The 3 classic routes on the Grand Teton—the Owen-Spalding, Upper Exum, and Petzoldt Ridge—are classic for a reason. But there is another route on the mountain that is slightly harder and way more wild. It’s also easy to access from the Lower Saddle. Of course we’re talking about the Italian Crack variation of the North Ridge. Typically, anyone considering the North Ridge would take on the imposing task of approaching the route via Glacier Gulch and the Teton Glacier.
What Makes It Great
The length of this undertaking and the significant objective danger below the North Face makes this daunting. But the best climbing on the North Face is the Italian Cracks and the last 3 pitches of the classic North Face.
From the Lower Saddle, head to the Upper Saddle and the base of the Owen Spalding route. Traverse the OS’s Second Ledge, bypassing the Owen Chimney but staying on the ledge system. The Great Chimney often has ice in it very late into the summer season, so you should have crampons just in case. Once you pass this obstacle, the ledge continues and widens until you turn the corner onto the North Face. Wen you’ve made it this far, take a moment and appreciate this spectacular alpine position. We think it’s one of the best in the range.
Just down the ledge a few meters is a shallow depression itself several meters across. You’ll know it’s the right depression if you see black rock rubble in it. As you ease toward the edge of this ledge look to skier's left. There’s usually a sling anchor there. Reinforce this or build your own and do three half-rope rappels to the large ledge directly below. This lower ledge marks the beginning of the Italian Cracks. Go ahead and leave your rap anchors to use as belay anchors on your way back up. Be sure to bring enough 1" and 2" gear for this.
Make no mistake, this is an amazing position on one of the most iconic north faces in America. And you now get to climb the best rock on it. Ascend back up the corners and cracks that make up the route. The rock is excellent. Use the rap anchors to belay from. Once back on the 2nd ledge, traverse down a few meters and ascend the last few pitches of the classic North Face route. The first pitch from the 2nd ledge is about 5.7 and takes you up some black corners to the 3rd ledge. From here, the amazing Pendulum Pitch is negotiated, gaining the 4th ledge. Easy scrambling will take you up to the base of the final pitch off the face and onto the summit ridge. More 3rd class scrambling to the south will gain the summit 300 feet above. Descend via the normal OS route. Smile.
Who is Going to Love It
This is one of the classic mountaineering routes, sure to be on any serious (or aspiring) mountaineers' list.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
By approaching from the Lower Saddle to the south, the objective danger is minimized. Also, the crappy rock on the lower part of the face is avoided.