One of my favorite destinations in terms of adventure, beauty, and … well, grandness. Most climbers that come here, especially for the first time, will be gunning for the Grand Teton, the tallest and most impressive mountain in the park.
This guide will focus on the most popular route up the most popular mountain, the Full Exum Ridge, but of course there are other adventures to be had here.
Truth be told, the Upper Exum, as opposed to the Full Exum Ridge, is probably more heavily trafficked as it goes a few grades easier at 5.5, but you would be remiss not to do the entire ridge. With that said, you will want to make sure you are truly prepared before taking on an objective of this magnitude. The faster you can move, the more enjoyable the day will be. There is a good amount of vertical gain and, especially since this route is popular, you can and likely will get stuck behind parties.
For most people, this climb is probably done in two days where day one you hike in, and day two you climb and hike out. Every time I’ve done it, I’ve broken it into three days, where the last day I hike out. I like getting in another night of sleep on the beautiful mountain. You also get to enjoy the scenery as you hike out during the day instead of tripping over rocks as your headlamp fades.
First, you need to pick up an overnight permit from the ranger station. There are specific camping areas to pitch your tent in and each one has a quota. I’ve camped at both the lower saddle and the caves. The lower saddle is more popular as it minimizes the amount of hiking/elevation on summit day, but I recommend choosing the less popular caves campsite and I’ll tell you why in a second.
After getting all your food and gear ready, you’ll want to set off from Lupine Meadows in the morning. The hike to the caves takes about 3 hours. After pitching your tent and stashing your food in the bear lockers, you’ll realize that you still have time to get a climb in! And this is where choosing the caves is such a great idea. Situated just next to the campsite is Irene’s Arete, a beautiful 7 pitch climb with excellent rock, comfortable belays, and an easy walk off.
You can knock off this gem and be back to camp before dinner. This is a great way to tick off a bonus climb, as well as to give your body some time to acclimatize, since the caves is a few thousand feet lower than the more popular lower saddle.
The next morning, you’ll want to wake up early and do another hour or so of hiking to get to the lower saddle from the caves. And you’ll be off on your Full Exum adventure. Even though we found the start of the Lower Exum with no issues, climbed efficiently, and simuled the entire Upper Exum, we still had to do the last half hour hike back to camp with headlamps on.
A lot of time (maybe a total of four hours) was lost due to waiting for parties on the Lower Exum and waiting for parties at the raps while descending the climb. Even though we chose a weekday, this mountain is just too popular, so make sure you factor in this potential delay in your planning.
- Full Exum Ridge 5.7
- Irene’s Arete 5.8
A rather small weather window of July, August, and September until the first snowstorm hits.
The American Alpine Club Climber’s Ranch, located inside the park, is a great option if you do not have a vehicle to sleep in. There are also plenty of campgrounds inside the park as well.
Water can readily be found at the Jenny Lake visitor center as well as some trailheads.
There are plenty of good restaurant choices in the town of Jackson to reward yourself after your adventure.
The Climber’s Ranch has a shower for about $5. Though really, after all that hiking and climbing, what you really want is to soak in a nice hot tub. Back in Jackson, there is the Teton County Recreation Center (see map), which offers a $7 day pass for access to their pool, hot tub, and showers.
Backpacking in the Grand Teton National Park is an absolutely unforgettable experience. It’s also a great way to give your body a chance to acclimatize if you’re more sensitive to altitude.
we did a three day backpacking trip circling the Teton Range. We parked at Jenny Lake, took a shuttle down near Death Canyon, and three days later came back out via Paintbrush Canyon. This was a great way to introduce us to the park, acclimatize for our upcoming climb, not to mention soak up some of the most spectacular views with hardly another soul in sight.
Three days of hiking, about 12-15 miles each day, with a few passes tossed in to conquer, makes this a rewarding journey.
Best part of any backpacking trip of course is making dinner. Those blue Mountain House packets tastes like a Michelin 3-star restaurant at the end of any backpacking day.
By James Huang