GRAND TRAVERSE

Posted on: June 1, 2004


Mark Newcomb on the west face of Nez Perce, the final summit of the Grand Traverse, Teton Range, Wyoming. For years the winter traverse had been one of the Tetonís standing problems. [Photo] Stephen Koch

On January 17 at 4:45 a.m. Mark Newcomb and I began the Grand Traverse, a route that comprises ten peaks (in order: Teewinot, Owen, Grand Teton, Middle Teton, South Teton, Ice Cream Cone, Spalding, Gilkey's Tower, Cloudveil Dome and Nez Perce) in Grand Teton National Park. Despite several attempts, this historic route had not had a complete winter ascent; the proper combination of good weather, stable snow conditions, mental preparedness and top physical stamina had eluded teams over the years. I had attempted the Traverse on several occasions, usually ending at Teewinot, the weather having taken a turn for the worse.

After several hours, we caught up with Renny Jackson and Hans Johnstone—who were also attempting the Traverse—midway between Teewinot and Owen. We began working together as a team of four, breaking trail in the deep snow and cold temperatures, climbing Owen, rappelling into the Gunsight Notch, and climbing out to the top of the Grandstand (at the base of the North Ridge of the Grand Teton), where we bivied.

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After enjoying the first rays of the rising sun over the Wind River Range, we began preparing for the crux of the Traverse: the Italian Cracks. Hans and Mark led this section, while Renny and I followed. Once we were all safely on the Second Ledge, Mark and I soloed around to the Owen-Spalding Route. The ascent of the Grand Teton via the upper part of this route was spectacular, with much rime ice plastered to the rock.

At the Lower Saddle, Mark and I decided to continue up and over the Middle Teton in the remaining light, while Hans and Renny elected to stay at the Saddle to dry one of Renny's boots, which had become wet the day before, resulting in frostbite damage to one toe. That second night saw Mark and me struggling to stay dry as wind blew spindrift into every nook and cranny of our stove and sleeping system.

We were hoping to have Renny and Hans with us as we departed the third morning, but after a brew and oatmeal there was still no sign of them, so we began climbing in full conditions. On top of the South Teton, where we were pounded by sixty-mile-per-hour gusts, we discussed abandoning our ascent. I suggested we continue until we absolutely had to bail, and we continued the Traverse over the South Teton toward Nez Perce. From Nez Perce's summit we descended to the Platforms and our skis, which had been brought up by friends, and skied to the valley floor, arriving back at my truck in the dark. The following day Renny and Hans made it safely down to the valley.

The first winter Grand Traverse involved much teamwork by four friends. Winter climbing in the Tetons is a special experience, and those willing to brave the cold and avalanche danger will be rewarded with solitude and beauty.

— Stephen Koch, Jackson, Wyoming

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