Sooo, I’ve been trying to plan and put together an overnight trip into Snowshoe Canyon all winter, but the overall conditions never really lined up. (At least on my days off.) Snowshoe Canyon lies just north of Moran Canyon and is one of the few zones of Grand Teton National Park that I hadn’t visited yet. Thomas Turiano describes one particular couloir in the canyon, dubbed Racing the Sun Couloir, as one of the most striking mountain features north of Mount Moran. That description sounded pretty intriguing to me and has definitely kept me interested in checking it out for the last few months and I rallied a â€œcouples-crewâ€ to head in that direction as a 40th birthday celebration mission.
With no trails and long lake crossings to gain access into Snowshoe Canyon, I was really wondering how the approach was going to pan out, since up until early last week, it sounded like Jackson Lake still wasn’t melted out enough to be boat-able. Without the lake being ice-free, it would have added about 8 miles of difficult bushwaking and creek crossings just to gain access to the mouth of the canyon. In the winter, it is an easier 6 mile ski across the frozen ice to get to the same location.
Luckily for us though, the ice and boat launches melted out just in time and a motorized boat crossing made the approach easier, but not without caution. The winds had been ripping all day and white caps were seen on some of the waves in the middle of the lake when we pulled up to the Signal Mountain boat launch. Not to big a deal when you’ve got a sickbird water-ski or fishing craft, but definitely not without concern when you’ve just got a canoe or even drift-boat with a little kicker motor on the back, which is what I have.
Hugging and motoring along the south shore most of the way went smooth however, but a wintery squall moved in just as we were crossing Moran Bay and the waves kicked up. Our line to where we wanted to land the boat had us at a 45 degree angle to them, and a few waves got us nervous that we might get wetter than we really wanted to. We finally made it though, but had to negotiate a muddy shoreline and exposed location as we geared up for the ski into camp, which consisted of tricky route finding linking up patches of now and skinning and hauling ourselves and gear-sleds over lots of deadfall, creeks and marshy, wet ground. Fun times!
Not sure how the rest of the ski into the south-fork of Snowshoe Canyon would go, an early morning had the whole crew up at 4am, and Reed Finlay and I were on the skins about a half-hour later. With cold temps and a stiff breeze, the snow was frozen solid which made for fast travel, but until we made it into the true south-fork of the canyon, undulating terrain, avy debris fields and a melting out â€œchasmâ€ area kept movement forward always in question. Reaching the alpine meadows felt great however and soon we were looking at new terrain and on our way to the Racing the Sun Couloir near the head of the canyon.
Slowly but surely, the couloir came into view on our left on Raynolds West Peak. It looked fun, with a possible tricky cornice entrance at the top. The sky stayed pretty greybird, so we knew we were in no rush to get to the line and wondered if it would even soften up at all. Booting conditions were primo though and we move up the couloir quickly. We paused just below the cornice to determine our decent options, but then pulled over it with a few guttural grunts and stabs of our ice axes. In the cold and wind on the ridge, we were now waiting for the sun, as opposed to racing it.
A small window of sun finally came and as a b-day gift, Reed let me drop in first. After a steep side-slip down the face of the cornice, a short but quick drop brought us into the couloir. There was still some good snow on the steeper skierâ€™s left side and I made a few turns before Reed came down to join me. Surprisingly, when he was about 15ft above me, a small slab pulled out and rocketed down the slope. I felt it tug at my skis and lower legs, but my skis stayed under me and I stayed put. Another birthday day present I guess.
Skiing the rest of the couloir was fun, trying to find the smoothest and softest snow possible, but the turns were pretty loud on its still frozen surface. We were hoping to link up with our better-halves for more skiing, but we didnâ€™t know were they went, so we cruised back to camp, had a few pulls from the flask and napped in the warm sun on a melted out grassy patch for the rest of the afternoon. My birthday present to myself.