An Old-School Adventure – Almost Overhanging (5.9, III), Almost Arete – Disappointment Peak, Grand Teton Nat. Park (08.14.22)

On Sunday August 14th, 2022, Alex Wells joined my obscure vision to climb Almost Overhanging, an 850 foot, 7 pitch, seldom climbed route on Disappointment Peak’s Almost Arete. What we found was a “logical” line seriously lacking in traffic though deserving of more, with sound rock where it counted and an exciting variety of climbing styles. If Almost Overhanging could gain some traction, I believe it would stand with Open Book as another high-quality short-approach Garnet Canyon moderate, and help distribute some congestion from other routes in the area.

Shadow Peak and Nez Perce viewed from Almost Arete

“The Ortenburger-Jackson (OJ) guidebook gives you just enough information to get in over your head” I joked with Alex as we sauntered up the Garnet Canyon switchbacks the day after a large storm. Our plan was to climb Almost Overhanging on Almost Arete, one rock buttress to the east of the famous and renowned Open Book (5.9, III). On the nearly two mile stretch of inspiring rock adorning the south face of Disappointment Peak, from Fairshare Tower to the initial trail’s twist into Garnet Canyon, only two routes of nearly two dozen get any attention – Irene’s Arete (5.8) and Open Book. These two climbs stand as cream-of-the-crop classics, deservedly so, though as climber traffic continues to uptick in this relatively small mountain range we call home, popular routes are beginning to see an unpleasant amount of congestion. Other routes such as the West Face of Disappointment Peak (5.7) and a pair of hard-man routes from the Aaron Gams guidebook attract some rock shoes, but otherwise the vast majority of these inspiring faces serve little modern climbing purpose beyond historical regalia. After ticking of a handful of classics over the last few weeks, I craved raw adventure – a vertical hike that included route finding, difficult terrain and mysticism. Flipping through the OJ guidebook I stumbled across a vague topo and route description for Almost Overhanging, first climbed in 1972 by Howard Friedman and Henry Mitchell, that suggested a “logical line on predominantly sound rock”, graded 5.8, with the added bonus of a short approach for beating forecasted afternoon storms.

For those who have climbed Open Book, Almost Overhanging is on the next buttress to the east (Almost Arete), across a large talus gully. Almost Arete has two explicit identifying features; the Postage Stamp, a large (100′ by 100′) and striking white/yellow square of featureless rock, and a “big black roof” on the east side of the wall, right next to the aforementioned Postage Stamp. Almost Overhanging starts directly beneath the roof following a network of chimneys and cracks just east of the Postage Stamp, continuing through the west-most corner of the roof. One last identifying feature is Satisfaction Crack, more of a giant chimney, which separates Almost Arete from Satisfaction Buttress to the east. Almost Overhanging begins about 75 feet west of Satisfaction Crack. Moving at a casual pace from the trailhead we were roped up within 90 minutes, following the maintained Garnet Canyon trail almost to the Platforms camping area, then beelining directly up steep meadows and loose talus to the base of the climb.

The Climb

Faced with a wet and obviously loose chimney, we begin our climb on slabs to the east, belaying from an obvious grassy ledge after a short fourth class scramble. These slabs (5.6) featured loose flakes and lacked inspiring protection, but provided dry passage before traversing west into the chimney at the last possible moment. Leading through this 5.7 bombay chimney, tiptoeing gently across delicate spikes and brushing off critical footholds, I soon realized we were rambling towards far more than your average 5.8. The crux of the chimney was surmounting a large chockstone, dreadfully seeping on all sides upon arrival. Avoiding the slicked handholds behind the chock I committed to a tenuous stemming sequence on either dry wall, void of handholds, and mantled into easier terrain above. When the first 5.7 pitch feels like 5.9, and half your protection returns to the belay damp, you know you are in for something of an adventure.

Alex Wells beginning pitch two, with the crux roof high above.

Alex swung through for pitch two, another wet lead up a right leaning and steep crack system (5.7), through a prominent trough and up another, thankfully drier, chimney (5.7). He showed tremendous composure dancing around the oozing cracks on face holds, and set a semi-hanging belay beneath the first imposing black roof encountered.

Alex Wells leading on pitch two.

The third lead wandered up easy slabs, left around an epic layback flake with glassy feet (5.8) and through the crux roof, which once again was actively dripping. When I reached the intimidating overhang and felt trickles of water hit the back of my neck, I doubled down on protection fearing the worst. I committed to a bold layback sequence through an overhanging hand-crack, turning off my brain and pretending the red DMM Dragon and #4 Torque-Nut Hex were as good as a bolt, but sure enough after a few moves I was forced to trust a foothold in a rain slicked crack, glanced off and launched into space. The cam held, I took a soft twenty footer into clean air and after jugging the rope and composing myself, worked out an alternate stemming sequence on reachy holds outside the crack. This crux felt 5.10 to me, but with dry rock I’m willing to wager fair 5.9. On gentler terrain above I surpassed a second roof on dirty face holds to the east and belayed from a small grassy ledge with a small but healthy pine.

Alex cruising up vegetated slabs above the crux

The Almost Overhanging topo in the OJ guidebook ends above pitch four, suggesting either a traversing escape to the southeast ridge of Disappointment Peak or “several additional rope-lengths of easy fifth class” to the summit. I’ve always been a “touch the top” character, and with a positive weather window we decided to forge on. Generally easy simul-climbing along either side of the gradually steepening ridge crest, though definitely 5.7 in spots, led to the abrupt halt of reasonable simul-travel below a final steep step. Alex belayed me from a gigantic slung boulder as I quested west around the final 30 foot wall, aiming for a chimney with seemingly reasonable protection. A white slab directly above looked viable but void of cracks – not my cup of tea. The chimney finish proved worthy of belay with exposed 5.7 stemming ending in a short but tenuous 5.9 mantle sequence on some of the cleaner rock we’d seen all day. One fixed pin protected the top out and provided warming assurance that at least one other foolish climber shared my Almost Arete vision. Belaying Alex up from a shady grove of craggy pines I reveled in the fact that despite failing in a no-falls ascent, we’d just wandered our way up the most virgin piece of vertical granite I’d ever considered climbing, and managed to free all the moves. We descended from the summit via fourth class slabs to the east, a short 20M rappel and a gentle saunter back to Suprise Lake on the forested ridge, returning to the trailhead around the twelve hour mark.

Alex on the upper crest, perhaps pitch six, of Almost Overhanging
Only smiles allowed on Almost Arete

Route Reflection

Almost Overhanging proved exactly the adventure I craved, an eye-opening glimpse into the true realities of less-traveled Teton rock and the vision of early Teton climbing pioneers, similar to the experience I had on the Chouinard-Frost Chimney (5.9, IV), though thankfully to a lesser degree. Reflecting back on the many stellar pitches we enjoyed that Sunday morning, I am left wondering why such a large percentage of Teton climbing traffic is relegated to so few routes. Sure, the rock quality on Open Book and Irene’s Arete far surpasses that of Almost Arete, but with more capable parties willing to forgive some flaws, Almost Overhanging has just as much potential to become a “classic” than any other. I look forward to attempting more old-school OJ routes, if only to bolster my abilities in questionable terrain. However, I hope articles like these may inspire more capable climbers to step outside the hypnotizing spell of four star Mountain Project reviews. In a range suffering from rapid popularity and increased traffic, opening more approachable routes is the only viable solution for dispersement – and subsequent widespread enjoyment of climbing in the range as a whole.

Gear Check

We carried a double rack of cams to three inches, one four inch hex and 1.5 sets of wires, mostly to cover our bases in the face of the unknown. If I repeated this route I would carry a single set of cams from #0.3 to #3, with doubles from #0.5 to #1 and a single set of wires. This climb takes a wide variety of gear, so whatever one’s standard 5.9 Teton rack is should be sufficient. RP’s help protect the runout 5.6 slab start, but aren’t mandatory.

Recommended Guidebooks

  • A Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range, 3rd edition, Leigh Ortenburger & Renny Jackson

Ten Thousand Too Far is generously supported by Icelantic Skis from Golden Colorado, Barrels & Bins Natural Market in Driggs Idaho, and Range Meal Bars from Bozeman Montana. Give these guys some business – who doesn’t need great skis and wholesome food?

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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.

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