My infatuation with the Hossack-MacGowan Couloir on the Grand Teton continues with accounts from Andrew McLean, Mark Holbrook and Kris Erickson, on an attempt to ski the line with the belated ski mountaineer, Hans Saari. With our first study, we showed how Mark Newcomb and Hans Johnstone skied it in excellent conditions with an all-out blitz, car-to-car mission. Here, like with many adventures into the mountain to ski rowdy terrain, we see how a skier’s urge will push them further in harsh conditions…only to turn around in failure. Photographs by Mark Holbrook and Kris Erickson. -Steve
The late Hans Saari pushes higher during an attempt to ski
the Hossack-MacGowan Couloir of the Grand Teton.
Mark Holbrook- When two Utah weekend chute skiing warriors hook up with two young and wild Montana chute skiing die hards…anything can happen. Add into the mix a significant other, a father-in-law and his friend and you have a chute skiing party. Why go try the hardest ski route in the states on a random weekend with a group like this? I’m not really sure but it made for a fun weekend.
We all meet up in the parking lot at Taggert trailhead. It was great to see the Mt folks again and we introduced them to our guests. The hike up the valley and into the canyon we gorgeous and still. The going was slow, but everyone slogged on. We made it to the base of the east face late in the afternoon and set up camp while the slower hikers straggled in. It started to snow and we enjoyed a good meal and wild stories told between the three tents.
It snowed most of the night and spindrift fell on the tents. We had to dig out a few times during the night and the guests were a bit nervous about what they might have signed up for. In the morning the snow had stopped and we left early for our attempt. We put Helen in charge of camp and knew that she could handle the obscene fart jokes coming out of the guest tent.
Andrew McLean at a belay on the north side of the Grand Teton.
Andrew McLean- Kris’s photos are excellent and brought back many happy (?) memories of our first attempt at the HM, as well as showing how steep the route is. It is kind of scary to think that those images were only in the first third of the route, and that it stays that steep all the way up, as well as dog-legging over a big ass cliff in the upper section. It’s a steep’un!
I don’t really remember the approach details, probably because like many Teton ascents, it involved lots of pain, suffering and heavy loads, so I’ve repressed it. From what I remember, I think we went in as two separate groups and met up at a camp just below the route. It was kind of mixed weather, so the attempt was looking a little dubious before we even went to sleep that night. The next morning it was snowing, so my mind was geared more towards powder-puffing in the cirque, but I think it was Hans who was all fired up to still try the HM, so we geared up and started up it.
Kris Erickson- Looking at the shot where we’re booting up the couloir, you can see blue skies wanting to break out but by the time we reached the traverse it was snowing so hard we were getting hit with constant spin drift avalanches.
Hans Saari and Andrew McLean get hammered
with spindrift in the Hossack-MacGowan Couloir.
Andrew McLean- One great thing about the HM is it lets you know what you are getting into right off the bat. “Hello – I am a wickedly steep line and will remain like this for the next 2,000′ so turn back now if you don’t like it.” Despite deep snow, we kept going. The trail breaking wasn’t too hard as the snow was sluffing constantly, but we kept getting hit with powerful sluffs, which was very disconcerting. Over the course of an hour or so as we were climbing, the sluffs started to really pack a punch, so there was some debate about going on. At one point I remember Kris pulling out his technical ice tools and front pointing up an ice bulge. When I followed suit, I got nailed by a sluff that almost knocked me off the bulge, which was all the warning I needed to declare my intentions to retreat. We stopped below a little cliff and while we were discussing our options, a few more sluffs washed over us, which made the decision easier.
Andrew McLean getting his skis pointed in the right direction.
Mark Holbrook- We started up the couloir in good fashion but the snow was deep and the going slow. When we reached the ice bulge Kris headed right up with Andrew following right behind. Andrew offered me a roped belay and I gladly accepted.
We all climb higher entering a small chute that lead to a larger ramp. It was in this section that the spindrift started coming down, light at first but increasing with each flush. It was here that we decided to turn around and head back to camp. Two much new snow to make it to the top, but enough for a very fun ski down the bottom section.
Andrew McLean- The skiing on that attempt was pretty good – you can’t be scared if you can’t see where you are going. We all made it down in one piece (and in one-piece suits) where we then broke down camp and headed out. At some point, Hans mentioned trying it again, to which I made some vague comment like “Uhmmm, yeah, that would be great. Super fun. Try it again. Yeah.” (translation: I don’t think so.) But one of Hans’ gifts was persistence and he set a date of two weeks later and held me to it.
Andrew negotiates steep terrain in the Hossack-MacGowan Couloir.
Kris Erickson- It’s crazy to think about that trip and how it was ten years ago. It’d be great to see someone else get after it and make the third descent at some point, hopefully when conditions are good and their are safe about it. I worry sometimes about people not giving the conditions on the mountain enough respect these days but what can you do. It was a good call to bail when we did as conditions were getting dangerous fast but I would have liked to ski that gem, maybe some day.