I picked up Brian Harder at 7am yesterday, both of us were anxious to get into the mountains, and I think we both lost sleep because of it. We passed the resident moose that seem to have made Gros Ventre Junction their home for the past couple weeks and we were on the trail before 8. The wind was moving pretty good from the south and we were feeling it as we moved across the valley towards the mountains.
Today’s goal was the West Hourglass Couloir on Nez Perce. I skied this couloir earlier this season with Cary Smith (see post), and it was heinous…so I was looking for redemption. We have been getting consistent snowfall for the past week or so, and the wind has recently been out of the south, so I figured now would be the time to get some powder in the north facing couloir. As long as it was safe!
We broke trail through crusty, sun affected snow down low and on the southern aspects on our way into Garnet Canyon. After a quick bite at the Platforms, we put our heads down as we entered the wind tunnel of the Meadows and continued towards the South Fork before heading up and left…to the Hourglass. The skies were clearing, but we were staying in the shadow of Nez Perce and the continued buffeting by the wind. The lower slopes were filled in nicely and looked soft. We stayed near the edge as we skinned higher. Brian opted to boot after a bit, while I continued on skis to the base of the couloir.
The snow started off a little punchy, but as we ascended into the couloir, it got deeper and deeper. We wallowed in some spots…pushing snow out of the way with our hands, to make room for our knees and the next step. It was up to Brian’s waist in a few spots, and he’s quite tall. Occasionally, a small slab would release from our hands and we wondered about the stability of the snowpack. We hugged the climbers left side until a steeper pitch forces you right, a couple hundred feet from the top of the couloir.
We scrambled above the skiable highpoint, to a nice ‘chill-spot’ with views of the peaks on the south side of the canyon. One line in particular caught me eye…The Zorro Face. I have stared at this line for a long time and I know a few people have skied it, but I have yet to make an attempt. Maybe soon? The sun tried to pop out from behind Nez Perce, but clouds soon engulfed the South Fork and got us moving. We hiked back down to where we would begin the descent.
The skiing was obviously going to be awesome, as long as the snow stayed put and didn’t wash us down the mountain. Was it last year that some guys got avalanched up here? I think one of them broke their leg. We made deliberate turns, trying to get the slope to move from above as we sneaked down into the heart of the couloir. Brian got first tracks into the goods and I heard hoots of joy as he disappeared around a dogleg. We now had more confidence in the snowpack and were able to ski the rest of the line more aggressively. The steep pitch out of the couloir got our radar back on, but it wasn’t going anywhere. We found nice snow on the aprons back down to Garnet Canyon and 2300′ of skiing.
This was no doubt the best snow I have ever had in the Hourglass, or on the aprons below it. We caught one more pitch of great powder turns as we made our way out of Garnet. The snow had softened up just enough to make the lower slopes down to Bradley Lake almost enjoyable as well. We laughed about how great the skiing was as we finished what was left in our thermoses…not wanting to put the skins back on for the final climb back over the escarpment. The quality skiing today was well earned, and I’m back to work for the weekend.