More Sustained – Cardiac Aretes, Man O’ War Variation (5.9, II) – Ship’s Prow, Grand Teton Nat. Park (10.17.22)

A week before the onset of winter 2022, Connor James and I connected the dots on a more sustained variation to the traditional, and somewhat classic, Cardiac Aretes (5.9/5.10-, II) on Omega Buttress. Our line followed the lower half of Man O’ War (5.8, II) for two pitches of adventurous and varied, albeit discontinuous climbing before traversing east to the final keynote pitches of Cardiac, trading two pitches of 5.6 for two pitches of 5.8.
All photos for this article were shot by Connor James – follow him on instagram at @_iamconnorjames

The Teton alpine was firing on all cylinders this October. Cool daytime temperatures, fall foliage and a lack of precipitation provided ideal conditions for climbing on just about every aspect, from 12,000+ foot scrambles to low-country trad. In an attempt to squeeze as much life out of summer as possible I called on Connor James, one of the more motivated fellas in Jackson Hole. The goal was a late evening strike mission on one of Grand Teton’s most unique rock features, the Ship’s Prow on Omega Buttress, on the north wall of Death Canyon overlooking Phelps Lake.

The author soloing steep approach slabs en-route, but off the main route, to Omega Buttress
📸: Connor James Photography

Three classic routes ascend the Ship’s Prow, all graded 5.9. The Dihedral Of Horrors (DOH) is by far the most popular, tackling the imposing namesake roof from the prominent and striking west facing dihedral. Annals Of Time, a steep and broken crack, ascends the wall west of DOH, and Cardiac Aretes, the subject of this article, takes the well featured east face by way of a 5.9 varied crack, or 5.10- hand crack, crux pitch. Many other Ship’s Prow routes are detailed in the Ortenburger-Jackson guidebook but receive virtually no traffic. As a natural born counterculturist, I swayed Connor into linking the first three pitches of Man O’ War, an obscure 1970’s “5.8” on the southeast face (FA: 07/12/1970, Thomas Dunwiddie and Robert Zimmerman), with the crux and final pitches of Cardiac Aretes (FA: 08/09/1981, Rich Perch and Randy Harrington). We began climbing around 3:15PM under sunny skies.

All routes on the Ship’s Prow traditionally begin with a severely runout 5.7R slab, a task I’d already dispatched on the Dihedral of Horrors and wasn’t dismayed to pass off to Connor. Fresh off weeks of slab climbing in sunny southern California, Mr. James braved the 50 foot ground-fall potential with grace and quickly belayed me to the first grassy ledge. Instead of continuing climber’s left to the next tier of ledges, as for DOH and Annals Of Time, our second pitch climbed a steep corner with broken blocks, and eventually a sweet 5.8 off-hands layback crack at the terminus of the grassy ledge, trending generally climber’s right onto the prominent southeast face/nose of the Ship’s Prow pillar. Upon rounding the corner, easy but runout 5.6 slabs above a large flake saw me to a grassy belay ledge, with a formidable pine and some fresh bail tat, directly below the steepening southeast face. 

The author enjoying a carefree ride on the 5.7R pitch one slab
📸: Connor James Photography

From the tree, the third lead wandered up more unprotected slabs, and eventually a surprisingly steep but jug studded layback crack (5.8) – another bold affair courtesy of Connor. This feature was evident from the second belay, and served as our guiding north star on the Man O’ War route. From the top of the flake Connor was able to spot the adjacent crux cracks of Cardiac Aretes, and traversed hard north on fourth class terrain to set a belay beneath them. 

“I guess the only way to get better at cracks is to climb more cracks” I told Connor as I timidly left the third belay, heading for the steep and awkward 5.9 hand-crack of first ascent, in a left facing corner, climber’s right of an intimidating 5.10- variation I wanted nothing to do with. As the sun faded over the horizon I wiggled up on the world’s best hand jam, sunk a rat’s nest of protection and paused to analyze the unnervingly flared, and dreadfully void of face holds, next thirty feet. After a few errant foot pops trying to edge on measly dimples, I reluctantly committed to a reachy finger lock, smeared my feet to hip height and reached for the stars, nailing a jug rail that saved the day. A bit more dodgy foolery and I was out of there, with another tough alpine crack under my belt, howling like a full-moon coyote. I continued to run the rope to the summit, linking pitches four and five with significant and regretful rope drag, another 60M fandango.

The author leading the crux 5.9 pitch on Cardiac Aretes
📸: Connor James Photography

We watched a beautiful sunset from the summit of the Ship’s Prow and descended via headlamp, remised to find no rumored second rappel station for descent with a single 70M rope. Thankfully we were able to rappel to a large ledge, pull the rope on fourth class terrain, scramble down a few feet to a viable crack and build a bail anchor. Though this intermediate station would provide incredible utility for other single-roped parties, it will almost certainly be dismantled – oh well.

📸: Connor James Photography
Someone call Mark Smiley
📸: Connor James Photography

Route Summary, Resources and Rack Recommendations

Linking the first three pitches of Man O’ War into the final two pitches of Cardiac Aretes provides a substantially more sustained day of climbing than Cardiac Aretes alone. Aside from the mandatory 5.7R first pitch, this fusion route trades two pitches of 5.6 (Cardiac Aretes’ pitches two and three) for two pitches of 5.8, keeping the entire five pitch affair above 5.8. I haven’t climbed the original Cardiac route, but for climbers interested in a fuller-value outing, I would recommend this alternative. The only guidebook with topos for Man O’ War is Leigh Ortenburger and Renny Jackson’s Climber’s Guide to the Teton Range. Perhaps next summer, I look forward to trying the upper pitches of Man O’ War, which, though graded easier than Cardiac Aretes, looked quite adventurous from our second belay. 

A standard 5.9 Teton rack to three inches, including a set of nuts, should be sufficient for this outing. We climbed with a single set of cams from TCU’s to three inches, with doubles from BD #0.4 to #1, and a standard assortment of stoppers. Though possible to descend with a single 70M rope and a low-fifth class down climb (don’t count on an intermediate anchor), it is universally recommended to make one long rappel, to the ground, with two ropes.

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