A Grand tour of one of the most fantastic American mountain ranges. A successful traverse requires fitness, boldness, route-finding skill, and endurance. Numerous sections of loose and exposed 5th class must be navigated, and roping up for all of them would be very time consuming. Plan accordingly.
Though it was first done south to north, I think most modern parties start on the north with Teewinot (in order to upclimb the crux N. Ridge of the Grand).
Begin by climbing Teewinot's East face (12,324', cl4). Nearly 6000' of elevation gain here serves as your warmup.
Scramble down a loose couloir on the west side of Teewinot to gain the ridge that connects it with Mt. Owen. Negotiate this ridge, passing two major downclimbs ("Peak 11,840" and the East Prong) along the way (loose 5.6).
The most direct line would be to ascend the East Ridge of Mt. Owen (12,928', 5.6). This may require crossing a snowfield or two. An easier alternative is to traverse under the south side of Owen, and then ascend the Koven Chimney, on the west side of the summit block (5.4). Either way, descend the Koven.
Rejoin the ridge leading towards the Grand. Stay on the east side of the ridge until a notch allows passage to the west side. Downclimb here to access a system of large ledges (5.6). Follow these ledges all the way into the bottom of the Gunsight notch (the very deep, prominent notch between Owen and the Grand).
Climb straight out of the Gunsight, via fun steep cracks (5.6), then skirt around to the east side of the Grandstand, and gain it's top via easy scrambling.
Climb the North Ridge to the summit of the Grand Teton (13,770', 5.8). As with much of the traverse, the difficulty is largely dependant on the amount of snow and ice on the route. If the standard route's chimney pitches are icy (or even if they're not) the Italian cracks provide a high quality and somewhat drier variation. Descend the Grand via the O-S.
Climb the North Ridge of Middle Teton (12,804', 5.6). Some tricky routefinding here (and everywhere else!), so try and keep your exhaustion-addled mind clear with plenty of stimulants, and maybe consult a topo. Descend the SW couloir.
Follow the ridge back up the NW couloir of South Teton (12,514', cl4). The traverse from South Teton to Cloudveil Dome involves summiting a few minor towers along the way: Ice Cream Cone (5.6), Gilkey Tower (cl4), and Spalding Peak (cl4).
Climb the West Ridge of Cloudveil Dome (12,026', cl4). Descend it's East Ridge. Almost there...
On the ridge between Cloudveil and Nez Perce, it's possible to avoid several smaller towers by traversing low on the North side of the ridge. Ascend the West ridge of Nez Perce (11,901', cl4), and reverse the route to descend, or continue via Nez Perce's East Ridge (5.4) Either way, you're done!
Run back down the Garnet Canyon trail to the beers you have waiting in the cooler!
Park at the Lupine Meadows trailhead and find an unmarked climber's trail leading west from the north end of the parking lot (towards Teewinot). After that, you're on your own.
Light alpine rack. Ice ax and crampons, depending on the season. Ask at the Jenny Lake ranger station for current route conditions.
|By Scott Bennett|
Oct 8, 2009
FA: Steck, Long, and Evans, ~21hrs, 1963.
Speed record: Rolando Garibotti, 6:49, 2001.
First winter traverse: Mark Newcomb and Stephen Koch, ~3 days, 2004
Jul 17, 2010
Thanks for the topo.
|By Stan Pitcher|
From: SLC, UT
Feb 8, 2011
Thanks so much for the excellent photos and route description Rolando! Did the Cathedral traverse for the first time using just your photos cause the words were accidentally left behind. Seems we did a different descent from Owen (stayed on the east side of ridge longer) and must have missed the climb out of the gunsight notch (rapped to far) and scrambled to the south before heading up to the grandstand. This variation did allow us to get some water but sounds like we missed some nice rock pitches. Oh well, a reason to go back!
From: Salt Lake City, UT
Jul 21, 2012
rating: 5.8+ 5b 16 VI- HVS 4c R
don't underestimate this traverse because of some of the speed records (6hrs, 8hrs, even 16 hours) posted, and don't underestimate the difficulty or overestimate your ability. Unless you peg it exactly (ha!), expect some of the 4th class soloing to become mid 5th with extreme consequence, some of the mid 5th to become difficult 5th, and some of the 5.8 to feel much much harder than the 5.8 you may be used to. Imagining being tired while planning is one thing, being totally wiped with miles to go is another, so some experience being exhausted at altitude is helpful. since it loves to rain in the tetons, I'd suggest going as far a you physically can on day 1 - there are bivy spots and water everywhere.
One 8mm 70m rope is perfect for rappelling off peak 11,??? into the gunsight, and off the grand. 3-4 tricams, 4-5 nuts, 4-5 cams (yellow metolius tcu-gold camalot) + 8-10 shoulder slings is a good rack for the north ridge. almost everything else can be soloed (maybe a pitch on the middle, and the cone)or rappelled. The second pitch of the NR from the grandstand can be soloed easily to the traverse into the italian cracks, and if you traverse to the O/S chimney from the 2nd ledge, you can put the rope away.
if you rap off spalding's summit (to avoid a high consequence downclimb) double check the rap - I pulled a key nut keeping the slings on. I put it back, but not well.
|By Martin le Roux|
From: Superior, CO
Jul 23, 2012
We did the Cathedral Traverse on July 20-22, 2012, which would normally be considered early season, but it was a low snow year, so maybe this counts as mid-season.
- We used crampons and an axe to get down to & across the Koven col, and in a couple other places. Lightweight aluminum crampons were fine.
- There's a good bivvy spot just below the summit of Owen, on the E side of the S ridge.
- The Ortenberger/Jackson book describes a descent of Owen's W Ledges that's different from Rolando's description and supposedly avoids the need for rappels, but we never found it.
- From Gunsight Notch we traversed left about a rope length along a sloping ledge down and around to the E face of the Grandstand, then did a meandering climb with a few mild 5th class sections before we got to easier ground higher up on the Grandstand. This was easier but longer than the route that Rolando describes.
- A couple of us used approach shoes the whole way, but 5.7/5.8 with approach shoes and big packs wasn't much fun and slowed us down a lot on the N Ridge of the Grand. The people with rock shoes moved much more quickly on the steep pitches.
- It took us much longer than expected to get from Owen to the top of the N Ridge of the Grand. We didn't get to the summit of the Grand that day and bivvied where the 2nd Ledge crosses the W face of the Grand (just before the Great W Chimney).
- Neither of our bivvy spots had running water, but they were both close to patches of snow or ice.
From: Boulder, CO
Jul 28, 2012
@Rolo: Thanks for those topos.
@Martin: I greatly appreciate the beta & conditions update.
|By Martin le Roux|
From: Superior, CO
Aug 6, 2013
Went back and completed the traverse over 3 days from Aug 2-4, 2013.
- There are at least two different ways to get from Owen to Gunsight Notch. (i) Follow Rolando's description and cross to the W side of Owen's S ridge at the first notch S of the summit, or (ii) stay on the E side of the ridge for a couple of hundred feet, then cross to the W side at a notch further south. Either way there's much exposed down-climbing and for most people a couple of rappels. Alternative (i) has more loose rock but it's probably faster than (ii), which is steeper. See photo: www.mountainproject.com/v/108330794.
Both these alternatives lead to a ledge system that you follow S (skier's left) towards Gunsight Notch. Again there are a couple of choices. You can stay on a higher ledge that leads all the way back to the ridge crest, from where it's three single-rope rappels into the notch. Or you can follow Rolando's description and follow a lower ledge, which ends just before the ridge crest. From there it's a short 5th-class traverse to get to the ridge crest and the lowest of the three rappels.
- On the first night we bivvied on a nice grassy ledge on the E side of the Grandstand, near the top of the 5.7/5.6 pitches out of Gunsight Notch. The second night we bivvied at the broad saddle between the Middle & S Tetons. At both bivvies we found snow patches with trickles of running water.
- As Rolando says, he's left out some information that you'll find in the Ortenburger/Jackson guide. This includes details of the "easy scrambling" up the N Ridge of the Middle Teton (actually 5.6) and the NW Couloirs of Nez Perce.
- Maybe we were tired or off route, but the "3rd class" descent of Spalding E ridge felt at least 4th class, the "walk" up Cloudveil W ridge was more like 3rd class, and we were happy to use a rappel on the "4th class" descent of Cloudveil E ridge.
- We got a bit confused looking for the route up Nez Perce. It's further left than the line in Rolando's photo. It's hard to describe in detail, but the route's quite well-trodden, there are plenty of cairns, and except for one short 4th class step it's all 3rd class or easier. The rock's also better than the loose stuff on the traverse from Cloudveil.