After being told I could either have New Years Eve off or I could come in and shovel snow off a metal roof in sub degree temperatures I decided for the former and a ski tour. Zach Simon was quick to get back to my text with some ‘solid beta’ on Apocalypse and after thinking about it for a while I was in. Apocalypse is a very committing ski line and it is not something to take lightly. With the current state of these persistent weak layers lingering throughout our snow pack, I am cautiously deciding on the next ski line. But with the information that Zach had received and the knowledge of the area I felt the snow was safe in there and we would be able to manage the terrain. Zach had already had Tanner on board and with the call from me that afternoon the plan was set.
We got to Death Canyon parking lot an hour before sunrise and the temperature read -21 degrees. Cold! After leaving at 7 am, we were soon warm enough and cruising up towards the Phelps Lake overlook. Took the skins off and after a quick ski we were down at the base of the canyon and back into the arctic cold. By the time we put our skins back on, Zach and mine had lost their stick and we were struggling with them the rest of the skin up! A recommendation: put your skins in your jacket to keep them warm when transitioning!
It took us four hours from the truck to reach the top of the couloir. The air was crisp and the sun was warm. It was nice to have a skin track already set which made all the extra weight a little more bearable. With a slow transition into rappel mode we geared up and were soon dropping into the cold and ominous Apocalypse Couloir. We brought up two ropes, one 60m, one 70m, both 8mm Dry Coat. It really helped expedite the rappels and made for two double raps up high and one on the exit through the ice bulge area.
The snow was pretty good in there. There was a variety of snow: some hard packed caulk, mostly old bed surfaces where it had flushed out on, there was some soft newly deposited cold smoke and there was some wind packed breakable crust that made things interesting. All in all it was skiable, but somewhat slowly caution skiing was in store. With the early season snow, everything felt tight, compacted and the skiing was steep!
We opted for a double 60m rap on the exit to speed things up a bit. It worked out great and we’re back skiing in no time. There was a v-thread about 30m down if you opted for a two rap out. The skiing on the exit was great and the apron opened up with some solid powder turns all the way down to the steam.
All in all, it took us 8 hours from car to car. I think we could have done it faster without the frozen skins, but it was a solid day out skiing one to the more enjoyable and exciting lines the park has to offer.
After a successful trip up the Sliver Couloir the day before, Tristan and I decided to head into the park Monday to take a look at Turkey Chute off 25 Short. We had seen two tracks in the line the day before and a track out of Avalanche Canyon-across Taggart Lake. With this in mind, we knew there was a good chance we could tackle this objective with relative ease. We left the Bradley/Taggart Trailhead at 8:45am and made quick time up to the skiers summit of 25 Short (for full details on the route up, look at a previous post).
We looked around at all the ski lines in Avalanche Canyon for a bit, making mental notes on all the routes that looked good to go. There are at least 4 lines in this zone that I have been looking at for a couple years and hopefully this will be the year for a few of them.
We then worked our way over to the entrance of Turkey Chute, making sure to not pass it (directly South of the true 25 Short summit). We took a little time transitioning over to ski mode and scrambled down into the chute.
Once in the line, we dug a few hand pits and didn’t see anything of concern. We decided to ski the upper portion of the line in one stretch and then have some fun in the lower section. The snow was very good: deep, supportive, stable and fluffy. We milked the turns all the way down, letting the skis run towards the bottom, keeping an eye out for hidden rocks.
After making it down safely, we made some fun turns to the canyon floor and began the traverse out of Avalanche Canyon. It wasn’t that bad, considering how awful it can be and only took us 30minutes to Taggart Lake. We decided to skin from here and made our way across the lake. It was in great shape, completely frozen and quick to cross.
We made it back to the truck in 4hr 26min, already thinking about the next objective. All in all, Turkey Chute is a great early adventure or introduction to GTNP backcountry skiing. We were pleased with the day and great conditions!
Snow Conditions: Powder, Consolidated Powder, Mild Wind Crust @ 10500′ and some sun affect snow around 10700′
The storm that rolled through Jackson over Christmas was once again a present from Mr. Santa. Around 100″ fell over a 15 day period and in an instant the winter began. Over the past couple of weeks, I was able to have some great days in and around JHMR and Teton Pass, but I was yearning to get into the park to poke around a bit.
The Bridger-Teton National Forest Avalanche Center has been calling for Considerable to High avalanche danger over much of the past two weeks and yesterday was no different. With this in mind: Dane, Tristan, Stu and myself set out for Shadow Peak at 8am from Bradley/Taggart trailhead. Our ideal objective was skiing the Sliver Couloir off Nez Perce, then heading down the 4 Hour Couloir to Avalanche Canyon, but we were not sure what we would find.
We made good time up to the 4 Hour Couloir entrance (see former post for details) and continued on to the top of the “skiers summit” of Shadow Peak. Here we had our first good look at the Sliver and we liked what we saw.
For starters, the couloir looked as if it had flushed a few times during the storm cycle. Also, we could make out a couple minor crowns on the two larger “snow fields” on the left of the Sliver. These two signs, along with our observations over the past few weeks lead us to believe it could be skied safely, but we would only know once we got into the line. We made our way down to the col between the skier summit and true summit of Shadow and got ready to ski the west facing slope that drops down in the cirque of Nez Perce. Here we dug a few hand pits and found a few areas of concern around 24″ down, but after a couple ski cuts–we decided to rip it.
The snow in this zone was deep, stable and very supportive. We made our way across the cirque and then transitioned to skin mode to make our way to the entrance of the couloir. We worked our way up to the rock bulge below the Sliver and dropped our skins and some unneeded layers and began our way into the couloir. We noticed the temperature was rising a bit at this elevation, but the snow didn’t seem to be affect too much at this point. We worked our way up the couloir for about 500 feet, stopping on occasion to dip a few hand pits and discuss the situation.
At around 10700 feet, we noticed the snow warming–with the first 2″ noticeably sun affected. This was a little concerning, but we thought that it was not a major concern, just something to be conscious of on the way down. The last third of the couloir was waist deep powder with some faceted/surgery snow towards the bottom. This made the bootpacking difficult, but with four of us, we were able to take turns slogging through the snow until finally we were at the top! We geared up and talked a little about how we wanted to tackle the line. We thought that the best move was to be extra cautious and make numerous stops along the way down. With everyone in agreement, we had ourselves some fun all the way down to the bottom….
After making it down, we gathered our stashed gear and skied the apron down to the west facing slope we had skied down from earlier. From here, our plan was to skin up to Shadow and then have a look at the 4 Hour Couloir and possibly ski that.
We made quick work of the up and had a break in the sun at the “skiers summit” of Shadow to eat some much needed food and transition to ski mode. After about 15 minutes, we skied down the fun upper face of Shadow and made our way into the 4 Hour Couloir. We were a little concerned with the south facing aspect, considering all the warming we had witnessed in the Sliver. We dug around for a bit, finding numerous areas of concern within the snowpack and after some discussion, decided to bail and ski the north facing trees of Shadow down to the bench. There were too many concerns for us to feel like we could safely ski the line and figured, the season is just beginning….
The snow was great throughout this zone and we milked the turns for as long as possible until traversing right (South) to the skin track up Shadow. We cruised back after gaining the skin track and pulled into the parking lot at 7hr 36min. For all our poking around, we felt good about the day and great about our ability to ski a fun couloir safely. More to come very soon!
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!
Snow Conditions: Sun affected powder, mild sun/wind crust, “corn” snow down low.
Ever since Bill Briggs became the first person to ski The Grand Teton over 40 years ago, it has been an achievement for any aspiring ski mountaineer. My brother Dane and I have climbed it a handful of times, a couple in winter conditions, but never felt comfortable with the ice climbing needed to tackle the ski. With the weather around Jackson continuing to be seasonally warm and the snowpack well bonded after last weeks small storm, we were motivated by Tristan to get out and tackle the “standard” route off the Grand, the Ford/Stettner Couloir. Tristan reasoned that despite our limited ice skills, all you had to do was, “climb up and ski down”. This proved to be the push needed and we settled on Tuesday for the attempt.
The weather for the day called for temps around 30 degrees in the mountains, with sunshine and mild wind, so we decided an alpine start was needed. We were skinning from Bradley/Taggart under moonlight at 1:20am in mild temperatures. The conditions were firm on the up into Garnet Canyon and once again I was swearing that I have yet to buy ski crampons. After 2 hours, we were in the Meadows and staring into an eerie canyon dimly lit by the moon. We decided to boot pack to the left of Spaulding Falls instead of following the “summer trail”, because I think it is faster (but could be wrong). After climbing above the steep face, we put our skis back on and skinned up, into Teepee Glacier.
Here, we saw another party about 500′ above us working their way towards Teepee Col. I knew the guys in the group, having chatted with them about our plan the day before and so far everything was going as discussed. They had planned on skiing the Grand before we settled on it and we were going to let them make first turns down if we all made it to the top. So we worked our way up the steep Teepee Glacier, eventually topping out on Teepee Col as the sun started to rise.
The other group had decided to wait at Glencoe Col for some warming rays and were shouting for us to join them. We worked our way across the Death Couloir/Couloir to Nowhere that links up Teepee and Glencoe Col and met up with the other party. The wind was howling here and we immediately regretted not gearing up at Teepee Col as we had planned. Tristan, Dane and I started to get ready as the sun began to rise, hoping it could warm us a little.
The other group had left for the Stettner by now. We hydrated a little and tried to give the group a head start. Eventually, it got too cold to wait any longer and started down from Glencoe Col to the start of the Stettner Couloir. We worked our way up the couloir and over a mild pinch/ice bulge 100 yards up the Stettner.
After that, we waited at the start of the Chevy (darts up to the left around 200 yards up the Stettner) for the other group to climb through the two bugles. We waited here for a bit, getting very cold, but ready to begin climbing the moment we could. Eventually the group cleared out and we worked our way to the belay station to tackle the ice bulges. We were all interested in taking the lead, but in the end Dane decided to take the sharp-end. He made quick work of the climbing, placing one nut between the two ice bulges on the right and one 16cm screw in the upper ice bulge.
Feeling comfortable with the ice and wanting to make up some time, Tristen and I simul-climbed the pitch as Dane belayed us from above. We made it up to the anchor and quickly decided to simul-climb out of the Chevy and into the Ford.
We found a nice spot to delayer/drop some gear near an anchor at the bottom of the Ford Couloir and got ready for the last 1000′ of boot packing. We were a little behind schedule, so set a turnaround time of 1pm and pushed towards the top. Right after beginning the bootpack, we saw the group ahead of us down climbing the Ford. We worked our way up to them and asked what was up. They said they didn’t feel 100% comfortable with the conditions and were going to bail. We were disappointed for them, but didn’t have much time to waste. The sun was warming the snow a bit and we knew the window was closing on our day if we didn’t hurry. We cruised up the Ford in no time and quickly found ourselves on the East Face of the Grand, working our way through warm, soft snow. We finally reached the summit block at 12:35pm, just over 11hrs from leaving the truck.
Not having a bunch of time at the top of the Grand is something I’m used to, but I barely had time to snap a few pictures before we were starting down towards the East Face. We didn’t want to risk the snow warming anymore than it already had. Unlike other objectives, once done skiing, you are still in harms way until you exit the Stettner after numerous rappels. With this in mind, we skied down from the summit and worked our way onto the East Face. We felt good about the snow, but you never really know until you get onto the face. Dane made a few tentative turns up high and then took it all the way down to the lower entry into the Ford. The snow was surprisingly good on the East Face, with the sun warming the surface just enough to create some early season “corn”. We all had a blast skiing the East Face, which is a feeling not many will ever have.
The Ford proved to be as much fun as the East Face, if possible, even a little more spicy. The 50 degree couloir ends in a 1000′ cliff, so each turn was made with care. We found good snow on the skiers right side of the couloir, some smooth firm snow on the left and made it down safely to the spot we stored our gear earlier.
We discussed rappelling into the Chevy from the anchors on the skiers right, at the bottom of the Ford, but decided to ski down a little lower to the first anchors in the Chevy. This slope was steep and very exposed, so we skied it gingerly and eventually got to the anchors, quickly getting ready for the rappels through the Chevy and Stettner. We rappelled twice in the Chevy and dug our an anchor on the lookers right of the Stettner below the entrance of the Chevy for our final rappel (definitely could have down climbed this portion). We were happy to have brought two 60m ropes for the day, allowing us to get out of harms way as soon as possible.
After making it down, we quickly made our way out of the Stettner and over to Glencoe Col. We gathered our skins, etc and got ready for the 5000′ ski down to the truck. We worked our way over to Teepee Col and made some fun turns down Teepee Glacier, eventually making our way down Garnet Canyon.
At this point we were exhausted, dehydrated and only wanted to make it down safe. The snow was decent all the way down, but that was just icing on the cake for us. We made quick work of the out from Bradley Lake and pulled into the Trailhead at 4:25pm, 15 hours after we had started in the moonlight. We were tired, but all felt great about what we had just accomplished. We rested our tired feet and had a few sodas, staring up at the Grand and the run we had just skied. It wasn’t long after that we started hatching plans for the next adventure in the park.
Location: GTNP, Bivouac Peak, Moran Canyon, Jackson Lake
Tags: Backcountry Skiing, Ski Mountaineering
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 10,816’, 4,393’ gain/loss
Distance: 17 miles RT (from Colter Bay), 20 miles RT (from Signal)
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time: 10-12 hours
Snow Conditions: Powder (lots of it), some crust up high, low energy wind slabs up high, sun/wind crust down low.
The Southeast Couloir off Bivouac Peak is an aesthetically pleasing and challenging objective in northern GTNP. It requires a long skin across Jackson Lake from either Colter Bay (7 miles) or Signal Mountain Lodge (8.5 miles) to just get to Moran Canyon. Once at the canyon, the couloir starts about 800 vertical feet above the lake shore. We skied this as part of an overnight, but it could be done in a day with the right conditions and early start time.
Dane, Tristan and I had this couloir in mind for the first of two objectives of an overnight trip to Moran Bay. We started from camp at 11:45am after dropping some gear and made our way up to the base of the couloir. It was an easy skin up, only taking 45 minutes until we were at the start of the climb. I imagine even in the dark, or poor visibility this would not be difficult to route find as it is the first major couloir off the south side of Bivouac Peak. So, we dropped our skins at the entrance to the couloir and began what would be a slog to the top of Southeast Couloir. The initial part of the couloir is tight and gradually starts to get steeper as the walls close in.
The snow in this section was about 2 feet of powder with a breakable crust below. At times, the crust would support us, but often we would break through to a sugary, faceted layer a foot below. This made the climbing challenging and time consuming. After making it over the “bulge” at the end of the pinch, the couloir opened up into a large mellow middle section.
The snow in here proved to be more challenging than down low. It was very deep, in sections chest deep and not very supportive. We trudged up this middle section for what seemed like an eternity and actually took a break to refuel and get mentally prepared for what seemed would be an epic climb up.
Eventually we found that the right side of the couloir was a little easier to bootpack up, so we stayed right and worked our way up for a while. It still was not easy, with the snow being anywhere from boot to thigh deep, but it was supportive and we made decent time through the middle section and up to the upper steep portion of the couloir.
Once we got to the steep portion of the climb, the winds began to whip off the summit and the arctic air mass that was moving in began to take its toll on the group. Our movements became a labored as our extremities started to freeze. Despite this, we pushed on for the top of the couloir and the summit of Bivouac Peak.
Eventually we made our way to the top after a few steep tight spots near the summit. We did notice small wind slabs forming at a rollover near the summit, but felt we could mitigate these with a few ski cuts. We topped out around 5pm as the sun was setting in the West and the wind howling from the Northwest. We didn’t have much time to celebrate, as the windchill was probably around -20 and the sun was setting, but it was a special summit and we all felt good about the climb.
We quickly got ready to ski as the gusts continued to pound us, covering our gear with snow in a matter of seconds. We decided to enter the couloir from the right where we could get a good ski cut on the upper slope to test the stability. With nothing moving, we tentatively made turns down the steep couloir to the first of two tight pinches.
After the two constrictions, we only had one thing to do…..ski powder all the way down to the bottom of the run. We gladly accepted our duty and made some fantastic turns down to through the lower pinch and onto the apron!
After making it down to the bottom and out of the couloir safely, we gathered our skins and made our way back to camp. We felt pretty good, considering the long day we had endured. We quickly setup camp and made some delicious Mountain House meals before climbing into our cold sleeping bags for the evening. We had one more challenging objective for the trip and needed all the rest we could get. The next day we were going to make a bid for the Sickle Couloir off Mount Moran. We went to bed tired, but excited about the great run down the Southeast Couloir and what the next day had in store.
Snow Condition: Powder, Mild breakable crust down low (below 7800′), but mainly powder with a slight bottom on SE facing slopes.
Took a little weekend trip up the Spoon Couloir with Zelie to check out the snow and get her into an area she had not skied this past Saturday. The Spoon Couloir is a nice test piece for those looking to graduate from the smaller lower faces to more committing lines, without really scaring yourself. It also offers some great views of the surrounding mountains and some pretty fantastic “face skiing”. I have been up the Spoon a few different times, writing my first trip report about it, and must say I do like skiing this couloir a lot. It is: relatively easy to get to, the East Face of Disappointment is a blast, the couloir is steep and you have numerous ski options once you get to Amphitheater Lake. That being said…this was the best skiing I have had in the couloir to date.
We left Bradley/Taggart at a casual 9:45am and cruised over to the Disappointment Peak skin track. Making it up to Amphitheater in a little over 3 hours (the skin track was pretty awful), we could see two groups of 2 going up the couloir. Now, it’s always a bummer to not get first tracks, but considering the time we left and that it was the weekend, I couldn’t really be disappointed.
We slowly worked our way up to the start of the climb, hoping that the two groups would make quick work of the East Face and ski through before we got to the transition point. Unfortunately, this did not happen. We changed over to boot pack mode and waited 15 minutes in the shade, assuming that the skiers ahead of us would be coming down any minute. Finally, we got cold and decided that the snow conditions did not warrant that we wait until the couloir was “open”, even if it may “taint” someones skiing zen. As we predicted, about 2 minutes into the climb – the first group came skiing through. We moved to the side and said hello as they skied through. I asked if the second group was going to be coming down soon and the skier said it looked like they were about to ski. So we worked our way up keeping an ear above for the remaining group, but didn’t see them until we hit the East Face. They said hello and we continued to work our way up the face, wondering what had taken them so long, but not really concerned with it.
It was getting a little late, so the summit of Disappointment was not in the cards for the day, but we climbed until it turned rocky and got ready for the ski. With the temperature just right and the wind calm, we soaked in some rays and took in the views from this beautiful perch in the park.
After a short while, we decided to do what we came to do….ski some powder and took it down the East Face.
After skiing the face, we worked our way down to the entrance of the couloir. Based on the snow conditions, I opted to enter from the middle, over the rollover, while Zelie came in from the right. The few steep turns I got in this section were definitely the best of the day and I had a blast skiing into the Spoon from the top!
I pulled out about 300′ down on the right and let Zelie ski the entire couloir in one push. The snow was deep and stable, not sluffing or moving at all the entire time we were in the chute.
After making it through the couloir, we made some powder turns down to Amphitheater Lake. After crossing the lake, we contoured left to a little shot that drops you into Delta Lake and Glacier Gulch. I am not sure if it has a broname, but I have looked at it a few times while crossing the Delta Lake and thought it would be a fun variation to the run. The snow in this north facing chute was great and we milked the turns all the way down to Delta Lake.
From here, we worked our way down Glacier Gulch, finding some good snow, but also noticing it change over to a breakable crust around 7800′. Instead of traversing right to Bradley Lake like I have always done, we decided to check out the out from Glacier Gulch for a change. This proved to take a lot more time and effort then traversing, but I suppose if the conditions are right you can get another 800′ of skiing, which might be worth the extra effort. Regardless, we skated back on the groomed Teton Park Road and back to the truck in around 7 hours. It was an excellent day and great opportunity to get the lady into a zone she had not skied. It also was an opportunity for me to scout the conditions for a trip that I was planning to the northern end of the park. More on that later…..