On February 6, 2007, Hans Johnstone and I completed a new route on the north face of the Grand Teton, Squeeze Box, (IV, M7, A0, 1,000). The line lies between Shea's Chute and the Alex Lowe Memorial Route, and ascends a weakness up a beautiful granite buttress. I spotted the line during a flurry of activity with various partners in October 2004. Conditions are everything in the Tetons, and that season gave us the best ice conditions in the Tetons in many years. One resule was the Alex Lowe Memorial Route, which I climbed with Mark Newcomb.
While skiing the Koven Couloir on Mount Owen on January 26, 2007, the unclimbed line looked to be in good enough condition for an attempt, which happened on January 28 with Brian Harder. Much snow removal was needed to reveal the cracks, used for both ice-ax hook placements and rock protection. We climbed about half the route but retreated due to approaching darkness. With clear weather and high pressure continuing I was excited to make another attempt before the next storm cycle--which have been few and very far between this dry and cold winter.
On February 6, Hans and I began skiing across the flats heading north from Taggart Bradley trailhead at 4 a.m. and began the more technical climbing up and onto the north face about 5 hours later. The climbing was both challenging and interesting with technical difficulties up to M7 (5.10 rock equivalent). A challenging squeeze chimney, too narrow to climb facing in, was encountered, but it offered little in the way of climbable ice for much of it and had me grunting and thrashing up on the lightly featured granite. Above this was a beautiful ice gully, which brought us to the black chimney.
For the next two rope lengths we climbed steep rock with our ice axes and crampons. The 2nd to last pitch involved a tension traverse across smooth slabs to reach another set of bottomed-out seams that offered slightly more opportunity for the metal to catch on minuscule, often insecure features. In spots protection was not easy to obtain but the route unfolded nicely as we were treated to a beautiful Alpenglow on Teewinot.
With great desire to complete the route I darted up the last pitch in the dark, aided by the light of my headlamp. With the insecure nature of the climbing on this new line, success was never guaranteed. We rappelled the route and down-climbed across the Teton Glacier, arriving back at our skis. After switching boots and packing up we made sweet turns on good snow down the Glacier. The descent, with 30 plus lb. packs, became a bit of a nightmare lower when we broke through the crust of the snow, sinking deep into the soft and unconsolidated snow below. Several times this happened with speed and resulted in spectacular face-plants. To add insult to injury, many face-plants ended with the pack smacking the back of my head, driving my face deeper into the snow.
As I was excavating myself from one of these episodes I was excited to discover a set of large wolf tracks at the bottom of Glacier Gulch. Fortune was on our side and good snow conditions on the flats made for fast poling back to the car.
With mixed climbing techniques and skills increasing there are countless opportunities for other new routes on the north face of the Grand Teton and throughout the Range. It is a matter of conditions and desire!