North Face Highlight Tour
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The north face of the Grand Teton is one of the most compelling alpine climbing objectives in the US, second in my estimation only to the Diamond of Longs Peak. The view of it from the top of Teewinot elicits an "I must climb that reaction". The historical importance of this face which Ortenburger calls the "most famous" in the US" and surrounding lore only add to the appeal. While the moderate nature of the climbing and generally high quality of the rock belie the Eiger like implications of the north face designation, the approach to the face is arduous and/or hairy enough to impart the undertaking some suitable gravitas.
The route described here is a link up of some or all of the North Ridge, the Italian Cracks and the Direct Finish of the North Face route; according to the cognoscenti, this combines most if not all of the best pitches on the face in a single outing.
This description starts at the top of the Grandstand, after the actual business of the climb. There are a few options for getting to this point, all problematic.
Note on season: this face holds snow and ice well into the summer. Parties doing it before August will probably encounter enough snow or ice to warrant at least one ice axe. In other words, the season for this climb is August. On the plus side, the face actually faces north easterly and thus gets sun until around 1100 in mid August. Probably a good idea to check with the Jenny Lake climbing rangers about conditions before heading out.
1. Valhalla Traverse. If your objective is just to do a north side route, this is the standard approach. It primary advantage is that it starts at Lower Saddle, where any sensible descent from the Peak concludes and thus makes for the shortest day. The primary disadvantage is that the VT, which I haven't done, is by all accounts a three hour (at least) spirit sapper of snow, loose rock and dirt traversing with tricky route finding -- some parties spend all day on the traverse, unable to even find their intended route -- about which I've never heard anyone say anything positive.
2. Up the Grandstand from Teton Glacier. I don't know much about this approach, but even before global warming, it was often a rock fall horror show.
3. Via Mt Owen. Many sub options here, but compared to Valhalla and Teton Glacier, all the obvious ones -- traverse from Teewinot, Koven Route, East Ridge, Serendipity Arete -- will be much more enjoyable. The catch here is that via even the quickest of these (probably Teewinot), a very fast party making no mistakes should budget at least eight hours to reach the top of the Grandstand.
We approached from Owen. Some observations on our experience follow. From the top of Owen there is considerable potential to screw up just getting to the Gunsight, the low point of the ridge that runs south from Owen to the Grandstand. The general idea is to descend fairly easily from the base of the Koven chimney, staying on the east side of the Owen-Grand ridge until a pinnacle is reached. At this point, cross over to the west side of the ridge, down climb to the west on slabs at the top of a gully that leads all the way down to Valhalla Canyon until you can cut back south on easy ledges. Follow those ledges to the top of the north end of the Gunsight, then make three half rope raps (or downclimb, alleged 5.6) into the gunsight. Making no mistakes, it took us at least an hour to get from the summit of Owen to the bottom of the Gunsight.
Getting from the Gunsight up onto the Grandstand is also not trivial. Options include:
a. downclimbing to the east (possible snow/ice) and contouring around the bottom of the Grandstand (south) then following 300-400' of third class to the top of the GS
b. Traversing west until a "dangerously loose" 4th class gully is reached.
c. Doing a couple of roped pitches more or less straight up until 3rd class terrain is reached. Again there are many sub choices here; we followed a right trending ramp system which provided one long pitch which was more taxing than we wanted it to be and one shorter, easier pitch.
In total, it took us somewhere around three hours to get from the summit of Owen to the west end of the Grandstand.
OK, you've finally made it, one way or the other, to the base of the North Face. The following pitch ratings are taken from Rossiter and Ortenburger; pitch lengths are from our experience. Climbing w/ a pack containing full room and board, everything seemed harder to me.
P1: Up easily for about 40' to a large block. Behind the block, traverse left and up, eventually reaching the base of an easy gully. 5.6, ~50M.
P2. Up the gully until a talus covered terrace is reached, just before the angle steepens and the climbing becomes more difficult. 4th class, ~50M. (Note: Rossiter said to go up this gully for two pitches; for us it was about 150'.)
P3. Traverse left on the rubble (possible snow/ice) then down and left again. Belay at the base of a 20' fist/OW crack. 30M, 4th class.
The previous three pitches were mostly on the North Ridge route. The next two are the Italian Cracks.
P4. Up the wide crack (5.6), then traverse left (4th class) for about 8M to a right slanting chimney/gully; more aesthetic but less expeditious, cut the traverse short and climb a 5.8 finger crack which cuts off the dogleg. Which ever option you took to get in the chimney, continue up an obvious crack line which gets steeper and more difficult. Stretch the rope out to a comfortable belay in the 2nd alcove. 5.7 or 5.8, 60M. I thought this was the best pitch of the climb.
P5. Continue up on face and intermittent cracks and belay at the Second Ledge. 5.7, 55M.
At this point you can traverse right and join the North Ridge. The following description is of the recommended North Face finish.
P6. Climb a black "chimney" to another ledge. Belay about 8M right of a wide crack with rap slings about 10M up it, at the base of the right of two right facing corners. Steep 5.7, ~30M
P7. The famous Pendulum Pitch. Up the right corner, passing fixed pins (5.7) for about 15M. Traverse left on a narrowing ledge. Hand traverse past more FPs onto a seemingly blank face (old school 5.8). Belay in alcove at the left end of the 4th ledge. A classic, memorable pitch. Spend a moment envisioning the first ascent over 50 years ago. 5.8, ~25M.
P8. "Scramble" up the 4th ledge (right/west) for about a 30M, until just past an relatively easy looking, short, right facing corner. ~30M.
P9. Up the corner, then angle up and left on easy, unprotected slabs until a 5M long, right leaning crack with much fixed gear is reached. Up the crack until it makes sense to cut left onto another slab which provides 5M of harrowing 5.7 slabbing "sting in the tail". After placing a piece to protect the 2nd, belay on a talus covered ledge. 5.7, ~20M. This pitch could be problematic if wet.
From here the summit is about 100M above you. It you beeline for the top, you will probably have to rope up again. If you judiciously angle right, it should be 3rd class all the way to the top.
We took: 1 ea 1-8 Rocks, the four smallest TriCams, 1 ea green thru red Alien, 1 ea .5 to #3 Camalot and at least 10 long slings quickdraws.
|Photos of North Face Highlight Tour Slideshow
Dougald MacDonald at the end of the first Italian ...
Dougald MacDonald starting the Pendulum Pitch.
Dougald finishing off the 5.7 slab on the last pit...
At the crux of the Pendulum Pitch.
Top of Grandstand, pitch #1 of North Ridge
Joe Terravecchia on the Italian Cracks. Note anti...
|Comments on North Face Highlight Tour
|By andrew kulmatiski|
From: logan, ut
Oct 19, 2006
I can attest that the ascent up the grandstand sucks. I went up this late season, after the snow had melted, and it was a lot of loose, sandy rock with enough rockfall to keep it extra exciting. The N. Face is much more enjoyable - even the guano chimney is better.
|By Rusty Reno|
Feb 18, 2007
North Face adventurers should consider doing the complete route from the Teton Glacier start. Negotiating the moat between the glacier and the rock wall can add a small moment of alpine entertainment. The lower pitches are composed of somewhat fragile granite with spotty protection, but they are very easy. Once you reach the first ledge, the route becomes very pleasant and the rock is superb. Taken as a whole, the complete North Face offers one of the longest continuous climbs on steep rock in the Tetons. I remember doing the route in the mid-nineties, roundtrip from the car in a long day. I thought it was a good challenge and an excellent test of a climber's ability to negotiate diverse terrain efficiently.
|By George Bell|
From: Boulder, CO
Mar 20, 2007
Dave G sez: "OK, you've finally made it, one way or the other, to the base of the North Face."
Technically, when you are on top of the Grandstand you are at the base of the North Ridge route. The start of the "North Face route" is a thousand feet lower to the east. I know what you mean, but it confused me.
|By George Bell|
From: Boulder, CO
Mar 20, 2007
I agree this is the best route on the north side of the Grand Teton, and when I was in the best shape of my life in 1984 climbed it in 14 hours car to car. The way to do this is to climb the Grandstand from the east. A huge potential problem is the glacier, in some years it can be impossible to get onto the base of the Grandstand. Also, when the Grandstand has snow on it, don't try this approach. By late August in a normal year, though, the Grandstand is dry.
The guidebooks suggest climbing the Grandstand on the left side, directly under the face. While this is the easiest line, it is also exposed to rockfall. If you look at the Grandstand from the east, you will notice a ramp on the right side which diagonals to the right. We climbed up this ramp, which eventually ends. The tricky part is to ascend the cliff above this ramp, at some point before it ends, which we did at about 5.5. This was the only place on the Grandstand where we roped up. The nice part about this approach is there is almost no rockfall hazard.
More recently, I think the glacier has been pulling away from the base of the Grandstand. A friend tried this approach a few years ago and reported a difficult slab at the bottom. Also, the only reason why we were able to do this so fast was because we had already climbed up the Grandstand a few weeks prior, so we knew exactly where to go. But heck, 14 hours isn't fast when the entire Grand Traverse has been done in under 8 hours! We were actually moving like snails.
From: A hole, WY
Aug 15, 2010
One more option for approaching the Grandstand is to go up into Valhala from Cascade canyon.
Head up the beginning of West Ledges of Owen, then traverse right to rap into Gunsight. I did this after I had already gone from Owen to the Gunsight as well as from Owen down West Ledges previously, so the route finding was easier.
This approach is probably best done with a bivy in Valhala, it is a long ways in. Considering the condition of the glacier and the amount of rock fall on the VT from the Enclosure and Black Ice couliors, this seemed the safest bet in August.