The Taminah Arete (5.9, III) ascends the prominent aesthetic south ridge of Matternought Peak, an 11,360 foot southern spur of the larger Gilkey Tower. On Sunday August 7th, 2022, Liam Wylie and I completed the climb in 19 hours car-to-car – one of our finest Teton adventures, though perhaps a tent would have served us well.
Avalanche Canyon… Avalanche Canyon… if I knew what was in store, I never would have suggested climbing Matternought Peak in a single day, especially after a substantial rainstorm. An “unmaintained trail” wanders somewhere through the deep ravine of scree, raging rivers and marshland formed by Peak 25 Short to the south and Shadow Peak to the north, but amidst pooling water and jumangi-like overgrowth was nearly impossible to stalk. After eight-plus hours between approach and descent, the only thing we deciphered about Avalanche Canyon is that the intermittent footpath follows the north end of the central creek, hugging generally close to the water, with several doppelgänger trails to lead an unknowing party askew. At points I sunk into shin-deep mud and Liam plunged dunked into a stream. We saw five moose, hiked up an actively flowing drainage when thick brush made dry-land passage impossible and took damn near five hours to reach Taminah Lake, no more than 5-6 miles from the Bradley-Taggart trailhead. A machete has officially been added to the recommended gear list for this climb, as well as a change of shoes and socks in the event of pre-ascent rain. By the time we reached the timberline I looked as If I’d taken a couple of fully clothed laps at the community pool, then wrestled a small bear.
The only break all day was perhaps 45 minutes – waiting for a band of paralyzing fog to lift above Taminah Lake. Some wet fourth class slabs and excessive loose talus were encountered on the deceptively long approach, though views of the striking and unmistakeable Arete kept stoke high. One short buttress stood between us and the proper start of the climb (typically bypassed to the east), but with minds cleaved by seven hours of metaphorical misery we decided to begin climbing here, as the rock looked decent and quite frankly were plain ol’ sick of scrambling ankle torquing choss. The time was noon, and we were headed to the sky – maybe even with a first ascent.
Faced with easy ground we began soloing up the optional approach buttress (photo above), trending generally right up easy cracks (5.5) before deciding to bust out the cord on a small ledge with a tree. Terrain above was harder than it appeared, a 5.7 slab with pesky lichen, minimal protection and some loose rock. A foothold broke just before I pulled the crux move, so I doubled up on gear before questing into sparsely featured terrain. I’m not sure if this was a first ascent, but with more travel this insignificant lump of stone could clean up into a nice warm-up pitch for harder climbing above – plus, it represents the true geologic start of Matternought’s southern ridge.
After shifting the belay to the base of the obvious pitch one cracks, Liam set off on the proper pitch one, ascending the wide crack (5.9) just right of the leftmost finger-sized splitter (reported 5.9) on the ridge (pictured below). The Ortenburger-Jackson guidebook suggested RP’s for this pitch and we found them extremely useful. Before reaching the gear thirsty cracks above, twenty feet of insecure friction stemming features only the most anemic of seams for protection. Liam placed two sunflower seed sized brass offsets and showed tremendous prowess moving through terrifying smears on gritty orange rock that could benefit from a few more pairs of rock shoes. To say I was impressed was an understatement.
At the top of pitch one we took stock and realized that if we wanted any chance of a successful summit and descent before nightfall, we would have to move fast. Doing our best Alex-Tommy impression, we zipped across blocky terrain (5.5), through a notch and back up the ridge-crest to some of the finest traditional face climbing I’ve enjoyed in the Tetons – the “Quartz Crystal Pitch”, nearly 60 meters of vertical 5.6 chugging on polished quartz jugs, with sparse but adequate protection in devious cracks above wild exposure. Pitch four featured a brilliant 5.7R golden slab reminiscent of Exum Ridge’s Golden Staircase, only cranked up to 85 degrees with absolutely no protection for at least 30 feet. I achieved a transcendent state of mental focus during this pitch, essentially ropeless at 11,000 feet, delicately dancing up friction dishes with an incredible backdrop of Mount Wister and Veiled Peak in my periphery. Despite now seeking the time-saving path of least resistance, Liam accidentally wandered into the optional 5.9 chimney of pitch five, and dispatched it efficiently on large overhanging jugs with quality footholds for secure stemming. 300 some feet of additional 5.4 simul-climbing, eventually unroped soloing, brought us to the precipice of the 11,318 foot Matternought Peak at 5:20PM. We climbed the 1000 foot route in seven pitches, six if you discard the optional approach buttress.
From the summit we enjoyed expanding views of Avalanche Canyon, Mount Wister, Buck Mountain, Veiled Peak and the south wall of Garnet Canyon for all but three minutes, just long enough to fire a few pictures, distribute gear and conceive a plan for descent off Matternought’s reputably dangerous east ridge. As much as I wanted to plunk down for nourishment and scenic savoring, we both knew a date with darkness was rapidly approaching.
The descent off Matternought was mind-fraying to say the least. Hundreds of feet of fifth-class down-soloing, four rappels, a multi-thousand foot death-choss gully and several sections of rain slicked rock characterized our multi-hour return to Taminah Lake. We installed three different anchors to help parties with a single rope descend. The Ortenburger-Jackson guidebook does not mention any rappels, but we found the rope convenient, if not almost mandatory, especially at the end of such a long day. Our ultimate trailhead reunion occurred just after midnight, pitch-black bushwhacking, swamp romping, creek hopping and painfully swollen feet included, however a pit-stop for grapefruit and homemade vegan coffee cake at our lakeside gear stash made the misery ever slightly more bearable. Twelve-plus hours of type two fun aside, climbing Taminah Arete with Liam goes down as one of my finest Teton experiences to date. The further I push the more these extraordinary peaks reveal, never ceasing to humble me with their majesty.
We carried a single rack of cams from TCU’s to #3, with doubles from #0.4 to #1, and a full set of nuts with the addition of several small brass offsets for pitch one. This rack served us well, and if I repeated the route I would probably bring exactly the same selection. Two ropes would better facilitate a descent from the already established rappel anchors, but a safe descent can now be made with a single 60M line and fifth-class down-soloing confidence. Consider a scythe for the approach.
- A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range, Ortenburger-Jackson
- Teton Rock Climbs, Aaron Gams
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