History wall honors Jackson Hole climbing legacy

JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) – On July 9, 1931, a young man named Glenn Exum was climbing in the Tetons. Encouraged by his friend Paul Petzoldt to explore a new route, Exum followed a ledge up a southeastern ridge of the Grand Teton. The young and relatively inexperienced Exum, wearing oversized football cleats and with no rope, found himself looking across a precipitous chasm at the only way forward.

After pacing about on the ledge for a while and futilely attempting to contact Petzoldt, Exum made a historic leap.

From a standing position he jumped across the gap and the thousand feet of air beneath him, then continued upward to pioneer the second route to ever reach the top of the Grand Teton.

The route became known as the Exum Ridge in honor of the young climber.

Exum’s move may have been the most literal leap ever made in the Tetons, but in a sense, every first ascent is a leap, and the Tetons have been a premier leaping ground for American mountaineering for more than 100 years.

Exum’s leap and many others are being recorded on a new monument at the base of Snow King.

The history wall, which is the third and final element of the Teton Boulder Project, will honor all of the major achievements that represent Jackson Hole’s contribution to America’s climbing heritage.

Christian Beckwith, the project’s coordinator, has been involved with the Teton Boulder Project from its inception.

“Mountaineering in this town has played such a big role in American mountaineering history, but we really have nothing to honor it,” he said.

The wall is built into the Snow King hillside in Phil Baux Park and wraps around the three artificial climbing boulders and memorial that make up the rest of the Teton Boulder Project.

At the history wall, the most significant achievements in Teton climbing history are etched on a timeline along oxidized metal plates.

The installation creates a web of climbing history that includes the name of routes, the names of those who pioneered them and the dates of significant achievements.

To be included on the wall, the accomplishment had to contribute “to the evolution of climbing and/or ski mountaineering in the United States” and be “recognized as an American classic.”

Beckwith, the founder and editor of Alpinist magazine, pointed out three milestones on the wall that he thinks are particularly interesting:

In the late 1950s, on the Jenny Lake Boulders, John Gill, a gymnast and mathematician, completed a 5.13-plus bouldering route. He also introduced chalk, which he bought at Jackson Drug, to American climbing. Bouldering, which previously had been used as a form of exercise but not considered a sport of its own, would take technical climbing to new levels.

In 1968, George, Greg and Mike Lowe and Rick Horn made the first winter ascent of the north face of the Grand Teton. The climb shattered previous presumptions and fears about climbing in the Tetons during the winter. Like Gill, the leap this group of climbers took opened the door to an entirely new chapter in the sport of climbing.

In 1971, when mountain guide and musician Bill Briggs skied from the top of the Grand Teton with extremely limited rappelling, he took ski mountaineering to a level that many still aspire to today.

“It’s an interactive tribute to America’s climbing heritage,” Beckwith said.

A few finishing touches remain for the Teton Boulder Project. A kiosk that will provide a space for announcements and a bulletin board for the climbing community has yet to be built. The area also needs to be electrically wired. Finally, Beckwith points out, there are a few refinements and a little bit of polishing still required for the wall.

An opening is planned July 7.