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nutsandbolts

[TR] Tetons - The Grand Traverse 8/31/2015

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Trip: Tetons - The Grand Traverse

 

Date: 8/31/2015

 

Trip Report:

Over the course of 3 days, starting on 31 August, Dustin, Alex and I completed the Grand Traverse. This was certainly the biggest alpine rock objective I’ve ever tackled and definitely the hardest. It was quite the journey, emotionally and physically. There were times when I thought we would never make it, and moments where the stoke meter was off the charts. It’s worth mentioning that we completed the traverse onsight. Dustin and I had climbed the Full Exum two years ago, so the descent down the Owen-Spalding was familiar but it was our first time on all the other peaks. Below is a logistical trip report, primarily focusing on the traverses between the major peaks. Lots of beta is available for climbing the actual peaks, but we found the least amount of information (and consequently most of the cruxes) for the terrain in between.

 

Day 1. The hike from Lupine Meadows to the top of Teewinot contains the single largest amount of elevation gain, to the tune of about 5,000’ in 2 miles. We found the path well marked and primarily 3rd class with some minor 4th class. The descent from Teewinot takes you through an obvious notch about 75’ below and to the south of the summit. After dropping through this notch, we scrambled further to the south over into a second gully that leads very obviously to a football field sized landing. This gully is straightforward and it’s possible to see right where you’re going from a little ways down. We traversed this field and climbed slightly up to the top of Peak 11,840. We found rap anchors off the north side of this peak and made 2 raps to a ridge.

 

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Scrambling up Teewinot.

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Looking down the descent for Teewinot towards the "football field".

 

Following this ridge, we passed a small spire/gendarme to the north, traversing steep terrain. From here, we climbed more 2nd/3rd class to the top of the East Prong then made 3 raps off the west side to the saddle between Mt Owen and the East Prong. This is where the route meets up with the top of the Koven Couloir. The Koven description directs the climber towards a 4th class chimney to access the upper snow bank. This chimney was a waterfall with all the snow melt so we opted for 4th class slabs to the left of the chimney. These looked sketchy from far away, but became much more doable from close up. From here, we continued climbing up and around to the south and west sides of Owen to access the tunnel/chimney that leads to the summit. We made 2 raps down to the upper snow bank, and traversed south, somewhat farther than we expected to find 3 raps down to the west slopes of Owen, where we bivied for the night. There aren’t too many bivi spots between the upper snow bank of Owen and about pitch 6 of the North Face of the Grand. There is a small, possible bivi at the Second Ledge. If we to do it again, I’ve bivi on the upper snow bank of Owen, however it comes into the shade more quickly.

 

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Starting up Owen, looking back at the East Prong and the top of the Koven Couloir.

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Looking up Owen at the 4th class chimney and the upper snow bank.

 

Day 2. Following the scree slopes south (stay high) towards the gunsight, we found 3 more raps down to the notch. From the notch we climbed directly up for 30 feet, then traversed and downclimbed the obvious ramp, moving towards the east, to access the broad ledges on the east side of the Grandstand. Scrambling to the top of the Grandstand provided some of the worst rock. Super loose, 4th class choss. Be extra careful and tread lightly if parties are following or below you on the Teton Glacier. Once we accessed the top of the Grandstand, we proceeded to climb the North Face via the Italian Cracks variation (5.8).

Hoping to climb the Middle Teton that day as well, we made the decision to traverse to the OS from the Second Ledge, thinking this would save us some time over the direct finish (3 more pitches up to 5.7). Not so much… the traverse was way longer than we anticipated and cost us at least 3 hours. I’d highly recommend doing the direct finish. After a few summit selfies, we descended to the lower saddle via the OS in desperate need of water. We were so cooked after all day on the Grand and frustrated at our slow pace that we decided to bivi at the lower saddle, get a good night’s sleep, and try for a humungous effort the next day.

 

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Looking out from the bottom of the gunsight notch.

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Starting the initial downclimb/traverse of the Grandstand to access the east face and move up.

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Some of the terrain we crossed traversing from the Second Ledge off the North Ridge of the Grand, over to the OS.

 

Day 3. We awoke at 3am and started up Middle. Route finding was a little slow and mysterious in the dark, and lots of scary 4th class scrambling occurred, hoping we were still on route. We reached the top of the black dike (which is more of a corridor full of loose black rock) around 5:30am just as the sky started to lighten. The 5.6 pitch near the top of the black dike put us on 4th class slabs that lead to the summit just in time for sunrise.

 

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Sunrise from near the summit of Middle Teton.

 

The descent off Middle Teton is straightforward off the south end of the summit and leads to a large saddle with South Teton on the other end. Only gaining 1,000 feet to the summit of South was appreciated and we found it all to be snow free and 3rd class at most. Descending South involved some steep 3rd class downclimbing (possibly 4th depending on the route chosen). We found 1 rap close to the end which brought us to the low point on the west side of the Ice Cream Cone.

 

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Taken from the South Teton, starting the descent, looking at the Ice Cream Cone, Gilkey, and Spalding. Cloudveil and Nez Perce can be seen in the background.

 

One ~40m 5.7 pitch leads to the summit and 3rd/4th class scrambling allows for descent on the other side. We traversed the north side of the saddle, above a snowfield towards Gilkey Tower. This is where our experience differs from Rolo’s description. We confirmed with the climbing rangers at Jenny Lake afterwards (with much help from Google Earth) to make sure our memories weren’t faulty.

 

We scrambled up (3rd/4th class) and traversed towards the east side of Gilkey to gain the summit, then descended towards Spalding Tower. Spalding itself has 3 different summits, the highest being farthest east, and a memorial plaque near the base of the west side. Gaining the west ridge of Spalding involved 2-3 extraordinarily exposed 5.4 moves. Moving along the summit ridge towards the true summit involved some super scary downclimb/hopping that I don’t wish to repeat. We descended off the east end of Spalding with mostly 3rd class downclimbing and on rap close to the bottom. We dropped below the ridgeline to the north, to cross a snowfield through a small partially melted chute, then regained the ridge.

 

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This was taken from the top of the Ice Cream Cone. Gilkey is the next tower and Spalding's 3 humps (although it kind of looks like two from this angle) stands behind.

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Scrambling up Gilkey.

 

Much of our confusion came from an unnamed fin that is partially joined to the west ridge of Cloudveil. Although unnamed and probably rarely climbed, the summit is super cool. It is a true one-at-a-time summit with awesome exposure on all sides, accessed either through a tunnel or chimneying above and over a large block.

 

Downclimbing from the unnamed summit towards Cloudveil involved a few 3rd class moves, but the west ridge and north side of Cloudveil are easily attained and we quickly climbed to the summit.

 

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Working up Cloudveil.

 

Downclimbing from Cloudveil towards Nez Perce involves more 3rd and 4th class and eventually leads to some mini-cirques which are skirted at mid to upper height on the north side of the ridge. This leads to the top of a gully or notch on the west side of Nez Perce. From here, a long traverse around the north side of Nez Perce leads to easier ground, which we found to be mostly well marked with cairns. The route zig-zags a bit, following ledge systems over some 4th class terrain to the summit. There are two raps that facilitate the descent of Nez Perce. The first involves retracing the accent a short ways to skier’s left, then turning a corner to the right to find a rap station above a small chute. The second follows farther to skier’s left down some slabs.

 

The final descent down to the south fork of Garnet Canyon primarily follows a gully behind the prominent curving north ridge of Nez Perce, avoiding the steepest cliffs to skier’s left on some switchbacks.

 

Hopefully some of this info will be useful for others wishing to complete the Grand Traverse. The library at the AAC Climber’s Ranch has many useful pictures and topos that aren’t available elsewhere for further research. No matter how much research is done, it’s still a wonderful adventure and incredible experience!

 

Gear Notes:

50m rope. This was just enough to handle all the raps without much downclimbing.

Rack: 5 medium sized nuts, Master Cams 0-3, Camalots 0.5(x2), 0.75(x2), 1(x2), 2.

Ten alpine draws and two anchors.

We climbed the entire traverse in 5.Ten guide tennies. Rock in the Tetons is so sticky that we were comfortable even on the 5.8 pitch of the N Ridge on the Grand.

 

Approach Notes:

Lupine TH. Take the unmarked trail about 100 yards north of the bathrooms, straight towards Teewinot.

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FWIW there are great bivy sites on the top of the Grand Stand. They are windy but good. We set up a bibler there 20 years ago.

 

And yes, if doing the Italian Cracks and gaining the Second Ledge on the N. face, one should finish the regular N. Face - the pendulum pitch and the traverse in to the V are classic. Most just do the regular N. Ridge which is good climbing and from the Second Ledge the finish goes quick.

 

Trying to get from the N. Face to the OS via Second Ledge is a PITA especially because the ledge is gone between the N Face and N Ridge but good to know about as it is the escape route off the hill.

 

Otherwise sounds like you lucked out with some continuous good weather.

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