Glenn Exum

In 1929, Glenn Exum began climbing in the Teton Range with Paul Petzoldt, who had been guiding small numbers of clients since 1925. Together they formed a partnership that became the Petzoldt-Exum School of American Mountaineering. Glenn Exum was a man of exceptional integrity, endowed with a charismatic and commanding personality. He was handsome and debonair, with a resemblance, some say, to Errol Flynn. He was also a superb athlete and gifted climber. We are honored that his name graces our company. In 1931 when Glenn was 20, he climbed a new route on the Grand Teton, solo, with no rope, in a pair of borrowed leather-cleated football shoes that were two sizes too big for him. At the end of Wall Street is a crucial passage that allows access to the south ridge of the Grand Teton, a gap at the top of a terrifically exposed chimney. Seeing no way to climb across the gap, Glenn walked back and forth along the ledge seven times until he finally picked out small handholds and a boulder on the ridge crest. Later he wrote, “When you get to the eastern extremity of Wall Street, why there isn’t any place to jump from! So I climbed as high as I could, until I was sort of secure, and jumped from a standing start!” Once across, Glenn was committed to the ridge, since no retreat was possible. He climbed the now famous pitches on the ridge and reached the summit. The Exum Ridge, named for his first ascent, is now the most popular route on the Grand Teton.

Exum Vision

In the mid-1930′s, Glenn was invited to climb in the Alps. While there he observed that European guides merely tied a rope around their clients and pulled them up difficult sections of a climb without giving them instruction in climbing techniques or rope handling. On the descent, the guides lowered their clients instead of having them rappel on their own. Glenn believed that climbers would more readily appreciate the challenges of mountaineering if they could participate. When he returned to the Tetons, he applied this concept to the guide service. He developed the philosophy that guides should provide instruction, inspire initiative and responsibility, and promote participation-a complete departure from the European model of guiding. His changes were a tremendous success and became the basis of the American guiding tradition. Glenn’s innovations remain the bedrock principles of Exum Mountain Guides. People of all ages are taught to climb before they attempt crags or summits. They learn balance, knots, rope handling, the use of the climbing rope for protection, climbing techniques, and how to rappel. Exum also emphasizes safety, awareness of hazards, and sensitivity to the mountain environment. Thus prepared, new climbers are able to ascend the Grand Teton and other mountains as full participants in the adventure that is mountaineering. They can be justly proud of their own accomplishment, and we are proud of them. Some have gone on to become fine climbers in their own right; some have even returned to Exum as guides.

Guiding Excellence

After guiding and teaching for 80 years, Exum Mountain Guides enjoys an unmatched reputation for excellence. The guide service has grown since those early years, but we still hire guides who are able to teach and inspire others. Our experience is now international. Collectively, our guides have climbed in the United States, Alaska, the Alps, the Andes, Antarctica, China, Tibet, the Karakoram, and, of course, throughout the Himalayas. Come climb with the Exum Guide Service and School of American Mountaineering. Pictured above are some of the early Exum Guides – from left to right: Willi Unsoeld, Glenn Exum, Eddie Exum, Barry Corbet, Al Read, Jake Breitenbach, Sterling Neale and Roberts French.

To learn more about these and other early Exum guides, go to the Exum History Project.

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