Location: GTNP, Mount Wister
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 10,854’, 4,652’ gain/loss
Distance: 8 miles RT
Difficulty: 3+ stars
Time: 5-7 hours
Snow Condition: Powder, Packed Powder, Light Breakable Crust 12″ under consolidated Powder
A wave of anxiety rushed over me as I stared down the large “couloir” Dane and I had just bootpacked up. The wind had been whipping over the ridge from the south during most of the climb and we began to wonder if the avalanche conditions were as safe as we thought. The run rolled over to a 40 degrees slope from the col, into a mild pinch, then mellowing to a 30 degree run out 800′ to the bottom. After a few quick ski cuts, our nerves were replaced with elation as we skied deep powder 1200′ to the bottom of the cirque.
We started the day around 8am, leaving Bradley/Taggart and heading towards Avalanche Canyon. After spending the previous day skiing Turkey Chute, we knew there was coverage in the canyon and had spotted a skin track heading below The Nugget and up to Lake Taminah. The morning was very pleasant and the skin track proved to be quite enjoyable through the densely treed canyon.
We made our way past 4 Hour Couloir and through the small trees that are scattered around the fork of Avalanche Canyon. The skin track worked its way right into the North Fork, eventually up a steep slot in the prominent rock band before reaching Lake Taminah. As we got out onto the lake, the wind came rushing through the canyon and we immediately needed to layer up for the rest of the trip. Working our way across the lake, we saw the “couloir” that we wanted to ski in the distance on our left. We were slightly disappointed that the East Face of Wister was in the clouds, which meant we would not get an opportunity to see if it was skiable. We worked our way up into the cirque, through some deep snow that we were getting excited to ski on our way down. It took us 3hours and 15minutes to get into the cirque. Here, we took a little break and geared up for the climb. We skinned up the first third of the run to some rocks that were still exposed and then had to switch over to bootpack mode.
From here, the booting was relatively easy, considering it was powder the whole way up. It consolidated well with each step, rarely giving out and sending us back down to our starting point. This was a nice surprise and we made quick work of the climb to the col of Mount Wister. It took us around 4 1/2 hours to get to this point, gaining 4,652′ to an elevation of 10,854′, so we felt pretty good about our pace. We got ready to ski and after a brief discussion and a few ski cuts, we were set to rip.
The snow was pretty fantastic up high, deep and playful, with the light sluff giving you the sense that you were gliding down the run. We skied through the pinch and pulled off to our right under some rocks to decide with way to proceed down. Here, we got a glimpse of the East Face of Mount Wister (11,490′) and decided it would need some more snow to make it a worthy ski. We skied down to the right, trying to miss the exposed rocks in the middle of the run, making pow turns one after the other. After making it through the rocks, we cruised down to the bottom of the cirque, each beaming with joy.
With the more challenging part of the ski done, we made our way down and across the lake, linking some fun turns together in the surprise powder field.
After the lake, we made our way down to the fork of Avalanche Canyon, finding more powder and more smiles all the way to the traverse out. We made it back to the truck and our waiting beverage in just over 6 hours, each overjoyed about the day. Once again, GTNP did not disappoint.