Baxter Pinnacle & Symmetry Spire

The Tetons; will I ever tire of them? There are so many places to go so many mountain ranges scattered across the continent yet I am always drawn back to the magnificent view of the Cathedral Group towering above the valley floor. The tops of the peaks dusted with snow, lines traced with fingers of places I’ve been and places I want to go.

And so I once again found myself there – and with Brad Hornung no less, my climbing partner from years past who can always be pulled away from his home in Helena, Montana for a 3 or 4 day trip if you call long enough in advance and promise him the skies will be sunny and rock warm.

We had 4 days and our first day was rain; a deep soaking rain that promised to turn the upper peaks into ice and the lower rock walls into vertical walls of water. We spent the day killing time in Jackson and at the Teton Ranger Station where we captured climbing icon George Montopoli who pulled out books and maps and photos and pointed out route after route that we should climb. “I climbed this one with Mugs Stump back in ’81… Mugs couldn’t pull the crux move!” he guffawed, his eyes alight in memory.

We waited out the rain looking at maps and photos and listening to stories. When we emerged late afternoon the clouds were breaking up so we drove around looking at peaks and then turned in early.

The next day we took an early shuttle across Jenny Lake and jumped on the classic Baxter Pinnacle. The guidebook calls it II 5.9+ but there’s really only one 5.9 move which is well protected with a piton. The final part of the climb is an awkward layback made even more awkward by wet slimy rock that I slipped on a few times before pulling myself over the lip in early afternoon. Brad followed up and we rapped off and had a leisurely hike back to the Jenny Lake boat launch and once again turned in early.

The next morning we set out to climb Symmetry Spire via the Direct Jenson; however upon reaching the base of the route we found it dark, cold and wet – so we changed plans and headed over to the South West Ridge (II 5.7). We didn’t have a topo but I had climbed the route in 2001 so I thought I could find my way up it. Besides its a ridge, I explained to Brad. How hard can route finding be on a ridge?

As it turned out there was a fair amount of route finding, but it wasn’t too bad. Every time we encountered poor rock we traversed further right where the granite was golden and solid. Consequently this turned the 5.7 route into something a little harder and at one point I found myself pulling over an overhang that wasn’t like anything I remembered in the past.

We traded leads and casually climbed the route reaching the top of the route around 5pm. I had been up Symmetry twice before but had never been to the true summit so after a bit of cajoling Brad reluctantly agreed to continue on, despite knowing that doing so would turn a casual afternoon into a potentially long day. So we continued on simulclimbing the remaining 500 to the true summit where we were greeted with an amazing view and rapidly decreasing light.

We reversed the upper section and rapped off as Teewinot turned gold in the dying light and by the time we reached the base of the route we were racing darkness.

From that point on the climb was rapidly becoming a usual Brad adventure. By usual Brad adventure I mean it’s dark, were miles from the trailhead, we’re out of food and water and chances are we’ll lose the descent route on the way down. Of course all the above happened – and our shortcut back to the final rap station had us bushwhacking through thick scrub pine and walking in circles. My headlamp was a measly thin beam of light (regularly changing batteries is a weak point of mine) and I was on the verge of calling it a night and curling up in the brush when Brad found the rap anchors and we rapped off down the final waterfall and stumbled down the final snowfield to the trail.

After that it was autopilot all the way home. The trail around Jenny Lake is a bear infested thoroughfare so Brad took it upon himself to sing folksy ballads at the top of his lungs while I stumbled along tripping over every other rock because of my now dead headlamp.

We reached the truck around 12 maybe 1, maybe 2. At that point our only priority was food, beer and sleep in that order. We chowed down, guzzled a beer and then passed out waking up tired, sore and happy a feeling everyone should have when they visit the Tetons.


Grand Teton Ranger Station Blog: Current route conditions, weather and permit info.

Grand Teton Climbers Ranch: If you’re a member of the AAC you can stay at the ranch. There is free camping outside of town but its a 20 minute drive and you may or may not camp next to drunken rednecks.

A Climbers Guide to the Teton Range: Ortenburger and Jackson’s biblical guidebook. Don’t settle for anything shorter.