Last August my friend and climbing partner Sam Miller and I went after the incredible Grand Teton Traverse.
Between the iconic skyline, Wyoming and Idaho’s beautiful scenery as the backdrop, and incredible climbing and scrambling, this is an all-time classic peak link-up that should be on any climber’s bucket list.
I had spent relatively little time in the Teton Range beyond climbing the Grand Teton itself. I had taken a few laps up classic routes like the Exum Ridge and Owen Spaulding. I’d even had a chance to climb and ski the Ford-Stettner Couloir the season prior, but this would be my first time on any of the other features of the turreted skyline.
The Grand Traverse gets completed in a variety of timeframes, ranging from a few days to the current fastest known time of 6 hours 30 minutes 49 seconds, set by Nick Elson. I still enjoy hearing the tales of early quick ascents by Rolando “Rolo” Garibotti and Alex Lowe.
I wanted to share my gear list with many of you looking to add this objective to the adventure list this summer, or perhaps any time further down the road in your climbing career.
We all know gear needs and equipment will vary based on your style and anticipated time on route. Sam and I planned to do the entire Grand Traverse in under 24 hours. Some of our gear selection is indicative of the forecasted conditions and our competence (and confidence) in the given terrain. Your experience may vary, so please use this gear list (and any of my other suggested gear lists) at your own discretion.
As many of you now know, I try to steer away from creating these articles as full-length trip reports and to keep them relatively utilitarian. In full disclosure, we ended up descending from below Cloudveil peak, thus earning a Grand Traverse DNF in the process. That being said, the follwing gear list was near-perfect for us that day.
We cruised through the “meat” of the Grand Traverse known as the Cathedral Traverse. The Cathedral Traverse starts with a healthy serving of 6,000 feet of vertical gain for breakfast up Teewinot. The route then traverses over Mt. Owen and ascends the striking North Face of the Grand Teton, bringing you to the Lower Saddle. The climbing on the North Face is the technical crux of the route and presents the greatest route-finding challenges.
We climbed Teewinot quickly and navigated all the way to the base of the Grand without much issue. We ran into a few major snags on the Grand that were out of our control, but that should be expected on any alpine outing.
After making our way to the Lower Saddle, we refueled and continued on. Our greatest hang-ups came—surprisingly—on Middle Teton and the Ice Cream Cone.
We had focused so much on the Cathedral Traverse, as we had anticipated that portion to be the crux of the outing, that we got very off-route on Middle, South and Gilkey. Our lack of beta memorization, fatigue and low light compounded our challenges in this section; realizing that we were no longer on pace to finish in under 24 hours, we opted to descend down valley from underneath Cloudveil. We’ll just have to head back to finish it up another time!
Regardless of the final outcome, I was happy with the gear we wore and carried with us. Some folks climb this route solo; some with only approach shoes; others tote a full double rack. If you are a solid 5.9 climber, a small rope, single rack and pair of climbing shoes add a lot of security on the Grand. We did bust out the rope one other time on the Ice Cream Cone, but we were comfortable in approach shoes for the rest of the terrain that we covered.
Your kicks are pretty important for this one. The Grand Traverse covers almost 14 miles and over 12,000 feet of vertical gain. You navigate a lot of varied terrain and footwear is important. I used one of my favorite light hikers with a custom Five Ten dot-rubber resole on the bottom. We carried climbing shoes so that we could move quickly and with greater security on the longest technical climbing portion, the North Face of the Grand Teton.
A good mix of layers able to combat the alpine chill, yet which are still breathable and comfortable with constant movement in a variety of temps, is critical. They aren’t needed, but I stashed a pair of boardshorts in my pack for moving through the midday sun.
You could certainly go smaller, but I like a light and compressible pack with real straps and full size hip-belt like the HMG Porter.
Twp types! We carried a micro-traxion to add a layer of security so we could simul-climb the grand Teton in as few pitches as possible.
We also carried CAMP aluminum ice axes and crampons. These were nice to have while navigating the Koven Col, and mandatory for our given bail route. We descended a snow slope somewhere underneath Cloudveil/Spaulding and it would have been impossible to navigate safely without an ice axe and crampons.
The intel gathering for this mission felt monumental, and it was ultimately fundamental to our successful onsight of the Cathedral Traverse, the first half of the Grand Traverse. I uploaded a GPX track to the Gaia GPS App, then manually uploaded Mark Smiley’s beta found at MtnSense.com to each waypoint. Sure, you could argue that our onsight just got downgraded to a flash, but this combination of info made navigation a breeze….at least until we reached the Middle Teton.
We carried an emergency two-person bivy—warm-enough to use in an emergency, but not big enough to enjoy a few hours of real sleep in. I’d bring this same rig for another in-a-day push, but if you’re looking to do the traverse in two or three days, consider bringing a slightly more comfortable set up.
I can go a long way on Shot Bloks and GU Energy packets, but Sam Miller was the MVP in the food department. First he taught me about his special on-the go wrap recipe (below), then he shared a pouch of fresh smoked salmon on the South Teton. Total game-changer!
Alpine Arugula Wraps:
— 1 wheat tortilla
— Handful for extra spicy arugula
— Small handful craisins
— Feta Cheese
Rack and Rope
We went with a pretty standard gear assortment, carrying four alpine draws and a single rack of cams (using Ultralights where possible). The “larger” rack allowed for longer simul-climbing pitches and/or climbing security where we wanted it.
Our rope was small: a 60-meter 8.5mm Mammut Genesis rated as a half rope. The 60-meter length was more than sufficient for the rappels off Teewinot and Owen, and if we ever wanted more rope security on a challenging pitch, we could fold the rope over creating a real 30-meter half-rope system. Fortunately we never felt the need to do this, but it was nice to have the option.
Don’t underestimate the easy stuff. Sam and I are both competent climbers with excellent endurance. We found that our lack of research on the last portion of the Traverse caused us more issues than we anticipated. Although we read that there were multiple 3rd-class options off various features on the back 9, we both felt like we were constantly climbing loose 4th and 5th class choss in the dark. This, coupled with our impending “greater-than-24-hour” Grand Traverse time, ultimately caused us to throw in the towel and head back to the Climber’s Ranch. We’re heading back in a few weeks to clean this up, but I will no doubt be glancing at the descents off Cloudveil and Nez Perce with a more focused lens.
As always, reach out with any questions and of course I hope this gear list aids you out on your own Grand Traverse adventure or elsewhere in the amazing Teton playground.
|The Grand Traverse (er, The Cathedral Traverse…) Gear List|
|Approach Shoes||Merrell MQM w/ custom Five Ten Dot-Rubber resole||You are wearing these for most of the traverse. You need something sticky, but comfortable and durable.|
|Climbing Shoes||La Sportiva TC Pros (sized up)||We only wore rock shoes for a few pitches, but it’s nice to have the precision, especially your first time out there.|
|Active Socks||Thin Darn Tough socks||A thin and comfortable sock that you can wear for the entire traverse.|
|T-Shirt Base Layer||Merrell Merino||I’ve been a huge fan of merino baselayers these days. Something to keep you cool in the summer heat, but that will dry fast and doesn’t stink.|
|Long-Sleeve Base Layer||Patagonia Sunshade Hoody||I used a sunshirt as my longsleeve for warmth and protection from the August sun.|
|Hardshell/Gore-Tex Jacket||Merrell Fallon 4.0 Hardshell Rain Jacket||A Gore-Tex rainshell to protect from potential summer storms and strong winds.|
|Down Parka Puffy||Merrell Entrada Synthetic Puffy||A thin to mid-weight puffy to keep warm when the sun goes down for an unplanned bivy.|
|Underwear||2XU Run Compression Shorts||A thin compression short for all-day wear. I find the thicker weave helps protect from alpine winds, but is cool enough for moving constantly throughout the day.|
|Softshell Pants||Merrell Allpath Multi-Sport Pants||A super-thin pair of softshell pants helps protect you from abrasion and the wind without getting too hot in the middle of the day.|
|Active Shorts for approach||Patagonia Boardshorts||It was pretty warm when we were on the traverse and moving quickly—it was nice to have a pair of shorts.|
|Head + Neck + Face|
|Helmet||Black Diamond Vector||Light helmet for all-day comfort.|
|Visor||Merrell Visor||I like a light hat or visor to soak up some sweat and block the sun.|
|Neck Gaiter||Merrell Buff||Head covering, sunglasses cleaner—all-around useful piece of gear.|
|Sunglasses/Eye Protection||Zeal Caddis — Blue Mirrored Lense||Dark enough to block the high alpine sun.|
|Hard Glasses Case||Zeal Blue Soft Case||I like a hard case to protect my sunnies for when I stuff them in my pack when the sun goes down.|
|Lip Balm + Sunscreen||Dermatone Tin||Lip and Face preotection.|
|Liner Gloves||OR Windstopper Fleece Gloves||It’s nice to have a pair of light gloves for the early morning approach and potentially colder alpine conditions.|
|Emergency Bivy||SOL 2-Person Bivy Bag||Not built for comfort, but we carried a 2-person emergency bivy bag.|
|1/2 Length Closed Cell||Yellow ThermaRest Z-Light, 1/2 Pad (pack insert)||This doubles as a pack insert, but 4-sections of the Z-ThemaRest are also good enough to sleep on.|
|Packs + Portage|
|Pack||Hyperlite Mountain Gear (HMG) 2400 Porter||A nearly perfect size for all of your gear and then some. This pack also climbs quite well and packs down nice and tight to your back.|
|Stuff Sacks||(2) HMG Pod Stuff Sacks||Stuff sacks to stay organized.|
|Personal Climbing Gear|
|Crampons||CAMP XLC 490 (Strap-on)||These were great to have at the Koven Col and of course for bailing/descending from the North slopes underneath Cloudveil Mountain.|
|Ice Axe||CAMP Corsa Ice Axe (50cm)||This thing is so light, it was definitly worth bringing—especially when bailing.|
|Harness||Black Diamond Technician||Simple harness. You could certainly go lighter here, but I happened to have this one with me.|
|Belay Device||Petzl Reverso 4||I like the Reverso because the sizing feel tighter on skinner ropes.|
|Small Locking Carabiners||(3) CAMP Photon Lockers||My current favorite small locking carabiner.|
|HMS Locking Carabiners||(1) CAMP Core + (1) CAMP Nimbus||I like the larger HMS Core for my belay device and use the Nimbus to clove hitch myself into anchors.|
|120cm Dyneema Runner||Sterling Nylon Double Length Runner||Great for anchors or to use as long sling. I also used it as my PAS/rappel extension.|
|Cordelette||21-foot Sterling PowerCord||Kept in my pack for self-rescue, extra anchor cord, or bail/anchor supplement material.|
|3rd Hand + Locker||(1) 13.5-inch Sterling Hollow Block + (1) Trango Locker||Mostly for self-rescue and complex systems we never ended up using.|
|Self Rescue Kit||(1) CAMP Photon Biner
(1) CRKT NIAD Knife
(1) Petzl TiBloc
|I just use a small locker to keep the kit together and hang it off the back of my harness.|
|Climbing Gloves||Ocun Crack Gloves||Really nice to have these for a few pitches and save myself the tapped up hands for the entire traverse.|
|Food + Hydration|
|Capacity for 3 Liters H20||2L Bladder + 1L Nalgene||We filled bottles at the Koven Col, but carried what we needed to get us to the spring on the Lower Saddle.|
|Water Filter||Katadyn BeFree w/ 1L Soft Flask||My favorite on-the-go filtration system.|
|Food||Enough for 30 hours||Lots of great food options. We carried enough calories to sustain us through a 30-hour push.|
|Electrolye Mix||(4) Pouches Gnarly Hydration Mix||Extra electrolytes for a long day out and something flavorful to add to the water after hours on the go.|
|Wag Bags||(1) Restop Wagbag kit (per person)||1x toilet paper ration and wagbag person.|
|Personal Electronics + Other Gear|
|Phone||iPhone 7+||Such a versatile tool, an iPhone is a communication device, map, compass, GPS and takes great pictures.|
|Phone Charging Cable||iPhone 7+ Compatible|
|Camera||Sony RX100 MV1|
|Spare Headlamp Battery||Petzl Nao spare battery|
|Portable Battery/Power Cell
||Anker Powercore 10000|
|Beta||Rolo Garibotti’s beta and MP downloads on ALL Phones|
|Magic Beta||Mark Smiley’s beta||Mark Smiley’s Beta is incredible. We onsighted the Cathedral Traverse with relative ease thanks to this resource! Well worth the investment if this is your first attempt.|
|Team Climbing Gear|
||60-meter 8.5mm Mammut Genesis||We used one half-rated rope. Perfect for the rappels, and we could double it over for pitches we deemed to be difficult to create a true double-rope system.|
|Alpine Draws||(4) CAMP Dyon Carabiners + (4) CAMP Nano 22 Carabiners +
(4) CAMP (60cm) 10mm Express Dyneema Runner
|This is the alpine system I’ve been using for a few years.|
|Rock Protection||(1) BD .2 X4
(1) BD .3 C4
(1) BD .3 X4
(1) BD .4 C4
(1) BD .5 C4
(1) BD Ultralight #1
(1) BD Ultralight #2
|Given our current climbing ability and fitness, this rack was more than appropriate for the terrain we were traveling in.|
|Pulley Ascender Systems||(1) Petzl Micro-Traction w/ Camp Photon Lock||We used these to increase our safety on long sections of simul-climbing (i.e the entire North Face of the Grand Teton).|
|Altimeter||COROS Vertix GPS Watch||The COROS Vertix has an incredible long Battery life— long enough to run full-strength GPS during the entire traverse without any issues.|
|DeLorme Inreach GPS||Garmin InReach SE+||These days I always carry an InReach with me on big outings. It’s a comms device, back-up GPS, and emergency beacon.|
|Athletic Tape||I’m constantly modifying my med-kit based on my level of confidence in the plan and the anticpated hazards of the objective. You could certaily pair this one down, but this is what I carried for this trip.|
|Large Safety Pins||(4)|
|3′ of 3″ Coban|
|4″x4″ Guaze Pads||(2)|
|Ibuprofen (200mg)||20 tablets|
|Prednisone (20mg)||6 tablets|
|Pepto Bismol||6 tablets|
|Hand/Foot Warmers||2 sets|
|Other Team Gear|
|Bear Spray||We opted to forego the bearspray on this trip. We did however run into a mother and her cubs on the run down in the dark… thankfully they were black bears. So perhaps worth bringing some!|
Jason Antin is sponsored by Merrell, Gnarly Nutrition, Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Go Pro, Bentgate Mountaineering, Zeal Optics, and COROS.
Feature Image: Sam Miller during his and Jaon Antin’s attempt on the Grand Traverse. Photo: Jason Antin.
Jason Antin, a native of New England who now calls Colorado home, focuses all of his time striving to achieve the ultimate work-life balance. He also spends much of his time working as a climbing guide for The Colorado Mountain School, as a strength and conditioning coach at The Alpine Training Center in Boulder, Colorado, where he prepares his athletes for the physical and mental rigors of the mountains. Off the clock, Jason shares his home in Golden, Colorado, with his wife Jenny and daughters Avery and Andora. He enjoys moving quickly in the mountains over all mediums that mother nature shares with us, whether that be trails, rock, ice or snow.
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