By: randosteve|Posted on: February 4, 2009|Posted in: Grand Teton, Guest Posts, People | 9 comments

Thanks to Andrew McLean for his account of the second decent of the Hossack-MacGowan Couloir with the late Hans Saari. And rumor has it congratuatlions are in order as his wife is pregnant with their second child. Nice one Andrew!

Anyway, I think this is the last of the three part series (part 1, part 2) on the Hossack-MacGowan Couloir. I hope you have enjoyed the photos and stories as much as I have, and I hope one day I can tell one of my own from the Hosscak-MacGowan.� I’m not really sure I’ll ever have the cajones to actually make a serous attempt at it, but I love dreaming about skiing it every time I tour up into Glacier Gulch and Teton Glacier.� One can only wonder if this season will produce conditions to warrant an attempt this season, but I’ll be happy just thinking about it just the same.� –Steve

hans rib rock
Hans Saari ski tours in front of classic Grand Teton gneiss.

This time it was just the two of us, and instead of soft new snow, we had hard old snow. This made the climbing pretty easy, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking “This thing is really steep – I don’t know if I want to ski it in these conditions.” But we kept going until we crested out of the HM Couloir proper and made it up to easier ground on the high East Face.

The first set of turns down the East Face were excellent – it is a wild location, the snow was perfect and the turns felt pretty safe. As we got down Hoss MacGwninto the couloir though, that started to change. The sun went away, so we were in a dark, ominous slot that most of the soft snow had slid off of. Each turn got a little steeper than the last until you suddenly realized that you were skiing some really burly terrain with HUGE fall potential. To add to this, the slope was littered with millions of frozen chicken-heads, some of which you could blast away as you slid over them, but many of them would catch your tips or tails and jack your skis around. !!! NOT SO GOOD!

hans grand summit
Hans Saari skis the East Face of the Grand Teton.

We carefully worked our way down the upper chute until we got to where it dog-legs off to the skiers right. At this time, the snow had formed a large pillow which was conceivably possible to wrap around to get into the lower section of the H/M, but it meant that you had to go within about 10′ of the lip, which then fell off for many hundreds of feet over a cliff. We decided it was too sketchy, so we side stepped back up and started looking for a place to set up a rappel. We were hoping to find rap anchors left by Hans and Mark, but later learned that they had dug a bollard and rapped off of that. Gulp.

Hossack-MacGowan Couloir on the Grand Teton.

Setting up a rap anchor was really hard as the rock was either welded tight, or exploded into bits when we drove a piton into it. Eventually we set up a couple of very dubious pieces, but they were about 20′ apart, so we had to expend lots of our webbing just to connect them. I went first and tried to sidestep as much as possible to avoid loading the rope. When I finally got down to a piton we had set on our ascent, I thankfully clipped it, pulled the tails through the rap device and shouted up to Hans that I was off. My legs were kind of fried at that point, so I started to sag onto the piton when it suddenly popped out! On the way up, it was one of the best pieces we had placed, but in the meantime, it turned out that it was set in an icy crack and had since melted out. Now I was standing on a very steep, exposed slope with a piton hanging from my waist on a sling and the rope was way off to the side. It was a good time to remain calm.

I think we did another rappel somewhere in there to skirt around an ice bulge, and then suddenly we could look down and see the end of the chute stretching all the way down to the apron. Yippy! We are going to live! Not so fast. The HM stays serious all the way to the last drop and I remember it having my full attention all the way down. We got in a few victory sweeper turns back to the tent, but that was about it.

Hans all smiles in the Hossack-MacGowan.

I hadn’t really put much forethought into the descent, in part because Mark and Hans were pretty casual about describing it as “a really good line” or something to that effect, but afterwards I couldn’t wait to hear more about their descent as I was suffering from mental scarring from ours. In true Teton Masters style, they had eyed it for a long time, waited until conditions were perfect, then done the whole thing in a day which is the ultimate in good style. In regards to steep ski mountaineering, I think their descent is probably still the zenith of the sport in America.
-Andrew McLean