North America, United States, Wyoming, Grand Teton National Park, Grand Traverse, First Winter Ascent

Publication Year: 2004.

Grand Traverse, first winter ascent. On January 24, 2004, after more than three weeks of unseasonably dry and warm weather, two parties set out to complete a long-standing project in the Tetons: the Grand Traverse in winter. Perennial winter activists Renny Jackson and Hans Johnstone set out around 3 a.m., and Stephen Koch and I followed around 3:30. Both parties skied to near Glacier Gulch and climbed couloirs and ramps up the South-southwest shoulder of Teewinot to start the traverse. Renny and Hans set a blistering pace over mostly firm, crusty snow, topping out on Teewinot around 10 a.m. Stephen and I didn’t catch up with them until just past the West Prong of Teewinot. The steep, narrow ridge between there and the East Prong of Mt. Owen is some of the trickier terrain on the traverse and was the site of a near miss the previous year when Renny stepped off of a collapsing cornice just in time. The four of us moved together and shared ropes during rappels off the south ridge of Owen into Gunsight Notch and out onto the Grandstand. Hans broke trail into the dark to the top of the Grandstand, where the four of us biwied just below the North Ridge. One of Renny’s boot liners was soaked, and his foot badly needed warming. The next day he had to climb the five technical pitches (up to 5.6) up a variation of the Italian Cracks in bitterly cold conditions with numb toes. He and Hans stopped at the Lower Saddle and availed themselves of a tent and stove from the Climbing Rangers’ rescue cache to dry Renny's liner. Stephen and I, with an eye on threatening clouds, pushed on up the Northwest Couloir of Middle Teton, to bivy between the Middle and South Teton. That night a minor storm moved in, with moderate winds and light snow.

The next day Stephen and I hesitantly continued through poor visibility and periods of heavy snow with gusty winds. Hans and Renny spent that day and a second night on the Lower Saddle before completing the Traverse on day four in better weather. Stephen and I bypassed two features, an unnamed hump between Ice Cream Cone and Gilkey’s Tower and one of the twin summits on Gilkey’s Tower, which Renny and Hans apparently climbed. Stephen and I had carried snowshoes in case my wife, Carina Ostberg, wasn’t able to dig up an extra pair for me and stash them in Garnet Canyon. Turns out we needn’t have, as the delivery came through, and there were skis waiting at the Platforms in Garnet Canyon. Hans and Renny had cached skis in the Meadows in Garnet Canyon, so neither party had to suffer an ignoble and tedious slog back to the car after a truly satisfying winter foray.

Mark Newcomb, A AC