Climb South and Middle Tetons
Wyoming › Lupine Meadows Trailhead
Added by Greg Owens
Take on the challenge of climbing two Tetons in one day and summit a 12,804’ peak and a 12,514’ peak.
Northwestern Wyoming’s Teton Range is one of North America’s truly iconic landscapes. With essentially no foothills on the eastern side of the range, the mountains jut practically straight up from the valley floor at 6200’ to 13,770’ at the top of Grand Teton, the second-tallest point in the state. Surrounding Grand Teton on its south and north sides are the other peaks of the Cathedral Group: Mount Owen (12,928’), Middle Teton (12,804’), South Teton (12,514’), and Teewinot (12,330’). This adventure will take you to the summits of both South and Middle via non-technical routes.
The climb can be done in one long day, as an overnighter, or as a 3-day, 2-night trip. If you plan to stay at least one night, obtain a backcountry permit from the rangers at the Jenny Lake climbing ranger station. In any case, the climb begins from the Lupine Meadows Trailhead located just off the Teton Park Road between the Taggart Trailhead and South Jenny Lake. After a short, level stretch through forest, the trail climbs first to a junction with the Taggart Lake trail after 1.7 mi and then to a second junction at about 3.1 mi. At this junction, the right fork leads to Surprise and Amphitheater Lakes, while our route heads left to Garnet Canyon. After about another mile, you reach the mouth of Garnet Canyon and its lower camping zones, and at this point, the trail becomes more of a path that can be somewhat difficult to find. At The Meadows camping zone, the second zone you come across after Platforms, there is an obvious junction where routes split. Climbers going for Grand Teton will bear to the right, but our route to South and Middle goes left through and past The Meadows. At this junction, you'll see and hear Spalding Falls roaring down the mountain. Note that The Meadows is a pleasant place to camp with great views, especially of Middle Teton, but it is at only 9300’, leaving you with 3200+ feet to go to the top of either South or Middle. After The Meadows, the route gets noticeably rocky, and much of your time from there to the summits will be spent rock-hopping. The next and last camping zone you pass through is the South Fork zone, which extends from about 9700’ to the South-Middle Saddle, a prominent low-point between the two summits. There are several decent camping spots in this zone, some of which are near streams from the small glaciers and permanent snowfields, but be aware that this zone gets more wind than those lower in the canyon. If you lose the path, don’t worry; just keep heading toward the obvious saddle between South and Middle Tetons. Once you reach the saddle, look over to the west for a spectacular view of Icefloe Lake and Alaska Basin.
The easier of the two summits is South Teton. From the South-Middle Saddle, head south (left) along the ridge that ascends from the saddle until you see an obvious couloir that climbs from bottom right to top left. Hike up this couloir until it opens up to the southeast, then head east along the obvious ridge to the summit of South Teton, where outstanding views await you. Retrace your steps to the South-Middle Saddle. If time, weather, leg-strength, and spirit permit, head north along the ridge, skirt a small permanent snowfield on its left side, and climb to a prominent flat spot on the lower flank of Middle. From here, take the well-trod path leading north to a steep, rock-choked couloir. This gully is narrower and steeper than the one on South Teton, and use extra caution because of the significant risk of rock-fall. Climb to the top of the couloir and head left to the summit and an in-your-face, stunning view of Grand Teton. After the requisite summit photos and feeling of exhilaration, head back down the way you came. Be advised: the hardest part of the climb may very well be the miles to go and big elevation decrease from the South-Middle Saddle on tired legs!
- Rain Jacket
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad
- Camp essentials
- Plenty of high-energy snacks
- Water filter
- Bear canister (for South Fork campsites)
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This is a spectacular summit, especially for those who are not technical climbers (like myself.) I went in a group of 3. None of us had done this summit before, but we found our way easily enough. I do know several people who have attempted this hike at different times and some how headed toward the saddle between the Middle and the Grand by mistake. You'll eventually realize it if you do this and have time to correct yourself, but save yourself the effort and identify the right saddle early on! Get ready for lots of boulders. I had a great time going up and down the large boulder fields. We went in the first half of July after a large snow year and wished we had taken ice axes, but we made it without them. I recommend checking the conditions with the Jenny Lake Ranger station or on their blog to see if you want to take one. If anything, it makes coming down much faster and more fun.
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