Tag Archives: Skiing

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.

Mavericks

FullSizeRender

Location: GTNP, Death Canyon, Stewarts Draw, Bradley/Taggart
Tags: Backcountry Skiing, Skiing
Elevation: 9,538′, 3,458′ gain/loss
Distance: 6 miles RT
Difficulty: 3 stars
Time: 4-5 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 12/2/2014
Snow Conditions: 10″ of fine powder with a buried crust underneath.  The storm came in from the Southwest, accompanied with strong winds, so there were some large wind whales and dense slabs forming on the ridges.

After another large storm cycle, Dane and I decided to venture into the park for a tour up Mavericks, with the option to go for 10,696 depending on the conditions.  We started from the Death Canyon trailhead, but Mavericks can also be approached from Bradley/Taggart.  I have approached from both directions and feel the time is pretty similar for the up (about 3 hours), but the out is much easier if going to Death Canyon.  We started around 9am and cruised up the snow covered road, veering right when the track goes left to Whimpy’s and Albright at the sign saying “No Unauthorized Vehicles”.  We cruised up the track for a few minutes and then crossed the field, targeting the left ridge of Mavericks on the opposite edge of the field.

Crossing the field
Crossing the field

After making it through the field and starting to work our way West through the tight growth on the lower faces of Mavericks, we began to gain some quick elevation.  We made our way up the southern ridge for around 2 hours, breaking trail the entire time, but making pretty good time considering.  Finally, we found ourselves looking at 10,696′ in the distance, looking pretty wind scoured and thin.

10,696's East face
10,696’s East face

After talking it over, we didn’t think it would be worth it to go up 10,696, considering the potential for wind slabs that built-up over night and the lack of coverage.  So, we transitioned and started to make way down the face, anticipating some fun, untracked turns.  We were not disappointed.  The conditions were ideal, very fun, bouncy and deep.  We worked our way down to the skiers right, making sure not to get caught in the central gully, which would take us out near the skin track towards Bradley/Taggart.

Making early season turns
Making early season turns
December 2nd Powder
December 2nd Powder

We continued down the ridge and found some amazing turns and great coverage all the way to the bottom.  We worked our way right in the trees, eventually finding our skin track, working our way through the heavy snow until we came to the field.  We dropped a few layers, put on some shades and pushed our way along the skin track until we came to the truck.  The total trip took us 4 hours 15 minutes.  It was another great adventure in the park and gave us much inspiration for the winter to come.

Panorama - Prospectors, Albright, Whimpy's, Maverick
Panorama – Prospectors, Albright, Whimpy’s Knob, Mavericks

25 Short

Location: GTNP, Avalanche Canyon, Bradley/Taggart
Tags: Backcounty Skiing, Skiing
Elevation: 9975′, 3350′ gain/loss
Distance: 6 miles RT
Difficulty: 3 stars
Time: 4-5 hours

Trip Report:

Date: 11/25/2014
Snow Conditions: With about 28″ of settled new snow and more coming, the conditions were deep powder, with an upside down layer beginning to form on the surface.  At times, the snow was almost too deep to make turns.  Towards the bottom of the run, the snow pack was starting to feel the effects of the warming day and began to feel very heavy at times.

And so it begins, the winter of 2014/2015.  After a brief trip to San Francisco, I returned to winter in full force here in Jackson, WY.  With over 40 inches of snow in the past 3 days, Dane and I decided to do a little early storm skiing in the park.  We decided on 25 Short, an excellent early season tour, or beginner run in the park.  While moderately low angle, there are numerous terrain traps and a few steep avalanche paths that you need to be aware of.  We started at the Bradley/Taggart trailhead around 9:30am, beginning the skin by working out south by southwest across the field directly west of the parking lot. Usually there is a nice track that takes you to 25 Short, or Mavericks, but today we were greeted by untouched snow and a faint skin track buried under 14″ of snow.  We made our way south, keeping the moraine on our right and ventured towards an obvious “end point” of the field.  Here, the track usually forks, with those venturing to Mavericks going left and 25 Short right.  We were greeted by a family of moose here and had to divert left to stay away from the angry bull moose and eventually worked our way right to find the skin track of 25 Short.

A family of moose at the intersection of Mavericks and 25 Short
A family of moose at the intersection of Mavericks and 25 Short

We continued breaking trail up the drainage, but eventually missed the normal left turn that would have brought us to the standard approach, instead we trudged along the “runout” path to the north until we noticed our mistake. After this, we just kept going up until we reached the obvious avalanche path on the north side of 25 Short. Here we broke trail left and worked our way up an agonizing 2500′, working our way slightly left. We eventually found ourselves on the bench near the top of 25 Short, but decided not to continue the 200′ up the summit ridge to the true summit, because the wind was whipping and we weren’t planning on skiing the east gut of 25 Short given the avalanche conditions. We made a quick transition and decided on a relatively safe route down the mountain.  The snow was DEEP, making it difficult to make smooth turns, but we were able to link a few pitches together to make for an enjoyable run down the 3000′ run.

Making some fun turns
Making some fun turns
It was pretty deep for November
It was pretty deep for November

Once down the run, we were encountered with some downed trees, stream crossings and heavy snow to work through.  Eventually we worked our way left to the moraine that separates Taggart Lake and Avalanche Canyon from 25 Short.  Once we found our skin track, it took us about 30 minutes to get to the truck, but on a normal day, it can be as fast as 15 minutes.  We made it to the truck in just over 5 hours, not bad considering we set the skin track.  As far as first days out go, I would say this has to range very high on the list, hopefully it is a sign of a great winter to come.

Not a bad way to start the season.
Not a bad way to start the season

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.