Cathedral Traverse

“I’d better do this before I get too old!” That was my logic several months ago when I decided to commit to doing the Cathedral Traverse. The Cathedral Traverse is a climb of the three peaks that make up the Cathedral Group in the Tetons. The route starts by climbing up the East Face of Teewinot and climbing across a ridge to the top of Mt Owen. You then cross the ridge between Mt Owen and the Grand Teton. Finally you are placed to climb the Grand Teton by one of the North Ridge routes. The descent takes you off the south side of the Grand and back to your starting point through Garnet Canyon.

The Cathedral Traverse climbs Teewinot, traverses to Mt. Owen, passes the Gunsight notch, climbs the North Ridge of the Grand, and descends out of Garnet Canyon.

The Cathedral Traverse climbs Teewinot, traverses to Mt. Owen, passes the Gunsight notch, climbs the North Ridge of the Grand, and descends out of Garnet Canyon.

This is by far the most committing technical climb I’ve ever done (5.8 Grade IV) so I contacted Brenton Reagan. He’s an extraordinary guide and good friend that works for Exum Mountain Guides.

On August 9, I met Brenton at the Exum Office at 3:00 AM. We were on the trail by 3:30 AM. The sun rose as we climbed the East Face of Teewinot. A couple of miles and 5,500 ft of climbing put us on the summit at about 8:30 AM. We took a few photos and headed for Mt Owen. Mt Owen is the second highest peak in the Tetons (12,927 ft). I’ve done quite a bit of climbing in the Tetons over the years, but despite two attempts I hadn’t climbed Owen. After some scrambling, a few rappels, crossing under the Owen snowfields, and some very improbable route finding we finally made it to the summit of Mt Owen at about 2:00 PM. The route finding was exceedingly complicated. If I hadn’t been with Brenton I would still be wandering around up there.

The day wasn’t over. We still had to make it to a bivy site on the Grandstand. The Grandstand is a ridge the extents north from the North Ridge of the Grand. Getting there required more complicated route finding that led us to the south side of Gunsight Notch. This is a very deep, prominent notch between Owen and the Grand. As we rappelled into the Notch I remember thinking that at this point we were seriously committed. In my opinion, the pitch of climbing out of the notch and onto the Grandstand was the hardest of the entire traverse. It went smoothly and by 6:00 PM Brenton had the tent set up and we were starting dinner.

The next morning we had breakfast in the tent and after a $#!+putting contest we were ready to move. A couple of pitches of easy climbing led us to the top of the Grandstand and finally to the bottom of the North Ridge. Surprisingly it was warm and sunny on the North Face. We climbed the Italian Cracks variation of the North Ridge route. Five or six pitches of beautiful rock climbing topped out at the Second Ledge on the North Face. We followed the ledge upward and around to the west side of the Grand where we intercepted the Owen-Spaulding route. It was cold and windy on the west side. It was also crowded. We probably met up with four or five other parties on the Owen-Spaulding. We were on the summit by about noon. A quick down climb to the Owen-Spaulding rappel and a windy slide down the rope finally put us out of the worst wind and on top of the Upper Saddle.

The rest of the Traverse was just a long slog to the car. Many thanks to my guide and climbing partner Brenton for yet again helping me to do a something that I never thought I’d be able to do.

4 thoughts on “Cathedral Traverse

  1. As we used to say in New Jersey, “Whaddaya nuts?”

    Congrats, though. Much admiration from Berzerkeley to you.

    Melanie and Terry

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