Reed Finlay rounds a windy corner in Shadow Peak Cirque
on the way to the Sliver on Nez Perce.
Last Friday started out with temps in the single digits and high winds predicted to bring the wind-chill down to -30F in the mountains. I met Reed at the airport before sunrise and headed up to the Bradley/Taggart trailhead to give a go at the East Peak Sliver on Nez Perce. This was my first time back into Garnet Canyon after a long, hot summer and I was pumped to get back into the high Teton Range.
We motored into Garnet without much trouble, passing a Russian couple on the way out who mumbled something about frostbite, Devil’s Tower and the Grand Teton…but I couldn’t put what they were saying together. Honestly, I didn’t care because it was gong to be a long, cold day for ourselves, and I just wanted to keep moving. The skin track was in pretty good shape, not really filled in completely until the Platforms, which is just about how you want it. The hot chocolate I had brought was a godsend at warming me up at the breaks we took on then way.
Skinning above the Platforms in Garnet Canyon.
The wind started pumping as we ventured above the Platforms and into the Shadow Peak Cirque. I pushed a skin track nearly all the way up the access couloir, before it just got too steep and forced me to boot the final few feet. Reed trailed behind and met me at the top of the gully. Though now back in the sun, the wind was ever present and made me wolf down a ProBar faster than I wanted to before moving again to get the blood going.
It was full on conditions for the next half hour or so and at one point we were forced to hunker behind some rocks to put on all the layers we had, including our goggles, as a ground blizzard nailed us head on turning the corner in the cirque. As Reed approached, I could see his nose turning white and we both made sure we buttoned up accordingly, as well as chugged the rest of our hot drinks. The thought of turning around crept into both our heads, but I was pretty motivated having been wrapped up in a lot of extracurricular type stuff lately…nevermind the Christmas rush at the store. We pushed on in hopes of better, warmer conditions further on.
Approaching the Sliver.
As we got ourselves closer to the Sliver, the wind seemed to die down dramatically and we pointed our skis towards an area just below the couloir where the sun was still shining. It would help keep us warm as we transitioned to crampons and I stashed our skins and my now empty thermos under some rocks so I didn’t have to haul the extra weight to the top. Now hiking in the warm sun, we shedded our goggles for shades and down jackets for helmets and began booting up the Sliver.
Nearing the top.
It was instantly obvious that the skiing was going to be sweet! The couloir looked buffed out to the max and there was no evidence of any other tracks…my biggest pet peeve. The snow varied from boot to crotch deep. Most was pretty fluffy, but a slight wind-slabby section showed its face in the middle. Something to remember on the way down. We swapped leads a couple times as we worked our way to the col at the top. As always in the Sliver early season, the chockstone at the top wasn’t completely filled in and it was a bugger getting up and over it to the notch above. The wind was mellow there and it was nice to be able to relax a bit while getting the skis back on and prepping for the descent.
I lead the way with a little wiggle to smear turn off the top and we regrouped before continuing. The snow was killer and I skied the next couple hundred feet with speed, pulling aside when I could to let the slough run on by. In the middle, Reed kicked off a small slab that could have been dangerous, but luckily he was ready for it and stayed put as it pulled away, running down the slope and over the rocks at the bottom. The snow, pitch and tightness of the line at the bottom allowed for quick, rhythmic turns before having to slow things down in order to pick through the exit.
Most of the snow on the apron was pretty slabby, so we cut high left to make our way back to the access couloir and Garnet Canyon. A short sideslip got us into the gut and variable snow kept us on our toes…not to mention the rocks and ice. We scored a few more floater turns skiing back down to Bradley Lake, but most of it was spent avoiding deadfall and mushroom capped boulders. My feet finally defrosted as we put our skins back on to get back to the rig and the RedBull helped me double pole my way back after toping the last moraine. My face tingled with the sense of a another great day in the Tetons. Stay tuned for a video from the trip.