A website dedicated to the blissful pursuit of the backcountry experience, wherever mountains rise,

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Teton Trifecta

The Sliver (photographer unknown)

Yesterday, my friend Brent Hutcheson and I hiked up Garnet canyon in the Grand Teton National Park to climb and ski the Sliver Couloir, a super aesthetic line splitting the east face of Nez Perce peak, just a few meters shy of 12,000ft.  With an eye towards avalanche safety, we decided to camp at the base of the peak the night before, hike an access couloir early in the morning, traverse the Shadow Peak Cirque, and boot up before the sun got a chance to warm up the snowpack.  This required a 3:30 am rise and 4:30am departure. After a slow start (I had forgotten my ice axe at camp), and a navigation error (we initially hiked up the wrong couloir), we started our ascent at the base of the Sliver at about 9:00 in the morning.  We had hoped to be on our descent by this time, as we were very concerned about the possibility of wet slides due to a recent and rapid warming trend.  We got some help from the weather as a front moved in and provided cloud cover and cooler temps.  This gave us a margin of safety as we hiked the couloir.  We short-roped the entire length of it, since Brent was climbing without boot crampons, and the terrain was very steep and icy.  After a grueling three hour climb, we summited at around noon.  We were exhausted but excited to ski one of the sickest lines in the Tetons.  However, upon looking down the East Hourglass Couloir that fell away immediately from the opposite side of the summit ridge, we decided to alter our plans.  The snow looked pristine, and the descent, north-facing and shaded, seemed like a safer alternative considering the time of day.  Plus, the couloir was as Brent noted, "one of the coolest lines I've ever seen."

I dropped in first to check the snow stability while Brent had me on belay.  After downclimbing the length of the rope, Brent followed on rappel.  By this time the front had moved in at full force, and powerful winds blew snow in our faces.  Halfway through the "hanging" section of the couloir (requiring a rappel in and out), I lowered Brent off a rock horn with a Munter hitch to the top of the second rappel.  I downclimbed behind him, and we both rapped the lower cliff, using every inch of the 40m rope, slipping off the ends onto a steep patch of snow just below a large chockstone.  We strapped in here and rode out the main section of the East and the lower half of the West Hourglass.  Unfortunately, the pristine powder we had scoped from above turned out to be extremely wind affected.  The skiing was mostly crap (and a bit dangerous) until we reached the West, where we hung a right, and made some big turns in soft bleached flour.  We arrived at camp at around 4:00pm, almost 12 hours from start!  After initially planning to camp a second night, we decided to leave that evening, due to the deteriorating conditions.

It was dark.  I fell in a frozen lake up to my neck.  We got lost.  We argued.  I became mildly hypothermic. We camped off-trail in driving rain.  Brent made camp while I warmed up in a damp sleeping bag.  We slept poorly. We found the right trail in the morning, and made it home in time for breakfast.  Done.  Season over.

Regretfully, the photos we took are of poor quality.  I had forgotten the battery pack for my camera, and Brent's was accidentally set to a slow shutter speed.  But here they are (I've included one from the web).  I guess we will just have to return here again next year, when conditions are better and cameras are in full operation!

The Teton Range (Nez Perce is the 3rd peak to the left of the Grand, the tallest among them)

The "hanging section" of the East Hourglass (photo: Andy Sherpa)

Brent, halfway up the Sliver

Brent, near the top

Looking into the East Hourglass

Myself, in the entrance

and just below


Brent midway through the second rappel


Myself, clipping in, second rappel

The lower section of the East Hourglass, with the West just beyond