We left camp for the South Couloir of Fremont Peak (13,745′…the third highest peak in Wyoming) as the sun hit the tent around 7:30am. It was a nice, cool morning and the snow had frozen up solid, but as soon as we were in the sun, the temps began to soar and we wondered if we were going to be too late to get prime conditions in the line.
As we skinned further, we made our way into Indian Basin and angled to the northeast towards the cirque on the southeast side of Fremont. Numerous couloirs lined the face, but the 2k’ South Couloir stayed in hiding until we were directly underneath it. It was now getting the full exposure of the sun, but the wind picked up and was gusting directly up it, keeping it frozen. We protected our faces from the ground blizzard that would sand blast us every so often and eventually hunkered down behind a rock as we switched to crampons at the mouth of the couloir.
Step by step, we climbed up the couloir on rock solid snow. Some rime-ice trickled down from above as the sun warmed the rocks, but the wind seemed to be over-powering the sun and the snow stayed firm. We made our way higher and one-by-one we crossed a foamy slab of snow about 300′ down from the top and the only place were I thought there might be some avalanche hazard.
As we crested the top of the couloir and made our way onto the summit ridge at 13,700′, we entered the full force of the jet-stream, nearly getting knocked over by the intense wind. Wanting to tag the summit, we quickly scurried northward on the ridge until we were at its highpoint. Although there are many days are very sunny, there are few where the atmosphere is as crystal clear as it as on this day, and we could easily see every mountain range surrounding us, including the entire spine of the Teton Range over 75 miles away as the crow flies. It’s so cool to see the Grand Teton from the summit of another peak so far away. I love it!!!
Choosing comfort over the urge to ski directly off the summit (been there, done that), we walked back to the couloir and dropped in about 10′ where there was no wind at all. Ahhh…I think you know that feeling. While removing the spikes from our boots, skis from our packs, buckling up and clicking into our bindings, we were blown away at the mountain beauty that surrounded us. Peaks, bowls, lakes, glaciers were in every direction and we were about to ski a rad line…life doesn’t get much better for people like myself. Thank you…life!!!
Okay, time to ski. Brain dropped in for couple turns to line up a photo before it was my turn. The snow was softening up nicely in the island of warmth near the top of the couloir, but after about 5 turns, the snow returned to being frozen, but luckily it was smooth and still quite edge-able. We descended a few hundred feet and Brian snuck around the foamy-slab on the skier’s right side of the couloir. I was positioned for an amazing photo (first one in the post) with all the peaks to the south saying “cheeeeese”! Feeling a bit more confident, I stayed in middle and tested the slab, which stayed put, and actually scored some pretty good winter snow as the powder sloughed down beside me.
The skiing got a little crappier near the bottom of the couloir before it turned to a more corn-like condition on the apron below. Like a lot of descents in the mountains, snow conditions often take a back seat to the overall experience of climbing and skiing a line, and we were quite stoked to score the descent. We mowed food, rehydrated and aired out our feet on a warm rock below the couloir, before we continued back to camp.
On the way back to Titcomb camp, it was hard not to keep staring at the north side of Ellingwood Peak (aka, Harrower Peak), who’s north side was still covered in rime. The North Arête is one of the premier rock climbs of the Winds in the summer and the couloirs that come off the ridge were too numerous to count and looked to be fun descents. With so many things to ski in this zone, I hoped we would return to ski one of them. To be continued…