We drove up to Jackson, WY to meet up with Wes and Steph last Friday to climb the Direct Exum route on the Grand Teton. The route combines 6 pitches of 5.7 climbing up to the Wall Street ledge, and then continues up the easier Upper Exum ridge (which can also be gained by traversing in from the side avoiding the climbing).
It definitely rained hard down in Jackson that night but we woke up at 230 to find clear skies. Good to go! On the hike up to the Lower Saddle, we found about 3 to 6 inches of snow and ice plastered everywhere. This should have been our first clue. Once we got up to the saddle we ate and soaked up the sun after hiking in the shade. There were at least 30 people turning back from the Owen Spalding route. Should have been clue number two. After waiting and hoping the sun would start melting off our route we traversed over to where the Lower Exum starts.
We found the access ramp to the route, however it was iced up. The face above was dropping small chunks of ice and water as things started to warm up and melt. So despite the intimidating ramp conditions, we were hopeful that things would improve as we climbed up. Past this point, we had to climb up at least two pitches to be able to bail. The iced ramp could have been clue number three.
Polly lead out and up the ramp, the ice made it tricky enough we had to pitch it out for two rope lengths. In dry conditions, we could have simply walked/scrambled unroped up to the chimney that starts the route. Once we got to the chimney, Polly took off and after some desperate climbing the rope got stuck under a chockstone preventing her from climbing any higher. This forced her to build a makeshift belay to bring me up, and when I got up to her (hanging belay) there wasn’t really enough room for me to stand and take much of the gear from here, so I just kept going with the gear I had cleaned so far. I was climbing in gloves and approach shoes, so the technical difficulty couldn’t have been that bad, but the snow and ice over everything made it some of the most fearful climbing I’ve ever done. There was no margin for a slip and a fall for another 40 or so feet. Wes managed to find a dryer way up the chimney with some very wide stemming, and once he got to the belay ledge above where I was climbing, yelled down that I shouldn’t go much higher as it didn’t look good. I didn’t have much choice because it was overhaning to get back in to the chimney from where I was. So up we go!
It was such a relief to throw a leg over a snow covered horn and swing into the sun. Wes brought up Steph and Jon and I belayed Polly up into the sun as well. From here we had to go one more pitch to get to an optional bail point.
Polly’s wearing my gloves to help warm up her toes, she switched to her climbing shoes on lead to try and make the climbing easier at the expense of being warm.
We climbing the next pitch which was a neat crack system but that was running with melt water from above. This doesn’t exactly make the climbing any easier… or warmer. From the big ledge at the top of this pitch, looking up at the dripping face above us we decided to bail.
Once we got down into the gulley below the Wall Street ledge, we could see that it too was iced up. It would have been a horror show trying to descend that without crampons (which was the other option from the top of pitch 2, climb the remaining 4 and then retreat down Wall Street). This probably also meant that one of the crux pitches up much higher, the Friction Pitch, likely would have been icy too.
Polly and I at our highpoint at the top of pitch 2 with the Middle Teton in the background.