Location: GTNP, Waterfall Canyon, Jackson Lake
Tags: Backcountry Skiing, Ski Mountaineering
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 10,686’, 4,127’ gain/loss
Distance: 9 miles
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time: 7-9 hours
Snow Conditions: Faceted Snow, Powder, Breakable Crust, Bouncy Snow
A week of high pressure and some light snow begged me into GTNP to see what the high alpine skiing was like. After a relatively late alpine start (6:30am from Jackson), Grant and I were off to Colter Bay and the always exhilarating lake crossing. We were moving at 7:50am, finding the inversion had lifted enough to give us a view of the shore in front of Waterfalls Canyon.
After about 15 minutes on the ice, we were engulfed by a fog layer that made it hard to see beyond our ski tips. As we proceeded in the direction we thought was the shore, we quickly realized that we were zigzagging north to south and needed to pull out a compass. After many, many failed attempts to go straight and several scary “drops” into trapped surface water, we finally saw a faint shoreline and headed for it. We reached land around 2hrs from leaving the truck, a far cry from the 45min it usually takes to cross the lake, but we were happy to have made it and ready for the uphill. At this point, we were not 100% sure which side of Waterfalls Canyon we had landed on, but had a hunch we needed to move left. So, we gained some elevation and slowly made our way out of the fog and into a beautiful, sunny paradise.
After determining where we were, we decided that Black Hole Couloir and Eagles Rest Peak were out of the question for the day (our initial objectives), but since we were already on a moraine of Peak 10,686, we decided to continue up and ski one of the many bowls it offered. The up was constant, gaining 2000′ in just over an hour at one point, but we broke trail and kept moving forward until we reached the final ridge that would bring us to the summit.
From this vantage point, we had great views into Waterfalls Canyon and an excellent look into Black Hole Couloir. It looked like it would have been amazing and a line I would like to ski again soon if the conditions allowed.
We continued up the ridge for around 500′, until the wind drifts became too large to skin up, so we transitioned to boot pack mode and made our way up the remaining 500′ to the summit. From here, the east face of Ranger Peak looked very tempting and an unnamed couloir deep in Waterfalls Canyon, on a sub peak of Doane Peak seemed to be a promising objective for another day.
After the sightseeing, we geared up for the ski and decided on the run down. Since we were a little unsure of the snow pack, we decided on a minor ski cut at the top of the bowl and then some “safe” turns along the ridge until we felt comfortable with the snow. Surprisingly, the snow was very stable and playful in the top bowl…allowing us to open up some big turns down to a north facing treed aspect.
We skied the bowl down to the main gully and kept high right to avoid the tight “meat grinder”, making playful turns down mini north facing faces. Here we came around from the north, now facing Jackson Lake, and were able to take a look at our awful skin track across the lake (sorry!).
After taking a moment to reflect on our amazing skin track, we continued down to the lake and were greeted by some fantastic turns down wide open mellow powder fields. We made our way back to the shoreline and prepared for the skin back across frozen Jackson Lake. The skin back wasn’t too bad, considering its imperfect line, and we made it across in just over an hour.
In total, the trip took us 8 hours and 30 minutes, but considering the time spent on the ice, I was content. It was a fantastic day: great skiing, good problem solving and above all another fun rip in GTNP.