Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Teton Grand Traverse - Sending in Style

Ryan Maitland on top of Teewinot. 5400' of elevation straight out of the parking lot. We need to get to this point in 4-5 hours or we are not moving fast enough to send!
Five years of guiding in the Tetons and I'm still in the honeymoon phase. These mountains have a way of drawing me back day after day. So many amazing ski lines, climbing lines, summits, and adventures to be had. My favorite route by far is the Grand Traverse. It's the granddaddy of them all; linking Teewinot, Mt Owen, Grand Middle and South Tetons, Spalding and Gilkey Towers, Cloudveil Dome, and Nez Perce in a 15.9 mile skyline ridge that gains roughly 13,400' of hiking, scrambling, and climbing.

Jason Charlton climbing to the summit of the East Prong, day one
It is understandable that many climbers are interested earning this proud feather in their hat. To be able to look at one of the most icon skylines in the country from the valley floor and think, "Ah yeah, I climbed along all of that." That feeling is incredibly rewarding.

View of the Grand Teton North Face from the top of the Koven Couloir 
Yet that reward does not come easy. The biggest hurdle to completion is the complex route finding. Hours can be lost with one wrong turn. The sheer number of bivy corrals sprinkled across these mountains is testament to how many people have "epiced" on this line.  The weather is another factor. Afternoon thunderstorms can turn the North Ridge of the Grand Teton into a wintery ice-covered nightmare. Just ask the climbers that recently called in a heli rescue after enduring days of suffering on the Grand Stand!

Jason Charlton tip toes across the snow at the top of the Koven Col. With the small amount of snow here it is hardly worth it to bring crampons or an axe. Just use two rocks in your hands as you walk carefully
Weight is another big factor in success vs failure. "Nothing weighs nothing" is what Jediah Porter says while packing. Be ruthless with what goes in your pack, or more importantly, what stays out of your pack.  The difference in effort carrying a 25 pound pack vs a 35 pound pack has never been measured scientifically, but I'd guess it's significant. If the forecast is not good, don't go. If the weather is good you can leave all that extra "storm gear" behind. Ask around and see if climbers are still using ice axe and crampons. If yes, bring micro-spikes instead of crampons over your approach shoes. Don't climb with mountain boots, as sticky rubber approach shoes are ideal. If you are a 5.10 lead climber, you can probably lead 5.7 in approach shoes. All these little subtractions will keep your pack light, and keep you moving fast.

Jason Charlton on the summit of Mt Owen. At this point you still have a few hours of moving to get to camp
The final common reason for failure on the Grand Traverse is simply moving too slowly. This is a LOT of ground to cover. You have to be okay simla-climbing, running it out, building super fast anchors, and making about 1000 route finding decisions in rapid succession. When I guide the Grand Traverse we do it in three days. The first day takes about 13 hours, the second 12 hours, and the third roughly 11 hours.

Getting from Mt Owen to the the Gunsight Notch is the most evolved route finding section. There are several raps and key areas you need to hit to get to the Gunsight Notch in a timely fashion.
Many climbers choose to do this objective with a mountain guide. As a guide, I take care of the route finding, carry more of the group gear, will not waste time on transitions, am able to climb fast and safe, and take some banger photos of you while in action (like all the images seen here).

Jess McMillan pulls through the first moves out of the Gunsight Notch. This is one of the best pitches on the entire Grand Traverse
Does all this info make your heart flutter with excitement? Ready to jump on this objective with an IFMGA certified mountain guide? This year is full but I have four openings to climb the Grand Traverse with me next summer. If you are interested in partnering with me, and we have not climbed together before, please send me an email with your climbing background. Once we decide that this is a good fit, you will put down a deposit and that will hold your place on the calendar.

Jason Wolfe chillin' at one of the many bivy corrals on the Grand Stand, night one.
Then the training begins. The Grand Traverse is a great motivator to get super strong. I'm talking like "beast-mode" level of strong. Give this objective the respect it deserves by training at least 4 days per week. That training will look like long hikes with heavy packs, box set ups, lunges, climbing gym sessions, outdoor climbing sessions, multipitch rock climbing, and developing your crack climbing technique.  Another form of prep is justified gear spending. Lighter harness, check! Lighter sleeping bag and pad, yes please. New 40 liter pack, let's do it! All this prep will get you ready to SEND!

Morning two starts when the sun comes up
Due to the technical nature of thisI only guide this objective 1:1. If you want to climb with another person we will need another guide. Two guide and two climbers is totally doable, and can be really fun to climb together.

Jason Charlton pulling to the top of the crux pitch on the Grand Teton North Ridge. This section is so much more fun to climb in the sunshine. Moving quickly will allow us to do just that.
Couples Climb: August 21-23 is reserved for a husband wife duo that want to climb with Janelle and myself. We think this will be a very cool bonding experience...through thick and thin. Janelle and I have climbed together for 11 years and know the power it has forming a strong bond between us. If we can facilitate a similar experience for you and your sponse, we are stoked!

My office view ain't bad 

Taylor Workman at the top of the North Ridge of the Grand Teton. From here here are a number of ways to the summit. Choose your own adventure!

When you pop up from the North side, everyone on the summit of the Grand Teton asks, "Where did you come from?" It's awesome. Jason Charlton and I on the summit of the Grand Teton, day two. 

Taylor Workman making his way to the top of the Middle Teton, day two

Jason Wolfe topping out on Ice Cream Cone Peak, day three 

Jason Wolfe on Spalding Tower, day three, with S. Teton in the background and our second bivy location just out of view to the right of the photo

The final day traverses this skyline plus Nez Perce (not shown). A lot of training, a light pack, and good guiding is required for you to feel stoked on the morning of day three to get'r done! We will send.
Available 2018 Dates:
August 15-17
August 21-23 (couples climb)
August 27-29
September 1-3

Interested in a guided trip? It's easy to reserve a spot.
Step 1) Email me with your climbing background
Step 2) Pay a deposit
Step 3) Train
Step 4) Send

All trips are run through Exum Mountain Guides. Availability will run out before March 30th. A packing list, a cool video, and more info can be found on my website.


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  3. Great Beta! Thank you. My son and I and a friend did the North Ridge from Valhalla Canyon, that is all the way from Cascade Canyon. Renny said it was easier to do the Cathedral Traverse so this year we are doing that. My painting from the grandstand is now in a show at the UW Art Museum.Joe Arnold

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