Tag Archives: Ski Mountaineering

Apocalypse Couloir

Location: GTNP, Death Canyon, Prospector Mountain
Tags: Backcountry Skiing, Skiing, Ski Mountaineering
Elevation: 10,104′, 5,049′ gain/loss
Distance: 9 miles RT
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time: 6-8 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 2/11/2015
Snow Conditions: 7″ of dense powder, stable with pockets of deeper snow.  Fast moving sluff, but no area of concern.

After a decent storm dropped around 2 feet of snow in the mountains a week ago, we decided it was time to get out and do some exploring.  With warm temperatures and sunny days following the storm, the northern aspects were the only areas holding some quality snow.  After some discussion, we decided on the Apocalypse Couloir.  I skied this last year in awful conditions, so was hopeful that we would find some couloir powder.  Dane, Tristan, Darren and I met at 6am in town and made our way out to the Death Canyon Trailhead.  We left the car a little before 7am and worked our way along the track.

Working our way to the Prospectors Mountain.
Working our way to Prospector Mountain.

We followed the same route up to Apocalypse Couloir that you do to Son of Apocalypse, only you proceed another 700 vertical feet or so up along the southern ridge.  Just to the left of the termination of the ridge is the entrance to the Apocalypse.

Dane working his way up the ridge.  Slightly left of the high point is the entry point to Apocalypse.
Dane working his way up the ridge above Son of Apocalypse. Slightly left of the high point is the entry point to the Apocalypse Couloir.
A cloud layer enveloping the valley, with Albright Peak to the left.
A cloud layer enveloping the valley, with Albright Peak to the left.

There is one large tree to the left of the entrance that the cordelette is to tied around.  The two times I have skied this line, I had to dig around for it in the snow, but it is there.  It is purple and does not show any sign of wear.  As always, I would recommend bringing along some extra webbing, cordelette and a few nuts for this adventure.  We geared up in our harnesses and soaked in the last of the sunshine before descending into the dark gully.

The "V Notch Couloir".
The “V Notch Couloir” to the South.
Getting ready in the sun.
Getting ready in the sun.
Looking into the upper section of Apocalypse.  A few rappels are necessary to get into the skiable park of the couloir.
Looking into the upper section of Apocalypse. A few rappels are necessary to get into the skiable portion of the couloir.

We rappelled off the top anchor and found a decent anchor about 20m down on the lookers right.  It consisted of 4 nuts with some webbing.  We had to make some adjustments to the anchor to balance it, but felt good about it after and worked our way down from there.  After the second rappel, we were 6m short of some purple anchors down on the lookers left (we used a 60m rope).  Here, we all should have just downclimbed in the steep snow to the last anchor, but instead everyone but myself put their skis on and sideslipped over some rocks to the anchor.

Darren rappelling off the top anchor.
Darren rappelling off the top anchor.
Dane rappelling off the second anchor, working his way over a bulge.
Dane rappelling off the second anchor, working his way over a bulge.
Tristen, stoked for the adventure.
Tristan, stoked for the adventure.

Last year, you could just slip your way down into the skiable portion of the couloir from here, but this year there was a 6ft drop with a small rock ledge below preventing that.  It was very tight at this point, barely a ski length and getting the skis straight to make the jump seemed a bit risky to me.  Tristan and Darren decided that they felt comfortable with the risk and gave the drop a go, each landing in soft snow and making a hard right turn to get in a safe spot.  Dane and I rappelled the section, quickly coiling the rope and getting ready for the skiing.  We encountered what I call “rope time” during our rappels.  When time seems to slow because of your focus, but in reality everything is taking an exorbitant amount of time.  We were all getting pretty cold standing around in the shade and were pumped to get moving.  We skied the large, mellow first pitch tentatively, checking the stability of the snow before it drops into the “elevator shaft”.  The snow was stable, soft and fun to our surprise and delight!

Dane making some powder turns in the upper portion of the couloir.
Dane making some powder turns in the upper portion of the couloir.

Before the steep rollover, we regrouped and quickly made our way down the 50 degree slope.

Tristen, working his way down the steepest portion of the run.
Tristan, working his way down the steepest portion of the run.
Steep and Deep.
Steep and Deep.

From here, we skied across the “main” gully of the couloir, below the Four Horsemen and took a look down into the narrows.  We couldn’t see the ice bulge (pinch) of the run from this vantage point, but were all hopeful we had had the correct beta that it was filled in and skiable.  We skied down to the pinch to inspect the ice bulge.

Working our way down to the crux of the run.
Working our way down to the crux of the run.

Standing above the bulge, we could see that it was indeed skiable.  It was at most a ski length at its tightest point, but with a little side slip we could make it through.  I “skied” down through it first, marveling at the beauty of this special spot in the park, but aware that we needed to move fast.  A runnel had formed from all our sluff, which made it even more difficult to navigate the crux, but with some careful work, I made it through, into the tight lower section of the couloir.

Trist, making his way into the crux.
Trist, making his way into the crux.
Tristen slashing the couloir powder as he exits the crux.
Slashing couloir powder is fun!
What a couloir!
Icicles for day.!
The fun lower section of the run.
The fun lower section of the run.

Everyone made it through the ice bulge safely and quickly.  The difficult part of the run was over, so we skied the lower section out to the apron of the couloir.  We did this “Canadian Style” and were sitting at the base of the couloir a few minutes later, elated to have skied such a great run.

Apocalypse Couloir apron.
Apocalypse Couloir apron.

We quickly made our way out of Death Canyon and enjoyed a few snacks and laughs in the sun before skinning up the Phelps Lake Overlook.  We made a fast exit to the truck, arriving in just over 7hrs.  It was a great day and even more special because our good friend Darren Johnson had come down from Big Sky, MT to join us on the adventure.  Hopefully he sees the light soon and makes the move to Jackson.

Darren, aka @yellowstoneclubturd
Darren, aka @yellowstoneclubturd

Banana Couloir

 

Location: GTNP, Prospector Mountain, Open Canyon, Granite Canyon Trailhead
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 11,163’, 5,220’ gain/loss
Distance: 12 miles RT
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time:  7-9 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 1/21/2015
Snow Condition: 10″ of Consolidated Powder with areas of faceted snow and some small pockets of unstable snow at lower elevation.

The Banana Couloir is a ski mountaineering run that many have stared at during the winter months, wondering what it would be like to ski such an aesthetically pleasing line.  I have been guilty of looking up at this East/Southeast facing couloir off Prospector Mountain for years, always wanting to ski it, but not sure how, or when the right time would be.  Well, after some thought the other night, I rallied my brother Dane and friend Close to head up Open Canyon and give it a try.

We left Granite Canyon Trailhead at 7am as the first flicker of daylight began to light up the sky.  We had a pretty solid plan for how to navigate the approach to the base of the couloir, but were unsure if it would translate into success.  After pouring over google earth, I found an old road 1.2 miles down Moose-Wilson Rd. that would take us close to the beginning of Open Canyon without much bushwhacking.  It veers off to the left, before Moose-Wilson Rd. makes a hard right and the pavement begins.  This proved to work, with a skin track taking us into the often overgrown and seldom traveled area to the south of Phelps Lake.

Our first glimpse of Banana Couloir.
Our first glimpse of Banana Couloir.

With a visual of our objective, we took a left and started breaking trail towards Open Canyon.  The snow was solid because of the low elevation rain event from a few days before, so we cruised up canyon with relative ease.  We came to a ravine at some point and not thinking, dropped into it and crossed the stream.  In hindsight, we should have just stayed on the right side of this gully, because it was the drainage from Open Canyon and we needed to be on the right side of it to start our climb.

Dane crossing a nice snow bridge.
Dane crossing a nice snow bridge.

Despite that minor setback, we made it to what we thought was the base of the couloir in just over 2hrs.  Here we stopped for a few minutes to eat and decided how to tackle the initial steep face.

Base of the Banana Couloir. Looks like it would be a waterfall in the summer.
Base of the Banana Couloir. Looks like it would be a waterfall in the summer.

We decided to begin our climb to the lookers left of the “waterfall”, but I think the easiest and safest line up is to the right, through the trees and cliffs.  Upon starting up, we heard numerous whomps as the snow collapsed on a weak layer at about 7600′ in elevation.  This was very concerning to us and we discussed proceeding or not, but decided that the weak layer was only a low elevation (surface hoar) issue.  We continued up cautiously for around 500′, making quick switchbacks on relatively exposed face, maintaining a policy of only one person on the slope at a time.  After a stress filled, painfully slow initial hour of climbing, we seemed to be out of danger, having not heard a whomp for 200′ or so.  The slope got pretty steep and crusted here, so we took off our skis and shouldered them for another 500′ until we reached the top of the steep initial face.  We quickly got back into skin mode and tried to make up some of our lost time as we worked our way up and to the right.  We got our first look at the Banana Couloir from up close not long after and were a little concerned at its size and the distance we still had to cover before reaching the top.  We worked our way up the left side of the massive couloir for around 500′, before crossing the couloir to the safer, less exposed right ridge.

Working our way up and across the Banana Couloir.
Working our way up and across the Banana Couloir.
Looking up the couloir, about 2000' from the top.
Looking up the couloir, about 2000′ from the top.
Working our way up the ridge.
Working our way up the ridge.

After gaining the ridge, we proceeded up at a frustrating slow pace due to the slick snow conditions and a few points where we had to take off our skis to get over some rock outcroppings.  We struggled up, eventually coming to a steep, exposed section that we had to quickly bootpack through.  After making it through this pinch in the couloir, we could see the summit, but we a little unsure if we would get to the top.  The sun was warming the snow a little faster then we would have liked and none of us felt like going for a 3500′ ride down the couloir in an avalanche.  We set a turn around time of 1:30pm and decided to push for the top at full speed.  We skinned our way up the mellow upper “bowl” for a bit, but had to switch over to bootpacking about 800′ from the top.  The snow was surprisingly stable, but after our experience down low, we were all a little nervous to be on the upper face, exposed to avalanches.

Bootpacking up the final face.
Bootpacking up the final face.

We made great time up the face, making it to the summit just past 1pm, but were all aware that now we had to make it down this large avalanche path safely.  We took a few pictures, admired the entry into the “V Notch Couloir” and quickly geared up for the ski.

View to the North.
View to the North.
Scary entry into the "V Couloir"
Scary entry into the “V Notch Couloir”…it doesn’t ski through

I made two big ski cuts on the rollover with Dane and Close watching, but when nothing budged we cautiously skied the upper section – gaining confidence in the snow with each turn.  The skiing was unreal – fun/bouncy/playful powder with areas of deeper snow on the northeast facing right wall.  We worked our way all the way down in several sections, having a blast and hooting all the way to the last pitch.

First turns from the top.
First turns from the top.
Dane, harvesting the Banana.
Dane, harvesting the Banana.
Close making turns towards the top.
Close making turns towards the top.
Fun turns down the huge couloir.
Fun turns down the huge couloir.
More powder!
More powder!
Dane, entering the steep middle section.
Dane, entering the steep middle section.
A look up the Banana Couloir from around 9500'.
A look up the Banana Couloir from around 9500′.
Dane, milking the turns
Dane, milking the turns
Close, skiing the lower gut.
Close, skiing the lower gut.
A view up from above the last pitch.  What an amazing run.
A view up from above the last pitch. What an amazing run.

We approached the lower face from skiers left of the waterfall and cautiously made our way down, all to aware of the potential instability the snowpack displayed earlier.  We made it down to a cliffband about 200′ from the bottom of the canyon.  There were two possible ski throughs and I chose a less exposed ski to the left.  I made it down and gave a hoot, signally the next skier should come down to me.  All of a sudden, Dane yelled, “Avalanche!”.  I moved behind a tree and as I did, looked up and could see snow beginning to flow over the cliff.  It didn’t look huge, but saw large blocks of snow from what appeared to be a hard slab rolling over the cliff for what seemed like minutes.  When the snow stopped, I could hear someone yelling from below the cliff (to my left) and nothing from above where Dane and Close had just been.  I called for Dane again and thankfully heard him yell, “I’m safe, but Close got taken down below!”.  I raced down to the debris pile at the bottom of the cliff band and as I approached, saw Close’s pole.  My mind was racing, but was going for my transceiver to search for Close when I heard something from above.  It was Brian, he had been pulled over a small cliff and thankfully found some way to stop himself from being dragged over the much larger cliff edge a few feet in front of him.  He said he was missing his ski and pole, but he was ok.  I looked around in the debris pile for a bit and luckily found his ski half buried, but intact.

Brian making his way down to his ski, very luck to be safe.
Brian making his way down to his ski, very luck to be safe.

Dane gingerly made his way down after Close had retrieved his ski and we collectively let out a sigh of relief.  We knew the snowpack at the lower elevation had some weaknesses, but thought we could mitigate them.  We were wrong, but thankfully we all made it out safe.

The crown of the pocket that ripped out about 50' from where Close made a turn (He was the third one to come down).
The crown of the pocket that ripped out about 50′ from where Close made a turn (He was the third one to come down).

We traversed around to the right (south), keeping high and trying to make it around the lower flanks of Olive Oil and find a skin track out.  Eventually we found a fast one all the way out to Moose-Wilson Rd. and pushed our way back to the truck in 8hrs.  It was a great day, but very easily could have been a tragic one.

Son of Apocalypse

2015-01-17 13.37.39

Location: GTNP, Death Canyon, Prospector Mountain
Tags: Backcountry Skiing, Skiing, Ski Mountaineering
Elevation: 9,413′, 4,262′ gain/loss
Distance: 8 miles RT
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time: 5-6 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 1/17/2015
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.

Field to the west of Phelps Lake.
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.

The far avalanche path is the "normal" starting point of the skin.
The far avalanche path is the “normal” starting point of the skin.

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.

Alternative entry couloir into Son of Apocalypse.
Alternative entry couloir into Son of Apocalypse.

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.

Tim skiing pow down the first pitch.
Tim skiing pow down the first pitch.

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.

Tim, skiing down the second pitch.
Tim, skiing in the distance down the second pitch.
More couloir powder turns please.
More couloir powder turns please.

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.

Chase and Tim above the crux of the ski.
Chase and Tim above the crux of the ski.

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.

Looking down to the pinch.
Looking down to the pinch.
Chase, looking nothing like a Colorado skier.
Chase, looking nothing like a Colorado skier coming out of the pinch.

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.

Exit of Apocalypse Couloir.
Exit of Apocalypse Couloir.

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.

Son of Apocalypse.
Son of Apocalypse.

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.

Peak 10,686

10686

Location: GTNP, Waterfall Canyon, Jackson Lake
Tags: Backcountry Skiing, Ski Mountaineering
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 10,686’, 4,127’ gain/loss
Distance: 9 miles
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time:  7-9 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 1/14/2015
Snow Conditions: Faceted Snow, Powder, Breakable Crust, Bouncy Snow

A week of high pressure and some light snow begged me into GTNP to see what the high alpine skiing was like.  After a relatively late alpine start (6:30am from Jackson), Grant and I were off to Colter Bay and the always exhilarating lake crossing.  We were moving at 7:50am, finding the inversion had lifted enough to give us a view of the shore in front of Waterfalls Canyon.

Grant making his way to Waterfalls Canyon right before the fog enveloped us.
Grant making his way to Waterfalls Canyon right before the fog enveloped us.

After about 15 minutes on the ice, we were engulfed by a fog layer that made it hard to see beyond our ski tips.  As we proceeded in the direction we thought was the shore, we quickly realized that we were zigzagging north to south and needed to pull out a compass.  After many, many failed attempts to go straight and several scary “drops” into trapped surface water, we finally saw a faint shoreline and headed for it.  We reached land around 2hrs from leaving the truck, a far cry from the 45min it usually takes to cross the lake, but we were happy to have made it and ready for the uphill.  At this point, we were not 100% sure which side of Waterfalls Canyon we had landed on, but had a hunch we needed to move left.  So, we gained some elevation and slowly made our way out of the fog and into a beautiful, sunny paradise.

Above the clouds.
Above the clouds.

After determining where we were, we decided that Black Hole Couloir and Eagles Rest Peak were out of the question for the day (our initial objectives), but since we were already on a moraine of Peak 10,686, we decided to continue up and ski one of the many bowls it offered.  The up was constant, gaining 2000′ in just over an hour at one point, but we broke trail and kept moving forward until we reached the final ridge that would bring us to the summit.

Grant, making his way to up the summit ridge.
Grant, making his way to up the summit ridge.

From this vantage point, we had great views into Waterfalls Canyon and an excellent look into Black Hole Couloir.  It looked like it would have been amazing and a line I would like to ski again soon if the conditions allowed.

Black Hole Couloir.
Black Hole Couloir.

We continued up the ridge for around 500′, until the wind drifts became too large to skin up, so we transitioned to boot pack mode and made our way up the remaining 500′ to the summit.  From here, the east face of Ranger Peak looked very tempting and an unnamed couloir deep in Waterfalls Canyon, on a sub peak of Doane Peak seemed to be a promising objective for another day.

"Unnamed Couloir", Waterfalls Canyon
“Unnamed Couloir”, Waterfalls Canyon

After the sightseeing, we geared up for the ski and decided on the run down.  Since we were a little unsure of the snow pack, we decided on a minor ski cut at the top of the bowl and then some “safe” turns along the ridge until we felt comfortable with the snow.  Surprisingly, the snow was very stable and playful in the top bowl…allowing us to open up some big turns down to a north facing treed aspect.

Grizz getting ready to ski.
Grizz getting ready to ski.
The upper bowl of 10,686 was skiing nice.
The upper bowl of 10,686 was skiing nice.
Getting into the gully.
Getting into the gully.

We skied the bowl down to the main gully and kept high right to avoid the tight “meat grinder”, making playful turns down mini north facing faces.  Here we came around from the north, now facing Jackson Lake, and were able to take a look at our awful skin track across the lake (sorry!).

Zigzags.
Zigzags.

After taking a moment to reflect on our amazing skin track, we continued down to the lake and were greeted by some fantastic turns down wide open mellow powder fields.  We made our way back to the shoreline and prepared for the skin back across frozen Jackson Lake.  The skin back wasn’t too bad, considering its imperfect line, and we made it across in just over an hour.

Views of the Tetons from Jackson Lake.
View of the Tetons from Jackson Lake.

In total, the trip took us 8 hours and 30 minutes, but considering the time spent on the ice, I was content. It was a fantastic day: great skiing, good problem solving and above all another fun rip in GTNP.

Northeast “Couloir” off Mount Wister

2014-12-17 12.36.06

Location: GTNP, Mount Wister
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 10,854’, 4,652’ gain/loss
Distance: 8 miles RT
Difficulty: 3+ stars
Time:  5-7 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 12/17/2014
Snow Condition: Powder, Packed Powder, Light Breakable Crust 12″ under consolidated Powder

A wave of anxiety rushed over me as I stared down the large “couloir” Dane and I had just bootpacked up.  The wind had been whipping over the ridge from the south during most of the climb and we began to wonder if the avalanche conditions were as safe as we thought.  The run rolled over to a 40 degrees slope from the col, into a mild pinch, then mellowing to a 30 degree run out 800′ to the bottom.  After a few quick ski cuts, our nerves were replaced with elation as we skied deep powder 1200′ to the bottom of the cirque.

Dane making his way through the pinch.
Dane making his way through the pinch.

We started the day around 8am, leaving Bradley/Taggart and heading towards Avalanche Canyon.  After spending the previous day skiing Turkey Chute, we knew there was coverage in the canyon and had spotted a skin track heading below The Nugget and up to Lake Taminah.  The morning was very pleasant and the skin track proved to be quite enjoyable through the densely treed canyon.

Morning Sun.
Morning Sun.

We made our way past 4 Hour Couloir and through the small trees that are scattered around the fork of Avalanche Canyon.  The skin track worked its way right into the North Fork, eventually up a steep slot in the prominent rock band before reaching Lake Taminah.  As we got out onto the lake, the wind came rushing through the canyon and we immediately needed to layer up for the rest of the trip.  Working our way across the lake, we saw the “couloir” that we wanted to ski in the distance on our left.  We were slightly disappointed that the East Face of Wister was in the clouds, which meant we would not get an opportunity to see if it was skiable.  We worked our way up into the cirque, through some deep snow that we were getting excited to ski on our way down.  It took us 3hours and 15minutes to get into the cirque.  Here, we took a little break and geared up for the climb.  We skinned up the first third of the run to some rocks that were still exposed and then had to switch over to bootpack mode.

Bootpack mode.
Beast mode.

From here, the booting was relatively easy, considering it was powder the whole way up.  It consolidated well with each step, rarely giving out and sending us back down to our starting point.  This was a nice surprise and we made quick work of the climb to the col of Mount Wister.  It took us around 4 1/2 hours to get to this point, gaining 4,652′ to an elevation of 10,854′, so we felt pretty good about our pace.  We got ready to ski and after a brief discussion and a few ski cuts, we were set to rip.

Skiing is fun.
Skiing is fun.

The snow was pretty fantastic up high, deep and playful, with the light sluff giving you the sense that you were gliding down the run.  We skied through the pinch and pulled off to our right under some rocks to decide with way to proceed down.  Here, we got a glimpse of the East Face of Mount Wister (11,490′) and decided it would need some more snow to make it a worthy ski.  We skied down to the right, trying to miss the exposed rocks in the middle of the run, making pow turns one after the other.  After making it through the rocks, we cruised down to the bottom of the cirque, each beaming with joy.

The Northeast " Couloir off Wister.
The Northeast ” Couloir off Wister.

With the more challenging part of the ski done, we made our way down and across the lake, linking some fun turns together in the surprise powder field.

Powder Fields Forever.
Powder Fields Forever.
Crossing Lake Taminah.
Crossing Lake Taminah.

After the lake, we made our way down to the fork of Avalanche Canyon, finding more powder and more smiles all the way to the traverse out.  We made it back to the truck and our waiting beverage in just over 6 hours, each overjoyed about the day.  Once again, GTNP did not disappoint.

Sliver Couloir

2014-12-10 10.37.55

Location: GTNP, Nez Perce Peak
Tags: Backcountry Skiing, Ski Mountaineering
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 11,178’, 5,128’ gain/loss
Distance: 5.5 miles RT
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time:  6-8 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 12/10/2014
Snow Condition: Hardpacked, Breakable Crust, Chalky, Sun affected (corn like)

After a week long hiatus from the park, I finally made time to go out for a ski.  Dane, Noah and I decided on the Sliver Couloir, off Nez Perce Peak.  It is a good early season warmup, with a relatively easy approach and straightforward decent.  We started from Bradley/Taggart around 7:45am and were greeted with a mild inversion that made the first 20 minutes pretty uncomfortable. Once we warmed up, and gained some elevation, the day became very pleasant.

2014-12-10 08.05.24
The morning sun hits the Tetons

We had decided on approaching the Sliver from Shadow Peak, instead of Garnett Canyon because: Bradley Lake was still not crossable and it seems to be the fastest approach to the Sliver.  Some people like booting up the access couloir above the “Platforms” in Garnett, but after doing that a few years ago, I swore off that approach once and for all.  So, we made our way out and to the right, finding the moraine between Bradley and Taggart Lakes quickly.  We continued on the moraine for a bit, making sure not to dump right on the skin track down to Bradley Lake and Garnett Canyon.  We were at the base of Shadow Peak in around an hour and after a painless skin up (sometimes Shadow’s track can be awful), we were on top of Shadow Peak starring at the Sliver Couloir.

Sliver Couloir from Shadow Peak
Sliver Couloir from Shadow Peak

From Shadow, we downclimbed a mild rocky stretch to our left and made our way to the west facing couloir that takes you into the basin of Nez Perce and the entry to the Sliver.  The snow was chalky and fun all the way down the 500′ pitch, keeping speed toward the end to cross the basin, towards the Sliver.  Once in the basin, we were greeted by a frozen bootpack that looked to go to the top of the Sliver.  This was a nice surprise, even though it felt a little like cheating.  Nevertheless, we got into bootpack mode and started the 1800′ climb to the top of the couloir.  It was relatively easy on the up, only finding trouble where the sun had warmed the snow enough to create failures in the bootpack.  It took us an hour to climb up the couloir, and around 4 hours total from the trailhead.  With the climbing done, we delicately kicked out a platform in the 45 degree slope to click into our skis and ready ourselves for the ski.  We skied it in two sections from the top.  The snow was not great in the upper half, consisting of breakable crust, wind affected hardback and sun affected slush.  We all made some cautious jump turns down the steep, tight upper section to our meeting point in the middle of the couloir.

Dane making the most of the upper section.
Dane making the most of the upper section.

The bottom half of the couloir had been warming in the sun for a bit, so it was a lot more predictable and fun.  We skied down from our meeting point one at a time, making some decent turns and finding much softer snow to work with than at the top.  The bottom part of the run is ascetically appealing, giving it an elevator feeling.  The walls are tight, but the slope is moderate (about 35 degrees), so you can really get into a flow and let loose.  We each had a great run down to the bottom of the couloir, pulling out to the right above some cliffs to soak in the sun and take a little break.

Noah working his way down the bottom half.
Noah working his way down the bottom half.

We rested for a bit and contemplated booting up the west facing couloir we had skied down earlier to get back on top of Shadow, but decided against it.  We skied down to our left, picking our way through boulders until we found some chutes that took us into the northern basin of Shadow.  We traversed southeast and eventually found ourselves on the east side of Shadow Peak.  Here, we found some great snow in the trees and corn-like skiing in the sun.  We worked our way all the way down until we were back at the skin track on the moraine.  We gingerly made our way down the moraine, being careful not to get tangled in the many downed trees.

Noah making his way off the moraine with Shadow in the background.
Noah making his way down the moraine with Shadow in the background.

Once out in the open and off the moraine, we quickly made our way back to the Bradley/Taggart trailhead and the celebratory beverage Noah had brought for each of us.  All in all, it was a very fun day and had only taken us 6 hours roundtrip.  Looks like there is some snow in the forecast for the weekend, so hopefully we can make it out for another adventure soon.

Spoon Couloir

Location: GTNP, Disappointment Peak
Tags: Backcountry Skiing, Ski Mountaineering
Elevation, Gain/Loss: 11,617’, 4,992’ gain/loss
Distance: 6.5 miles
Difficulty: 4 stars
Time: 5 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 1/21/2014
Snow Condition: Hardpacked, Breakable Crust, Wind pockets of soft snow

My brother, Dane, and I were long overdue for an adventure in the park and decided on a relatively easy and safe adventure considering the conditions.  After an aggressive 2012-2013 winter that saw us ski numerous couloirs and peaks, we had a very slow start to the season and were both eager to get into the park.  We started at around 7:30am and made quick work of the tour to Bradley Lake  We crossed that swiftly and continued on to our right, working our way up the moraine that separates Garnett Canyon from Disappointment Peak.  We continued up and to the right for a while after the moraine, eventually finding a skin track that followed the summer hiking trail.  We continued on that for a bit, and eventually found ourselves crossing through a massive whitebark pine stand toward the culmination of the skin.  We benched out around Surprise Lake and continued up another 300ft to Amphitheater Lake at around 9:15am.  Once there, we were encountered with our first sight of the aptly named Spoon Couloir at the western end of the lake.  It rises about 1100′ from the lake, but 400′ of that is the runout from the couloir.

Spoon couloir from Amphitheater Lake
Spoon couloir from Amphitheater Lake

We made our way across the lake and eventually found ourselves looking up the couloir, unable to skin any longer.  We took a quick break in a safe spot to the left of the couloir entrance and switched over from skin mode to bootpack mode.  We stayed close the whole way up the couloir, switching out the leader on several occasions, thus keeping us fresh the entire bootpack up the couloir.  The snow was variable, with areas of hardpack, mixed in with wind pockets of soft snow.  Considering the temperature of the day, roughly 10 degrees F, and avy conditions, we felt pretty safe in the exposed couloir.  Once reaching the top of the couloir, we kept right and continued up the steep entry pitch (50 degrees) and made our way toward the summit of Disappointment Peak.  500′ from the summit, we decided the snow was getting to thin for a summit bid, so we stopped for a quick break and transitioned into ski mode.

Dane skiing down the massive East face of Disappointment Peak
Dane skiing down the massive East face of Disappointment Peak

We skied down to the entrance of the couloir and decided on skiing it in three sections, with two stops at relatively protected points along the skiers right of the couloir.  I dropped in first, making some “powder” turns on the wind pockets, while they broke apart and funneled down the couloir.  I stopped and waited for Dane to make some fun turns down the 50 degree entrance to the couloir.

Dane entering the Spoon Couloir
Dane entering the Spoon Couloir

We continued down the couloir, switching up the lead until we reached the bottom of the true run.  It was decent snow all the way down, but considering the northeasterly aspect, I was hoping for better conditions.  We did get some fun turns down to Amphitheater Lake and then were greeted with some amazing powder fields on our way down to the moraine of Garnett Canyon and Disappointment.  As with many trips into the park, the run out to the valley floor can sometimes be the most fun, and todays snow didn’t disappoint down low.  For me, the trip was a real treat, considering that Dane and I had not spent much time in the park and I hope that it was only the start of a great season.