Not skiing for a few days. I’m in Needham, MA visiting family.
Hope I’m not missing anything.
On Wednesday, Reed and I made our second attempt to ski the Southeast Couloir of Buck Mountain. This time, a successful one. Though Buck Mountain sits in the southern end of the Teton range, this steep and spicy couloir had avoided our sights for a number of years, only attracting our eyes in the past couple years. Our first attempt was stymied by quickly warming temperatures. Though the forecast for Wednesday was for partly cloudy skied with isolated snow showers in the afternoon, we weren’t sure how warm it would get and got a 6 am start to try to beat the heat this time.
Morning temps were in the low teens in the am, but it felt a bit cooler with a slight breeze in the valley. Things warmed up quickly once the sun came up, but never really enough to get me down to a t-shirt…my normal attire when skinning uphill in the sun.
As we got further away from the Death Canyon trailhead we soon left the set skin track and began breaking trail up Static Draw on our way to Buck Mountain. We saw some nice wiggle turns on Wimpys, showing that a good turn exchange rate can even be found here in the states.
As we gained elevation, we could see some wind devils on the high peaks, but it was still pretty calm down as we passed below Static Peak, which is closed to human traffic in the winter months to protect bighorn sheep habitat. Though it doesn’t stop park biologist from buzzing them with helicopters and shooting tranquilizer darts at them. All in the name of research I guess.
We soon moved into the alpine world and above tree level, home to many ski mountaineers in the Tetons. The sun was blazing with a few clouds in the sky and we hoped the weather would hold. Sunshine always makes skiing steep couloirs more enjoyable.
As we skinned higher and up to Timberline Lake, a few clouds began to form over the highest peaks…the Grand Teton being one of them. One minute you could see it and the next minute you couldn’t.
We had decided not to climb directly up the couloir, avoiding some technical ground and opting for a quicker approach via the East Face. We could still see some avalanche crowns from some slides that occurred last week, and although the avy danger was still moderate, we felt confident things had stabilized a bit since then.
The snow was still pretty deep and soft on the East Face, so we kept our skis on our feet to make quicker progress upward and some of the weight off our backs. We had the usual gear consisting of crampons, ice axes and helmets, but also had harnesses, ropes and some rock protection to deal with the cliff we would encounter near the bottom of the couloir. Before we started up the face, we put on our harnesses and helmets in order to keep the time we would be at the summit to a minimum. Some tight, short switchbacks were necessary in the steep access couloir in order to access the big and open upper face.
We skinned higher and higher up the face, and I was glad I had my ski crampons on when some icier snow could be felt under the surface. The snow as very deep in spots, but not very slabby and we felt relatively good about the conditions. A long side hill brought us to the steeper slopes below the summit of Buck and we were forced to bootpack.
It was slow going at first, but as we got higher, the snow got a bit more compact and easier to bootpack. At this point, the number of clouds in the sky had increased and it was anyone’s guess what would happen with regard to the weather. We continued higher and hoped it would hold enough to tag the couloir.
I was a little windy on the summit, so we made our transition to descent mode quickly. I multi-tasked and managed to chug a RedBull and mow a ProBar, in preparation for the excitement to come. I gave a quick a quick shout out to the God of the Tetons.
The view of the south facing slopes of the high peaks to the north is awesome from the summit of Buck, and the clouds and lighting made them even more impressive. No matter how many times you look at them, the Tetons never seize to impress most mountain travelers.
We used caution as we began the descent. Though the snowpack seemed stable, there was a lot of snow stuck to the face and you never know when a big slab might let go. Reed went first and skied down to the entrance to the Southeast Couloir and I joined him when I got the signal.
For a while, we stood at the top of the couloir, indecisive on whether to go for it or not. The sky was now completely full of clouds and since we hadn’t climbed the couloir, we were a little unsure of being able to find a good anchor to rap the cliffs at the bottom. The fact that the avy danger would increase dramatically once on the steeper slopes added to our unease. Finally, we decided to giver’ a go and dropped in. Part II on Monday.