Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Cathedral Traverse - A consolation prize

With plans of completing the Grand Traverse we headed to the Tetons.  Our preparation was poor to say the least.  In the past year, Andy and I had climbed once, Jared and Chad had climbed 3 times each. We figured the traverse was more of an aerobic pursuit anyway.  

As we pulled into the Lupine Meadows trailhead for a couple hours of sleep we bumped into SLC hardmen Jake Trauscht and Joe Knuth.  They were planning on the Grand Traverse as well.  We decided to leave the trailhead at our separate predetermined times, likely to meet up somewhere on the route.  

Myself, Andy and Jared on Teewinot's small summit
 A 2 AM start time had us walking up Teewinot in the dark.  The plan was to summit in the dark and start the 11,840 raps at first light.  High on Teewinot's East face we caught Jake and Joe as they were 4th classing large sections after missing the easier trail.  Once we were together, it was clear our paces were matching up so we moved as a party of six.  Teewinot's summit in the pitch black of night with five other friends was a party.   All we could see were small circles of swirling clouds illuminated by our headlamps - spooky.

From there we moved well to the top of Peak 11,840 and started the raps in the dark.  All 6 of us shared ropes and hit the ground at first light.  Considering there were 6 of us, the raps went smoothly. A team of 2 would clearly be much faster though.  Anytime we were moving unroped the size of our party was great but if we had to pull a rope out everything would grind to a halt.  No worries though.  Having so many people in the group kept spirits high and the mood light.  It was also a treat to see the large group cruising along together.
Raps on Peak 11,840
Jared, psyched(?) after the early morning raps
Joe and Jared traversing the north side of East Prong 
Views the whole time over East Prong and up Owen were limited.  We didn't see the Grand once. As we hit Koven Col we were totally socked under.  Luckily Chad and Andy had both gone from the Col to the summit of Owen before.  They were able to keep us moving in the right direction even though visibility was nonexistent.  Without any major mistakes we found ourselves on the cloudy summit of Owen feeling pretty good.  We just nailed the first part of the traverse in the dark/clouds in reasonable time and were optimistic. 
Down climbing steep snow towards Koven Col, photo by Chad Ambrose
Chad and Jared heading up Owen in the Clouds
Andy doing a dance? Summit of Mt. Owen
Trying the find the notch and head down to Gunsight in the clouds proved to be difficult.  We walked up and down the southwest side of Owen trying to get a feel for where to go but couldn't.  We pulled out topos but just couldn't see any landmarks.  As we floundered in the clouds someone let out a a shout of joy as the skies suddenly began to clear.  Chad said he shed a tear he was so happy. We found ourselves a little bit out of the way but at least we could keep going.  
First view of the Grand
The high consequence down climb to Gunsight was a little loose but went smoothly.  We opted for 2 short (25') raps towards the end.
Setting up a short raps on the way to Gunsight

Jake a few moves before the last rap into Gunsight
Gunsight Notch
Gunsight Notch is amazing.  It's narrow, surrounded by steep walls, and marks the beginning of the real climbing. We decided 2 teams of 3 would be the fastest option.  Jake got the train rolling and blasted the first "knobby" pitch out of Gunsight. 
First pitch out of Gunsight, photo by Chad Ambrose
Andy on the second pitch out of Gunsight
We made quick work of the Gunsight pitches before things really slowed down on the N. Ridge.  I'm not sure what exactly happend but getting all 6 of us to the top of each pitch kept taking longer and longer.  Somewhere in the middle of the ridge it was clear we weren't going to be able to finish the Grand Traverse before our 24 hour cut off (time to get back for work) so we decided to settle for the Cathedral Traverse.  No one was too disappointed.  This meant we'd eat dinner sooner, get back to SLC sooner and actually get a decent nights sleep before working the next day.  Maybe we're just getting lazy.
Chad and Jared on the Grandstand
One more on the Grandstand, photo by Andy
Andy (red), Jake (blue) and Joe (yellow), Pitch 1 of the North Ridge
Half way up the Italian Cracks, photo by Andy
Chad on the second Italian Cracks pitch
Once we hit the second ledge we had the option of taking it around to the OS and then up or taking a chimney system directly to the summit.  Chad was set on taking the chimneys so Jared and I agreed to go with. I'm glad we did, popping over directly on the summit is certainly a fitting end to the N. Ridge.  Andy had already climbed those pitches so he agreed to do a little recon and check out the exit ledge to the OS.  Sounds like that's the quicker option, good to know for future efforts.
Summit of the Grand,  happy with the Cathedral Traverse,  photo by Andy


  1. The fog reminds of an attempt Bryce Thatcher & I made on the GT during the epic Yellowstone fires. Smoke was bad enough to hide the summits of Owen & Grand. We bailed and suffered brochitis for a month. Better luck comes with better weather and routfinding.

  2. Jim, I thought we had smokey skies. I can't magine how bad it must have been during the Yellowstone fires. Where you running with Bryce?

  3. awesome. when I was started on my way up Garnet, I saw all of your headlamps bobbing around way up there while I was still in the parking lot. well done!

  4. I've "done" the GT a couple times, but prior I had done every route separately. The first time we did it as my bachelor party, as a team of three, at a casual two day pace. The second time we did Teewinot, Owen, Italian Cracks, Middle, then ran out of water and had to go way down south fork to get water, at which point motivation was lost. That trip took 12 hours for the Cathedral portion with average athleticism.

    I think to do the entire traverse, all the way to Nez Perce, onsight, in 24 hours, is really a lofty goal for someone who hasn't done the route before. Yeah, maybe your posse could do it, but most won't be able to do that "onsight". Soloing every bit of the route except a four pitches on the Grand is almost mandatory if you want to do it that fast.

    Two pitches out of the Grand Stand? I've always done it in one relatively short pitch?

    1. Derrick, yeah, we knew it was a lofty goal. It was worse because we had to be back in SLC for work the next morning so 24 hours was a hard cut off. I agree with the soloing everything sentiment. I think the pitch out of gunsight and maybe the first Italian cracks pitch are the 2 to pitch out and the rest can hopefully be simuled or soloed. Oh well, now we have the first part dialed, next time.

      I'm curious about the 1 pitch out of the Grand Stand. We were just following Rolo's beta on Pataclimb. 1 short pitch sounds quicker 2.

  5. You're in Gunsight. You do that easy, but airy downclimb to the east with big air below. You swing south towards the Grand. Immediately around the corner, stop, rope up, and climb the east facing easy layback crack above. It's the crack that is almost on the NE corner of the Grand Stand.

    We didn't finish the direct route. Ran around the second ledge, dropped the packs, then up the OS.

    I'll never try the GT again. Twice is enough. For me, it ends up feeling like a pink point, or a red point, or some sport route. I'd rather do the Serendipity on Owen, then finish with the Italian Cracks. Something different. It is fun though.

  6. On your pick labeled "first pitch out of Gunsight", it looks like you climbed south facing rock. We went down and around the corner, down climbing a short, scary slab with one little move on it. Then, we climbed east facing rock up. The downclimb is easy unroped, but it's one of those creepy sections.

    It's been a few years since I've been there, but it looks like you guys didn't wrap around the Grandstand, around the NE corner.

  7. Amazing adventures. You guys are really brave.

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