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
Snow Conditions: Sun affected powder, mild sun/wind crust, “corn” snow down low.
Ever since Bill Briggs became the first person to ski The Grand Teton over 40 years ago, it has been an achievement for any aspiring ski mountaineer. My brother Dane and I have climbed it a handful of times, a couple in winter conditions, but never felt comfortable with the ice climbing needed to tackle the ski. With the weather around Jackson continuing to be seasonally warm and the snowpack well bonded after last weeks small storm, we were motivated by Tristan to get out and tackle the “standard” route off the Grand, the Ford/Stettner Couloir. Tristan reasoned that despite our limited ice skills, all you had to do was, “climb up and ski down”. This proved to be the push needed and we settled on Tuesday for the attempt.
The weather for the day called for temps around 30 degrees in the mountains, with sunshine and mild wind, so we decided an alpine start was needed. We were skinning from Bradley/Taggart under moonlight at 1:20am in mild temperatures. The conditions were firm on the up into Garnet Canyon and once again I was swearing that I have yet to buy ski crampons. After 2 hours, we were in the Meadows and staring into an eerie canyon dimly lit by the moon. We decided to boot pack to the left of Spaulding Falls instead of following the “summer trail”, because I think it is faster (but could be wrong). After climbing above the steep face, we put our skis back on and skinned up, into Teepee Glacier.
Here, we saw another party about 500′ above us working their way towards Teepee Col. I knew the guys in the group, having chatted with them about our plan the day before and so far everything was going as discussed. They had planned on skiing the Grand before we settled on it and we were going to let them make first turns down if we all made it to the top. So we worked our way up the steep Teepee Glacier, eventually topping out on Teepee Col as the sun started to rise.
The other group had decided to wait at Glencoe Col for some warming rays and were shouting for us to join them. We worked our way across the Death Couloir/Couloir to Nowhere that links up Teepee and Glencoe Col and met up with the other party. The wind was howling here and we immediately regretted not gearing up at Teepee Col as we had planned. Tristan, Dane and I started to get ready as the sun began to rise, hoping it could warm us a little.
The other group had left for the Stettner by now. We hydrated a little and tried to give the group a head start. Eventually, it got too cold to wait any longer and started down from Glencoe Col to the start of the Stettner Couloir. We worked our way up the couloir and over a mild pinch/ice bulge 100 yards up the Stettner.
After that, we waited at the start of the Chevy (darts up to the left around 200 yards up the Stettner) for the other group to climb through the two bugles. We waited here for a bit, getting very cold, but ready to begin climbing the moment we could. Eventually the group cleared out and we worked our way to the belay station to tackle the ice bulges. We were all interested in taking the lead, but in the end Dane decided to take the sharp-end. He made quick work of the climbing, placing one nut between the two ice bulges on the right and one 16cm screw in the upper ice bulge.
Feeling comfortable with the ice and wanting to make up some time, Tristen and I simul-climbed the pitch as Dane belayed us from above. We made it up to the anchor and quickly decided to simul-climb out of the Chevy and into the Ford.
We found a nice spot to delayer/drop some gear near an anchor at the bottom of the Ford Couloir and got ready for the last 1000′ of boot packing. We were a little behind schedule, so set a turnaround time of 1pm and pushed towards the top. Right after beginning the bootpack, we saw the group ahead of us down climbing the Ford. We worked our way up to them and asked what was up. They said they didn’t feel 100% comfortable with the conditions and were going to bail. We were disappointed for them, but didn’t have much time to waste. The sun was warming the snow a bit and we knew the window was closing on our day if we didn’t hurry. We cruised up the Ford in no time and quickly found ourselves on the East Face of the Grand, working our way through warm, soft snow. We finally reached the summit block at 12:35pm, just over 11hrs from leaving the truck.
Not having a bunch of time at the top of the Grand is something I’m used to, but I barely had time to snap a few pictures before we were starting down towards the East Face. We didn’t want to risk the snow warming anymore than it already had. Unlike other objectives, once done skiing, you are still in harms way until you exit the Stettner after numerous rappels. With this in mind, we skied down from the summit and worked our way onto the East Face. We felt good about the snow, but you never really know until you get onto the face. Dane made a few tentative turns up high and then took it all the way down to the lower entry into the Ford. The snow was surprisingly good on the East Face, with the sun warming the surface just enough to create some early season “corn”. We all had a blast skiing the East Face, which is a feeling not many will ever have.
The Ford proved to be as much fun as the East Face, if possible, even a little more spicy. The 50 degree couloir ends in a 1000′ cliff, so each turn was made with care. We found good snow on the skiers right side of the couloir, some smooth firm snow on the left and made it down safely to the spot we stored our gear earlier.
We discussed rappelling into the Chevy from the anchors on the skiers right, at the bottom of the Ford, but decided to ski down a little lower to the first anchors in the Chevy. This slope was steep and very exposed, so we skied it gingerly and eventually got to the anchors, quickly getting ready for the rappels through the Chevy and Stettner. We rappelled twice in the Chevy and dug our an anchor on the lookers right of the Stettner below the entrance of the Chevy for our final rappel (definitely could have down climbed this portion). We were happy to have brought two 60m ropes for the day, allowing us to get out of harms way as soon as possible.
After making it down, we quickly made our way out of the Stettner and over to Glencoe Col. We gathered our skins, etc and got ready for the 5000′ ski down to the truck. We worked our way over to Teepee Col and made some fun turns down Teepee Glacier, eventually making our way down Garnet Canyon.
At this point we were exhausted, dehydrated and only wanted to make it down safe. The snow was decent all the way down, but that was just icing on the cake for us. We made quick work of the out from Bradley Lake and pulled into the Trailhead at 4:25pm, 15 hours after we had started in the moonlight. We were tired, but all felt great about what we had just accomplished. We rested our tired feet and had a few sodas, staring up at the Grand and the run we had just skied. It wasn’t long after that we started hatching plans for the next adventure in the park.