Randosteve sets up for September turns on the North Face of Spaulding Peak.
Table Mountain and it’s steep East Face in the background.
After a long and busy summer, I finally made a go for my September turns with Reed in the South Fork of Garnet Canyon on September 30th, thus marking the official success of my ‘turns all year’ quest. There is no doubt that ‘turns all year’ in the Tetons is no easy task, compared to other states that have more access to glaciers and/or less wilderness area where you might be able to drive a bit closer to the snow. It’s not that it’s THAT difficult here at home, but you will be putting in some effort to get the good in these late summer/early fall months. Hopefully some wintry weather will start to show its face soon, so October skiing can begin.
The day began with my heart jumping out of my chest, as a big black bear crossed right in front of us less than a mile from the trailhead. Reed and I were lost in conversation and with our heads down and hiking hard, we didn’t even see it. Luckily the bears around here are pretty tame since they see so many people throughout the summer. As we gained elevation, you could see the smoke lying down (when it settles in the valley in the morning hours) from the prescribed burns in the nearby Gros Ventre Wilderness.
Morning smoke from prescribed forest fire burns.
This one in the Gros Ventre Wilderness to improve Bighorn sheet habitat.
We weren’t sure whether we would head up to the Middle Teton Glacier, or the South Fork of Garnet Canyon, but as we arrived at the Meadows, we decided to see what snow was available on the north side of the South Teton. I had gotten some promising reports from a fellow J-Holer and it sounded like a good idea. Cresting into the South Fork of Garnet Canyon, it looked as though the North Face of Spaulding Peak was the best route for the most turns. We would like this section with two others, to get 1500′ of skiing.
Reed Finlay heading towards the South Fork of Garnet Canyon
with the Zorro Face in full view.
We high stepped and grunted our way higher and higher until we reached the bottom of the snowline. Finally we would be able to lighten the load on our backs by putting our boots on our feet. Crampons were mandatory as it looked like the snow conditions were extremely variable, with one side of the slope being totally bullet-proof snow, and the other to be breakable crust on top of bullet-proof snow. September skiing at its best!
As booted up the slope, things began to feel a little bit better, but still not great. If we stayed to the skier’s left, we could probably avoid most of the boilerplate, but it was also hard to tell how deep the snow was on the left side, so it would still be tricky. When we got closer to the ridge, where we had hoped to pop back into the sun and have views into Avalanche Canyon, things changed very quickly, the snow became rock hard, and my crampon points were hardly biting into it. Ad to the fact that I only had one whippet, and no ice axe, I felt a little uneasy. The exposure and rocky terrain beneath me could easily put and end to my ski season quickly, and I delicately traversed to the east to a flatter spot on the slope and where some softer snow had accumulated. Reed watched from below and pulled out to a spot beneath me, and we both began to transition for the descent. The skiing would be interesting and challenging enough from here, no need to push it for a few more feet of icy side-slipping.
Traversing towards softer snow near the ridge
and wishing I had more than one Whippet.
As soon as I got my skis on I felt at ease, as my ski edges often give me a much greater sense of security on icy terrain than crampons. Skiing out to the west and lining up the first few turns through some steep and narrow terrain, you could see Table Mountain and its steep east face, home of two couloirs that could maybe see a ski track some day. Staying to the far skiers left, the snow was breakable sugar, to the right, rock hard boiler plate. My ski tails scarped on some rocks as I tried to stay as far left as possible. The skiing was challenging and my quads filled with lactic acid quickly. I stopped and let Reed come down. From here the slope opened up and steepened, but the snow actually looked pretty good…relatively speaking. More sugar, less breakable. Reed had at it and chunky slough soon followed him down the slope until he was out of view. Linking decent turns in almost-soft snow, I met up with him before another narrow section, where we would side-slip and maybe squeeze in a turn or two, getting a few more vertical feet on the skis.
Randosteve running out of snow on the north face of Spaulding Peak.
After some rocky side-stepping, we popped out of our Dynafits and packed our skies, to begin the downclimb through loose rock to a more north easterly facing slope around a ridge. The snow on this aspect was softened by the sun and we both found some smooth snow as we descended back to the bottom of the canyon. Another scramble up and over a loose, glacial moraine brought us to one more sun softened section were the skiing would come to an end and the long walk back to the valley floor would begin.