The Grand Traverse begins on Teewinot (cl. 4) (12,325') ascending it's east face (~5,700ft) moves up and over point 11,840', and the East Prong (12,040') before tagging Mt. Owen (5.4) (12,928'). After which you traverse Mt. Owens south ridge down into the Gunsight Notch (5.6) climbing out onto the Grand Stand (~12,700') gaining access to the Grand Teton (13,770') via the North Ridge (5.8). Descend the ever popular Owen Spalding route to the Lower Saddle (11,700') to gain the North Ridge of the Middle Teton (12,804') (5.5) walking off the backside via the Southwest Couloir (cl. 3) which brings you to the Middle - South Teton col (11,400'). Ascending the South Teton via the Northwest Couloir (cl. 3) brings you onto a brilliant section of ridgeline connecting the South Teton to Nez Perce. The first difficulty is the Ice Cream Cone (12,360')(5.7) then onto Gilkey Tower (cl. 4), Spalding Tower (cl. 4), Cloudveil Dome (cl. 4), and finally Nez Perce (11,901')(cl. 4).
I invited my buddy Kevin Chuba to join me on the traverse. He's a solid mountain partner for adventures off the beaten path. With ascents of big routes in the Wind Rivers, and numerous new routing escapades here in the Wasatch I new he could hang tough. Personally I doubted my fitness early in the summer so I put my training into overdrive jacking out multiple 3,000ft days of easy soloing in Big Cottonwood, and visiting our local slice of the Sierra the Lone Peak Cirque (11,253') via day trips to put up a new line and check out established routes. My biggest 24hr period I ascended 12,417ft 8 days prior to our climb.
Arriving in GTNP Sunday afternoon we head straight to the Jenny Lake Ranger station to obtain our bivy permits, and check on current conditions. The previous day was a tough day in the park. A woman fell on snow sliding into a talus field from which she was lucky to survive. Additionally a guide slipped and fell off the Grand Teton, and was killed. A solemn mood enveloped the Ranger Station inside which we gained all the beta needed for our climb. With these recent accidents in mind we racked up, and reflected.
Beginning Monday morning at 4am with a mellow start fully knowing how much terrain we had to cover we took our time up the east face of Teewinot moving from hiking terrain to steep snow, and finally to 4th class scrambling.
Here we discovered our ability to quickly and efficiently get off route. Reaching the notch of Teewinot we quickly dumped our packs, and started up the nearest 4th class ramp which immediately turned into 5th class. Downclimbing, and working back around to the correct summit route we made it to the top about 5 hours after starting up which is way longer than we thought our timing would be.
Moving swiftly after our snafu from Teewinot up and over point 11,840' onto the East Prong requires easy 3rd class, and 5 raps (3 on 11,840', and 2 on East Prong). We find the rope pulls easy, and zero rock fall on our descents. Things are clicking, and the stoke is high.
We finally break out the rope for a short 120' pitch that gains access to the Mt. Owen snowfields. Putting it away quickly we traverse the snowfields with crampons and axes to the base of the Koven chimney. A subtle route finding error here costs us some time, but complete trust in your gut instinct goes a long way in the mountains. Kevin is off route, and is confused. I immediately ask him to bring me up so we can re-orient ourselves, and think with two half functioning brains instead of one leader who is bonking hard at nearly 13,000'. We find the chimney which gains us access to the summit of Mt. Owen, and spy the route over to the Grand Stand.
The pitch out of the Gunsight Notch is one of the best on the route. 5.7 cracks directly off the belay lead to phenomenal 5.7 jugs in one huge 60m pitch. I wish I had pictures of that pitch, but I was to busy hauling ass to gain the bivy before nightfall. Previously at the base of the Koven route we had access to a great flowing spring. We tanked up on water, but didn't fill out larger reservoirs thinking the Grand Stand would be a descent drip we could get water from. What we found were two drops 3 ft apart from each other than took roughly 15-20min to fill a 16oz bottle. We arrived at the bivy around 8ish, but didn't get to sleep until 11pm due to this debacle.
The bivy wasn't bad. I've had worse. It was a little breezy, but temps hovered in the mid to low 40's allowing us a fairly comfortable nights sleep.
What's going on up there bud?
YOU ARE ON BELAY!!!
We start moving again after Kevin's deligent belay set up, and the wind abated allowing us to communicate once again.
We are on the North Ridge of the Grand Teton Tuesday morning on day two of our 3 day traverse. Things are going well for us, but the altitude is taking it's toll on our speed. Sleeping on the Grand Stand bivy (12,700ft) left Kev with a hang over in the morning, and I'm feeling the effects of the 8,500ft of ascending the day before. The North Ridge with Italian Cracks variation on the Grant Teton is an amazing route with moderate climbing up one of the most imposing mountain faces in the lower 48. We pitch out the climb up to the second ledge, and escape to near the owen spalding. Ice, and snow force us into an easy 5.7 variation to gain the final 3rd class section of the OS, and the crowds greet us as they descend. The summit of the Grand is sweet indeed. We allow ourselves a solid 15 minute chill out session on top eating sausage, and sipping the last of our water before refueling at the lower saddle.
Once at the lower saddle we take a 30 minute pit stop at the spring maintained by Exum, and talk to a couple of guides chilling out at their bivy. They give us weather updates, and wish us luck on the remainder of our tour. With the Cathedral Traverse already in the bag we are beyond stoked, and continue up the North Ridge of the Middle Teton (5.5).
We solo most of the Middle Teton with one short belay to get us over a steep boulder problem with exposure. The Middle is an awesome mountain that is completely neglected in comparison to it's big brother next door. The southwest couloir provides an easy class 3 descent down to the Middle Teton - South Teton col bivouac.
Another lukewarm night gives us a few hours of rest, and ample time to refuel before completing the traverse. We know our climb is in the bag as long as keep moving, and no one gets hurt. We take our time ascending the last of the large peaks moving up the northwest couloir of the South Teton slowly, and with patience suffering still from the altitude. Dropping down onto the Ice Cream Cone for our final pitch of technical climbing I get the rope up there, and discover an awesome summit.
With the Ice Cream Cone behind us we move over onto Gilkey Tower to discover a tricky, and extremely exposed down climb. Ranger Jack McDonnell gave us the beta on the traverse after vetting us, and our intensions. He minced no words, and spoke seriously about every nook and cranny on the traverse. When finding this down climb I was reminded about his mentioning of a "serious move here" as he put his finger on the topo with audible force. He wasn't joking as this down climb was the scariest portion of the traverse for me.
I put my pack down, told Kevin to get the cordellete out, and immediately started into the moves before my fear turned debilitating. Subtle smears, and sloping holds lead to better feet and a bomber 2 finger pocket for the left hand and an incut full pad crimper for my right. I perform a reverse friction high step landing my foot on a pointed boulder. The sense of relief is felt between both of us as Kevin lowers the packs performs the moves perfectly while I spray him down. We take a much needed break soon after, and eat lunch just after Spalding Tower (cl. 4).
Cloudveil Dome provides fun 4th class terrain with a rappel on it's east ridge we used to avoid a long section of 4th class down climbing. Now it's just us, and Nez Perce.
The route on Nez Perce is longer than it looks, and zig zags across it's more northly aspect. We are guided by cairns (aka - Karen Stone our faithful route finding lady of the mountains) onto the final 4th class step. It provides truly enjoyable 4th class terrain almost to the summit. The summit is amazing, and our energy is electric. We've done it. Now we've just got to get down without any sprained ankles, and we're good.
The descent of Nez Perce takes two 30m raps which luckily get you across much of the zig zagging it takes to summit. We are back to our packs in less than 10 minutes after leaving the summit. Looking down Garnet Canyon the trailhead looks really really far away. We take our time picking our way down the talus field onto the Middle Teton bivy site, and run into congratulatory guides, and clients. We find it hard to tell people what we've done so we say we did Nez Perce. When asked where we started we say Middle Teton - South Teton col. When asked how long it took us to get there we look down at our feet, and say a day or so from the Grand Stand. Why so bashful? We didn't do it to brag, and both of us aren't very over the top loud (unless we're drinking) so we just mosey on down the trail almost embarrassed of our success. We just completed one of the top alpine traverses in the lower 48, but we'd never call ourselves alpinists. We're just rock climbers who can walk really far.
8.5mm 70m beal opera
40deg bag as ground cloth
15deg bag as blanket
smallest jet boil they make
3 days and 2 nights