Location: GTNP, Garnett Canyon, Nez Perce
Elevation: 11,280′, 5,120′ gain/loss
Distance: 15 miles RT
Difficulty: 3+ stars
Time: 7-9 hours
Snow Conditions: Wind crust, caulk, powder, faceted snow, boilerplate crust, breakable wind crust
A day after heading up Garnett Canyon to ski The Nugget, I once again was skinning up the canyon for a schuss. Dane, Zelie, Lexie and I had decided to take a look at West Hourglass off Nez Perce. I have skied it a couple times, but was hopeful that the conditions would be better than past skis. It seems to get a lot of wind based on its location in Garnett and is typically wind scoured, but based on the day before, I thought we had a shot for couloir powder.
We left Bradley/Taggart at 8:30am and within no time we were in the Meadows where we came upon a group of two skiing down towards us. They stopped and chatted for a second, saying they bailed on the West Hourglass because of 6″ windslabs and a crust on the lower apron of the run. We took what they said with a grain of salt and decided to have a look for ourselves. They beauty of Garnett is that there is always another line you can ski if you decide to bail on your first objective.
As we worked our way up to the apron of the Hourglasses, we didn’t see the slabs they were talking about, but did notice a pretty solid wind crust. We decided to continue up and assess the situation as we progressed. Here, the skinning wasn’t too bad besides a few buff spots and we were at the base of the Hourglasses fairly quickly.
At the base of the West Hourglass, we took our skins off and stashed them near a rock. When doing this, I lost control of Dane’s rolled skins and they went careening down the apron and out of sight-Oops! We later found them, but it was a reminder that you never can be too careful with your gear in the mountains. With that behind us, we started up the initial first pitch. I would guess it reaches 45 degrees and has a fairly large rollover at the top. We knew this would be the most dangerous part of the climb and stayed close to each other near the lookers left wall.
About 100′ from the top of the pitch, Dane tapped out below a safe spot and I continued on solo over the rollover. It was hard going, but I made it up and over into a safe zone. The others continued up to me as the wind began to howl, moving snow down the couloir and into the void.
After the group reached my spot, we all took a look up the couloir and saw it was not in great shape. There was numerous wind ripples in the snow and what appeared to be bulletproof snow throughout much of the middle section. Regardless, we continued on to the top. The going was fairly easy, with only the upper section holding deepish snow.
We stopped about 200′ from the true top of the couloir, because it looked to be unskiable at this point in the year. We took our time getting ready, snapping a few pictures and eventually were ready for some old fashioned survival skiing!
The skiing down wasn’t as bad as I had thought. In spots is was a little unpredictable, but the wind ripples were soft and the firm snow wasn’t awful. We made our way down to rollover with anticipation of powder turns and velvet snow…
We gathered at the rollover and decided I’d ski it halfway down and then the rest of the group take it down to the gear stash. While we were not too concerned about the snow moving, this would have been the spot to go if it decided to. It was very stable and pretty deep on the skiers right side of the pitch-which more than made up for the rest of the lines subpar snow.
We gathered our gear and made our way down the apron, making a pit stop to grab Dane’s skins which had stopped about 500′ down the slope. The skiing here was at times great and others terrifying. The wind crust was inconsistent and very grabby in places. We all made it down safe, but there were a few dicy turns that kept us on edge.
After regrouping in the Meadows, we cruised out of the canyon and made our way back to Bradley Lake. The snow was decent on the last pitch above the lake, but still a little thin and slightly grabby. We cruised across the lake and eventually to the truck in 7hrs. While the snow wasn’t the best, it was still great to get into the park on a double date–who needs dinner and a movie!? Keep on Adventuring.