Tetons Roadtrip: Skiing the Grand Teton and Middle Teton

I’ve wanted to make this trip for the last few years, but it has been consistently difficult to get the weather forecast to line up with a free weekend. Things finally fell into place last weekend. On Friday afternoon, we left Boulder and drove to Rock Springs, WY. On Saturday, we finished the drive to Jackson, stopped to grab groceries, navigated our way to the backcountry permitting office, and started the hike up to Garnet Canyon. We were incredibly fortunate that the JHMG high camp had been installed the weekend prior, but was sitting empty for this entire weekend. This meant we didnt need to carry sleeping bags, pads, stove or fuel. Instead, we brought better food.

We went to bed early saturday evening, but sometime in the middle of the night we heard the ominous sound of rain on the tent walls. When we woke at 3:30 AM, the rain had turned to snow and was coming down quite hard. We went back to bed for 1 hr blocks, but each time we woke up, the weather was still grim. Finally around 6 AM, we figured we may as well make the best of our situation so we set out to ski the Middle Teton. We ascended the Middle Teton glacier, but decided the runneled 55-60 deg slope wasnt the best choice for a ski run in the absence of any sunlight to soften it up. We decided to seek out the SW couloir, which we eventually sniffed out after a bit of wandering. Things were thoroughly socked in at this point, with only occasional clearings blowing through. We had to down climb the top 200′ of the couloir, which had melted out. There, we dug in and waited in hopes that the sun would come and soften the snow. After 1.5 hrs, we grew tired of waiting and decided to just ski the ice. The skiing was fun, although a bit thin in places. Eventually, we dropped down far enough that we found good corn, and then too soon over ripened muck. We had to pay a bit of a price hiking back up to the high camp, but it was still a fine day out with beautiful unsettled weather. The forecast said that high pressure would move back in Sunday evening into Monday, so we spent the afternoon napping and eating and preparing for Monday.

When 3:30 AM rolled around, we all got out of bed surprisingly quickly, although we proceeded to move pretty slowly making breakfast and gearing up. We stepped outside to beautiful clear skies everywhere, except the Grand Teton which was fully socked-in. The cool temps on sunday and overnight meant a very hard freeze and outstanding climbing conditions. Perfect neve, water ice, and alpine ice spread from the base of the Teepee Glacier all the way to the summit. We broke out the single 7.8 mm rope for the Chevy couloir, which seemed like a prudent decision. The summit was quite cold, with clear skies making up only about 5 % of the time, and clouds the remainder. We downlimbed from the summit and started the waiting game. None of us was eager to ski the Ford Couloir in bullet proof ice, so we’d either wait for sun, or have to down climb the Owen-Spalding. We had strong cell service at the summit, and the realtime weather forecast decided to taunt us with statements such as “100 % clear”, “0 % chance of precip for next 20 hrs”,and “strong high pressure”. We didnt find it very funny. I was even able to bring up the AAC web cam, which showed beautiful blue skies throughout GTNP. If one didn’t know better, they wouldn’t have even noticed the small cloud in the photo that just barely obstructed the summit of the Grand. Unfortunately, we did know better. We passed the next 3+ hours with a combination of shivering, telling jokes, and watching Dave perform dance moves from Thriller. Finally, a window of sunshine came that lasted longer than 10 seconds. We walked up to the summit ridge and saw that clear skies dominated the horizon. 20 more minutes in the late morning sun and the snow surface had quickly softened to edgeable corn. With some anxiousness, we set about transitioning to ski mode and getting ready to drop in. Our leg muscles are cold from shivering and the previous day’s climb. Committing to the opening turns is rather intimidating, with the convex nature allowing your imagination to run wild with the exposure just out of view. The terrain turns out to be quite manageable though. Eventually we transition to the Ford proper, which provides fantastic steep skiing at the top, before forcing us to skiers right to avoid a deep runnel. The steep double fall line into the runnel causes us to side slip one section more than we’d like, but we still manage a few very intense turns. From there we ski to the 1 st rap station and work with another party of two to tag team the rappels through what will quickly become a shooting gallery in the afternoon sun. We move efficiently on the rappels until we stick one rope on the Chevy couloir. I am already 200′ below at the next station, but I try to yell up to leave the ropes behind. Nobody hears me. Eventually they free the other ropes. The final rappel was possibly optional, although the skiing would have been rather unpleasant. At the end of the rappels, we remove our harnesses, coil the ropes, and breathe a sigh of relief. From there the skiing across the traverse to the teepee is quite fun. The teepee itself didnt benefit from any cloud cover in the morning, and is now too soft in the sun and too hard in the shade. It is still a fantastic ski to cap the run above. We quickly pack up camp and thoroughly clean the tent, then continue the last 1000′ of skiing to snowline. At this point our legs are a tired, but occasional patches of perfect corn elicit a bit more hard skiing. We walk the trail and are quite pleased to arrive at the car and find the beers in the cooler are still cold.

Specific gear notes in addition to touring gear:
2 technical ice tools and steel technical crampons
Harness, belay device, carabiners, etc
2 ice screws, 1 set of stoppers, 5 slings
1 7.8 mm 60 m long half rope (the 2 seconds climbed 10 meters apart on the one belayed pitch. this required about 20′ of simuling for the 1st second before the leader reached the anchor above the steeper ice step)
1 6 mm 60 m long aramid tag line

Our Sunday tour on the Middle Teton:

The approximate line on the Grand Teton

Photos:

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Front range ski alpinism

If skiing is fun and climbing is fun, doesn’t it make sense that climbing to ski will be even more fun? It would probably be pretty hard to beat the alps in this regard.   Likewise, the Cascades or Tetons  have excellent options.  Despite the numerous mountains in view from the front range (or even throughout CO), surprisingly few provide logical combinations of great climbing and great skiing.  Too much wind, inconsistent ice conditions, early warming, poor rock quality, or the even more common complete lack of technical climbing on a mountain.  With that said, a little creativity goes a long way towards making the best of what we have.

I have little interest in carrying skis on my back up multiple pitches of 5.10 rock or difficult mixed.  The ideal ascent routes can be done with minimal gear or rope work.  If skiing on a spring snowpack, one will have limited time to reach the summit and be on the descent before wet slide danger increases.  I’d tend to look for routes with 4th class to low-5th class rock, or moderate (WI3/M3) ice and mixed.  For rock routes, ridges provide good options, whereas ice routes are likely to be in gullies. Remember, you’ll be climbing in ski boots, and skis on your back are fairly obstructive.  The idea is for the skis to make the day more fun and interesting, not the other way around. Below are two highly recommended combos from past seasons.

Mount Bancroft – East Ridge to Various Descent Options

Route Overview
Route Overview

Climbing description

Due to weather, it took us two attempts during different seasons to make this itinerary work. First attempt was on a knowingly unsettled day in April 2011. We made fast time to the route and up the snow covered solid talus that starts the ridge.  By the time we reached the notch, weather was looking pretty grim.

We continued up the short crux, taking a slightly off route chimney instead of the usual face pitch. A few hundred feet above, it became clear the weather wasn’t going to improve, so we bailed back  the notch and rapped into a narrow S facing couloir.  The east ridge of Bancroft actually has a bunch of cool descent options on the way to the summit. 0

The next attempt went much better, with perfect weather. Again we scrambled to the notch, rapped in, climbed out through the correct line (which is excellent low fifth class with good gear and large boot and glove friendly holds. Above we scrambled upwards, occasionally setting impromptu belay for the less frequent climbers. Upon reaching the top, two of us skied the direct SE face from the false summit, while the other two skied the standard moderate east ridge route. The SE face makes a fine descent with a steep entrance and moderate exposure. There were a few narrow passages that typically cleared on skiers left.

Mount Meeker – Dreamweaver to Dragon’s Egg

Climbing description

In spite of icy ski conditions, this was one of the most fun days I’ve had in the mountains. Dreamweaver is an excellent beginner ice and snow climb, with short cruxes separated by moderate snow. Although Dreamweaver itself makes an admirable ski option, the traverse over Meeker and down the Dragon’s Egg provides much more skiing and a beautiful tour. I recommend a car shuttle for this tour, dropping one car at Wild Basin, then taking the other to Long’s Peak trailhead. Depending on conditions on Dreamweaver, one could find a mix of soft snow, hard snow, ice, or rock. Some folks will prefer a rope for the short cruxes, while others will feel comfortable without. Being such a windy aspect, Dragon’s Egg wont come in every year, and the top will only stay in for a short amount of time. A few sticky windless spring storms are required for optimum conditions. The good news is you can see the line from all over the front range and peak to peak highway, so there wont be much of a secret.

I also made a short movie about the day:

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Ski Movies

I’ve decided to post to the blog again. I’ve made a few short ski movies the last few ski seasons.  The most recent here is from a day skiing around Guanella Pass with Ben.  We went out on our race gear, which is incredible for the touring, but always takes a bit of adjustment for the down.  We started out at the winter closure, then headed up past Naylor Lake to the northface of Squaretop.  We climbed and skied the face, then continued up to Argentine Pass, and eventually the summit of Argentine.  The NE face of Argentine has a bunch of short and relatively steep options, but most are guarded by large cornices.  On the NW side of the face, we found a break and dropped in.  The surface was a bit reactive, but nothing deep.  Fun skiing down to the basin below, then we ascended again to the NW shoulder of Mount Wilcox where we proceeded to ski the lower NE face back to the car.  I think this is an excellent little outing for anybody looking to link a few peaks close to Denver.

our approximate route

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