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Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Owen-Grand Link-Up: Day 2

Bob Culp, the longtime Colorado climber, guide, and owner of the Boulder Mountaineer shop, once told me about a partner/client that he particularly favored—not for the guy’s talent on steep rock or ice, but for his ability to move fast on third- and fourth-class terrain. That’s where great climbers really make time in the mountains, and Dave and I would face a lot of that terrain on Day 2 of our Owen-Grand traverse. We started at dawn on the upper half of the Serendipity ArĂȘte, failing to find the fourth-class route above our bivy specified by the guidebook. (More like 5.6—or 5.8/5.9 on the direct variation Dave chose.) Nonetheless, we soon scrambled up the super-cool Koven chimney to the summit of Mt. Owen and paused for a moment to enjoy the views of Teewinot and the smoke-filled hills beyond, and to look south and try to spot our line on the north face of the Grand.

Now we embarked on the heart of the Cathedral Traverse, the meat of the famous Grand Traverse of all the Tetons’ central summits. The fact that this traverse has been done in less than seven hours (Rolando Garibotti) seemed to originate from an alternate universe as we picked our way down Owen, across the turreted ridge, and into the Gunsight Notch between the two peaks. Here we roped up again and climbed two long pitches to reach the third-class terrain on the Grandstand, the high shoulder below the Grand’s north ridge. We made only trivial route-finding mistakes on this traverse and rappelled (rather than downclimbed) the steepest sections, and it still took us around three hours to get from Owen to the Grandstand—that’s a little less than half of Rolo’s total time and we didn’t bag a single peak during that period.

I had done the Grand’s north ridge many years ago, and this time we aimed to cherry-pick the best pitches on the north face through the many variations established over the years. After noshing on a bit more paella, we started up the first few pitches of the north ridge and then traversed over to the Italian Cracks variation. Butterflies swirled around Dave as he followed the first long lead, and a bit of graupel pelted our jackets when we reached Second Ledge, the start of the good climbing on the 1953 direct north face route. But the weather remained mostly fine, and the rock was amazingly solid on the golden alpine wall. It was a treat to check off the landmarks on this famous climb and to recall the struggles of so many influential American climbers who had tested themselves here: Durrance, Petzoldt, Gilkey, Unsoeld and Ortenburger, among them. The famous Pendulum Pitch, freed by Dick Emerson in ’53, is still a marvelous and testing pitch: the picture here only shows the second half’s hand traverse; to get here you first have to climb a tricky crack and then squirm across a Thank God Ledge-style break, never quite sure whether to place your hands and feet high or low. At least it’s well-protected—after finding almost no fixed pro all day, I clipped so many old pitons on the Pendulum Pitch that it climbed like a sport route, though falling on our single 9mm still seemed unacceptable.

One more tricky pitch and then some futzing around on icy fourth class (and a 5.9 off-route boulder problem that required roping up), and at last we were on top. Since dawn, we'd done 14 technical pitches and hours of serious scrambling. We sipped the last of the water we had hoarded since Valhalla Canyon and started down toward the Lower Saddle, eager to retank.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great trip reports here. Was just browsing last summer.
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