Grand Teton is Jackson Hole's iconic peak. On August 12, 2012, Killian Jornet traveled to the Tetons from Catalonia, in Spain, to try for a Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Grand. Twenty-four years old at the time, Jornet had won numerous “sky running” titles in Europe and also the world ski mountaineering championships in 2012, 2011, and 2013. He’s widely held to be the best mountain athlete of his generation. After a record of 3:06 minutes for climbing and descending the Grand--starting and finishing at the Lupine Meadows trailhead--had stood for nearly 30 years, Jornet smashed it, doing the run (climb) in 2:54. The fact anyone can run up 7,000+ feet over seven miles, through terrain that has some 5.4 climbing moves on it in 2:54 isn't the craziest part of this. What's crazy is that Jornet's record stood for only eleven days later. Andy Anderson, a climbing ranger from Rocky Mountain National Park, went up and down the Grand, not taking any short-cuts, 59 seconds faster than Jornet had. That's the record that still stands.
What Makes It Great
While mountain mutants do the Grand--ascending and descending the Owen-Spalding route in the time it takes most of us run a couple of errands--most people climb the mountain over a couple of days. The two outfitters permitted to guide the Grand usually do it in 2 days (Exum) or three days (Jackson Hole Mountain Guides). Private parties of experienced climbers often do the Grand in a day, but 10-16 hours instead of 3. There is something to not carrying camping gear on top of climbing gear with you. If you do want to camp, I'd recommend getting a permit for as high in Garnet Canyon as you can. The Meadows are pretty, but they're still a long way to the Lower Saddle. I like camping in the Moraine. If you're a novice climber without someone who's done this mountain several times before, do us a favor and go with a professional guide.
While neither the OS nor the Upper Exum route are difficult, route-finding can be. If you're an experienced climber but don't have someone experienced with the Grand to help you, Leigh Ortenburger's and Renny Jackson's book A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range is invaluable. For me, the hardest part of the Upper Exum is finding the Keyhole. I've never found crossing Wall Street to get to the start of that route particularly terrifying. But the Belly Roll on the OS can give climbers soloing that route pause. Cascade Canyon is several thousand feet straight down. Know that whatever route you do, being back down to the Lower Saddle by 2:00 is a worthy goal. Summertime afternoon thunderstorms are common and can be deadly. Experienced climbers looking for more adventure than the OS or Upper Exum should consider the Complete Exum or the Italian Cracks.
Who is Going to Love It
Mountaineers of all levels have a fondness for the Grand. Experienced climbers love the variety of terrain and technical climbing sections. Newer climbers can benefit from hiring a guide service and experiencing the mountain with some of the most well-trained climbers in Wyoming. Either way, it's an unforgettable adventure.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
Access to the Grand is through the National Park. Because it is important to know the route before you head up, please consult the resources mentioned earlier in this article or contact one of the guide services.