The four of us left Denver, Colorado, around 4:30 on Sunday evening and drove to Rock Springs, Wyoming. After spending the night in a hotel, we finished the drive to Jackson, Wyoming, and began to accumulate beta on the local climbing conditions in the area. It was my first time to the Tetons, and I was amazed at the mountain range. The information we initially received was good; however, it wasn't what we wanted to hear. The route we intended to climb on the Grand Teton was a bowling alley of rock debris so we opted for the Upper Exum. We caught some lunch at Dornan's and finished packing our backpacks for the slog up Garnet Canyon. It took us 4 hours to reach the Moraine camp approximately 1,000' below the Lower Saddle. We set up camp on the snow field, ate some dinner, and called it a day.
Given the significant amount of snow still in the area, we were prepared for almost anything. We left camp around 4:00 and made good time to the Lower Saddle. Similar to the Notch on Longs Peak, we primarily climbed in two separate teams of two. At the Lower Saddle, I grabbed the heavier pack and immediately felt like I was walking in thick mud. Unfortunately, this came back to haunt us within an hour due to a party of five that passed us on the approach. Anyway, we worked our way around the Needle and through some class 4 climbing that somehow avoided the Eye of the Needle. We crossed the top of the Wall Street Couloir and abruptly ran into the party that passed us below at the beginning of Wall Street. I hate to complain too much, but they were painfully slow and all of us got cold waiting for them to make the step-around move at the end of Wall Street.
We quickly made it through Wall Street once they had cleared the pitch and waited some more. At least we were now in the sun. We passed one of their teams on the Golden Staircase, but the second team of the party wasn't as cooperative. After the Golden Staircase was a scramble pitch that led to the Wind Tunnel. At the base of the Wind Tunnel we nearly went hypothermic as we were out of the sun waiting again. The other party's climbing was slow and extremely inefficient with three people using two full ropes and another stronger two climbers on a different rope. We finally passed all of them at the top of the Wind Tunnel and climbed what I refer to as the Boulder Ledge Pitch in two short pitches due to rope drag.
Above the Boulder Ledge is the Friction Pitch. After the Friction Pitch there were two scramble pitches before the V Pitch or Open Book Pitch. On top of the Open Book Pitch is another pitch that has a somewhat overhanging left leaning crack that you climb before scrambling to the ridge crest. After gaining the ridge, There is one more technical section that has a large jam crack with considerable exposure. From here, you can simply scramble the ridge and boulder hop to the summit.
Jeff, Kevin, and I switched to rock climbing shoes at Wall Street while Brian remained in mountaineering boots all day. We carried an axe and crampons to the summit from the Lower Saddle but never needed them. We all did our fair share of leading, following, or sport climbing depending on the difficulty of the pitches. Unfortunately, none of us took many photos of the climbing as we concentrated on staying warm and route-finding. Brian and Jeff had climbed the route a couple of years ago guided by Exum. Climbing independently proved to be much different for them. Route-finding, leading, difficulty to bail, and simply climbing without immediate support adds to the challenge of a climb and to the satisfaction gained from success.
We spent about 30 minutes on the summit where I personally felt a great sense of accomplishment. We weren't fast and the Upper Exum is certainly not a difficult route in general rock climbing terms, but we were safe and successful. Shortly after summiting, a solo climber joined us who was extremely familiar with the descent down the Owen-Spaulding route. As he took a hit off his pipe, we convinced him to guide us to the rappel stations to speed our descent and ease our minds. The down-climbing went quickly and we rappelled Sargent's Chimney and the longer Owen Chimney. At this point, our party got a little spread out as we scrambled down the route from the Upper Saddle and worked our way back to the Lower Saddle. Just as we arrived at the Lower Saddle, Brian and I witnessed another large rock slide down the couloir we wanted to climb. We down-climbed the snow field at the headwall of Garnet Canyon and returned to camp back at the Moraine. After dinner, we went to bed satisfied with our day.