Towering above Jackson, WY, at 13,770 feet in elevation, the Grand Teton is arguably one of North America’s most famous and coveted summits. A climb on this iconic peak is a memorable achievement.
Click here to view the Exum Mountain Guides Climbing School slide show
If climbing the Grand Teton is on your bucket list of must-climb peaks, Moose, WY-based Exum Mountain Guides will improve your odds of making it to the top. They offer a wide range of world-class instruction, taught by world-class instructors, who are among the most experienced in the industry.
If you have climbed in a climbing gym, you are already ahead of the game. However, climbing in the controlled environment of a gym, whether top roping or leading, is different than climbing multiple pitches on real rock faces outside.
Exum Mountain Guides offers two courses in rock climbing skills geared to prepare you for your Grand Teton climb—and other climbs that are on your bucket list:
Multi-pitch Level I: This is an all-day class that teaches you the basics and fundamentals of equipment, tie-ins and knots, climbing movement, bouldering, multi-pitch belaying, rappelling, rope management techniques and important transitions during multi-pitch climbs.
“This is the class to take if you have no prior climbing experience or all your experience has been in a climbing gym,” said Susan Detweiler, our climbing coach for the day and long-time Exum guide, veteran of Aconcagua, Vinson Massif, Denali and a two peaks in the Himalayas that I could not remember if prodded with electrical current.
“I’ve climbed fourteeners in Colorado, I can stick to most boulders like Velcro, I’m semi-dangerous with a figure eight knot and I can climb a 5.9 at Vertical Endeavors,” I said, hoping to belay my mountaineering experience and padding it with some natural fertilizer to test out of Rock School.
Susan’s eyes glazed over. “A 5.9 in a climbing gym?”
“Okay, it was more like a 5.7.”
When climbing the Grand Teton, even proud and loyal members of indoor climbing gyms could use some professional preparation in outdoor, “real-world” crag climbing and mountaineering. Exum makes it fun and exciting, and realistic. When you have successfully mastered the basics in Multi-pitch Level I, you get to take the skills you learned and crank them up a few notches in Multi-Pitch Level II.
Multi-Pitch Level II: Another all-day class that takes the skills you learned in Level I to the next level.
“If you thought Multi-Pitch Level I was fun, you’ll love what I have in store for you now,” Susan said, a bit too devilishly.
“Is that so?”
“Today’s menu includes an entrée of steeper climbs, a side of more challenging rappels, and a delicious dessert of a faster pace to simulate the level of climbing and efficiency you’ll need on the Grand.”
“Tell me about this ‘more challenging rappel,’” I said with trepidation. She had already put me through the paces in Multi-Pitch Level I, caught me taking my hand off the brake rope while belaying my husband and declared that my smearing technique could use some polishing.
“You see that 125-foot overhang over there?”
I followed her finger.
“If that doesn’t look fun to you, you’re in the wrong class.”
Both classes emphasize the participation and teamwork intended to increase your chance of a successful Grand Teton ascent. Based on proficiency that you demonstrate in both classes, your guide will determine the most appropriate route for you up the Grand Teton.
The Teton Range is the happy recipient of an average of 400 inches of snow each winter. The snow pack often lingers well into July. It should come as no surprise, then, that Exum requires climbers wishing to climb the Grand Teton routes in June or July, with their guides, to take Snow School.
Snow School, as it turns out, happens to be one of the most popular classes Exum offers.
“Listen up,” belted Lynne, our snow school coach, over the whirring hum of the high-speed gondola that carried us to the top of Jackson Hole Mountain. “Today, you will learn how to maneuver steep snowfields, how to use and climb with crampons, the art of the ice ax and how to do it all safely. You will learn how to rescue yourself and others in your climbing party. Any questions?”
I tentatively raised my hand. “Will I get wet and cold?”
She smiled. “Did you bring rain gear?”
“Then probably not.”
“Will I be careening down snow fields, out of control?”
“You ask that like it’s a bad thing.”
Self-arresting is by far the most important skill you will learn in Snow School. This is not just for your own safety, but that of your guide and your group.
Exum Mountain Guide’s Snow School classroom took place on the Four Shadows Couloir where we honed skills on long-roping, short-roping, climbing a vertical cornice at the top of the Couloir and self-arresting.
The self-arresting module involved a lot of contact with snow. Wear the recommended rain gear for this because you will get wet. We got loads of practice with self-arrests. We fell sideways, face down and head first, face down and feet first, on our backs head first, on our backs feet first. For each drill, Lynn coached and watched carefully. If she wasn’t satisfied with our form, she made us do them again and again. (And, in my case, again and again and again and again.)
You won’t find better classrooms for your studies than on the slabs, cliffs, and surrounding peaks at Hidden Falls in Grand Teton National Park (Rock School) or Jackson Hole Mountain (Snow School). You won’t find better instruction than from the guides at Exum Mountain Guides. Your takeaway from each class will be important—and lifesaving—skills necessary to climb the Grand Teton and any other peak.