The Chouinard-Frost Chimney (5.9, IV) is a notoriously old-school rock route on the north face of 11,623 foot Disappointment Peak in Grand Teton National Park. Though the first ascent was done from the annals of Glacial Gulch with the addition of several lower “unsavory pitches”, the consensus twenty-first century Chouinard-Frost begins on the “midway ledge” halfway up the north face, following a 300 foot off-width/chimney network until it peters out in an additional 400-some feet of wild, airy and occasionally vegetated crack and face climbing, about six pitches altogether. Run-outs, loose rock, visionary traverses and a very real sense of adventure characterize this “classic” Teton route.
On July 10th, 2022, after climbing the East Ridge of Disappointment Peak and camping at Surprise Lake the day before, I met up with a fresh and motivated Connor James for an attempt on a fringe route that’s captivated my attention ever since I picked up Aaron Gams’s “Teton Rock Climbs” (TRC) a year ago, the Chouinard-Frost Chimney. Fun fact: the C-F was apparently the hardest route, grade wise, published in the 1965 edition of Leigh Ortenburger’s legendary Teton climbing guidebook – how about that for a slice of history. After simul-climbing the approach pitch (5.5), also the first pitch of the East Ridge, we coiled ropes and traversed west on the unmistakable grassy “midway ledge” that bisects the commanding north face of Disappointment Peak. Following vague instructions from several sources, we billy-goated past seasonal snow patches, waterfalls, loose slabs and steep grass, stopping every few minutes to gaze up at the colossal mass of sheer granite capping our heads. Because the terrain directly above the midway ledge is overhanging, and the ledge itself is only a few feet wide, the chimney is invisible from below. Connor and I spent over an hour craning our necks, pacing back and forth, searching for “vertical cracks”, “lone trees” and “5.9 jugs” before finally spotting the defining pitch one off-width of the Chouinard-Frost.
To help any aspiring C-F climbers find the route, I offer these words:
- Traverse to the VERY END of the midway ledge, where the GRASS PETERS OUT and the ledge reduces to an exposed fourth class slab with small but distinct upper and lower ramps
- Just before this end of the ledge, look west and spot the classic first pitch of the Chouinard-Frost Chimney, a blatant right trending off-width/chimney system with a golden slab on it’s right. Note the rough beginning of the route from here, as the chimney will not be visible from the belay
- Traverse across the exposed slabs at the end of the ramp to a small lone tree at the very base of the cliff. A small ledge with shallow horizontal cracks provides an adequate belay about 10 feet west of the start of the route. Other belays may be available
- The route begins with steep and intimidating 5.9 jugs around a chossy crack requiring hand/fist sized gear to protect. After pulling this initial roof, and within 25 feet, the unmistakable right-trending off-width squeeze with a bowling ball sized chockstone comes into view. If you can’t definitively say “we’re on route” by now, you are NOT on route.
Connor took the first pitch, leading boldly through the tastefully chossy first pitch overhang and proceeding into the confines of of what TRC calls the “old-school squeeze”, a heinous, sharp, slimy and deep off-width taco which quite literally swallowed him whole and spat him out. Despite being an Indian Creek squeeze chimney aficionado, Connor just couldn’t quite squeeze into the squeeze, and without a #6-plus Camalot was unable to protect the lip of the crack. A chockstone about twenty feet up and an arm’s length deep provides the saving grace protection needed to wiggle right onto face holds, yet can only be reached by someone able to sink their full body into the crack. Demoralized and beaten by the gloriously sandbagged Chouinard off-width, Connor lowered as I stuck my neck out for the lead, hoping my Flat-Stanley-like frame might just wiggle up to that chockstone and save the day. I joked with Connor that had I done 50 more pushups that winter I wouldn’t have been able to paddle up that greased hog, but sure enough, by the literal tips of my fingers I was able to lasso the wedged chock with a double-length sling, clip it before getting digested by the meanest crack I’d ever climbed and escape right, pawing for desperate face holds on a crumbly golden slab roasting in the late morning light. I was equally flooded with relief as stricken with fear, for now I stood perched on a delicate lichen-strewn slab, fifteen feet above and ten feet right of the damned chockstone, staring down a handful of thin moves with the consequence of a major pendulum winger into the man sized fissure I’d just fought so hard to flee. “Thou shall not fall” I whispered to myself, an instinctive mantra conceived in this very moment, as I committed to a series of glassy smears on slippery quartzite crystals in pursuit of an obvious life-saving horn three arms lengths away. “Thou shall not fall… thou shall not fall… thou shall not fall…” I grasped the horn like it was the season’s first local honey crisp apple and mantled onto a secure shelf with great gear placements to reset my head. I howled at the all encompassing swath of granite overhead, and the massive sprawl of Teton Glacier hundreds of feet below, like a wild beast on a full moon. I was alive, and we were officially headed to the light.
The rest of pitch one entailed a wild fifty foot 5.8 bombay chimney with tremendous exposure and excellent gear. I had never chimneyed like this before, yet felt right at home in the flow. I belayed from the obvious grassy ledge above this chimney and swung Connor through for pitch two. Following the latter half of the chimney network for a near-full sixty meter rope length, Connor hiked the next stretch with ease, making use of generous face-holds that eliminate the need for slower back-to-the-wall tactics. After our initial hiccup we were on track and feeling hot, but leaving the 300 foot chimney pipeline we’d been squirreling away in for the better part of two hours, we suddenly got struck by indecision. TRC and Mountain Project seemed at odds with each other, and we couldn’t spot the distinctive “left-facing pitch four dihedral with a tree growing out of it, capped by a roof” – so we rolled the dice and went with MP, which suggested a long and hard rightward traverse following the line of least resistance.
If I were to give pitch three a name, I would call it the Vision Quest Traverse, or perhaps the Westward Traverse to Nowhere. For another fifty meters I wandered along intermittent ramps, climbing directly up only when dead obvious. One fixed pin reassured my navigation, and a steep twenty foot 5.8 hand-crack added spice to the otherwise trivial, yet nonetheless airy and consequential horizontal escapade. I tip-toed across a half-dozen gravity defying detached flakes that looked ready to release at the weight of a chipmunk, and built a belay about ten meters below the now obvious fourth pitch dihedral sporting a relatively large tree and striking black roof. Having traversed at least 200 feet west of the midway ramp’s terminus, we were officially in the business end of the Chouinard-Frost. To retreat now, 700 feet above Teton Glacier, would hardly be considered an option.
I was hoping Connor, the far stronger climber, would be up to pitch four, but dehydration and starvation were beginning to set in. Having scored a little more rest by camping at 9,000 feet, I took a deep breath and snatched the rack for the crux tango. From our lofty belay I set sail for the dihedral with confidence, slinging the tree as my first piece of reliable protection a good thirty feet on. The lower crack was heavily vegetated and a bit muddy, but secure lay-backing saw me into the overhanging corner chapter of the party. I stepped onto a clean black slab and made a series of heart pumping undercling and layback maneuvers trending generally left, all while feeling my forearms balloon like an overstuffed belly on Thanksgiving. Drawing towards a fatal pump I blindly clipped a stuck wire at the roof and fired to a life-saving jug providing passage to a luxurious chockstone belay above. One more howl and it was off to the races.
Our last two pitches were meandering to say the best, involving highlights of a blocky fifty foot 5.7 hand crack on pitch five and a disgustingly wet yet painfully gorgeous 5.8 corner crack and mantle conclusion to pitch six. Both TRC and MP suggest multiple finishing variations on the heavily featured upper face, so we simply sought the line of least resistance. The grade wasn’t particularly difficult, though a severe lacking in protection, abundant loose rock and serious rope drag kept the tone serious. Of course, the final chimney, crack and mantle were actively seeping and adorned with patches of alpine slime – brilliant. Did we go the right way? Who knows, but with muddy hands, aching feet and a body deprived of food and water for the better part of four hours I was standing atop the summit ridge-line of Disappointment Peak. I watched Connor race up the final pitch with an elegance and urgency that echoed my sentiment – the sun was already setting, this adventure was awesome, but it was time to go home.
I sauntered down to the van by 10:00PM while Connor jogged ahead to salvage his evening plans. Six hours behind schedule? Sounds about right for an old-school Teton 5.9 shoot-out. Beyond the incredibly varied, sustained and steep climbing accentuated by world class views, the true gem of our mission was imagining Yvon Chouinard and Tom Frost journeying up the rugged, unclimbed north face of Disappointment Peak with little more than a rack of pitons, chocks, maybe some early hexcentrics and a heart full of courage. To imagine two climbers ascending those chimneys and steep cracks in leather boots, circa 1963, likely without harnesses, borders unfathomable. The paradigm warping vision qand inner fire these pioneers of American alpine climbing displayed, especially on the epic westward traverse of pitch three, redefines admirable. Even in 2022, the golden age of over-saturated rock climbs, the Chouinard-Frost provides a wild and unadulterated alpine experience to the open-minded climber tailored towards type two fun, a little bit of pucker and a willingness to forgive the mid-crack grass clump, slimy chimney or moaning flake. After all, Grand Teton National Park ain’t no City of Rocks, and any 5.9 put up by Yvon Chouinard is sure to be a little stiff.
For the aspiring climbers, here is a pitch by pitch breakdown of the Chouinard-Frost Chimney (5.9+, IV) I published on mountainproject.com
Pitch One (5.9, 40M) – The route begins about 10 feet east of the small tree in overhanging 5.9 jugs with a chossy crack protected by hand and fist sized gear. After twenty feet the “old school squeeze” off-width comes into view with a chockstone about halfway up for protection. I found this OW very difficult, lasso’d the chockstone then escaped right for some insecure and scary slabbing with serious swinging fall potential (5.8+). Continue into the huge bombay chimney and belay on a grassy ledge above. Just as mountain project warns, helmets and backpacks are not your friend on this pitch.
Pitch Two (5.7, 45M) – Continue up the now easier chimney as it trends gently right. At the next ledge (old bail anchor here as of 2022), step up and into another right trending chimney/ramp system with abundant face holds, wild stemming and good protection, belay above.
Pitch Three (5.8 PG13, 50M) – The Westward Traverse to Nowhere. Traverse hard right and gently up following the path of least resistance. A true soul quest pitch. Easy but airy climbing interspersed with sections of horizontal slabbing with minimal pro. Serious swinging fall potential. A short 5.8 hand-crack is the crux but well protected. Tip-toe across gravity defying detached blocks (you’ll know em’ when you see em’ – WOAH) and belay below a prominent left facing dihedral capped with a black roof, sporting a young and healthy pine in the corner. I remember a fixed piton on this pitch?
Pitch Four (5.6R, 5.9+, 40M) – Continue into the dihedral/corner with minimal pro until the tree (5.6R). A vegetated crack with surprisingly good (maybe a bit muddy) holds provides secure lay backing and stemming between vertical flora (5.9). Step left onto black slab and layback/undercling through the corner (5.9+, crux), beneath the roof, with some fixed gear available. Roof pull is easier than it looks via big finishing jug. Belay on grassy ledge next to a loose coffin sized block above.
Pitch Five (5.7, 40M) – Continue up and right following the path of least resistance, up a wide crack with tons of face holds to dance around. Pull through a small chimney onto a grassy flat with very broken and featured terrain above. Trend up and left on easy slabs. Multiple belay options depending on finishing variation of choice. I continued 10M up in line with our finishing pitch and belayed semi-hanging beside a black rock chimney.
Pitch Six (5.8/5.9, 40M) – Seeking the line of least resistance we aimed right of the gigantic prominent roof on the “summit” ridgeline. Climbing on mostly black rock I followed a network of slabs and chimneys with less than ideal protection for maybe 20 meters. Then I climbed a wet chimney 10 meters west of the gigantic roof, traversed back left on black slabs and finished in an airy and very wet corner with a surprisingly difficult mantle, or maybe I was just tired? It felt like 5.9, but half the holds were soaked. 5.8 when dry? Many belay options above. I have no idea if this is an established finishing pitch, but it worked for us.
I can’t make recommendations, but this is what we brought, and it served us well
- Double set of cams from #0.3 to #3
- Single set of cams #0.1 and #0.2
- Single set of nuts
- Lots of slings (60cm, 12), including doubles (120cm, 2)
Rack Notes: We used just about every piece of gear we brought. As a 5.10- single pitch trad leader, I can’t imagine doing the Chouinard-Frost with less. Long pitches! Confident leaders could probably ditch the smallest cams, as well as the #3’s – both got used but weren’t mandatory. #2 placements were abundant.
- Teton Rock Climbs, Aaron Gams
- Mountain Project: Chouinard-Frost Chimney
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