The Snaz is an ultra-ultra-classic 800 foot, grade IV, 5.10- rock route on Cathedral Rock in Grand Teton National Park, first established by Yvon Chouinard & Mort Hempel in 1964. With an emphasis on wide cracks and a big crux roof, the Snaz played to my weaknesses for a supremely challenging outing.
The Snaz, arguably Death Canyon’s most classic rock climb, was on my “maybe next summer” list until Brian Emory suggested climbing it as a quick strike mission before the intense forecasted Sunday heat. He had climbed the Snaz nearly a half dozen times and was willing to lead the crux pitches, so even if the grade was intimidating, why wouldn’t I join? Less than 24 hours later I found myself tied in at the base, staring up a gaping 800 feet of granite – a magnitude of vertical rock I’d never witnessed before.
I lead the first two 5.7 pitches linked as one, an excellent warm-up with minimal rope drag and several stretches of moderate rambling. Brian was quick to follow and off into pitch three, known as the “physical” crux of the route. Though only graded 5.9, pitch three features some serious wide crack business with less than ideal protection. I am still new to the dark art of off-width climbing, and found this section quite difficult. At one point I was surely peeling from the double fist crack before snatching a bail out horn just as my feet cut, scampering up and through a jutting juggy roof and regaining my composure at the belay. The blood was flowing and the exposure was blooming – and now I had a decision to make.
Brian was kind enough to offer me the crux pitch. I had never lead 5.10 in the alpine before, and if I took the reigns I was to charge 30M of 5.7 face (pitch four) and continue on through pitch five, which consisted of a 5.7R flake, a 5.8 fist crack and culminated in the crux 5.10- roof pull. After backing down on the 5.9 pitches of Open Book last weekend, I was keen on testing the sharp end again, especially since I felt well rested and strong. Pitch four went down like a breeze, and the 5.7R flake felt secure enough. The 5.8 fist crack was no picnic, but protected well with #3 and #4 cams. Call me crazy, but I’m starting to fancy fist cracks over hand cracks. Something about wedging your whole fist in a constriction, irrespective of the pain, feels epically secure. Faced with the crux roof I paused to diffuse adrenaline, equalized two pieces from a good stance and committed to at least “testing out the moves”. I climbed tentatively into the overhang making use of a few weird jams, clipped a fixed camalot at the crest and fired up a series of committing overhanging stemming maneuvers on large but slippery crimps. A fist-sized chockstone over the lip sequestered the pump, and after doubling up on protection I mantled into gentle terrain above.
The feeling of relief I felt at the pitch five belay was transcendent, and as Brian led pitch six I enjoyed watching a second pair of more seasoned climbers float through the 5.10 roof beneath my feet. The rest of the climb fell like dominoes, though not without extreme heat torture from father sun as he rounded the south face of Death Canyon. From the top of pitch five (our third pitch), we swung three more leads following the path of least resistance, never exceeding 5.8. We topped out with cotton mouths, swollen toes and happy hearts around 2:00PM, averaging about one hour per pitch, for a total of six pitches.
In hindsight we could (and in my opinion should) have rappelled off, as almost all the anchors on the Snaz are fixed and we had two 70M ropes – I reckon we could have reached terra firma in four swings. Instead we chose the walk-off, a convoluted escape involving 300 some feet of fourth and low-fifth slabby soloing up and west, and a mind-blowingly loose descent chute that would have been very dangerous with other parties above or below. A friend and veteran Teton climber called this descent a “nightmare walk-off”, and I couldn’t agree more. Returning to Death Canyon took far longer than expected, and by the time I reached Phelps Creek around 5:00PM I quenched my multi-hour parched throat and, to paraphrase the great John Long, damn near drunk the creek dry.
Route Reflection, Personal Thoughts & Rack
All in all the Snaz provided a phenomenal, albeit heady, adventure for this young climber breaking into the 5.10 alpine grade. Pitch five might be the technical crux, but the thought of leading the pitch three off-width fills me with terror, and is the sole reason I won’t be returning to the Snaz until I polish my wide crack toolbox at the City of Rocks this fall. Sending my first alpine 5.10 brings forth equal emotions of stoke and humility. Imagining jamming that pitch five roof crack again makes me more keen on double-duty 5.8 than trying to push any limits. Apparently there was a climber who pitched off this roof and ripped three cams en route to a 70 foot fall, a severely broken ankle and tenuous rescue. This anecdote serves food for thought as we inevitably continue into more challenging terrain, and a reminder of the very real dangers of traditional rock climbing, especially near one’s limit.
For rack, we brought a double set of cams from #0.5 to #3, single cams in #4 and #0.4 to #0.1 and a single set of nuts. I couldn’t imagine climbing pitch three without at least one #4 – well worth every ounce, especially given the short approach.
Lastly, the exceptionally loose quality of the walk-off descent from Cathedral Rock should be noted for parties on the Snaz, Snazette, Caveat Emptor or other less traveled Cathedral routes. For climbers uncomfortable with exposed and loose fourth class down climbing, or low-fifth class free-soloing, this descent could be very problematic. According to other reports the Snaz (and therefore Snazzette) is/are easily rappelled. I am not sure about a rappel descent of Caveat Emptor. If a walk-off descent is chosen, parties should be extremely mindful of other groups above or below and certainly be wearing helmets.
- Teton Rock Climbs, Aaron Gams, 2012
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Ski mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing and all other forms of mountain recreation are inherently dangerous. Should you decide to attempt anything you read about in this article, you are doing so at your own risk! This article is written to the best possible level of accuracy and detail, but I am only human – information could be presented wrong. Furthermore, conditions in the mountains are subject to change at any time. Ten Thousand Too Far and Brandon Wanthal are not liable for any actions or repercussions acted upon or suffered from the result of this article’s reading.
You have some lovely posts on your blog Brandon !
Though, it’s not nice to know that another fellow climber had a 70 foot fall and got injured. And I fully agree, that trad climbing is a totally different game and we should never climb on our limits.
Instead, with more training in sport routes we can gain more experience, and then try harder trad routes.
Thank you! Though perhaps climbing at your limit on trad gear, provided the protection is adequate, isn’t the worst thing. Sometimes I think people “bubble wrap” trad climbing too much, and when the inevitable moment of discomfort comes, on a long runout or dicy move, they crumble. Who knows why the accident occurred – it could have been a 5.11 leader who simply lost his head, or a 5.12 climber who doesn’t know how to properly place traditional protection (it’s hard to imagine three cams ripping on the roof – the cracks are deep and excellent)
Perhaps instead we shift towards an attitude of mindfulness, for I believe the best protection on alpine and thereby traditional routes, is an accurate assessment of one’s abilities and the potential risks in the surrounding environment.
Just over caffeinated rambles… cheers.
Thanks for the reply and I agree that sometimes climbers might crumble when they might feel uncomfortable and/or under pressure. Of course, this is absolutely normal and in my opinion the only way you can overcome this is by trad climbing more and more.
With regards the accident occurred, yes, you never know why it might have happened.
Question: How is the rescuing in such routes in your area? Do you have organised rescue teams that act upon request? or basically you have to proceed with self-rescue methods?