Peaches is an adventurous four pitch, grade two, 5.8 rock climb established by Yvon Chouinard and Kathryn Collins in 1980, and has seen few repeats since. The route tackles the center line of the tallest prominent granite buttress on the south wall of Stuart Draw, the short canyon north of Albright Peak, capped by Buck Mountain. On Friday October 14th, Creech and I made a successful ascent of the route, enjoying excellent climbing in a spectacular location, tainted only slightly by stretches of serious lichen, loose rock and poor protection.
Many Teton climbers never stray from the classics – after all, there is a practical lifetime’s worth of high quality, well documented rock climbs in the park, ripe for the taking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m always down for a lap on Baxter’s Pinnacle or Exum Ridge, Guide’s Wall or the Snaz – they’ve earned their classic badge for a reason, and more often than not climbing in clean cracks on straightforward routes, with logical beta and little route finding, is my modus operandi. That said, my dark side, the half I wouldn’t be complete without, needs a little off-the-beaten-path “fun” every now and again – if only to coalesce with the original spirit of alpine climbing, where vague topos, loose rock, route finding and the occasional spicy runout were embraced, not ostracized. Peaches, a route I found while flipping though the Ortenburger-Jackson (“OJ”) guidebook late one evening, brought the latter in spades.
Peaches (5.8, II)
I recruited a new partner for the mission, a friend whom I met on a recent trip to the City of Rocks. Creech is new to climbing, but ambitious and stronger than his resume suggests. We left the trailhead around 9:00AM and made efficient time into Stuart Draw, where we got our first glimpse of the task at hand.
From a distance Peaches looks intimidating and steep, located on the largest prominent black rock buttress on the south side of Stuart Draw. Where the Buck Mountain climber’s trail crosses the major Stewart Draw drainage, the Peaches buttress is easily identified. A climber’s trail stays on the south side of the creek and can be followed a short while before piddling out in a forested talus field. From here we bushwhacked generally line-of-sight, occasionally connecting fragments of trails, through forests and unpleasantly loose scree to the base of the climb.
As detailed in the Ortenburger-Jackson guidebook, there have been three routes established on the Peaches buttress. One climbs the southeast arete/ridge at 5.8, and two routes exist on the face. To the left of Peaches, right of the arete, is Cash For Less, a single pitch 5.10- slab climb with one or two bolts, a couple fixed pins and bolted anchors. About 30 feet right of the bolt line lies Peaches, which begins in a vegetated right-facing corner and is the only route that climbs the face of the buttress to the summit. Originally I was considering linking Cash For Less into the second pitch of Peaches, but thin climbing before a high first bolt put me off. We began climbing around 11:00.
Pitch one followed the juggy corner with good protection, but quickly petered out into what would become the namesake of the business – runout, cryptic, steep and unnervingly dirty face climbing. A lack of continuous cracks left me void of orientation, gaining protection via smaller nuts placed mostly in thin slots, questionable flakes and horizontals. The vague topo listed pitch one at 5.8, and I would tend to agree, but twenty foot runouts above dodgy wires beckons an added degree of seriousness. We gained the large ledge just right of the Cash For Less anchors and belayed from finicky gear about twenty feet above, though in hindsight I should’ve taken a detour east for a pleasant bolted belay.
Pitch two was unlikely, and speaks to the fortitude and vision of Yvon Chouinard’s climbing style. About twenty feet above the Cash For Less ledge and twenty feet below the looming roof, a network of wild horizontal edges traverse dead west for 30-40 feet, with divinely perfect slots for hand and finger sized cams along the way. When the roof becomes smaller, broken and less intimidating, the upper face can be gained on gently overhanging but easy jugs. The face above the roof climbs at 5.8 and is quite similar to the upper half of pitch one – sparse gear, side pulls, edging and generally insecure climbing to a huge halfway ledge and cozy belay. This was likely my favorite pitch, providing a true sense of adventure and a little bit of everything – just what we sought in Peaches.
Pitch three was a long one, a 55 meter slog up what started as a nice clean finger crack just right of the belay, perhaps the best climbing on route, and finished in wild, steep and blocky jug hauling. Frankly, the latter half of this pitch was slightly scary, and I often found myself dancing on smaller, more difficult edges to avoid levering questionable larger blocks. Creech sent a toaster oven barreling down this pitch. I think we accidentally combined pitches three and four in the OJ guide, short cutting a “5.5 traverse” and belaying just below the summit ridge. Our fourth pitch gained the east ridge quickly via a short 5.7 face, and subsequent 4th class slabs to the summit. We capped our adventure by scrambling a short unnamed spire atop the Peaches buttress, visible from the approach and technically not part of the route. The north and east faces of the spire looked chossy and dangerous, but the south side provided a reasonable solo on 5.1 ledges to a unique perch overlooking our climb, descent gully and the vast expense of Grand Teton National Park below – a marvelous way to unwind from a tenuous outing. To descend we followed the narrow gully directly west of the buttress – loose but manageable, non-technical and direct – to our gear stash at the base of the climb.
Summary, Rack & Key Takeaways
Overall, Peaches provided an adventurous and remote outing on interesting rock, to a unique summit. Stars were earned in the continuous and unique nature of the climbing, and lost for widespread lichen, loose rock and scanty protection. Though graded 5.8, any prospecting climbers should be aware of the precarious, wandering and generally spicy character of the climb. If twenty foot runouts above small brass nuts puts bees in your bonnet, this might not be the climb for you. Though I have never climbed in Scotland, this climb reminded me of videos from their sea cliff climbing, where routes often wander ten feet in either direction simply to place a nest of small gear in a thin slot, before continuing up a protection-less face. Grunts aside, I found Peaches worthy of the tick and an extreme lesson in mental fortitude. Should this route see fifty ascents per year for the next decade, it could form into a four-star classic – yet sadly this is unlikely and therefor, Peaches will remain a lichen crusted relic of “bold-school” climbing history. Rack recommendations are listed in the annotated topo above.
Lastly, my main takeaway from Peaches would be to put less faith in climbing topos, especially older ones from routes with few repeats. As the leader of all four pitches, I wasted relevant time searching for features and belay ledges listed on the original topo. For example, the topo said to belay from gear west of the Cash For Less bolted anchor just twenty feet left. Subsequently, I ended up toiling around for twenty minutes building a four piece belay from a rat’s nest of micro-cams and thin wires, when I could’ve just stepped left and belayed from bolts. Above, I unknowingly linked two pitches, putting us higher on the topo than expected. I then proceed to search for the listed features on pitch four, when in reality I had climbed them already. Especially when the climbing is straightforward, as it was on Peaches buttress, I think I would have been better off just trusting my gut. To paraphrase the words of climbing legend John Long, “when lost on a route, try and think like the first ascentionist, and follow the line of best protection”.
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