Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Erik Rieger (2012) and I met up in Lander and drove to the Tetons. Fire season had the peaks choked in blue smoke and gave a sense of distance. We set out with light daypacks and plans to make it as far as we could in a day. By this point in my year, I was sick of long days, midnight wake-ups, 24 hour pushes, and sleep deprivation in dangerous places. I just wanted to sport climb in the sun, never too far from a beer, stick clip in hand. Somehow, Erik managed to rally me for the traverse. A relatively late 4:30 start saw us at the top of Teewinot just after dawn. This is one of the most dramatic summits I can imagine. It’s hard to believe it exists here. We made it up and over the summit of mount Owen via the East ridge, moving ropeless on it’s golden arête.
When you drop into the gunsight the rock quality goes to hell. Between Owen and the Grandstand the bulletproof, twisted gneiss reminescent of frozen smoke gives way to utter choss. We got tangled with another party when we tried to share ropes on rappel. We wasted hours as they missed the rap point and had to prusik back up half a ropelength. It is of course easy to blame things on other people. Whichever way that encounter had gone, we were already slow and off track to complete the Grand traverse in a day.
We made it to the base of the North Ridge. If you asked a child to draw a mountain, in one way or another they’ll draw the Grand. As a kid I always looked on that steepest aspect with gut-wrenching intimidation and sweating palms, imagining hanging belays, harrowing epics, and clean exposure sweeping down to the crevassed glacier. After a time, doing walls leads to comfort in the face of big air and a loss of innocence. While we did finally get the rope and rack out, the climbing was not quite as mean as it seemed from the valley 7,000 feet below. But it was serene. I had dreamed about this ridge, imagining a climb through a sea of clouds and into blue sky.
Erik led the sandbagged crux, stemming an open book with glassy edges. In good style, he protected the steep moves with only a hex. I led a golden face to the summit slopes. I couldn’t help but imagine Alex Lowe soloing in running shoes, casually making record time with a big grin. In the smoke, we could barely make out the silhouette of Moran to the north. When we topped out the Grand, we were greeted by a deep red sunset. This proved our timing was not so bad.
I had the Owen Spalding descent wired from previous years on the Grand, and in the dark we began what felt like endless scrambling, hopping, and eventually painful peg-legging. We successfully avoided the Idaho Express Couloir, so called because it’s the fast way down, in the worst way. At the lower saddle there was no question of whether we would continue up the Middle Teton through the night. Having completed the Cathedral Traverse, we called it a day and booked it down to trailhead as best we could on battered knees and feet. We hiked well into the night. Our friends John Collis (2013) and Cole Kennedy (2013) sent the Grand Traverse later, also avoiding August’s clockwork thunderstorms with splitter weather.
Cathedral Traverse, Teton Range 5.8 (This story appears in the Colorado College Alpine Journal, 2013)