The Complete Exum Ridge – A Teton Classic
By Exum Senior Guide Patrick Ormond
Glenn Exum soloed up the ridge named after him in 1931, but it wasn’t until 1936 that Jack Durrance first climbed the lower half of the ridge. According to A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range Durrance considered the Lower Exum Ridge to be his finest route in the Tetons. Combining the two halves all the way to the summit is known as the Complete Exum Ridge, and is included in Roper and Stecks’ Fifty Classic Climbs of North America, the seminal ticklist for alpinists in North America. The Complete was my first route on the Grand, and now I get the pleasure of guiding it a number of times every summer.
Given a grade of 5.7, I usually tell guests to take that with a grain of salt, as the current rating system wasn’t even used when Durrance did the first ascent. I tell them that the rock and holds are great, but to remember that we’ll be climbing at over 12,000’ with packs, and possibly puffy coats, gloves, and warm hats. Renny Jackson describes the crux Black Face pitch as a “beautiful example of high-angle climbing with adequate holds…”
High-Angle is right, but I would call the holds more than adequate. Even so, the 5.7 rating can feel stout compared to cragging in the valley. Everyone is impressed to think of Durrance climbing in 1936 wearing hobnail boots and banging in pins on lead. I’m always happy to have sticky rubber on my shoes!