Having made plans with Tyler to ski a quick lap in Grand Teton National Park on Monday a few days before, I slowly got out of bed and began to get ready. I was tired from the past two days (The Nugget, West Hourglass), but figured what’s one more schuss! Based on the conditions in the West Hourglass Sunday, I was hopeful the Four Hour Couloir would ski well. The wind had been coming from the West/Northwest for about two days and the temperature has stayed low, so a South-facing line seemed to make sense. With these thoughts in mind, we took off from the trailhead at 8:20am. We made easy work of the up and were at base of the couloir in 2hrs 30min.
(For a more detailed description of the route, etc take a look at an older post – 4 Hour Couloir.)
We geared up, took a look at the couloir and decided it was good to go. There was a noticeable sun crust about 5″ below soft powder, but the couloir looked to have flushed a few times recently. Down lower, the snow was soft and fluffy. We milked the last 800′ of powder all the way to the track out of Avalanche Canyon on the south side (which is in and crossed the creek). We cruised back to the truck at 3hrs 59min, happy with the quick lap and decent snow.
Snow Conditions: Powder, mild sun/wind crust 12″ down
Well, here we are……another winter in Jackson, WY. While it has been slow to take off, it appears the storm system that is hitting us now will be enough to open up much of the area for exploring. As for myself, I have been skiing Teton Pass a bunch and had one trip up Mavericks a couple weeks back that didn’t seem worthy of a post (great first 1000′), but then very thin.
So with a storm approaching and around 8″ of new now over the past couple days, Dane and I set out into GTNP to see what was going on. We didn’t have an “objective”, just figured we would ski something that looked promising and ideally stay away from exposed sage brush. We decided to try and get into Garnett Canyon and ski the Cave Couloir – thinking that it would be a good opportunity to see what the conditions were like. We skinned out from Bradley/Taggart along the road and took the track to the left before the bridge. Following this trail through a large field until eventually it dips left into an obvious drainage. The track wasn’t bad and we made good time up to the lower face of Disappointment Peak. We eventually found the summer trail to Garnett and followed that for a while. We were a little cautious out on the face, but didn’t see any signs of concern. After making it up the face, we cut left and into Garnett Canyon from a little above where the summer trail goes. After skin-skiing down a few hundred feet and one faceplant into a tree well, we were greeted with a grim sight. Garnett Canyon still had massive rocks showing below the Caves and it didn’t look promising.
We discussed a few options, but in the end thought that the ski out of the Canyon would be dangerous and not any fun. So, we decided to go up to Surprise Lake and ski the Lower Face of Disappointment down to the valley floor. The snow had looked great on the way up, so we weren’t too sad about the change of plans. We made quick work getting out of Garnett Canyon and then made our way up for about 1500′ to a little pinnacle to the left of Surprise Lake.
From here we had some views of the Spoon Couloir, Shadow Peak and Garnett Canyon. The Spoon looked to be skiable, although it was thin below the couloir and we couldn’t tell what Amphitheater Lake looked like.
So we geared up and had ourselves a rip. The snow was fun and supportive the entire way down. We took turns cruising down, on the lookout for any instabilities, but didn’t find any besides some minor sluff here and there.
Overall, it was definitely better than I thought it was going to be and proved to be a fun day in the park. We hit our skin track at the bottom and followed that out of the drainage and then pushed past the cabins and into the big field. We eventually made it to the truck in around 5hrs, happy to have skied some fun snow and get a feel for the snow conditions in the park. With the new snow today (Monday) and a little projected through the week – I imagine the lower faces will be skiing nice, but some of the bigger lines are still a little difficult to access. Until next time…….Keep on Adventuring!
With a small storming dropping a few inches on us recently and a weather window opening, Dane and I decided to tackle a larger line off the South Teton. Amor a Vida, meaning Love Life in Spanish, is a beautiful couloir off of the South Teton. I had booted up it a few years back, but with warming temperatures that day, did not connect the South Face of the South Teton to the couloir. Dane and I got an early start, leaving Bradley-Taggart around 6:20am and made quick work of the skin into the Meadows.
We worked our way up to the left and into the South Fork of Garnet Canyon, very surprised that the track was in great shape and the wind was calm. As we came up below the Ellingwood and Chouinard Couloirs, we noticed a few guys slowly making progress up the Ellingwood. The snow looked deep, so we were hopeful that pour couloir was holding some similar snow.
We proceeded up canyon, making our way through the mine field of rocks that litter the South Fork. There is enough coverage to skin through this section, which is great, but you have to be careful with each step. We found ourselves below the North Face of the South Teton, with a ramp of snow leading us towards the ridge and the Northwest Couloir.
Just below the ridge, we switched over to bootpack mode and quickly gained the ridge and made our way into the Northwest Couloir. The snow was pretty consolidated, which made for a relatively easy climb up.
Once out of the couloir, we were greeted with sunshine and a calm day in the high alpine. We still had about 100′ of climbing until we were at the summit, but were excited to be in the sun. We made our way through some deep snow and over a few rocks, until we were standing on top of the South Teton. The weather was perfect and we both felt great about the climb and ski ahead.
We geared up and discussed our options for getting to the South Face. Dane had skied the Southeast Couloir last year and thought that we could ski the snowfield directly left of the summit down and then cut hard right to get onto the South Face. We skied two turns down the snowfield to get a look and determined that the coverage was a little low for that entry onto the South Face. We made our way back up to the summit and to the right of a rock bulge separating the snowfield and a scree field that lead to the South Face. After making our way through the snow covered scree, we got a good look at the South Face and the lower entry to the Southeast Couloir.
The South Face looked skiable, but we could tell that the snow was going to be varied; sun crust, wind crust, breakable crust, and powder. Dane skied onto the face and tested out the steep upper pitch with a quick ski cut, then made his way through some rock bands to a safe spot on the right.
From here, we made some fun pow turns down the face and towards the entry to Amor a Vida. Even with the avalanche danger low, the exposure (1000′ cliff) below the South Face makes you focus on your every move.
We got to the entry, but had to double check that it was in fact the Amor a Vida Couloir. After a quick check, we confirmed that we were in the right spot and worked our way down the rock filled entry.
Once into the couloir, we tried to get a look at the tight upper section of the couloir proper (skiers left). It looked like it went, but was barely a ski length wide, so we opted to cross right over a few rock bands and approach the couloir from the snowfields. This exposed us to large hanging snowfields above, but we felt pretty good about the snow and quickly worked our way down through the rock bands.
From here, we worked our way down and to our left into the main path of the couloir. Amor a Vida is one of the most amazing couloirs in the Tetons, with massive overhanging rock walls, a great pitch and some fun skiing. We had a blast getting down the run, taking it in numerous sections to ensure we were taking it all in. The couloir was predominately powder in the main path, with a few pockets of crust, but overall it was amazing skiing!
After making it down the 1600′ couloir safe, we still had about 2500′ of skiing until we hit the Avalanche Canyon traverse. We milked the turns and were just pumped to have skied such a fun run. We made it back to the trailhead in 8hrs and were already looking forward to more adventures in this special place we call home.
Snow Conditions: Powder, some sun crust under 6″-10″ of new light density snow.
The return of snow! The feeling of fresh snow returned to us on Friday with the onslaught of fresh snow falling on the Tetons once again. Tristan and I decided last Thursday night to head into the park to try and get some powder turns and a little storm skiing. Leaving the trailhead at 7am we cruised up into the Meadows area in around 2 hours.
Working our way through the Meadows and into the apron of West and East Hourglass, we made good progress through the spitting snow. There was a persistent crust and some wind packed rollers that became very slick with the new snow. On the way down this made for some interesting / tentative skiing. Switching over to the boot pack, we opted for crampons and soon were knee to waist deep in newly deposited snow in the lower half of the West Hourglass.
The middle and top sections were a bit rocky, but to the skiers left, there was plenty of snow for some good skiing. We were happy to be dropping into a storm filled couloir once again. It was a great climb up, and with the return of snow and wind we felt lucky to be there.
On the lower section, right at the roll over, I managed to kick off a small soft slap that went roughly 400 feet down into the apron. I had plenty of speed to ski off to the right and get out of the way. It was a reminder that with only a few inches and the right wind, things can get serious pretty quickly. But we were good and happy.
Snow Condition: Mixed surfaces; mainly consisting of light breakable crust. Some pockets of faceted snow, but warming at mid elevations created isothermal snow and created “grabby”, dense snow.
After an extended period of no snow and some inverted temperatures, Dane, Tristan and I decided for a mellow day on Olive Oil. It is a sub peak of Mt. Hunt directly north of the village and accessible from Granite Canyon Trailhead. We started late, around 10:30am and worked our way out along the Moose-Wilson Rd. until we came to the skin track that takes you up the north shoulder of the peak. While there are many ways to get to the peak, I have found that this way is the fastest and most straight forward. It is noticeable from the other skin tracks in by its location. It is about 7/10th of a mile out on Moose-Wilson Rd. from the trailhead and veers left right before an opening and obvious bridge (stream crossing).
We worked our way up to the ridge and started climbing to the summit. At some point, the snow started to become isothermal and we grew massive globs of snow on our skins. We scrapped this off with our poles/scraper and worked our way up to the summit “block”.
We finally made it to the summit in around 2hrs 40min and stopped to enjoy the beautiful inverted day. It was pretty neat to take a close look at Granite Canyon and its many runs from a different vantage point. Some looked big, while others looked smaller than they feel while skiing them. We took some time at the summit to enjoy the day and then geared up for the “amazing” skiing down (breakable crust, isothermal snow, faceted snow).
Turns out, the crust was very skiable and the snow on north facing aspects was soft. We only encountered subpar skiing towards the middle of the run where the temperature inversion was at its greatest. All in in, we were very surprised by the snow conditions and the skiing in general. We took the upper face down to the cliff band and skied through some soft, breakable crust. Then, worked left and skied an open field to some trees which took us down to the gully of the northern ridge.
At one point, Tristan took a nice tomahawk because of a windlip he couldn’t see due to some flat light, but he was just fine. We made our way down the gully, finding our skin track and the way to the truck. We made it back to the trailhead in just over 4hrs and in plenty of time for some hot tubbing.
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.
Snow Conditions: 8″ of bouncy powder with a playful sun/wind crust underneath (barely noticeable). North facing pockets of deep powder.
After recovering from the holiday season, Zelie and I decided to venture into the park for a mellow skin up Albright Peak to see what the conditions were like in the park. We made it to Death Canyon parking area at around 10:30am and were moving shortly after. We made our way up the road until the fork for Death Canyon/Mavericks and made our way left to our destination.
We continued past the summer trailhead and made our way onto the Valley Trail until the skin track forked right and into the open field below Wimpy’s Knob that signals the start of the climb. For some reason, this is one of my least favorite skin tracks in GTNP. It seems to always be set in the most asinine manner; usually steep with numerous switchbacks – but most importantly, it gets a good amount of sun and is always a bit slick. So, with this in the back of my mind, we worked our way through the field and began our climb. It was not as bad as usual, but it was not ideal. We worked our way up for around 1.5hrs and eventually came to the final slope that leads to the top of Wimpy’s Knob. Here, we began left about 300′ from the summit of Wimpy’s. We crossed through some trees and above some rock outcroppings, eventually coming to the ridge that connects Wimpy’s to Albright. We continued along the ridge until the East face of Albright was above us to our right and we needed to cross the slope to get to the south ridge and the normal boot pack up the 300′ top portion of the face. Here, the wind had created a thick crust, which made the skinning tough, but we made it across to the south ridge and had a decision to make. The face looked like it had slid during the past storm cycle and was riddled with wind whales. It looked like the skiing from the top would be mediocre at best, so we opted to just ski from the ridge, about 300′ below the summit. We geared up and ripped the gut of Albright Peak, working our way down and to the right below some large rocks.
We worked our way down and to the right below a rock band, finding some amazing snow on north facing aspects, until we had to ski hard right to avoid the choke towards the bottom of the face. Here, we found ourselves with an untouched canvas of powder on the lower faces of Albright.
We milked the powder all the way to the bottom, linking some fun turns together on the mellow lower face. At the bottom, we worked our way left – eventually finding the Valley Trail and our ticket home. The track was pretty quick on the way out (one of the bonuses of skiing in this zone), making our way to the truck in around 15minutes. In total, the whole ski took 4hrs 30min, at a very leisurely pace. It was another great day in the park (we have been spoiled this winter) and left us looking forward to the next ski.