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ON ROCK! Summit Symmetry Spine
JACKSON HOLE, WYO – Global warming persists in the Tetons in recent weeks. The snow is melting rapidly, and climbers are sliding around everywhere while approaching/descending climbs and peaks in Grand Teton National Park. I was anticipating using crampons on the approach to Symmetry Spire (10,560 feet), but the snow was soft enough to kick steps and move quickly. Our goal was the SW Ridge (II, 5.6), an approximately trad 6 pitch climb that teems with the history of past climbers.
However, this time of year also requires solid snow skills due to the snowfield approach and intermittent snow patches descent. Hoping to avoid the crowds, we got an early start and hiked around Jenny Lake, taking the trail toward Baxter’s Pinnacle. The climber’s trail to Symmetry is hard to find due to bushes, but a little research ahead of time will help. Being that I have guided this climb countless times over the years, my GPS brain automatically turned off the trail at the right moment, and up we went.
Be prepared to get wet if there is moisture on the bushes as you wallow through them. Some slab scrambling, and then snow climbing got us to the base of the spire in about three hours. A couple of easy 5th-class pitches got us to the fun stuff, where we enjoyed three pitches of classic Teton climbing with old pitons everywhere.
The “Nose” pitch (5.7) is at first intimidating, but smooth moves abound. A couple pitches later on the “Flake” pitch, you are in a chimney that puts you on the summit ridge. For the climbing purist, you can reach the true summit by scrambling the obvious ridge above you to the right, otherwise rappel into the notch down towards the NW ledges and SW Couloir for the descent. Some tedious downclimbing brings you back to the base of the climb. We glissaded down the snow toward Jenny Lake, but had to be careful of hidden snow bridges and moats. A full day of excitement!
For gear: Ice axes, crampons, helmets, harnesses, full trad rack, long slings, 60-meter rope and gloves for glissading. For beta: “A Climber’s Guide to The Teton Range” by Ortenburger and Jackson. Rock On!