On Easter Sunday, I tried to ski the Skillet Glacier in a day. I tried to avoid this trip as much as possible since I wasn’t that psyched about the 2 am start at Jackson Lake. It would also be my fifth day of skiing the backcountry in row and I wasn’t sure how strong I would be for such a big day. In the end though it was hard pass up and I joined Colin, Bryan and Ty for a fun filled adventure.
The day started when my alarm woke me up at 11:30 PM, after about an hours worth of sleep. Sometimes I wonder if it is even worth trying to sleep when you have to start so early in the morning. We all piled in the van and made the hour long drive to Coltier Bay and where we would begin the 6 mile ski across the lake to the base of the Mount Moran. We were ahead of schedule and it was super cold out. I wore all my layers for the first two miles until I really warmed up. Bryan’s T6 read a temp of -12F…and I believe it. Luckily I was prepared for it and had enough layers to keep warm.
The trail breaking across the lake was easy, though I mostly stayed quite in the back…not quite feeling 100%. The moon was full and the sky was clear, so we rarely had to use our headlamps to navigate across the lake. Turning them on only to riffle through our packs and pour hot chocolate. I think it took about 2 hours to cross the lake. I was kind of a blur and at times I think I was skinning with my eyes closed…nearly falling asleep. We stopped for a break at the other side and cashed some supplies at the lake for the way back, like water, ProBars, RedBulls and kicker skins, before heading into the forest towards the Skillet. Sometimes finding your way through this area can be tough, but the deep snowpack made travel easy though the underbrush and it didn’t take long to find the more open terrain below the glacier.
During early morning trips like this, I find the last couple hours before sunrise to be the hardest part, and needless to say I wasn’t feeling very motivated. A pitstop behind a boulder helped a little bit, but I was feeling pretty tapped and searching inside my head for any excuse to be able bail and go back to sleep. The sun came up and made me feel a little better, but my mind just wasn’t right and I stayed in a weird funk.
Besides my discombobulation, the conditions were great and we were looking good with plenty of time to nail the route. We switchbacked up some frozen avy debris piles, which made breaking trail much easier. Remember…I think it snowed like 40” here last week, so moving up the hill was going a little snow, and we needed all the help we could get. Most of the snow was still cold and powdery, and only a few spots here and there down low had developed suncrust. As we got up closer to the base of the handle section of the route, it started to get much deeper as we skinned up some steeper pitches.
We knew bootpacking up the handle section of the Skillet was going to be a bear, and we thought about skinning higher. But skinning up the handle just didn’t seem right and we also didn’t want to track up the snow with a skin track. We paid our dues breaking trail through the deep snow, though Bryan was the hero, and at times the snow was at my crotch…and higher when the bootpack would collapse under you. Progress was slow and when our watches read that we were ascending a 0ft/min, we gave in and put the skis back on our feet and skinned to the bottom upper couloir.
At this point, I was ready for the climb to be over and I was feeling little motivation to wallow in the deeps snow anymore. Colin and Bryan were still pumped and continued to bootpack again for about another hour up through the deep snow, while Ty and I pulled the plug and started the decent. The skiing was great, with minimal sloughing and no sign that anything would let loose. We milked some fun ridges on the way down and could see that the others were back on their skis again, skinning the upper pitches to the top. Props to their perseverance.
Ty and I chilled at the lake shore for a bit killing some time, but when we started falling asleep, we decided to start the slog back to Coltier Bay. As we pulled away from the shore, we watched as Colin and Bryan skied the line, and after about 15 minutes they were back at the lake, following us back to the van. My thongs (long and thin skins used for flat approaches) were working great on the now buffed track across the lake. I was getting tons of glide, and pulled away from the others on the way back. Though I was glad the others nailed the descent from the top, I was bummed about the way the day had developed and needed some time to myself and continued out in front.
It felt great to get the boots off when I got back to the van and I had an espresso shot waiting for me so I could stay awake for the drive back to Jackson. A bit later, the rest of the group arrived and we had a quick pow-wow, making sure everyone was cool with how the day went down. It was all good to me and I was just glad we all made it safely back. I guess I’m still working on getting my mind right though.