Location: GTNP, Death Canyon, Prospector Mountain
Tags: Backcountry Skiing, Skiing, Ski Mountaineering
Elevation: 9,413′, 4,262′ gain/loss
Distance: 8 miles RT
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time: 5-6 hours
Snow Conditions: 10″ of consolidated powder, stable with pockets of deeper snow
With around 10″ of snow and more on the way: Chase, Tim and I decided to venture into GTNP during a weather window to try and tackle Son of Apocalypse. It is one of many north facing couloirs off Prospector Mountain that end up in Death Canyon. We left town around 8:15am, delighted by the amazing weather and great visibility. We were moving from the Death Canyon parking area at 9am and made some good time up to Phelps Overlook. Here, we took off our skins and traversed right (south), following the summer trail until we crossed onto the large field to the west of Phelps Lake.
We made a few fun turns down the field and then straight-lined it for the far end of the field and the snow covered bridge towards the south west of the field. We transitioned back to skin mode and started moving up and to the right – onto a flank of Prospector Mountain. In the past, I have gone across the south west corner of Phelps Lake and started skinning up the obvious avalanche path, but we decided to try a different path considering we were going to be breaking trail regardless.
We worked our way up, through some tight growth and eventually found ourselves lookers right of the avalanche path and the “normal” skin up. We crossed the path and continued up the ridge, finding a faint skin track from a few days earlier. The up was fairly easy and we soon found ourselves on the ridge that eventually leads to the Son of Apocalypse. We found the little depression in the ridge we were looking for around 4hrs from leaving the truck. While waiting for the group, I scoped out an alternative entry to the couloir that would provide a lot more spice, but looked doable if the conditions were right.
We changed over to ski mode and made some quick assessments of the snowpack. It seemed stable, with no areas of concern and we decided on a few ski cuts to test our theory. This provided no movement, so we proceeded on with cautious optimism.
The snow proved to be very fun and deep, with minimal sluff or crust. We cruised down the first pitch and then got into the heart of the couloir, with large rock walls and numerous hanging snow fields rising from each side.
We made our way down the massive couloir, each having a blast and amazed at the amount of snow in the couloir. We were unsure if the rock band in the middle of the couloir had filled in, but were confident that we could either air/down climb it if necessary. So with a little trepidation, we reached the crux and found that it has filled in enough to pick our way through it.
From here, the couloir eventually pinched into a fairly tight choke toward the bottom of the run, before opening up to the exit apron. We skied down to the pinch and passed through without incident.
We skied the apron down for a bit and had a look up to Apocalypse Couloir to see if the ice bulge was filled in. We couldn’t determine if it was, but could tell that if it was skiable, it must be about a ski length wide at most.
From here, we crossed the stream and found the summer trail out of Death Canyon, which proved to be quite fast (up on the north side of the canyon). We eventually put our skins back on and made our way across the field from earlier and up to Phelps Overlook. We took one last look at Prospector Mountain and Death Canyon before turning our backs on the zone and making our way back to the truck.
The traverse/ski back was fairly fast, with us arriving at the truck in 5hrs 40min. We felt pretty lucky to have skied a couloir like that in deep snow and even more fortunate that the snow was completely stable. We knew that days like this were few and far between in the Tetons and soaked in the joy as we made the drive back to town.