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Grand Traverse

The Grand Traverse! In Grand Teton National Park there is no better way to experience the alpine climbing that the Park has to offer. I have just returned from completing the traverse in three days (which is the classic way to do it) with Barry Olson.

3 am start

3 am start

Teewinot first summit of ten!

Teewinot first summit of ten!

The Grand Traverse completes the continuous chain of mountains that encompass the Grand Teton. The peaks include Teewinot, Mt. Owen, Grand Teton, Middle Teton, South Teton, Ice Cream Cone, Gilkie Tower, Spaulding Peak, Cloud Veil Dome, and Nez Perce; in that order. Depending upon the time of year you attempt the Traverse conditions can range from snow and ice requiring boots, crampons, and ice axe to dry rock requiring only approach shoes. The challenging route finding inherent in the Tetons and a tremendous amount of loose rock that exists in all young mountain ranges complicates the Traverse.

West ledges bivy

West ledges bivy

rappelling into Gun Sight Notch

rappelling into Gun Sight Notch

Over fifteen years ago the late great Alex Lowe knocked the Traverse down a few notches by completing it in 8 hours and 20 minutes, when he found out that he had no work one day with Exum Mountain Guides. That record stood for over ten years until Rolando Garibotti (also an Exum guide) completed it in the time most people take to hike up to the Lower Saddle, in a mere 6 hours and 40 minutes.

Italian Crack

Italian Crack

Barry and I set out at 3:15 am to have a great adventure and climb a bunch of peaks. The Traverse starts out by grinding up the Apex trail on Teewinot. Most people continue up the East face route scrambling to the summit but Barry was hungry for something different since he had done that route. We crossed the East face and started up the Black Chimney, a variation to the East Ridge. The Black Chimney offers four pitches of interesting 5.6 climbing complicated this year with lingering snow and ice. From the top of the chimney it is only a short scramble to the summit of Teewinot.

Mahoney leading out of Gun Sight notch

Mahoney leading out of Gun Sight notch

After Teewinot is completed the traverse truly begins by connecting the serrated ridge between Teewinot and Mt. Owen. The first bump requires three 30-meter rappels, or you can down climb it like Alex Lowe did on his historic tromp. From this point you typically stay to the North of the crest and pick your way through the loose rock, steep steps, and snow. Eventually you arrive at the top of the Koven couloir and you follow the Koven route to the summit of Mt Owen. At this point your first day is almost complete; you just have a few rappels and some down climbing to reach the West ledges of Owen for a bivy.

Day two starts with a rappel into the Gun sight Notch followed by two stellar pitches of 5.6/5.7 rock climbing that are steep and full of jugs. This begins the North Ridge of the Grand Teton. More scrambling and a few more pitches lead you to the Italian Cracks 5.7 variation (a much more enjoyable variation since it is in the sun for several hours in the morning). Exiting the North Ridge on the second ledge you rap around to the west and gain the Owen-Spaulding route to tag the summit. This year the exit was guarded by a 30-meter pitch of mixed climbing which we had to tackle with aluminum crampons, light ice axes, and no ice screws. Relieved to be back on rock we reached the summit by noon and headed towards Middle Teton.

unexpected mixed terrain

unexpected mixed terrain

The North ridge of Middle Teton is easier than the Grand however the exit crack was running with icy water so the 5.6 felt a lot harder. After completing the fourth peak of our traverse we headed down into the south fork of Garnett Canyon to find a bivy spot.

Rock snow rock

Rock snow rock

summit of Ice Cream Cone

summit of Ice Cream Cone

The third and final day of the traverse gains the most summits with six peaks however it is the least challenging, fortunately. The day starts with a scramble up South Teton and a down climb. Then onto Ice Cream Cone, named for its symmetrical upside down cone shape shrouded at the base in snow. It is only 50 meters tall above the col but it is worth climbing. The next summit is Gilkie Tower, a twin summit peak that is one pitch shy of being a scramble. Down climb, traverse snow, scramble to the summit of Spaulding peak. The same routine for Cloud Veil Peak. Down climb, rappel then boot ski snow to get to the base of the final peak of the Traverse, Nez Perce. Nez Perce, named for one of the regional Native American tribes, is a complicated summit with three to choose from with the middle the highest. You can scramble to the summit but we choose to add a few more quality pitches of 5.6 crack climbing to finish the traverse.

coming off Spaulding Peak

coming off Spaulding Peak

going up Nez Perce

going up Nez Perce

After ten summits it is only a 6-mile hike to the trailhead and completion of an all time Teton classic!

team Traverse

team Traverse

Statistics:

12,000 feet of vertical gain

36 pitches of rock climbing (35 m pitches)

12 Rappels

Endless short roping.

A whole bunch of miles.

Ten Down

Ten Down

2 Responses to “Grand Traverse”

  1. David Schroen
    July 24, 2009 at 1:48 am #

    Great to see you having fun! Beautiful pictures and scenery. Inspiring route!

  2. James Childre
    July 31, 2009 at 6:11 pm #

    Great climb guys! Two climber and I had intended to complete the traverse one week before your trip but postponed it due to high snow conditions. It sounds like you found more snow and ice than expected. I appreciate the photos and the information. Was the route finding at the gunsight notch as difficult as they say? Was water available anywhere before the lower saddle (besides snow of course)? Any thoughts on continuing to the grandstand on day 1? Any other words of wisdom? I appreciate any information you may be able to provide. Way to go, I hope we are as successful as you were.

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