October 5th was Bobbi Clemmer’s birthday, and to celebrate we repeated one of our favorite lowland multi-pitch climbs in Grand Teton National Park, the South Ridge of Baxter’s Pinnacle. Bobbi earned her trad stripes on this classic 4-5 pitch route, leading all but the final 5.9 crux pitch. Having only climbed two years, the birthday girl has come quite some way.
Given a supreme lack of visual distinction, you wouldn’t expect Baxter’s Pinnacle to be a “classic” – but it is. Blending seamlessly into the north wall of Cascade Canyon when viewed from afar, the distinct orange spire only becomes apparent when viewed from the south, and still requires a seeking eye. I’ve now climbed Baxter’s four times via the standard South Ridge, twice with Bobbi. Guidebooks refer to the climb as five pitches, though the first and fourth are moderate fourth class. As such, competent parties typically solo “pitch one” and solo/simul-climb pitch four, leaving three distinct pitches of belay worthy rock. Last year Bobbi lead one of the fourth class pitches to begin placing gear in the alpine, but I did the fifth class work. This year her goal was to lead me to the crux pitch, involving two very real pushes of sustained 5.6/5.7. Though she had lead plenty of single pitch 5.7 traditional climbs, taking to the more exposed and feral faces of Grand Teton National Park would be a monumental leap in her resume.
After clocking in at 5:00AM and working until 9:30, we busted out of Teton Valley and were sitting in the String Lake parking lot by noon. Two hummus and heirloom tomato sandwiches and we were off. The fall vibrations along Jenny Lake were awe inspiring, conjuring cozy feelings of warm apple pie and shorter days. We reached the base of Baxter’s within the hour and began soloing up pitch one with high spirits.
At the base of pitch two we busted out the cord. Today Bobbi’s head game looked confident, and I could tell she was up to the work. Pitch two (our first) is the second hardest pitch of the route, following a short low angle crack to a steeper broken face, and eventually climbing a sandbagged 5.6 flake. Right off the belay she was strong, clipping the ancient fixed pin on the face and continuing up vertical terrain with commendable poise. I watched with pride as she laybacked powerfully up the wide flare, overcoming a slight foot pop, refocusing and pulling through to the belay alcove above. The rope snapped tight, and all of sudden I was being belayed by the woman I’d spent the last two years mentoring in these mountains. I couldn’t help but smile.
Our second pitch dropped north from the ridge-crest and up a featured 5.6 chimney, maybe 30 feet, before continuing up towards the summit block. Once again Bobbi showed no signs of mental wear as she placed gear and worked her way through a few funky sequences. 60 meters later the rope came taught and we repeated the dance. Pitch two, and another flawless lead, in the books.
From the top of pitch three we short-roped to the base of the crux pillar, where I was almost certain Bobbi was going to muscle up and take our team to the top. Despite egging her on aggressively, I didn’t fault her for backing down. The final pitch of Baxter’s Pinnacle begins with a stiff 5.9+ sequence right off the belay, protected by a 50+ year old piton equalized to a very shallow #0.3 Camalot. Within 10 feet the climbing eases back to 5.7, but a fall in this stretch has the realistic capacity to rip the protection and compromise the belay. On each of the three times I’ve lead this thin sequence I have treated the assignment as a no fall zone – just as it deserves. From the pinnacle summit I extended my belay over the edge to snap pictures of Bobbi’s peaceful top-rope send. Her smile was infectious and her skin glowing from the last flicks of crimson light over the western skyline. We cuddled on the summit and enjoyed a perfect sunset – a brilliant end to this wonder woman’s 28th year on planet Earth.
A Quick Reflection and Rack Recommendation
Baxter’s was my very first rock climb in Grand Teton National Park, just over two years ago with Sam Johnson. The experience blew my paradigm, let alone the crux pitch which I couldn’t even lift a nose at free-climbing (yes, the F9+ move can be aided at C0 with the piton 😉). Over the years I have returned to the pinnacle as a place of spiritual reckoning. Few places if any in Grand Teton National Park offer such a superb fusion of quality climbing and bomber rock for a sub-90 minute approach. When I took Bobbi up Baxter’s last year I watched as the exposure and brilliant backdrop above Jenny Lake dazzled her, much as it did for me the summer earlier – and to watch her return this year as a confident leader, unlocking the door on her first two sustained alpine rock leads, was beyond inspiring. Soon she’ll be tackling that upper pitch on the sharp end, and hopefully I’ll be on the other end of the line to cheer her on. No matter the activity, I get such a sincere pleasure from watching people work towards, and achieve, their goals – especially ones that my not have originally appeared possible.
For the confident leader I’d recommend a single set of cams from fingers to two inches, and a single set of nuts. A #3 Camalot can be placed on the crux pitch but isn’t necessary. However, a #0.3 Camalot (yellow #2 Metolius) should be considered mandatory to supplement the questionable piton on the crux sequence. Most of the gear options for this climb are finger sized, so if considering bringing doubles, that’s the area to bolster. One mandatory rappel off the summit block (25+ meters), and two shorter, smaller and optional rappels down the descent gully can be facilitated with a single 60M rope.
- Teton Rock Climbs (book) – Aaron Gams
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?
Errors? Typos? Leave a comment below or send an email to email@example.com
If you would like to support Ten Thousand Too Far, consider subscribing below and/or leaving a donation here. The hours spent writing these blogs is fueled solely and happily by passion, but if you use this site to plan or inspire your own epic adventure, consider kicking in. A couple bucks goes a long way in the cold world of adventure blogging. I also love to hear your thoughts, so don’t leave without dropping a comment! Thanks for the love.
Follow along on Instagram at @brandon.wanthal.photography
Enter your email for article updates from 10K2Far
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.