Can you find the skiers/climbers in this photo of the Grand Teton?
Today’s trip to ski the Ellingwood Couloir on the Middle Teton evolved from many options that we put on the table both the night before and as the day progressed. It was my first day skiing with Dustin Lemke since he came back from being at sea, working as an engineer on a cargo ship for the past 6 weeks. Good to have you back Bro! I was also skiing with Teton backcountry aficionado, Brian Ladd, who gets out a lot in these mountains.
We started at about 5am and hiked for at least a mile before putting on the skis. The snow is melting quick for easy access into Garnet Canyon from the Bradley/Taggart trailhead, and it will probably be my last trip up there until the road opens. IMHO, there is better skiing to be had in other areas of the park right now, and I feel it is tough to ‘suck it up’ to get up to (and out of) Garnet in these thin conditions when I have been going up there with ease all winter.
We ran into a couple guys at The Meadows who had camped out and were trying to ski the Grand Teton. It was well after 7am when we saw them, and all of us thought that they might be getting out of the gate a little late for this time of year on the mountain. Hopefully the gusty winds will keep things cool for them as they ascend the peak.
The Ellingwood Couloir on the Middle Teton is one of the most classic steep descents in Garnet Canyon and the Teton Range. It is about 1500′ and hovers around 50° for the majority of the line. When we arrived at the base of the couloir, we initially thought it might be too trashed by debris and runnels to enjoy. There was o doubt that the Chouinard looked in much better shape, but Dustin and I already skied it this year, so we voted for the Ellingwood. Dustin had fresh legs from all the rest on the ship and broke trail most of the way to the Ellingwood Col below the summit of the Middle.
The Grand Teton came into view as we gained the col and I instantly searched for and spotted the other group. We saw them in the bottom of the Stettner Couloir, moving well. It was about 11 o’clock now and I’d say they were still at least 3 hours from the summit. Looks like a long day for them.
We had no intentions of skiing the East Face of the Middle today, just some casual kung-fun turns down this steep couloir. The sky had a bit of grease (read;clouds) in it now and combined with the wind, was keeping the snow from really softening up. Snow conditions can really make the difference between a fun time and a survival skiing situation in a couloir like this. Unfortunately, it was a bit too firm for my taste and I had to stay focused with every turn…making sure to stay forward, and over the skis to allow the edges to dig in.
Occasionally we found sections of softer snow, which felt great, but most of the couloir had a kind of a re-frozen stiffness that hurt my knees. This is about the 5th or 6th time I’ve skied the Ellingwood Couloir, and these days I really prefer to ski classic lines like this in good conditions, since they are so accessible.
Still, it was fun to be out with Brian and Dustin today. We had plans to ski another couloir, but we (me especially I think) didn’t want to ski another icy one. As we skied down to Bradley Lake and the end of the snow, I couldn’t stop wondering how the guys on the Grand Teton were doing. If they pushed ahead to the summit, or pulled the plug. The weather seemed to be improving into the late afternoon, so hopefully they made it.