Walking the edge in Grand Teton National Park for climbers, Disappointment Peak holds anything but. The southern wall of this 11,618-foot mountain in the heart of the Tetons boasts clean lines, stellar views, and sunny exposure. Irene’s Arête, a six-pitch knife-edged ridge hard against the sky, reigns as the finest climb on the peak. And though Tetons routes don’t come easily — most involve multi-mile approaches — their quality redeems them. Irene’s is no exception — in fact, this excursion will test your alpine stamina, and ability to quell butterflies with nothing but the canyon floor thousands of feet below to “anchor” you.
Named for the Tetons legend Irene Beardsley, Irene’s was first climbed in 1957, by Beardsley and John Dietschy. To get there, start at Lupine Meadows, following signs to Garnet Canyon and then the Upper Saddle, reaching the Petzoldt Caves after approximately five miles. Look on the south-facing slope for a faint trail that doubles back over the Southwest Couloir and into a treed area, and then wind your way to a cliff band and a prominent pedestal. To begin the 5.7 first pitch, either step across onto the pedestal or launch rightward up and over the crest, climbing discontinuous cracks to a small alcove where the variations reunite
The second and third pitches go at 5.7 to 5.9 (depending on the variation) and continue along the arête’s right side. Midway through the third pitch, the exposure sinks in as you work the arête’s narrow profile. On P4, get ready for the original, 5.8 crux, a strenuous move left through a thin crack, after which you trend back right through black rock and up a flaring 5.7 groove. Stay left of the crest for the fifth pitch, to an obvious notch, from which either a 5.5 romp, a slanting 5.8 fist crack, or a short section of old-school 5.9+ (an easily protected undercling traverse) top you out.
Now scramble a few hundred feet to a sub-summit plateau, and then descend either by picking your way through forested, cliffy terrain to Amphitheater Lake’s east end and the Glacier Canyon Trail, or via the second gully west of the climb — the Southwest Couloir — with its short rappel or chimney downclimb slightly east. Either way, your final stop should be for brews at Dornan’s, the apres-climb hangout.
Log onto climbing.com’s Photopost and submit your images to the Classic Climbs folder. We’ll pick our winner on September 1, 2008. The winner receives Mad Rock’s Switchbacks, a bizzled, summit-dashing foot ami, with style to boot.
A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range
(3rd Edition; 1996), by Leigh N. Ortenburger and Reynold G. Jackson; Teton Classics (1994), by Richard Rossiter
Season: Late spring through early autumn
Topo: The USGS Grand Teton quadrangle helps on the Amphitheater Lake descent.
Photo by BJ Sbarra
Fire more classics in the Tetons near Irene’s Arête
By Matt Samet and Luke Laeser
The North Face of the Grand Teton (IV 5.8): One of Steck and Roper's 50 Classic Climbs of North America first climbed in 1949. Considered by some to be one of the finest moderate mountain routes in the US with both sustained free climbing and moderate snow/ice climbing. Saddle-up for a long day with an early alpine-start, carry a light rack, crampons, a light mountain axe, a helmet, lots of food, and be prepared for typical Teton weather like snow in July. Descend via the Owen-Spalding route.
The North Ridge of the Grand Teton (IV 5.7): One of Steck and Roper's 50 Classic Climbs of North America first climbed in 1931. Although this route is only given grade IV it's a huge day just getting to thee Valhalla Traverse. Carry a light rack, a helmet, lots of food, and be prepared for nasty weather. Descend via the Owen-Spalding route.
The Direct Exum on the Grand Teton (III 5.6): One of Steck and Roper's 50 Classic Climbs of North America first climbed in 1936. In the late 90s the team of Hans Florine, Nancy Feagin, Christian Santelices and Willie Benegas climbed 20 of the 50 Classic Climbs of North America in 20 days. A feat that still remains unrepeated or beaten. They climbed the Direct Exum on day seveteen of their super-circuit car to car in 10 hours and 34 minutes. Should you get bouted on the approch to the Lower Saddle, Irene's Arete is a great alternative, since you'll be walking right past it. Carry a light rack, a helmet, lots of food, and be prepared for nasty weather. Descend via the Owen-Spalding route.
The Direct South Buttress on Mount Moran (IV 5.12- or 5.8 A1): One of Steck and Roper's 50 Classic Climbs of North America first climbed in 1953. Most parties take an extra half day to approch the route camping about a mile past Leigh Lake. After climbing the first splitter 1500 feet either rappel off a series of fixed anchors to climbers right (leaving the route line), or continue up for 2500 more feet of 4th and easy 5th class climbing to reach the summit. From here most parties descend via the Colorado Mountaineering Club Route. It is possible to descend back to Leigh Canyon via the basin southest of Thor Peak. Carry a standard rack and double ropes if you plan to rappel after the first 1500 feet. Hans Florine, Nancy Feagin, Christian Santelices and Willie Benegas climbed this one during their super-circuit car to car in 9 hours and 53 minutes.
Cathedral Traverse (IV 5.8): This is the first half of the north-to-south Grand Traverse, encompassing Teewinot, Owen, and the Grand Teton. From Lupine Meadows, climb the east face of Teewinot (II Class 4), and then make your way across to Mount Owen, negotiating a sub-peak (peak 11,840+) via rappel, downclimbing, or a traverse around it to the north. On Mount Owen, climb up (then back down) the Koven chimney. Now make your way south toward the Grand via tricky navigation. From Gunsight Notch, climb easy-fifth class up on the Grandstand, and then onto the Grand’s summit via steep, technical rock on the peak’s North Ridge (5.8 via the Italian Cracks). Descend the Owen-Spalding either via 5.4 downclimbing or rappel.