The Tetons are known for their Grand Traverse, an epic, 10-peak scramble across the most beautiful and highly regarded of these spectacular summits. Jackson resident Ryan Burke just pulled off a traverse that’s arguably grander, tagging the tops of 50 Tetons over the course of a week, which he says is a first.
Over seven days, he racked up impressive numbers: 102 miles, 50 major peaks, 112,000 feet in vertical gains and losses.
The trek began with Ranger Peak and culminated atop Mt. Glory on Teton Pass. But he was spooked right off the bat.
“I ran into a bear in dense bush,” Burke said, “so that was intimidating.”
Rewind to August 20th: Burke just clocked out after an eight-hour workday and kicked off his journey with a kayak paddle across Jackson Lake. Ash from the Berry Fire dusted him as he set out for day one.
An endurance mountaineer as well as an addiction counselor, Burke had a solid foundation for such a physical and mental undertaking. What began with individual climbs to various peaks over the past 10 years–he originally learned the climb to impress a girl by taking her up the Grand Teton–grew to borderline obsessive pursuits. He completed the Picnic Routes in Grand Teton National Park before tackling the Perception Traverse, which placed him atop 24 peaks in a four-day go. However, in order to ascend the full 50 prominent Teton pinnacles, he’d require deeper training with nutritional counseling. So he enlisted Mountain Athlete to assist him in cultivating an attack plan.
“It’s a grit factor that you train for,” Burke said. “Physically, I had to have a good foundation, but really it’s learning to put yourself mentally in that type of situation. That comes from being in the mountains a lot and training your body to accept a certain amount of punishment. When you are out there alone, you have this introspective time when you start thinking about why you would want to do these things. It’s a conversation with yourself.”
Still, Burke faced a handful of unexpected pitfalls throughout his tremendous feat. After the initial bear sighting, he experienced 65 mph winds on the north ridge of the Grand Teton. Since 95 percent of his trek was off-trail, his legs were shredded from the endless amounts of shrapnel he encountered. He even pulled off a microwave-sized chunk of rock on Mt. Moran and also chipped a tooth somewhere along the trek.
Burke completed the first five days solo and then was joined by his friend Christa Valentino for the final two. He pushed himself upward of 13 hours each day, sleeping for 10 hours each night. By the end, he’d lost 10 pounds.
“On route, I felt good the whole time,” he said. “But once I stopped, every time I sat down I fell asleep. My body wanted quarts and quarts of ice cream and large pizzas. I just really wanted to expand my idea of what was possible and my perception of what my limits were.”
Mission accomplished there. And once Burke is recovered from this, he’ll start preparation for his next adventure, which is to hike between the Gros Ventre and Wind River Ranges in just three days.
Photos by Crista Valentino