The Grand is the only mountain on the fifty classic climbs list that is graced with three "classic" routes up its flanks. There is no doubt this area is rich with history and this mountain is the crowning gem in the string of peaks that make up this amazing range. Some may think it is deserving of three classic routes, maybe even more. I am not one of those people.
We have yet to climb the North Ridge (which I hear is great), but after climbing the Direct Exum Ridge and the North Face I have to say that the North Face needs to be "Plutoed", aka demoted, from Steck & Roper's list.
It should be an automatic disqualification of classic status when one is required to climb up a 60 foot chimney where every inch is plastered with bat and bird crap! Thats right, its called the "guano chimney". Thankfully it was fairly dry when we were there, keeping the smell and slime factor relatively low.
The start of the route requires you to be in the blast zone. Rocks wiz down around you from over a thousand feet above. Helmet or not, if one of those catch you, it would be a closed-casket funeral for sure. There is also a slab pitch up higher. You clip the rope to a 40 year old angled piton, then climb diagonal and up for 40 feet across a slime covered slab that is wet from the perpetually melting snow patch above. So if you do slip near the top you are going for a tumbling, cheese-grating 80 footer.
Aside from that its a great route. Seriously though, climbing the North Face of the Grand is a great adventure. Similar, Im sure, to running an ultra marathon. No body likes actually running 100 miles in one day, but its cool to say you did it afterwards. The North Face is the same thing, only nobody really cares. Cause if the person you are bragging to has done the route they say, "why did you do that? didn't you read the route description?" If they have not done the route then they have no idea what your talking about and therefore no "cool points" are awarded.
The Direct Exum on the other hand is the North Face's polar opposite, both in aspect and quality. It is amazing from bottom to top. Great adventure climbing due to the many cracks you have to choose from, all leading eventually to the top. Its so cool. A must do. My recommendation is to avoid the Lower Saddle camping location and opt for the Petzoldt Caves. It does add an hour or two to your summit day, but then you dont have to carry your heavy backpack as far, and it is a lot less windy, complete with a natural spring 30 yards from the caves. Of course you do have to be okay with mice and chipmunks as roommates, but they are friendly, and don't snore.
The final tip for those of you that have your sights on the Grand is talk to the Exum guides for current conditions, beta, etc. Without exception these guys, and girls, are really nice, helpful, and very accomplished climbers.
We left after a 10 days in the area due to quickly deteriorating forecast. We will have to come back for the North Ridge, which Im excited about. Hopefully link it up with the Grand Traverse (climbing all the peaks in the range in one looong push). Before leaving we also climbed the Direct South Buttress of Mt Moran, which is next.....