attempt. Permits are $45 for advanced reservations (booked through Recreation.gov) or $35 for walk-in permits, which are available at the Jenny Lake Ranger Station on a first-come, first-serve basis.
(Remember, when you book a guided Teton adventure with ITCOG all these logistics are taken care of—so you can focus on the climbing!)
There are also a variety of wilderness regulations you’ll need to follow when camping in the backcountry. One big one to keep in mind is that Grand Teton National Park is bear country, so the use of a bear canister is generally required. From the NPS: “On some specific alpine routes where a climber is bivouacking on a high rocky ledge where bears cannot go, park-approved bear canisters may not be required. Bear-resistant canisters are provided by the park or visitors may use an approved canister during overnight stays in the park backcountry.” You can learn more about backcountry camping in Grand Teton National Park here.
Gear and Experience
The Grand Teton is an excellent peak for climbers of all skill and experience levels. Since there are so many different ways to access the summit and so many variations, it’s easy for us at ITCOG to craft a custom adventure perfectly suited to your skill and experience.
Some experienced parties don’t use technical gear to ascend via the peak’s easier routes, like the Owen-Spalding, but technical gear (nuts, cams, and other traditional protection) is advised unless you’re an experienced scrambler with a solid head for exposure. Typically, parties on the peak’s easier routes will bring a small alpine rack, and often belay any pitch they choose to protect via natural features.
Don’t be fooled by the low level of technical difficulty. Climbing 5.4 or 5.5 on plastic in an indoor gym is very different from climbing (and protecting) 5.4 or 5.5 at 13,000 feet, dealing with massive exposure, weather, rockfall, and other logistical obstacles.
That said, even if you’ve never tied into a rope before, you can safely make an attempt on the Grand via the Owen-Spalding route with a guide. If you have a bit more experience or higher fitness, you can attempt a more sustained or technically difficult line with us. We can even start out on an easier route, then add in a slight variation for more difficulty if you’re feeling confident. On the Grand, anything goes!