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Full-conditions climbing: ‘Everyone else just got better-looking’

Jul. 21st 2010

Sizzling summer temps and quiet blue skies provide the ideal backdrop when climbing the Grand Teton in Wyoming. The Exum Ridge, a trademark route, gets climbed ad nauseam because of its aesthetic, scenic nature and airy exposure. Parties often tackle the route in a long day. Guides solo the upper Ridge, short-roping clients through the exposed 5th class terrain, arriving at the summit in customary good form.

However, it’s a completely different story when Old Man Winter perks up – which went well into what most consider summer months this year. Seven thousand feet separate the valley floor from the spikey crown of the Teton Range. Late Spring storms and huge temperature gradients paint the upper stretches of the mountain in snow, ice and rime that often linger until mid-July—a full-meal-deal for mountaineers.

I climbed the upper route a few weeks ago with a friend who’s a much more experienced winter climber, which is good for me because … well …  he’ll lead the hard pitches and I get the added value of learning how better to negotiate technical terrain in its winterized state of affairs. At the time of our climb, one guiding service forbid its guides from taking clients up the Exum Ridge because of conditions.

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