The Holocene History of the Teton Range

Climbing and mountaineering foster a sense of love and appreciation for nature. Understanding the history of this titanic range is part of its lure; knowing where these towering peaks come from is necessary for a wholly fulfilling climbing experience.


Humans have inhabited the Tetons for more than 11,000 years. The first humans were migratory hunter-gatherers who spent summer months in Jackson Hole and winter months in valleys west of the Teton Range. White American explorers first entered the region in the very early 19th century. They encountered the Shoshone people, who lived in the mountains of the greater Yellowstone region. At the same time, the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed well north of the Grand Teton region, bringing fur trade as they travelled to the Pacific Ocean. One map suggests the expedition entered the Teton Range from the northeast, crossing the Continental Divide at Togwotee Pass or Union Pass.


John Coulter, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, broke off early from the group in order to engage in fur trading. He is widely considered to be the first “mountain man,” and he stayed in the area for the profitable fur trapping. The region was known for its high number of beavers and other fur-bearing animals. This industry formed the Rocky Mountain Fur Company in the mid-1802s, which was overseen by David Edward “Davey” Jackson—one of the area’s many namesakes.


The first U.S. Government-sponsored expedition was the Raynolds Expedition of 1860. They were charged with exploring the Yellowstone region, but encountered difficulties in crossing mountain passes due to snow. Shortly thereafter, Yellowstone National Park was established (1872), and by the close of the 19th century, conservationists were advocating to expand the boundaries to include the Teton Range. After congressional approval, President Calvin Coolidge signed the executive order establishing Grand Teton National Park in February of 1929.


Mountaineering Terminology 101

As with most adventure sports, mountaineering comes with its own language. From essential gear names to types of terrain, it is imperative to have your fundamental terms memorized before embarking on a trip—especially if that trip is in the Tetons. Below are a few important terms to prepare for your first few days on the wall.


Anchor—This is the point at which the rope is secured to snow, ice, or rock, providing protection against a fall. Any individual anchor point must be able to hold a fall.


Approach—The nontechnical section of a climb that leads to the technical part.


Belay—A safety technique wherein a stationary climber provides protection by means of ropes, anchors, and breaking devices or techniques. This is meant to help and stabilize the ascending or descending partner.


Boulder—A climb on a difficult but short rock pitch. A potential fall is of minimal consequence.


Cairn—A pile of rock or wood used to mark a particular route.


Carabiner—An aluminum device (of various shapes) with a spring-loaded gate. Climbers must thread the climbing rope through the carabiner to connect to protection or to provide connections with an anchor.


Edging—A climbing technique wherein the edges of the climbing shoes are used to stand on small footholds.


Free climb—A climb using only one’s hands and feet; without artificial aids.


Free solo—A free climb without a belay rope.


Headwall—The upper section of a mountain where the terrain is steeper.


Pitch—A section of climbing between two belay points.


Scramble—Easy, unprotected climbing.


Scree—Small, loose rocks. This is difficult to ascend.


Mountaineering vs. Rock Climbing Terminology

Given that mountaineering includes navigating and surviving mountainous conditions–as well as rock climbing–it’s no surprise that this is an incomplete list. Our glossary of mountaineering terminology is still a work in progress. Looking for more information specifically about the terminology of rock climbing? Here’s a good video you can watch: