Peak(s):  Grand Teton - 13,770 feet
Date Posted:  08/21/2013
Modified:  08/22/2013
Date Climbed:   08/12/2013
Author:  Furthermore
 Teton's Grand Traverse: The Grand, Pt. 2  

Grand Teton 13,770

Day 2 of 3 of the Grand Traverse.

August 12, 2013
~1.4 Miles, ~1,700 Gain
Max difficulty: 5.8
Route: North Ridge via Italian Cracks variation. Done in 7 pitches, Grade IV.
Bivy location: ~12,700 on Owen and the Lower Saddle.

Continued from Part 1

I can't say the night was the warmest. Maybe the sleeping bag might have been worth the few extra lbs. Several times, I awoke to Justin getting up and doing jumping jacks to stay warm. His poofy jacket didn't have a hood. I slept arms crossed mummy style in my jacket and got some descent sleep. The only thing cold were my feet.

We arose at first light to start our descent off of Owen. Fortunately, the Exum guide yesterday gave us some stellar info on the descent of Owen's southwest face. From our beta, it appeared people had some issues descending Owen to the Gunsight as there are various routes. About 100 feet below the start of the Koven Chimney and 100 feet above our bivy location, was a notch which leads to a good southwest face descent option.

From the notch, we descended about 50 feet to our first of two single rope rappels down a loose rock gully. Completing the two rappels, we headed skiers left down easier terrain until we reached another gully with a third short rappel. Once at the bottom of this third rappel we were on the lower portion of the West Ledges route which traversed toward the Gunsight, the Owen-Grand Teton saddle.

Looking back at the 3rd rappel cliff off of Owen.

One final rappel led us into the Gunsight and our descent off of Owen was over. Now to start our ascent up to the Grandstand. Again, the guide gave us some helpful info regarding exiting the Gunsight. From the Gunsight, we climbed up ~40 feet, then angled left ~30 feet to a ledge and once on the ledge, we descended left/east on the ledge until we reached a prominent crack system starting with a fixed pin. ~5.2 to reach the prominent crack.

Morning light on the Grand.

The Gunsight.

Low 5th out of the Gunsight.

The rising sun was welcomed as we finally started to warm up. Justin took the lead for the two pitches out of the Gunsight. My leading experience in the 5.7-8 range with a heavy camp pack was limited. Justin climbed up the first 5.7 pitch and then up a second 5.6 pitch out of the Gunsight. After the second pitch, we coiled the ropes and started up 4th class terrain to the top of the Grandstand.

Reading beta before the 5.7 pitch out of the Gunsight.

5.7 pitch out of the Gunsight.

5.6 second pitch out of the Gunsight.

Looking up the 4th class to the top of the Grandstand.

Owen from the Grandstand.

Grandstand to the base of the north ridge.

It took us around 3 hours from the top of Owen to reach the top of the Grandstand. Originally, we had hoped to bivy on the Grandstand so we could get an early start on the Grand Teton's north ridge and hopefully get up and over the Grand Teton and Middle Teton.

Grandstand to the base of the north ridge.

At the top of the Grandstand we gazed up and deciphered the route. A party was already halfway up the route since they had the advantage of bivying on the Grandstand. Stupid hail and sleet from the prior day stopped those plans.

The start.

We soloed up 4-5.0 terrain for ~60 feet until we reached a detached flake/boulder. We set up a belay and divided up gear so I would follow with a heavier pack giving the leader a lighter pack. I belayed from behind the detached flake and Justin started on the first 5.6 pitch up the North Ridge. He followed an angling crack with a fixed pin, 5.6, to a 4th class left traverse leading to the base of a large gully.

Leading out from behind the flake.

Looking down the first pitch.

I followed and delicately balanced my way up with the heavy pack. We swapped leads and I stretched the rope out up the long gully angling right to the First Ledge. The climbing up the gully was easy 4th class. I didn't have enough rope to finish the traverse on the First Ledge to reach the start of the Italian Cracks. The sleet and hail and iced over the Chockstone Chimney pitch of the North Ridge so we elected for the dryer more aesthetic Italian Crack variation.

We swapped leads again and Justin did a short 5.6 traverse to the start of the Italian Cracks and belayed me over into the sun. The sun was quickly departing behind the Grand Teton and we would soon be in the cool shade for several hours. Starting up the Italian cracks, 5.7-8, Justin ran out our 70M rope and belayed in a small dihedral cave below a small roof. The cave provided a break from the wind as I froze belaying him on the lower ledge after the sun went behind the mountain.

Traversing out on pitch 3. Owen in the background.

Good view from the start of the Italian Cracks.

The climbing was amazing as we worked our way up the Italian Cracks. Beautiful solid granite lined the upward horizon for as far as we could see. Still not thrilled about the heavy ass camp pack, Justin took the lead and ran our 70M rope out with only a few feet to spare to the Second Ledge. His runout placements on hard terrain allowed us to combine 3 long pitches into two. He was a master of runout, 15-20 feet between placements, a camp pack on solid 5.7-8 terrain. Our second pitch out of the roof, 5.8, followed amazing climbing that eased to 5.5 slab until we reached the Second Ledge.

Looking down the Italian Cracks.

Looking up the Italian Cracks.

We soloed up and right until we were around the western crest of the north ridge. We then roped up for a short 5.5 pitch which led us back into the sun. My feet and hands were numb and I was ready to pass the heavy pack to Justin. I had enough following with that Hoss.

Taking the lighter of the two camp packs, I took the final two 5.7 pitches which I combined into one pitch with our 70M. The last two chimney pitches were sleet covered making the 5.7 climbing with a pack even more interesting. Near the top was a chockstone, which required a full on wallow in snow to bypass which didn't help the already frozen hands. Finally, at this point, I was feeling more comfortable climbing and leading with the heavy pack. I should have done more practice leading 5.7-8 with a 20-30 lb pack.

Looking down the final 5.7 pitch.

Last 5.7 pitch.

I belayed Justin to the top of our final pitch. We did the North Ridge in 7 pitches as it is normally done in 10 pitches. That does not include our 2 pitches out of the Gunsight. The final bit of scrambling to the summit was not as easy had we had anticipated. Verglas ice left over from melted sleet made at least one spot scary as well. At last, we reached the summit of the Grand Teton at 3:45 PM. Being that late in the day, we had the summit to ourselves. Fortunately, our luck had changed with the weather and skies were clear.

Justin working his way up.

About to finish the North Ridge.

Final summit scramble.

Summit view looking south.

Summit view looking north.

Summit view looking east.

Teewinot from the summit of the Grand.

Somehow, I left out all of the beta regarding the descent off of the Grand Teton but it wasn't too difficult as we just followed the elephant trail downward. Two rappels down the Owen-Spaldning route and we were at the Upper saddle.

I'm sure we got some interesting looks as we strolled into camp at the Lower saddle so late. Our first plan of action was to refill on water. Our high bivy the night prior left us low on water as our last sip of water was from the Grandstand. A bit exhausted, we debated on continuing up and over Middle Teton to our originally planned bivy location of the Middle-South Teton saddle. Stupid weather the first day had really slowed us down.

Descending towards the Lower saddle. Middle Teton and Nez Perce can be seen.

The Grand from the Lower Saddle.

As we were refilling water, an Exum guide started chatting with us and gave us some valuable beta regarding the north ridge on Middle Teton. Due to the diminishing daylight, we decided to bivy at the Lower Saddle and get as much info out of the guide as we could. Some of the route finding thus far was more difficult than we had anticipated.

"Ah, I see you're sleeping on ropes, classy," remarked the guide.

"Would you like some sleeping pads?"

"Yes, please"

As he returned with sleeping pads and as we were snugged in our poofy jackets, "Umm, would you guys like sleeping bags as well?"

That made Justin's evening as he was not looking forward to another cold night. I was warm but wasn't looking forward to another night of frozen feet. Thank you. With the climbing crux behind us, we still had half of the Grand Traverse left. I slept well.

North Ridge via Italian Cracks Beta:

Route Topo.

It's hard to believe that the original North Ridge was climbed in 1931 Robert Underhill and Fritiof Fryxell at 5.7 A0. The route was shortly repeated free by Fritz Wiessner in 1936 making the climb one of the hardest in the country at the time. Crazy. The Italian Cracks variation was first ascended in 1971.

Reach the base of the North Ridge via 1 of 4 options. I can only vouch for Mt. Owen via Gunsight route.
Option 1: Mt. Owen via Gunsight. Includes 2 additional roped pitches at 5.7 and 5.6.
Option 2: Valhalla Traverse from the Lower saddle. Traverse the west side of the Grand Teton. This is the quickest and easiest approach.
Option 3: Teton Glacier. Requires axe, crampons and some glacier travel.
Option 4: Cascade Canyon to Valhalla Canyon.

From the top of the Grandstand:
Pitches 5-7 are the Italian Crack Variation.
Pitch 1: Start directly up the ridge for ~40 feet, 4th-5.0 and then traverse left behind a detached flake. Traverse left out from behind the flake and up an angling crack which is marked by a fixed pin, 5.6, to a small ledge. Take this small ledge left to the base of a large gully. ~130 feet. 5.6.
Pitch 2: Climb up the large gully to first ledge. ~200 feet. 4th class.
Pitch 3: From the first ledge at the top of the gully, traverse on a small friction ledge to the base of prominent crack system left of the ridge crest. ~70 feet. 5.6.
Pitch 4: This is the start of the Italian Cracks. Climb the beautiful crack system and belay at a ledge. ~150 feet. 5.7-8.
Pitch 5: Continue the follow the system of cracks through a small roof. ~120 feet. 5.8.
Pitch 6: As the crack system peters out, continue up some face climbing to the second ledge ~70 feet. 5.5.
Pitch 7: Traverse upward and right on the second ledge until on the northwest side of the ridge crest. ~120 feet. 4th class.
Pitch 8: Climb a small headwall that leads to a minor chimney system. ~60 feet. 5.5.
Pitch 9: Climb up the chimney and belay at a ledge. ~100 feet. 5.7.
Pitch 10: Follow the chimney until it intercepts the Fourth Ledge. ~100 feet. 5.7.

Scramble to the summit. A difficult headwall can by bypassed by traversing south and joining the upper portion of the Owen-Spalding route. The following pitches can be combined (At least with a 70M). Pitches 4-5-6 into 2 pitches. Pitches 7&8 and 9&10.

Standard rack up to a #3 with a set of stoppers.

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

08/21/2013 20:46
Congrats, that traverse looks beautiful.


This is
08/21/2013 21:15


08/22/2013 02:43
Fantastic shots on a fantastic traverse! Great job, guys!


So Sweet
08/22/2013 03:28
nuff said


08/22/2013 15:27
nuff said!


08/22/2013 15:55
Solid work!


Well done
08/23/2013 04:52
You probably know this, but from the 2nd Ledge the fastest way to the top of the Grand is to traverse around to the NW side and then continue traversing a few hundred feet, crossing the Great West Chimney, until the ledge peters out just before the Double Chimney pitch on the Owen-Spalding (3rd class). Climb the Double Chimney or bypass it on the left (a few 5.4ish moves either way), then follow the Owen-Spalding to the top (3rd class). Just thought I'd mention this in case anyone's looking for beta.

Steve Climber

Classic Route...
05/09/2014 12:26
Nice work! I am hoping to get Exum done next summer. Turns out Glenn Exum was my dad's grade school music teacher up in Kellogg, ID.

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