Peak(s):  Middle Teton - 12,804 feet
South Teton - 12,514 feet
Gilkey Tower - 12,320 feet
Cloudveil Dome - 12,026 feet
Nez Perce - 11,901 feet
Date Posted:  08/22/2013
Date Climbed:   08/13/2013
Author:  Furthermore
 Teton's Grand Traverse: Stoutness, Pt. 3  

Middle Teton 12,804
South Teton 12,514
Ice Cream Cone 12,400 (unranked)
Gilkey Tower 12,320 (unranked)
Cloudveil Dome 12,026 (unranked)
Nez Perce 11,901


Day 3 of 3 of the Grand Traverse.

August 13, 2013
~9.1 Miles, ~4,000 Gain
Max difficulty: 5.6
Bivy location: The Lower Saddle.


The first ascent of the Grand Traverse was completed in 1963 by Allen Steck, Dick Long and John Evans. It took them over 21 hours in a single push as they did the route in the opposite direction starting with Nez Perce and ending on Teewinot.

Today, the standard for completing the traverse is north to south allowing a classic climb of the North Ridge on the Grand Teton. I am assuming the first asscentionists descended the Owen-Spalding route and then did the Valhalla traverse to Owen's west ledges.

What took us 3 long days was completed in a mind-baffling 6 hours and 49 minutes in 2000 by Rolando Garibotti. Holy F#@^!


Due to the ruckus from the mobs of people climbing the Grand at the Lower Saddle in the early morning, we didn't even have to set an alarm. We graciously gave back our sleeping pads and sleeping bags to the Exum guides and started hiking up the north ridge of Middle Teton around 5:30 AM.

Just a few hundred feet up, the ridge became more difficult as we tried to find the base of two pinnacles. In the dark we located the first pinnacle, Pinocchio Pinnacle, and skirted around the west side of the pinnacle and then to the saddle between Pinocchio and Bonney's Pinnacle. Some low 4-5th class scrambling was required. Once at the saddle between the two pinnacles, we had to traverse, Bonney's Pinnacle on the east side.

One source of beta say's “Interesting scrambling around Bonney's east side.” It felt like low 5th as we did a friction traverse on the east side of Bonney's pinnacle. The saddle on the south side of Bonney's Pinnacle, was an eroded dike. Looking onward, the route was very convoluted as the route finding wasn't easy since it was still dark out.

Unsure of the difficulty and still being pretty dark, we decided to bring out the rope at the notch on the south side of Bonney's pinnacle. I climbed out of the notch, south, at 5.2-4, found a ramp which I took left for 50 feet and then took another intercepting ramp and headed up and right for another 50 feet. Before reaching a chamber called “The Room,” I descended right on 4th class ledges until I was on the west side of the ridge. Although easy climbing, the consequences of a fall were bad and the climbing was surprisingly exposed.

Sunrise on Middle Teton's north ridge.

Once on the west side of the ridge, we followed narrow ledges to the northwest gully and once in the gully we climbed upward. The chossiest climbing of the entire traverse was up the northwest gully as the rock was fairly scary 4th class scrambling. I certainly wouldn't want to descend this route unless the gully was filled with snow. Fresh ice coated the upper part of the gully, so we had to do a roped 5.5 pitch up a fractured block be exit the gully.

Traversing towards the northwest gully on Middle Teton.

Chossy class 4 up the northwest gully on Middle Teton.

After about ~300-400 feet of climbing up the gully, we headed slightly left to a large notch formed by the famous black dike. Plenty of loose rock lurked as we made our way to the notch. At the notch, we roped up again for the crux of the north ridge route, a 5.6 pitch out of the notch.

The 5.6 crux on Middle Teton.

Grand from high on Middle Teton.

Top of the 5.6 pitch on Middle Teton.

The 5.6 climbing was only about 50 feet before it eased to easy 5th class. From our upper belay, it was 4th-5.0 scrambling to the summit where we arrived around 8:30 AM. The views were disappointing due to haze from the Idaho fires. I bet they are quite impressive when it's a clear day.

Nez Perce from Middle Teton.

We descended the class 3 southwest couloir where we ran into a few parties hiking up. Taking a short break at the saddle, we continued towards the west ridge of South Teton. Climbing through some short class 3 sections we were on the summit of South Teton around 10:00 AM. For the first time we were able to cover some ground in some decent time.

Middle Teton from near Middle-South Teton saddle.

Looking onward towards Nez Perce, we still had plenty of challenging climbing. We descended South Teton's class 4 east ridge to the base of the “Ice Cream Cone.” We climbed up a predominate crack on the left side of the west face of the “Ice Cream Cone.” We didn't even change into our rock shoes as we climbed up the 5.6 pitch. I made the quick detour to the summit where I enjoyed impressive views of South Teton.

The ridge to Nez Perce from South Teton.

Descending towards the “Ice Cream Cone”

Ice Cream Cone. We took the 5.6 crack left of the summit.

Justin starting up the Ice Cream Cone.

Our beta indicated a class 3 descent off the west face of the “Ice Cream Cone.” It felt more like solid 4th with a short section of 5.0. Not cool. Some more route finding shenanigans were induced as we tried to bypass a minor tower en-route to Gilkey Tower. I took a snow route as Justin took a scary mid 5th class route to the base of Gilkey's west ridge. Climbing up Gilkey's west ridge, we surprised at how hard the “4th class” climbing was. Another short 5.6 roped pitch was climbed as we learned we should have stayed further south on some 5.0 ledges. 4th class? Wtf?

Gilkey Tower from the Ice Cream Cone.

South Teton.

Mid 5th en-route to Gilkey Tower.

The 5.6 pitch left us on a false summit south of Gilkey's real summit. We did an exposed down-climb to a rappel anchor where we did a short 30 foot rappel to a ledge which took us closer to Gilkey's true summit. Solid 4th class scrambling on extremely exposed terrain led us to the summit of Gilkey Tower. I was not looking forward to “4th class” descent off of Gilkey's east ridge.

5.6 pitch up Gilkey. We should have stayed further right/south.

False summit of Gilkey true summit of Gilkey can be seen.


Gilkey Tower scrambling. Exposed.

Middle Teton from the summit of Gilkey.

Descending Gilkey's east ridge. Grand Teton in the background.

We started down Gilkey's east ridge which was mostly 4th class until near a saddle. There didn't appear to be a 4th class descent. As I was looking around, I found a rappel anchor which we took advantage of. The rappel set us below the notch where we had to cross an icy snowfield to proceed towards Cloudveil Dome. More low 4-5th class scrambling was required to reach the base of Cloudveil's west ridge.

Rappel off of Gilkey.


“4th class” east ridge of Gilkey. Right.

A short section of 4th class climbing and we were on the summit of Cloudveil Dome at 3:15 PM. Wow, did that complex route finding take some time. With only one more peak left, the route to Nez Perce didn't look easy or straightforward. Plenty of class 4 scrambling led us down Cloudveil's east ridge and as things started to look difficult, we found a rappel anchor leading us to the Nez Perce-Cloudveil saddle.

Nez Perce from Cloudveil. Only 1 more to go.

We searched for a high ledge that bypassed several rocky towers between Nez Perce and Cloudveil but we never found the higher ledge. Instead, we found a wider easy class 3 ledge well below the towers. Trying several times to find the higher ledge, we got fed up with route finding thinking we were on the wrong ledge.

Cloudveil en-route to Nez Perce.

Middle and Grand Teton.

This lower ledge eventually led us to the complex sinuous route up Nez Perce's west ridge. Plenty of switchbacks through cliff bands and ledgy traverses led us upwards. Fortunately, the route was well cairned. Most of the climbing was 3rd class with a few very short sections of 4th class. Nearing the top of Nez Perce was one final cliff band. We headed east before heading up what felt close to 5.2-3 climbing to the summit ridge. At last, we reached the summit of Nez Perce at 6:00 PM. Tired but satisfied. We shouldn't have spent so much time looking for the higher ledge.

From the summit, we headed west and found a rappel anchor which allowed us to bypass the 5.2-3 section of the upper cliff. We worked our way down Nez Perce with some final class 4 down-climbing into the valley. I was ready to be done with the heavy pack as I haven't done this much 4th to low 5th climbing un-roped with a camp pack. Now, only a few miles of serious boulder hopping before a solid trail. Out of water and food, we painfully made our way through the boulders and talus to the trail.

Rappelling off of Nez Perce.

Descending Nez Perce.

The trail was welcomed as we took the trail back to Lupin Meadow's trailhead where we arrived back at the car at 9:45 PM. Exhausted, we had survived the Grand Traverse.

Afternoon light on Nez Perce.

This was a truly astonishing traverse as each day had its own challenges. The day 1 crux was getting into the grove of harder route finding with a heavy camp pack. Our packs were the heaviest with all of our food and extra water. The tough part was getting motivated to climb a 5th class section with a heavy pack only to figure out the route doesn't go, requiring 5th class down-climbing. All of which has to be un-roped. Roping up for each 5th class section would require way too much time.

The day 2 crux was technically the hardest. Although only 5.8, the route was long, committing and difficult with a camp pack. I should have done more leading/climbing at the 5.8 level with a heavy pack. It doesn't help that we got slowed by weather the first day.

Day 3. I thought day 3 had the hardest route finding along with the most un-roped 4-5th class scrambling. Exposure on some of the scrambling was sobering and exhaustion probably upped the anti as well. Mentally, the climbing became difficult as exhaustion set in since such full attentiveness was required for so long. The consequences up a mishap would be certain death.

I really underestimated the route finding on this route. The amount of beta required to explain the details full traverse could almost be a short novel which is why there probably is such a lack of beta. Although the route finding was challenging, it added to the enjoyment of the route.

Being my first time to the Teton's, I believe having done any section of the traverse before hand would immensely help with the route finding and speeding areas of the climbing up. Having done the traverse now, I think it would be reasonable to get up and over the Grand on day 1 and finish the traverse in 2 days or complete the traverse comfortable in 3 “easier” days.

I can't wait to return to do some other classic lines on the Grand and other peaks. Now, I just have to up my trad skills for the South Buttress, Mt. Moran. That line looks sick!

A Climber's Guide to the Teton Range, by Leigh N. Ortenburger and Reynold G. Jackson
Teton Classics: 50 Selected Climbs in Grand Teton National Park by Richard Rossiter

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

 Comments or Questions

Hats OFF to you sir
08/22/2013 17:52
Just amazing! Good job! Thanks for the great TR. Made me feel like I was there.

Dave B

Again, amazing!
08/22/2013 18:15
I'll be departing for GTNP in T-minus 4 hours and counting (albeit with a far more pedestrian objective), thanks again for the stoke.

Looks like an amazing trip and I think your reports might have pushed this up my list of ”absolutely need to do before dying or growing too old.”

Good luck with finishing the 13ers!


Classic Mountaineering ...
08/22/2013 18:35
At its best! Hearing names like Underhill and Weissner ... makes my heart flutter. Congratulations on completing such a technical, physical, mental, challenging route-finding traverse. Very cool. Thanks for posting. Happy trails! (oh, and some of those photos like near Gunsight make me want to puke ... and that's a compliment).


08/22/2013 21:36
Amazing job you guys! What an experience that must have been! I don't do any technical stuff and some of your pics really make your heart stop. Image #8 takes me back however when I did the South and Middle many years ago. Colorado certainly has more beautiful mountains, but the Tetons are special for their spectacularity!! (new word, I know)

I'll never do something like this Traverse or even come close (nor do I really want to) but it was quite a trip you took us on with your reports! Thanks for posting these to enjoy!

Chicago Transplant

Classic Trilogy, Classic Route
08/22/2013 23:13
What a great adventure, a classic adventure TR trilogy - has Peter Jackson contacted you for the movie rights yet
I would love to get into the Tetons, though I would have to stick with a bit more pedestrian endeavors than this, your reports are inspiring!


Awesome trio
08/23/2013 01:48
Big route for a first trip to the Tetons. Nice!!


Good job!
08/23/2013 20:08
But just one nit-picking question... what happened to Spalding (peak between Gilkey and Cloudveil)? Maybe you bypassed it when you crossed the icy snowfield en route to Cloudveil? Say it ain't so...


08/25/2013 04:47
Want to repeat this next weekend? I'll buy you Qdoba...


helluva traverse!
09/01/2013 22:20
Finally got around to reading your 3 part series. Nice work guys! Pretty impressive that you went into this fairly blind to the route(s) and no prior experience up there. I like your final thoughts section.


New found respect
09/05/2013 05:17
I have a new respect for this traverse after climbing the Grand in a day. We were wiped at the end of the day and just wanted to go to sleep , haha. I'm sure you wanted the same but were stuck up high, toughing it out. Good job. If you ever get to the Sierra let me know! I'm in Socal.

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