Gabe gets back to skiing after a short down-climb
as Zahan looks down the Bubble Fun Couloir
The Bubble Fun Couloir on the north side of Buck Mountain has to be one of the hairiest descent routes in the Tetons. It is extremely steep, has a very exposed entrance, and ends in a 200′ foot cliff that has minimal opportunities for anchors. Only a handful of people have skied this line, and I was hopping today would be the day I could finally scratch it off my tick-list.
Last Sunday. Zahan Billamoria invited me to join he and photographer Gabe Rogel, to attempt a descent this past week. Gabe had gotten some very good beta from some local skiers who made a successful descent a couple weeks ago, and we felt pretty good about jumping into the couloir. I was a little concerned about the snow conditions, due to the warm conditions here at home while I was on Mt Shasta, but you don’t know until you go. Typically you don’t climb this route, because of the huge cliff at the bottom, and there is always some anxiety that goes along with committing to a line from the top. Snow conditions and the hopes of finding a good anchor, often remain a mystery until it is possibly too late.
We had a good view of the couloir just before we reached the summit of Buck. It looked a little thin and firm, but I threw a rock into it to get and idea of the snow conditions, and it landed in some soft snow. Hopefully there was a lot of it. Gade skied off the summit first, and we drew straws to see who would would drop into the couloir first. Zahan won, and made tentative turns on the firm, wind-buffed snow before threading his way into the couloir. One by one, Gabe and I did the same and met up with Zahan.
We were a little dismayed once in the Bubble Fun. The snow looked pretty crappy, and there was a nice glaze on the surface directly below us. Sure enough, the rock I tossed down, landed in a small pack of wind loaded snow, and the rest of the couloir was very crusty and breakable. I lead the next section, sidestepped around the ice, managed 2-3 turns, before side-slipping again through a narrow section. The wind loaded pocket of snow sloughed off as each of us negotiated this steep section. Zahan measured the slope angle and it registered 60°. After regrouping, we skied down to a section that looked as though we would have to down-climb.
For a minute, I thought about keeping my skis on and space-walking through the rocks, but then decided to play it safe. We all removed our skis and booted down the couloir for about 20′. After putting our skis back on, we skied the next section. As we got lower in the couloir, the snow conditions began to go downhill rapidly (no pun intended). Aggressive jump turns were necessary in order to bash through the crusty snow and stay in control.
As we got closer to the cliff at the bottom, Zahan lead the next section. We could tell things were getting dicey when he stopped to removed his skis, reporting that the snow was getting very icy. It looked like we still had a couple hundred feet to go to the rappels.
Though I really wanted to get this one done, I wasn’t really liking the style in which this descent was going down. We had side-stepped a section at the top, down-climbed a bit in the middle, and now it looked like we would be booting down to the rappels. In normal snow years, I know this coulior fills in enough to ski the whole thing (except the 200′ cliff of course), and I looked at Gabe with frustration. I had had enough. My vote was to boot back up the couloir and come back next year when hopefully we have more snow. Gabe agreed to my ‘Rando-beewhan’ wisdom, and Zahan climbed back up to meet us. We continued up the couloir.
The skiing on the East Face and into Stewart’s Draw was fun…but uneventful. Though I felt empty inside from coming SO close to skiing this rad couloir, I’m glad we made the decision we did. The snow conditions were just too treacherous ‘you fall you die’ exposure, and we decided to live to ski another day.