Tag Archives: Ski Mountaineering

Grand Teton-Ford/Stettner Couloir

Location: GTNP, Garnet Canyon, Grand Teton, Ford-Stettner Couloir, Teepee Glacier
Elevation, gain/loss: 13,770’, 7,487’ gain/loss
Distance: 16 miles RT
Difficulty: 5 stars
Time:  5 hours (Seriously!) – 18 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 3/10/2015
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.

Early morning walk.
Early morning walk.
Teepee Glacier in the early morning.
Teepee Glacier in the moonlight.

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.

Climbing in the early morning.
Climbing in the early morning.

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.

Sunrise behind Teepee Pillar.
Sunrise behind Teepee Pillar.
Tristan gearing up, with his blackcrows soaking in the sun.
Tristan gearing up, with his blackcrows soaking in the sun.
Panorama from Glencoe Col. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Panorama from Glencoe Col. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)

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.

Dane working his way up the Stettner.
Dane working his way up the Stettner.
Up at the pinch in Stettner Couloir. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Up at the pinch in Stettner Couloir. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Working past the small bulge in the bottom of the Stettner.
Working past the small bulge in the bottom of 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.

Dane at the upper ice bulge in the Chevy.
Dane at the upper ice bulge in the Chevy.
About to make the move up the bulge.
About to make the move up the 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.

Climbing out of the Chevy, in the Ford.
Climbing out of the Chevy.
Simul.
Simul.

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.

Working our way up the Ford, near the East Face.
Working our way up the Ford, near the East Face.
Almost there.
Almost there.
Summit Vibes.
Summit Vibes.
USGS Marker, Grand Teton 13775'
USGS Marker, Grand Teton 13,775′
Summit. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Summit. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)

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.

Skiing onto the East Face.
Skiing onto the East Face, looks a little intimidating.
The Black Diamond Carbon Justice skis handled the Grand with ease.
The Black Diamond Carbon Justice skis handled the Grand with ease.
First turns off the Grand.
First turns off the Grand.
Tristan, waiting his turn.
Tristan, waiting his turn.
Dane, in the distance at the entrance of the Ford.
Dane, in the distance at the entrance of the Ford Couloir.
Grand turns.
Grand turns.
East Face of Grand Teton. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
East Face of Grand Teton. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
All smiles for this turd.
All smiles for this turd.

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.

Tristan, making turns down the Ford.
Tristan, making turns down the Ford.
Making my way down the Ford. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Making my way down the Ford. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Dane, navigating down the middle portion of couloir.
Dane, navigating down the middle portion of couloir.

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.

Dane, working his way into the Chevy towards the anchors on the right.
Dane, working his way into the Chevy towards the anchors on the right.
Rappel #1.
Rappel #1.
Dane was pumped.
Dane was pumped.
Rappel #2.
Rappel #2.
Rappel #3. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Rappel #3. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Tristan and Dane coiling the rope below Rappel #3 towards the bottom of the Stettner.
Tristan and Dane coiling the rope below Rappel #3 towards the bottom of the Stettner.

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.

Skiing Teepee Glacier. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Skiing Teepee Glacier. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Teepee Glacier.
Teepee Glacier.

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.

The Grand Teton.
The Grand Teton.

Sickle Couloir Attempt, Mount Moran

The Sickle Couloir is a major ski line off Mount Moran, with slopes maintaining a consistent 40-50 degree pitch and numerous rock bulges towards the bottom of the run that often require rappels.  It is a line I have been longing to ski for a few years and a definite on the “hit list” for this year.  It tops out around 11,800′ on a north shoulder of Mount Moran and continues down to a cirque at 9000′.  It has hang fire from above, is a “no-fall-zone” and one of the prettiest lines in the park. With all this in mind; Dane, Tristan and I woke up on Wednesday morning (after skiing the Southeast Couloir off Bivouac Peak just the afternoon before) at 5am to give it a go.  In hindsight, 5am was too late.  With the light of the moon and proximity to the run, we should have been moving at 4am, but the -10 degree temperatures gave us second thoughts about an alpine start.  Nevertheless, we awoke and tried to boil some water after a fitful night of sleep.  We moved slowly and before we knew it, we were leaving camp at 6:30am.

Camp.
Camp.
Dane, soaking in the sunrise.
Dane, soaking in the sunrise.

From our camp, the cirque below the entrance to the Sickle Couloir was around 2300′ of elevation gain and 1.5 miles of skinning.  This should have taken around 2hrs, but instead we immediately ran into some problems.  The first and major issue was our skins.  Instead of sleeping with them in our bags, we left them inside the tent thinking they would be fine.  This wasn’t a problem for Dane, who had new skins, but Tristan and I soon found that our glue was too cold to actually stick to our skis about 20 minutes into the skin.  With the sun behind a moraine, our only option was to try and make it work with the skins sliding all around unattached to our skis.  After numerous disastrous switchback, we decided to pull the skins and put them in our jacket to try and warm the glue while we bootpacked up the moraine.  This lasted about 20 minutes, until the constant postholing became too much and we tried to put our skins back on, hoping the glue was “alive” again.  Unfortunately, the skins didn’t stick and we were left in the same spot 4 switchbacks and 20 minutes ago.  The good news was that the slope had mellowed a bit and we could make due with the garbage skins until we found some sunlight to thaw the glue out.  About 1000′ from the cirque, we found some good morning light and were able to let the skins warm in the sun to a point where they would adhere to the skis.  This took around 15 minutes and we were soon hustling to make up all the lost time, calculating that we would be skinning across the lake in the dark if something didn’t change.

View of Moran from our skin warming delay.
View of Moran from our skin warming location in the sun
Dane working his way up into the cirque.
Dane working his way up into the cirque.

After about 45 minutes, we came into view of the cirque, but I had another problem. My foot had gone numb a while ago (which is normal for me), but now that numb foot was having shooting pains that caused me serious issues.  I thought that I must have some form of frostnip developing and knowing the entire couloir was in the shade, decided to stop in the sun and try and apply some foot warmers before the climb.  This was a first for me, but I would rather not continue on, than get frostbite and have serious issues lingering for the remained of the season, or even worse.  So my stop caused yet another delay and after I was finished, tried to catch up the Dane and Tristan who were working their way up to the start of the climb.  As we came into the cirque, you could see the wind was howling up high.  Mount Moran was alive with spindrift, a large contrail trailed off the summit and all of a sudden BOOM!  A large “sluffalanche” came crashing down into the cirque off a 100′ cliff.  The remnants of this failure kept coming off the cliff for 30 seconds.

Lingering remnants from the "sluffalanche"
Lingering remnants from the “sluffalanche”

Then a massive gust of wind came off the mountain, blowing snow everywhere and creating a near whiteout.  This gust lasted for a bit, but the wind lingered with several other gusts over the next few minutes.

Looking up the Sickle with the wind creating near whiteout conditions.
Looking up the Sickle with the wind creating near whiteout conditions.

All the while, Moran was demonstrating her might, releasing “sluffalanches” off all her slopes.  While all this was happening, the three of us had to decide if we wanted to begin the climb up the Sickle Couloir.  We had come so far: skinning across Jackson Lake, spending a night in negative degree temperatures and persevering the delays from earlier in the day.  Our main concerns were: the wind chill, the poor visibility due to the wind gusts and being knocked off the mountain by a “sluffalanche” that we couldn’t see or hear racing towards us.  The decision was easy… all the signs were working against us. Today would not be our day to ski this iconic line.  We discussed this briefly, then changed over and skied some powder down to Jackson Lake and our camp.

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We were disappointed, but felt good about the decision to bail.  In those situations, only one thing has to go wrong for the day to turn into a disaster – and many things had gone wrong, so when the stars don’t align, you don’t push forward.  We packed up camp slowly and tried to thaw our frozen bodies in the sun.  We took off from camp at around 12:30pm, as the wind continued to whip off Mount Moran.  We made our way out of Moran Bay and took one last look up towards the Sickle Couloir.  A large, new sluff pile was sitting at the base of the couloir.  We felt relived about our decision and that each of us would “live to ski another day”.  We made it back to Signal Mountain Lodge in a blistering 3.5 hours, just in time to grab some happy hour beers in town and reminisce about the past few days.

Working our way home.
Working our way home as the wind hammers Moran.
Reveling in the beauty of the most beautiful mountain range North America has to offer. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Reveling in the beauty of the most amazing mountain range North America has to offer. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)

Southeast Couloir-Bivouac Peak

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

Trip Report:

Date: 3/3/2015
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.

Making our way up the initial pinch in deep snow.
Making our way up the initial pinch in deep snow.

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.

Just coming out of the pinch in the Southeast Couloir.
Just coming out of the pinch in the Southeast Couloir.

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.

Tristan, taking in the views and getting "stung".
Tristan, taking in the views and getting “stung“.

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.

On the up. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
On the up. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Tristan, doing his best to break trail.
Tristan, doing his best to break trail.

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.

Dane, breaking trail towards the top as the wind gusts down the couloir.
Dane, breaking trail towards the top as the wind gusts down the couloir.
Tristan trying to stay warm in the -20 Degree windchill.
Tristan trying to stay warm in the -20 Degree windchill.

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.

Getting geared up in amazing light!
Getting geared up in amazing light!
Mount Moran from the northwest.
Mount Moran from the northwest as the wind gusts into the Southeast Couloir.

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.

Skiing down to the first pinch after making it down the steep upper "bowl" (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Skiing down to the first pinch after making it down the steep upper “bowl”. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Tristan coming through the second pinch in style.
Tristan coming through the second pinch in style.

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!

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Southeast Couloir - Bivouac Peak
Southeast Couloir – Bivouac Peak

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.

Sickle Couloir, off Mount Moran.
Sickle Couloir, off Mount Moran.

Spoon Couloir – Disappointment Peak

Location: GTNP, Disappointment Peak, Glacier Gulch
Tags: Backcountry Skiing, Ski Mountaineering
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 11,357’, 5,075’ gain/loss
Distance: 11 miles RT
Difficulty: 3 stars
Time: 5-7 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 2/28/2015
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.

Morning sun from above Bradley Lake.
Morning sun from above Bradley Lake.
The Spoon from Amphitheater Lake.
The Spoon from Amphitheater Lake, with the last group of two topping out.

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.

Working on the up. (Zelie really wanted to use the ice axe she brought, so she did)
Working on the up. (Zelie really wanted to use the ice axe she brought, so she did)

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.

West Hourglass Couloir.
West Hourglass Couloir.
Beautiful. (photo: Zelie)
Beautiful. (photo: Zelie)

After a short while, we decided to do what we came to do….ski some powder and took it down the East Face.

Making some turns on the East Face. (photo: Zelie)
Making some turns on the East Face. (photo: Zelie)
Dreamy.
Dreamy.
Powdah.
Powdah skiing.

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!

Deep turns in the Spoon Couloir.
Deep turns in the Spoon Couloir. (photo: Zelie)

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.

Zelie making some turns in the upper section.
Zelie making some turns in the upper section.
Finding the goods. (photo: Zelie)
Finding the goods. (photo: Zelie)

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.

Pretty setting for a ski.
Pretty setting for a ski.
Zelie, in her element.
Zelie, in her element.
Little skier below a huge rock wall.
Little skier below a huge rock wall.

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…..

Mayan Apocalypse

Location: GTNP, Death Canyon, Prospector Mountain, Mayan Apocalypse
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 10,491’, 5,351’ gain/loss
Distance: 12 miles RT
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time:  7-9 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 02/24/2015
Snow Conditions: Packed powder, powder, sun crust, wind crust.  A strong northerly wind over the past few days created variable conditions on this north facing slope.

After a great day skiing off the South Teton Monday, Dane and I decided to head back to the park Tuesday and tackle a couloir we had heard a lot about this year.  The “Mayan Apocalypse” is a north facing shot up Death Canyon a little past the patrol cabin.  With northerly aspects skiing great the day before, we decided it was a worthy objective for the day.  We left the Death Canyon trailhead around 8:30am and worked our way along the track at a brisk pace.  After skiing down from Phelps Lake Overlook, we were quickly back skinning below the apron of the Apocalypse Couloir and into Death Canyon.  We got to the patrol cabin in around 2hrs and took a little break to take in the views.  Death Canyon offers enough ski runs for an entire season and we were pretty excited about the potential the zone offered.  After the break, we worked our way up canyon (to the left) and found ourselves staring at the access to Rimrock Lake.  There, directly to the left is the “Mayan Apocalypse”.  It is hidden by a steep treed slope and a rocky chute that is in effect the couloirs drainage.  We worked our way up around the impassable bulge of rock and eventually were looking at a tight gully above the rocky chute.  We transferred over to boot pack mode and made our way into a large opening directly below the couloir proper.  We worked our way up the steep couloir, noticing some soft avalanche debris in spots and firm crust where the slide had washed the snow out of the couloir.  We came to the middle of the couloir, initially thinking this was the end, only to find that a much steeper portion of the couloir was still waiting for us.  We worked our way up and to the right, finding some very firm, steep sections of climbing along the way.  We eventually came to the end of the climbing on a very steep (50 degree) slope, just below a few cornices.  We gently kicked out a step for our skis and got geared up.  The top portion was very fun on the left side, where the wind had deposited a good amount of snow.  Once into the upper middle section, the snow became firm and each turn was pretty spicy, but we made it through some rocks and into the lower section without issue.  Here, the slide had washed out half the couloir, but the half with soft snow remaining was very fun.  We also found the debris piles to be very soft and fun to surf on for a turn or two.  We made it out of the couloir proper and found some fun turns on the upper apron before the couloir pinched into the gully leading to the rocky chute.  We made a few turns in the gully, then exited to our left and found some soft powder turns to the traverse out of Death Canyon.  We quickly worked our way back to the truck in just over 7hrs 30min and were pleased with the adventure and the gnarly couloir we had just skied.

Amor a Vida Couloir

Location: GTNP, Garnet Canyon, South Teton, Amor a Vida Couloir
Elevation: Gain/Loss: 12,514’, 6,360’ gain/loss
Distance: 15 miles RT
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time:  7-9 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 02/23/2015
Snow Conditions: Powder, sun crust, warm/dense snow, wind crust

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.

Tetons.
Tetons.
Not a bad way to start the day.
Not a bad way to start the day.
The Middle, watching over Garnet Canyon.
The Middle, watching over Garnet Canyon.

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.

Chouinard (left) and Ellingwood (right) Couloirs off the Middle Teton.
Chouinard (left) and Ellingwood (right) Couloirs off the Middle Teton.
A look down Garnet Canyon.
A look down Garnet Canyon.

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.

Dane, working his way up to the Northwest Couloir.
Dane, working his way up to 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.

Dane, starting up the Northwest Couloir.
Dane, starting up the Northwest Couloir.
Almost into to the top. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Almost to the top. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)

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.

The Middle and Grand.
The Middle and Grand.
Mount Wister with Veiled Peak on the right.
Mount Wister, with Veiled Peak on the right and the North Face of Buck in the background.
Snowfield, skiers left of the summit (funnels into Southeast Couloir).
Snowfield, skiers left of the summit (funnels into Southeast Couloir).

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.

A look into the Southeast Couloir.  It doesn't look to go through right now.
A look into the Southeast Couloir. It doesn’t look to go through right now.

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.

First turns on the South Face.
First turns on the South Face.
Pretty.
“You’ve got a pretty face.”
Making my way through the upper rock bands (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Making my way through the upper rock bands (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)

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.

Staring down the South Face.
Staring down the South Face.  The entry to Amor a Vida is the first large rock outcropping on the right of the South Face. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Dane, making is way to the entry of Amora Vida.
Dane, making his way to the entry of Amor a Vida.
Glad to be off the South Face.
Decent snow on the South Face.

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.

The entry into the Amora Vida Couloir.
The entry into the Amor a Vida Couloir.

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.

Dane, cutting across and down the upper snowfield of the Amora Vida.
Dane, cutting across and down the upper snowfield of the Amor a Vida.

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!

Working down into the main path of the Amora Vida.
Working our way down to the left, into the main path of the Amor a Vida.
The Amora Vida was skiing good!
The Amor a Vida was skiing good!
Beautiful couloir. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Beautiful couloir. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Slash.
Slash.
Dane, towards the middle of Amora Vida.
Dane, towards the middle of the couloir.
Making my way down.. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Making my way down.. (photo: Dane Etter-Garrette)
Dane, nearing the bottom of the couloir.
Dane, nearing the bottom of the couloir.

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.

Amora Vida Couloir
Amor a Vida Couloir
South Face of the South Teton.
South Face of the South Teton.

2015-02-23 13.35.24 2015-02-23 13.51.59 2015-02-23 13.52.00

Skiing out Avalanche Canyon.

Turkey Chute, hacked!
Turkey Chute, hacked!

Buck Mountain, East Face

Location: GTNP, Death Canyon Trailhead, Stewart Draw
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 11,938’, 5,652’ gain/loss
Distance: 11 miles RT
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time:  6-8 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 2/17/2015
Snow Condition: Hard sun crust, wind blown pockets of dense snow, some sun warmed “corn” like snow, dense powder on north facing aspects with a mild breakable crust.

As everyone around the Jackson area knows, the weather has been warm and dry lately.  Despite that, we still have a deep snowpack and a low avalanche danger.  These combine for primetime opportunities to ski some big lines, if you can get over the fact that more than likely you are not going to be skiing anything resembling powder.  So, with this in mind: Dane, Tristan and I chatted Monday night about what to ski the following day.  We threw out a bunch of options, but settled on the East Face of Buck Mountain.  I have skied it once and attempted to ski it twice, being turned around last spring due to warm snow conditions.  We met at 6am and departed for the Death Canyon Trailhead.  We were moving at 6:40am and worked our way up the track and towards the turnoff for Whimpys Knob and Albright Peak.

Alpenglow on Buck's East Face.
Alpenglow on Buck’s East Face.

We climbed up the field in front of Whimpys for about 300 vertical feet, before veering right towards the open field beyond a small stand of trees and some large rocks.  This is the summer “climbers trail” to Buck Mountain.  We sidehilled across the field and began to contour into Stewart Draw.  Be sure to go far right, because if you go up too fast, you will be in Static Draw instead.  Once in the “canyon”, we began the slow climb up towards Buck.  It is a frustrating skin, because you are constantly sidehill climbing, which can be a little annoying.  Both Dane and Tristan had some ski crampons, which seemed to help with the firm snow conditions, but I just battled it out with the firm snow.  We made it up to the base of the East Face as an ungodly wind began whipping out of the northwest in about 3.5hrs.

The constant sidehill up Stewart Draw.
The constant sidehill skinning up Stewart Draw.
Dane, just below the start of the climb.
Dane, just below the start of the East Face.

We geared up with crampons and stashed our skins in the rocks to the right of the entry “couloir”.  At this point, I was beginning to wonder if I should have brought my ice axe.  I had a whippet, but with the wind howling at a solid 30mph, with gusts up to 50mph, I was a bit concerned with the decision to climb the East Ridge.  I had anticipated we would just boot up the face, but with a bootpack already in on the ridge, the group decided the East Ridge made the most sense.  So, we started up towards the East Ridge and the summit of Buck Mountain.

North Bowl of Static Peak.  Yummy!
North Bowl of Static Peak. Yummy!
Working our way up the "entry" couloir on Buck's East Face.
Working our way up the “entry” couloir on Buck’s East Face.

We cruised up and onto the ridge in no time, stopping once to discus if the ridge was in fact the route we wanted to proceed up.  Once on the ridge, the wind was definitely going to be a factor, but it seemed manageable.  We began climbing up, trying not to look to our right where the ridge dropped off 1200′ at points.

Tristen, making his way up the beginnings of the East Ridge.
Tristan, making his way up the beginnings of the East Ridge.
Dane, enjoying the exposure.
Dane, enjoying the exposure.

We were making pretty good time until we got to the more challenging ridge climbing.  Here, I definitely missed my ice axe.  At times, I was being blown off balance while staring down the 1200′ drop into the South Fork of Avalanche Canyon.  I made the most of it my ramming my crampons in lower then the set bootpack and punching my whippet into the snow, but it was still not ideal.  We slowly worked our way along a few exposed areas, eventually finding our way off the ridge to the steep upper East Face.

Dane, cruising up the ridge.
Dane, cruising up the ridge.
Some spicy climbing.
Some spicy climbing.
Yup, it drops off a bit here...
Yup, it drops off a bit here…
Views north, the East Face of Wister looks to be skiable.
Views north, the East Face of Wister looks to be skiable.

It is not often that the climb up to the skiing proves to be the most memorable, enjoyable part of a ski adventure, but that was the case with the East Ridge.  It proved to be fun, challenging and most of all spicy.  We worked our way up the upper East Face as winds whipped us from the right, a couple times knocking me off balance, but in no time we were standing on the summit.

Tristen battling the wind on the summit.
Tristan battling the wind on the summit.
Tristen contemplating life.
Tristan contemplating life.

We took some time to look around and enjoy the scenery, snapping a few reconnaissance photos of lines in Death Canyon, then geared up for the skiing.

Getting ready for the rip.
Getting ready for the rip.

The upper portion of the East Face is pretty steep (45 degrees plus) and rolls over about 200′ down, so we made some cautions turns on the firm surface, testing out the snow and our edges.  We did find some half decent snow just below the summit, firm snow with a slight crust and made our way down to the left, below the major cliff band on the East Face.

Tristen, skiing of the summit.
Tristan, skiing off the summit.
Approaching the rollover.
Approaching the rollover, skiing into eternity.

After joining up below the cliff band, we worked left and down the fun, low angle “belly” of the East Face.  The snow was decent here, not quite corn, but soft and fast with a little crust to keep you honest.  After I skied down to a point above the “entry” couloir, Dane and Tristan decided to ski that section “Canadian Style” and put in some powder 8’s on the face.  While not recommended, the snow conditions allowed us to have some fun!

Powder 8's on the East Face.
Powder 8’s on the East Face.
Some fun turns in the "belly".
Some fun turns in the “belly”.

From here, Tristan worked his way down and through the “entry” couloir while Dane and I waited for his hoot to signal he was through.  After that, we both worked our way down and through the couloir, being careful not to catch a ski on the many frozen chicken heads littering the zone.

Tristen, skiing down to the "entry" couloir.
Tristan, skiing down to the “entry” couloir.
Dane making a few last turns on the East Face.
Dane making a few last turns on the East Face.

After making it down safe, we gathered our skins and had a quick rest before skiing out of Stewart Draw.  In past trips up to this zone, I have always enjoyed the out.  There are many options for playful skiing and a couple fun north facing slopes to make some turns on.  While the snow was not great, we did find some decent wind blown pockets to make some powder turns in and cruised out of the lower fields; feeling like it was April, not February.

Working our way to the north facing shots.
Working our way to the north facing shots.
A few powder turns were had.
A few powder turns were had.

We made it back to the skin track and cruised out to the truck in 6hrs 30min.  We were happy with the day and decision to summit a big peak.  With the weather looking to stay dry and warm, we may be trying to tackle some larger lines in the coming weeks.  More to come…