* SUMMIT ELEVATION: 13,770 feet
* TOTAL ELEVATION GAIN: 6,920 feet
* DURATION: Two to three days
* SNAPSHOT: Lofty rock challenges on an icon of the West
THE GRAND TETON is often called America's Matterhorn, and for good reason. No peak in the lower 48 rises with as much grandeur as this 13,770-foot granite-and-gneiss fang, towering over the broad sagebrush plains of northwestern Wyoming. Indeed, the Grand thrusts upward with such tectonic violence that many thought the southern ridges unattainable until 1931, when Glenn Exumalone, unroped, and wearing football cleatsmade the first ascent of the now legendary Exum Ridge. The feat required Exum to leap a five-foot-wide split in the rock, risking a stiff penalty if he missed: a 1,500-foot free fall. Exum backed off the climb seven times before going for it, and making it, in good style. These days, climbing the Grand is significantly safer but no less exhilarating. You'll ascend slender ridges with pulse-spiking drop-offs of several hundred feet. "It's real climbing with real exposure and a spectacular summit," says Peter Lev, an Exum guide for the past 43 years. "All are ingredients that add to the sense of accomplishment one feels after climbing it." You'll continue to hone your craft on several pitches of moderately strenuous (5.4 to 5.7) climbing, at headier altitudes than those on Liberty Bell.
** The Route
Even experienced climbers "feed the rat"that is, get their adrenaline fixon the Grand's UPPER EXUME RIDGE ROUTE. Hike the seven-mile Garnet Canyon Trail up to the Lower Saddle Hut, right below the Exum Ridge, where you'll spend a short night. At first light, follow the footpath over the Black Dike, a giant horizontal band of rock, and cross the talus slopes to the base of Wall Street, a ledge where you'll rope up and cross Exum's famous gap, now prosaically named the Step-Across, via a hand traverse. From there, ascend the Golden Staircase, one pitch of perfect 5.4 rock. Next, surmount refrigerator-size blocks on your way through the aptly named Wind Tunnel. The final challenge is an oft ice-filled chimney that leads to the upper shoulder and the all-important payoff: the Grand's 50-foot-long summit block, with full-circle views of Wyoming and Idaho. Once back down, treat yourself to a post-climb beer at the Mangy Moose in Teton Village.
GUIDE Founded in 1926 by Paul Petzoldt and joined in '31 by Glenn Exum, Exum Mountain Guides is one of the most experienced outfits in the country, with one of the world's most impressive guide rosters: David Breashears, Pete Athans, and Miles Smart, among others. Running June to mid-September, Exum's four-day clinic (including the Exum Ridge climb) starts with instruction in belaying, rope management, multipitch climbing, rappelling, and placing rock protection, then allows two days to scale the route. ($695 per person; 307-733-2297, www.exumguides.com)
Take shelter in the BIBLER FITZROY three-person tent, a sub-seven-pound single-wall design that withstands the nastiest weather ($750; 801-278-5533, www.biblertents.com) The 15-degree MOUNTAINSMITH VISION sleeping bag trims weight to less than two pounds and stays cozy through summer and into fall. ($300; 800-551-5889, www.mountainsmith.com) It's compact, it's stable, and it runs on almost any fuel: It's the MSR DRAGONFLY stove. ($100; 800-531-9531, www.msrcorp.com) Don't want to leave anything behind? Arc'Teryx's bora 95 is a 5,500-cubic-inch pack that will swallow a garage of gear. ($395; 800-985-6681, www.arcteryx.com).
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