Bivy Spots on Grand Traverse


Original Post
Dan Evans · · Phoenix, AZ · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 80

I'm looking to do the Grand Traverse in early August and was wondering: for those of you that have done it--what was your bivy experience like? I bivied on the Cirque Tower traverse last summer and woke up to a 2 hr-snow storm so I know it's miserable--not my point. I guess I'm more so interested in weather patterns (if any) and ideal bivy locations that offer remotely easy bail opportunities should inclement weather role in. I just know that the Tetons are prone to lightning storms and do not want to get myself or my partner in a situation that we cannot retreat from if necessary. So, are there certain landmarks along the route that we should strive for before settling down for the night? Any other advice is appreciated!

James Schroeder · · Sauk County, WI · Joined May 2002 · Points: 3,042

Leave early enough that you can be to the Lower Saddle on the first day. We started up Teewinot at 2am and ended up bivying on the Grandstand (and burning 3-4 hours of daylight) that evening because we got there without quite enough daylight left to feel comfortable starting up the north side of the Grand. I wish we'd have left at 10p or midnight. We did get some evening lightning and graupel storms on the Grandstand. That felt pretty exposed because the fastest way home was up over the Grand at that point.

There are a couple decent bivy spots on the north side of the Grand as well that we might have taken advantage of had we known they were there, but they would have been even more exposed to the weather we got.

Dan Evans · · Phoenix, AZ · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 80

Hey James, thanks for the reply. When you say you started up Teewinot at 2 am, do you mean the actual East Face itself or the approach trail? I'm planning on staying at the AAC climber's ranch, so just to clarify, are you saying that if I depart the ranch around 10 pm, I should be able to the reach the lower saddle by nightfall? How was route-finding for you?

Allen Sanderson · · Oootah · Joined Jul 2007 · Points: 1,135

There are bivy sites along the whole of the traverse between each of the peaks. Some better than others. 

Ben Collett · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2006 · Points: 1,230

I remember rather enjoying spending the night on the grandstand rather than dealing with the hordes at the lower saddle. I quite recommend doing it that way. Really, the route deteriorates after the Cathedral Traverse.

James Schroeder · · Sauk County, WI · Joined May 2002 · Points: 3,042
Daniel Evans wrote:

Hey James, thanks for the reply. When you say you started up Teewinot at 2 am, do you mean the actual East Face itself or the approach trail? I'm planning on staying at the AAC climber's ranch, so just to clarify, are you saying that if I depart the ranch around 10 pm, I should be able to the reach the lower saddle by nightfall? How was route-finding for you?

We left the Lupine Meadows lot at 2am. I don't know you well enough to say if you'll make the Lower Saddle if you leave at 10p, I know we would have. We got to the Grandstand about 14 hours (4pm) after we left the Lupine Meadows parking lot. Route-finding was tricky, but my partner had spent a lot of time in the Tetons previously, and that gave us an edge on that front. The terrain is VAST and somewhat confusing. Don't underestimate the size of the terrain and the difficulty of bailing once you're behind Teewinot (particularly once you start the raps after Owen) until you're coming down the OS raps.

Allen is right, there are lots of bivy spots along the route, some definitely better than others.

It might make sense to plan for a 3-day trip too. We planned for 2 days, and ended up only doing the Cathedral Traverse.

Brian in SLC · · Sandy, Utah · Joined Oct 2003 · Points: 13,762
Daniel Evans wrote:

I guess I'm more so interested in weather patterns (if any) and ideal bivy locations that offer remotely easy bail opportunities should inclement weather role in. I just know that the Tetons are prone to lightning storms and do not want to get myself or my partner in a situation that we cannot retreat from if necessary. 

I'd be hoping for that short window of high pressure to park itself over the range...otherwise, t-showers nearly every afternoon/early evening.

Shooting for a bivy at the lower saddle has some advantages...bailing is one of them.  Water is another.  As well as making quick enough time to have covered that terrain in one go (style points).  

Kevin Bradford · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 80

Solid advice here. I'd say your goal should be to make it to the lower saddle on your first day. With bivy gear that might take you somewhere between 12 and 20 hours, depending on a lot of things. If you don't make it that far on your first day, there is an exposed bivy west of Owens summit, 2 very nice grassy and protected bivy's 100 meters east of the grandstands summit, and another exposed bivy directly on top of the grandstand. There is running water near the Koven col on Owen and on the summit of the grandstand most years until the first solid freeze of fall. No one has answered your question on bail options, which I will do my best to tackle. You can bail at the summit of teewinot, obviously. You can bail down the koven route on Owen any time between the koven col and the west ledges on owen. This may be easier with an ice axe, but in august I would leave it at home and move quick. Once you reach the west ledges on owen you can bail down that route into remote valhalla canyon, then bushwack down to the trail to cascade canyon. You can also bail down this route from the top of the grandstand. You can bail at the 2nd ledge on the north ridge by traversing all the way to the owen spalding route's "crawl" and "belly roll." After climbing the grand the bail options are numerous, obviously. 

Dan Evans · · Phoenix, AZ · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 80

Awesome thanks everyone. Appreciate the extra bit of info Kevin.

Greg Gavin · · SLC, UT · Joined Oct 2008 · Points: 713

We did the traverse over 2 nights and 3 days. Bivying on the grand stand and at the South/Middle Col. If going for the more casual ascent then those spots are primo. We really enjoyed both bivies as we saw no one over 3 days save for 10 people at the Lower Saddle while we filled up water, and once we got to the campsites below the east face of the Middle Teton once we were done. But like everyone here has already said there are bivies in abundance on the cathedral traverse side so don't sweat it.

I disagree that once the Cathedral traverse has been completed that the route quality goes down. We thought that once atop the South Teton the climbing stays continuous nearly all the way to Nez Perce and is worthy of a day trip in and of itself. There is one section that contains the hardest, and most exposed down climb on the entire traverse over there as well!  

Don't forget to stop by the Jenny Lake Ranger Station to ask about current route conditions. They have drawn topos of the more tricky sections of the ridge that are very helpful.

Dan Evans · · Phoenix, AZ · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 80

Sweet, thanks Greg. How many raps did you do in total? We will be bringing a rope to do the more technical pitches, mainly for the 5.8 sections (I'm not that cool), and would probably opt to set up a rappel before committing to sketchy down climb. Brought the rope, might as well use it kind of deal.

Brandon.Phillips · · Portola, CA · Joined May 2011 · Points: 55

I've have not done this route myself- went to the Tetons with intentions a few times, but never got the weather window.  I have looked into plenty of different strategies as far as gear and bivies.  A couple of thoughts: If you wanted to push for the lower saddle in one day, hike up in advance and stash food and bivy gear at the saddle.  Its a long haul, but it would be awesome to climb in just day packs.  Better yet, buy a 6 pack for someone at the climbers ranch to do it for you. Obviously you're committed to making the saddle or have a hungry, uncomfortable night, but you would make great time without bivy gear.

I have had two recommendations for ropes: 1) 70 meter double rope- lead with it folded in half (35m pitches) but also get full 35m raps.  2) 40 meter lead rope, 40 meter tag line.

#1 was suggested by Mark Smiley, which he said was the best piece of advice he got for the traverse.

#2 suggested by guiding friends who anticipated short roping clients at various sections (this also has the advantages of just managing a short single rope).

Hope some of this is helpful.  I'll be at the climbers ranch in early August - see you there.

CCChanceR Ronemus · · Bozeman, MT · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 125

Without knowing your skill level, it's hard to say confidently, but some of the times posted here are pretty conservative.  We left lupine around 4-5AM and made it to the saddle at nightfall.  Leaving the rope away for most of it speeds things up considerably, as does being in good aerobic shape and moving very quickly over 3rd-4th class, as this comprises 90+% of the traverse.  We only roped up for the Grand, I believe.  

As far as bivies go, the "headache cave" on the West side of the Lower Saddle makes for a cozy spot to spend the night.  It's only about 2 ft high but blocks most of the wind, allowing us to not bring a tent.  We also shared one sleeping bag and were a bit cold, but I managed to sleep.

Dan Evans · · Phoenix, AZ · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 80

Tentatively, I think the point where I decide to rope up is around 5.6. Everything else I am comfortable free-soloing. I solo'd the Upper Exum in about 30 minutes last summer and felt fine on it. 

Derek DeBruin · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 585
Brandon.Phillips wrote:

 2) 40 meter lead rope, 40 meter tag line.

Take this a step further--single 40m rope (no tag line). The 70m half rope isn't a bad idea, but a single 40m will weigh less than a 70m half rope, typically.

Raps between Teewinot and Owen are fine with a 40m if you're careful of the rope ends. Adequately long for any pitched climbing you want to do. Can do the alternate two raps of the grand with a 40m, just barely; or you can lower one climber, knotblock, and tie a cordelette on if you end up a couple feet short. It's also often possible to share a rap with another party on the Grand depending on timing, too.

CCChanceR Ronemus · · Bozeman, MT · Joined Aug 2012 · Points: 125

I think you should be fine on our program.  The Owen summit blocks, pitches onto the Grandstand, and exit from the black dike on the Middle might get you to rope up at a small time penalty, I think all get 5.6 but felt a bit easier imho.  We downclimbed most of the rappels too, only saves a few minutes but minimizes stuck rope potential, which could be a PITA, especially with all the loose rock.  TBH speed will mostly come down to your aerobic fitness and comfort on 3rd/4th, it helps to minimize pack weight for sure.  

Also, I'd definitely do the Italian Cracks on the N. Ridge.  We did the origional route and ended up having to chop steps up ~30ft bullet water ice then fire an overhang in approach shoes and pack. Stout for 5.9 IMO.

Dan Evans · · Phoenix, AZ · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 80

Thanks Greg! Good stuff, appreciate it. Bookmarked your trip report.

Hansen Babington · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 0

Some thoughts based on an experience last summer....

As an intro, consider the CT in a day. You can move much faster without the extra gear. Bailing, if you have to, is character building in the Tetons. And maybe you'll surprise yourself and knock out the whole thing...

Anyway, last summer, I attempted the GT with a group of four, and some members of our party struggled with altitude sickness (we started 4 hours after deplaning a flight from Alabama), so we ended up bivvying on Koven col and then bailing down the Koven couloir the next morning due to a weather system that moved in. I hope you don't have to bail that way, but if you do, there are ample rap stations and you are relatively protected from rockfall when pulling the ropes. The crux of that descent is a ~300 foot band of deteriorating mud slope at the foot of the couloir that can  (though, due to current year snow conditions, likely won't) be exposed during late August once the couloir melts out. The band is about 55 degrees and littered with death blocks. Glad to have the ice axe for that section of dirt! After that point, it's a simple but long trailless hike across Teton glacier and to the tourist trail at Delta lake. 

Anyway, looking for consolation from our blown GT attempt, a partner and I did the CT two days later. It took us about 20 hours. We didn't move fast but knew the route through Owen, so that allowed efficiency. We started at 4, summited Teewinot at 7, Grand at 5 (had to wait out some weather on the North Face), and were back at the car just after midnight. We were tired by the end due to inadequate rest between attempts, but both remarked on how glad we were to have a single rope and rack and little else. 

FWIW, we opted for the Italian Cracks variation and did it in about 3 long pitches with a bit of simulclimbing. We followed the second ledge to the O-S instead of finishing the North Ridge to the top. We thought we brought too much gear--the climbing on the North Ridge is generally moderate with short, well-protected cruxes. We ended up accidentally soloing Owen and the O-S looking for the routes, so I'd call them true 5.4. Both are short, secure chimneys. We enjoyed having a 70m rope, but you could get away with less if Derek says so! (We just didn't want to come up short.) Wish we'd had some microspikes for the early morning snow on Teewinot and Owen, though, as kicking steps was time consuming and a bit less than totally safe in approach shoes. Plenty of opportunities for water replenishment through the lower saddle.

Despite my initial recommendation to consider the CT in a day, the same partner and I intend to try the GT this summer. However, we'll be using the light and fast approach and trying it in a day. It's just much more enjoyable climbing without the bivy gear. If we fail, then I guess we'll have to try it again next summer! We'll be out there August 3-13, also at the climber's ranch, so maybe we'll run into you.

Hansen

Matt Zia · · Bozeman, MT · Joined Mar 2012 · Points: 171

Did the GT two summers ago, 2 days, 1 night. Was a slightly drier year, so take it with a grain of salt.

For rack/rope, we brought a 60m 8.7mm and didn't have any trouble with the rappels. No sense carrying an extra 10m of rope, even if it does weigh 42g/m or whatever. 8 nuts in the medium/small sizes, 8 cams from .2-3, 10-12 60cm slings with a mix of over-the-shoulder's and alpine draws, 2-3 120cm slings. Might have brought 1 6mm cordelette, can't remember. Obviously it wasn't a memorable piece of gear...

One axe per person, lightest we could go. Didn't bring crampons. Only time we took the axes out was going up Owen and the snow was soft enough by then that we didn't really feel the need for crampons. With the amount of snow this year, that might be very different though.

We climbed the Italian Cracks (highly recommended) in 3 pitches, first one about a 90-120m simul-pitch, next two full 60m to the second ledge, then roughly followed the O-S to the top in one long simul-pitch and some solo-ing.

As others have mentioned, lots of good bivy spots along the Grandstand and a couple immediately below the summit of Owen. I'd recommend trying to get to the Lower Saddle in a day though. Doing the Cathedral Traverse in a day is amazing and moving efficiently with a solid partner across such spectacular terrain is a pretty special feeling. Also means you can climb the North Ridge after you're already warmed up instead of first thing in the morning when it's freezing cold. Plus, if you have a bomber weather forecast, you can time your day to top out the Grand in the evening and watch the golden hour from the summit. Sleeping at the Lower Saddle also means you have a toilet seat to do your business on in the morning, which if you're a coffee drinker, is pretty clutch.

If you have a bomber weather forecast, I'd agree with Chance's timing recommendation. I was on the same plan, left Lupine Meadows at about 5:30am which felt very reasonable and allowed us to climb the E Face of Teewinot in the light and minimize route-finding BS in that sketchy loose gully.

Have fun! Move fast, and be safe!

Gee Double · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 1,895

Last water drip (black streaks meet ledge) on the NE, Grandstand,

Lower Saddle, 

> $75 USD

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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