Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Cathedral Traverse: Party Style

Over the last couple years I've been climbing less and less and running more and more.  I've enjoyed the freedom and speed when unleashed from the weight of roped climbing.  But lately, the desire is welling up once again.  Chad Ambrose brought up the idea of trying to "run" the Grand Traverse in a day back in April while on a skiing trip to the Tetons.  I thought, "sure, no big deal..." and put it out of my mind for the summer. I had done the traverse before, back when I was a younger aspiring alpinist (note: I'm still a youngish aspiring alpinist), but did it in the only style I knew...heavy and slow.  Nonetheless, my even less experienced partner and I pulled it off and I rode that high for weeks.  
I'm different now.  The mountains are smaller. I've learned. 
I thought the day would simply be a matter of putting our heads down and grinding.  I should have considered our collective preparation and lack of logistical planning.  Since the spring, our two man partnership had blossomed to three and then four.  It's hard to deny friends and it's almost always more fun in a group.  My plans to return to the vertical were put off and early last week, I realized our planned date was upon us.  Better get in some climbing I thought. I then proceeded to do 6 pull ups on Sunday, bouldered for 20 minutes on Monday, and then got my "lead certification" at Rocreation on Tuesday, just in time for the Traverse.

When asking the other guys, well, their preparation was only mildly better.  All three, Jared, Jason, and Chad, could count on a single hand the number of times they had tied into a rope over the summer.  We  laughed it off and made claims that the traverse is all aerobic anyway.  We'd be fine in that department right?

Willing to solo at a low grade, but lacking the skill and courage to solo the whole traverse, we decided to bring a full alpine kit; rack, slings, harnesses, shoes, etc.  I picked up a full lead line for the first time in two years and disgusted by the weight, put it back into the disorganized gear pile in my garage.  A half rope would have to do.

After a healthy dinner of eggs and pastries at the Bunnery, we chased the last light out to Lupine Meadows to catch a couple hours of sleep before our planned alpine start.  Tearing into the dirt lot, the logistics of the day suddenly became more complicated.  Young alpinists and friends from SLC, Jake and Joe, were lounging around at the trailhead and were also planning on an early start to a one day run at the Traverse.

Unconcerned, we laughed at them as they tried to get some sleep in the back of Joe's CRV.  They probably laughed at us as they gave us the slip.  When we looked up at Teewinot with bleary but excited eyes, we were shocked to see not only our friends lamps, but two other parties high on the peak.

Fighting to fit on the summit
We'll pass em we thought and after drinking some Rockstars, the party started. We smoothly made our way up Teewinot's bare East Face and passed a couple parties en route as we joined our buddies, Jake and Joe.  Now ascending as a pack of 6, we soon found ourselves fighting for our turn to straddle Teewinot's airy summit.  With hoots and shouts into the night, the mountains responded with swirling clouds that further obscured the blackness.

We scrambled to the southwest and made our way to Peak 11,840, where we nailed the first critical route finding.  We rapped into the dark and leap frogged someone ahead at each station to rig the next rope.  All six of us were through the three rappels just as the day was dawning, giving us our glimpse of the high peaks, shrouded in clouds.

Joe looks at a big drop into Cascade Canyon

The party train rolls on around the East Prong

A picture of me taking of picture of a rapidly vanishing glacier

"This is F##### up!" -Jared
We moved well as a large group until we hit a patch of steep snow to the north of East Prong.  Down climbing was slower for some, but that was likely just because we couldn't see where we'd end up in case of a fall.

Ambrose in action high on Mount Owen
Having left our packs at the base of the upper mountain, our route finding through the dark and now clouds had been impeccable.  It wasn't even 8 AM and morale was high.  We scrambled up to Owen's airy summit and might as well have been standing on a boulder 5 feet off the ground.  Jared and Jason, who had never been on the mountain, took in the view...360 degrees of grey.

There was a lot of yelling and cheering on the summit of Mount Owen and a peculiar new tradition was started...summit hugs?  

A peculiar new tradition of summit hugs
After collecting our packs the first hint of our unravelling occurred when looking for the ridge to follow toward Gunsight.  The main problem was that it wasn't there.  Through the dense fog, I could only see precipitous drops on what appeared to be all directions except our ascent route.  

We pulled out the topo.  I hate topos. 

Convinced we'd found the way, we descended until we became confused again.  Stalled out and listening to the rumbling from our clients (being the only ones that had been there, Chad and I declared ourselves the guides for this section), we almost descended back into Glacier Gulch.  Then to our salvation, the clouds parted and the forecasted 7:00am sun finally showed up. We ascended back to the correct notch, made our way to the west and descended a fun but loose gully to the ledge system that would take us to Gunsight Notch.

The GT shows herself to us for the first time
The train rolls on toward Gunsight Notch

Negotiating the last stretch of techy scrambling before Gunsight

Joe K catching some rare sun in Gunsight

Getting started on the goods as we climb out of Gunsight
Climbing out of Gunsight was a change of pace.  Until this point, we hadn't stopped for more than a couple minutes, but now we were donning ropes and pitching things out.  We were passed by another party and I could tell the proverbial wheels were on their way.  

Leading my first pitch this year
Psych level is high at the base of the North Ridge
And then they came off.  Completely.  For multiple reasons, our efficiency was left behind and the six of us transformed into a new group.  The other guys were fast, smooth, and confident.  The new guys were slow, awkward, and unsure.  That doesn't mean the party stopped though.  Highlights of this section were the first pitch of the Italian Cracks, Jared throwing me a piece of cheese from his belay 5 feet below mine, and feeling cold for the first time this summer.
Leading the youngsters up the North Ridge
Jared and Chad's foot on the North Ridge of the Grand

Hanging out on the North Ridge wondering when the party will end

Looking down the Italian Cracks

JD and Joe
Once we finally gained the Second Ledge, we split up and JD, Jared, and Chad fired the direct finish while Jake, Joe, and I put away the ropes and explored around to the OS finish.  I had already done the direct finish so I feel like I was the winner by getting to explore new terrain and then having time for a nap in the sun while the others made their way to the summit.  

With closed eyes, still air, and warmth on my face, I was content.  Our main goal of completing the Grand Traverse in a day will be left for a future date.  Instead, we found beauty and camaraderie through our efforts and the hunger for more.  Occasionally, a mild failure helps inspire more than does easy success.  Back in SLC, I told Jake that pulling the Cathedral Traverse, "party style", was almost more fun then stressing out, going fast, and finishing the whole thing...


The party ends early

Gear I used:

Scarpa Crux approach shoes - Fantastic for scrambling and easy climbing.  Out of the box with no issues.
Outdoor Research Ferossi Pants - Stretchy and thin like tights and perfect for long aerobic activities in the mountains.  
Outdoor Research Torque Tee - Available this Spring as part of OR's new 'High Exertion' line.  Also perfect for long aerobic activities in the mountains.
Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody - The quintessential light alpine puffy.  Don't leave home without one (neither Jake nor Joe carried puffy jackets.  Stupid youngsters). 
Outdoor Research Helium Jacket - Light, wind and water proof, and bright green. 
Arcteryx Harness (first generation R320?)
CAMP X3 600 pack - Lightweight, comfortable, and my go to pack for any day trip into the mountains to ski or climb. 
CAMP Speed Helmet - Again, lightweight and comfortable and bright green!  Mine is always crooked on my head though...

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