Skip to content

Sunlit Summit

Grand Teton

Elevation: 13,775 ft.

Prominence: 6,534 ft.

Isolation: 69 miles

Technical Difficulty: Class 5.4

Grand Teton Guidebook


The most famous peak in Wyoming needs no introduction. Simply drive to Grand Teton National Park, park at one of the numerous pull-outs, and look up. There’s your introduction!

General Considerations

Looming 7,000 ft. above the Snake River Valley, it is clear why the Grand Teton is one of the most-climbed peaks in Wyoming. It is also one of the most technically challenging of the Wyoming 13ers, rivaled only by Spearhead Pinnacle in terms of the most-difficult climbing moves on the standard summit route.

The Grand Teton is a peak of paradoxes: difficult but frequently climbed, heavily traveled but confusing to navigate, close to the trailhead but usually climbed in multiple days. It is also the only peak in Wyoming which has a significant fraction of guided climbers, with a long tradition of guiding in the Tetons contrasting the self-reliant ethic of the Winds and other Wyoming ranges. Do not let the presence of hundreds of other climbers lull you into a false sense of security; the Grand is a very serious mountain, and people die here every year on average.

Only climbers with significant experience leading alpine trad climbs should consider an unguided ascent of the Grand Teton. Soloing this peak is beyond the scope of any guidebook description and is, in general, discouraged. One mistake or a slip on a patch of ice (common even in late summer) and you could tumble 3,000 ft. into Valhalla Canyon.

Route 1: Owen Spalding Route – Class 5.4

There are innumerable routes on the Grand, not to mention the plethora of climbing objectives in the wider Tetons, but the Owen Spalding is the sole focus here since it is the shortest and easiest route to the summit. Even for just this one route, many variations exist, and only the main variation is described here. Easiest does not mean easy, and this route is nevertheless far more difficult and exposed than most “scrambling” routes in the Winds and Colorado Rockies.

To begin, arrange any necessary permits (if camping overnight) and start hiking the Valley Trail from the Lupine Meadows Trailhead. After about 1.5 miles, leave the Valley Trail on the Garnet Canyon Trail, which switchbacks steeply up the hillside. Continue on the Garnet Canyon Trail (do not take the side-trail to Amphitheater Lake), entering the canyon around mile 3 and passing the Platforms camping area before switchbacking up a steep slope past Spalding Falls. The trail now becomes a bit harder to follow, especially at night, as you hike through a jumbled moraine, passing additional camping areas, to reach the base of a steep headwall just north of the Middle Teton Glacier.

A fixed rope is usually installed her which some climbers use to aid the scrambling required to reach the Lower Saddle. A large camping area is established seasonally on the broad Lower Saddle, though it must be an exciting place to camp in a storm. At the north end of the Lower Saddle, a use-trail leads up past a black dike to enter a shallow gully, where the climbing begins.

Most of the route to the Upper Saddle is class 2 hiking, but it begins to become exposed, and occasional class 4 pitches break up the easier terrain (most guided parties rope up for this section). The easiest route follows ledges up to a rock tunnel called the Eye of the Needle, beyond which scree paths alternate with rocky sections to the Upper Saddle, but many routes of comparable difficulty are possible through this section.

From the Upper Saddle, most groups pitch out the remaining route. The Owen Spalding Route proper starts with the Belly Roll, a wildly exposed move around a detached rock flake to begin traversing northward on a nearly horizontal ledge. In several places, the cliff face overhangs the ledge from above, and a particularly narrow passage is known as the Crawl, with thousands of feet of near-vertical exposure immediately below you to the left.

The next task is to enter the Double Chimney; after traversing below one steeper entry option, the second entry consists of a small slab below an obvious blocky chimney. Climb up the Double Chimney past a giant detached flake and cross a sloping area to the base of the narrow, inset Owen Chimney, and climb up it to another flatter area below Sargents Chimney. This final chimney is easier than the first two and can be escaped halfway up via some blocks on the left side.

Above Sargents Chimney, scramble a few hundred feet of easier, broken terrain to the summit. To descend, most climbers rappel Sargents Chimney, then walk south (descending climber’s left) to find the permanent rappel stations atop the cliff just east of the Upper Saddle; fixed ropes are often available here, but don’t count on it. Double ropes are usually recommended to ensure sufficient length to reach the bottom of this long, free-hanging rappel.

Grand Teton Map

Grand Teton Panorama

Grand Teton Photos

DISCLAIMER: Mountain climbing is dangerous. Activities described on this page may lead to serious injury, death, and property damage. This webpage is presented with no warranty express or implied. Pictures and text are for entertainment purposes only. No commercial use allowed; all rights reserved.