Trip Report: Skiing the Grand Teton 3/20/2015
As soon as I got back to Salt Lake City after skiing Mt. Moran, I started looking at the weather for the Tetons again. I wanted to go back as soon as possible, and I was on spring break. Lo and behold, there was going to be another weather window near the end of the week. I asked my buddy Greg what he thought, and we watched it. On Wednesday, we decided that skiing the Ford-Stettner route on the Grand Teton would be a good idea for Friday. Our friend Brett ended up in on this plan as well.
To be entirely honest, I started getting a little wigged out. The last time I was on the Grand, my friend George and I got turned around due to precipitous icefall in the Stettner couloir and it was scary. My active imagination ran me through many scenarios and my brain was on fire.
Thursday afternoon rolled around and the plan was to head up to Jackson immediately after Brett and Greg got off work at 5pm. We grabbed burritos and gasoline in Salt Lake before heading out and promptly sat in rush-hour traffic. A few hours and a speeding ticket later, we were in Grand Teton National Park. Our boots clicked into our skis and we began skinning from the trailhead towards Garnet Canyon at 12:01 AM on Friday, 3/20. The fire that was lit in my brain was doused by the familiarity of skins on snow and knowing that Greg and Brett are two of my favorite partners for missions like this for many good reasons. We were psyched to be there and everything was feeling right.
Cruising up to the top of the Teepee Glacier was uneventful and we kept a reasonable pace. We watched the sunrise and put on our harnesses with a party who had caught up to us, and it turned out that Jess McMillan was in that group and I collected some GNAR points with a pro call-out before turning the corner into the Stettner couloir. Now that we were effectively a party of 6, clear communication was the game. The McMillan gang let us start up the Stettner first, and they would follow. Greg cruised up and Brett and I followed, the three of us roped together. Because it was easy steep snow climbing, we let Greg find an anchor and clip the rope in, but didn’t bother belaying for the sake of time. We didn’t want wet sluffs and ice balls falling down on us.
Once we got to the bottom of the Chevy couloir, I took the lead. Two ice bulges were ahead of us and proved to be no problem to climb over. They maybe clocked in at WI3-, and the biggest was only about 8 feet high. After putting an ice screw in each one of these and finding the anchor, I belayed Brett and Greg up. Jess and her party cheered us on while we climbed up the ice. It was pretty rad having a Warren Miller star shout encouragement to you while she waited below. One more pitch of the Chevy and we were in the bottom of the Ford Couloir. We left our ropes at the first rappel station we would be skiing to and then headed up. I had somehow hit a wall of sorts and progress up the Ford couloir was slow for me.
Greg earned the Hero of the Day award for putting in the bootpack the entire way up the Ford couloir and I found him sitting feet from the summit in a sunny spot sheltered from the wind. Gaining 7000 vertical feet from the parking lot had made us all feel woozy and a little bit drunk from the altitude. After a summit shot, we clicked in at the very summit and skied down. Managing six people proved to be easier than expected, and we all ended up safely at the rappel stations. The skiing was steep, but not mind-warping. Greg estimated that it was no steeper than 50º, with 48º seeming reasonable. No official measurements were made. We nailed the timing and had sun softened goods, but the skiing hadn’t turned sticky.
A few rappels later, we hopped back onto the Teepee glacier and blasted down the refrozen corn. It wasn’t bulletproof ice, but having been in the shade for a few hours, it was definitely firm. We played together in some of the soft snow that was still lit up, and continued down the canyon and to the lake.
The short skin from the lake up and over the hump was brutal. Not only because we were tired, but also because I didn’t want the day to end. The most involved day in the mountains I have ever had wasn’t going to last forever, and all the caffeine, altitude, and dehydration was getting to me. I was upset that I would be taking off my ski boots eventually. Nineteen hours after starting at midnight, we stopped at 7:00 PM. It wasn’t a speed record, but it was nice doing it in a single push rather than carrying camping gear and making it a two-day affair.
The smiles and giddy laughter at the car while we looked up at the mountain we had just enjoyed so much ended with the final thought that we all felt like we were finally skiers. We thought that we were skiers before, but the Grand was such a milestone that it gave us a sense that we were in a certain club now. This talk gave way to where we would be getting food, and we chose The Merry Piglets, because Mexican food is delicious. The drive home was filled with pulling over and napping, and exactly 36 hours after we left Salt Lake, we returned.
There is a very good reason that the Ford-Stettner is in the 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America book, and Jimmy Chin’s review of it doesn’t need any alteration. “A white gash that forms a perfect diagonal line down the summit pyramid” that makes for “a perfect day in the mountains”. Front pointing up Teepee Glacier to technical ice in the Chevy, a manageable ski descent, a couple of spots to get your heart rate up, 7000 vertical feet of descent, and the scenery all do make for a perfect day in the mountains. Mr. Chin says that “every time you get up and down the Grand is a gift” and we certainly felt like we had been gifted this incredible experience with a strong desire for more.
Here’s a video
-Call the park ranger station ahead of time to learn about conditions and pack climbing gear accordingly
-two 60m ropes are ideal. Half ropes, twin ropes, single ropes, it’s your call.
-Take the trail to Taggart Lake then up into Garnet Canyon
-Stay to the right (north) of the canyon once up above the trees in the canyon
-Ascend Teepee Glacier, put harnesses on
-Enter the Stettner Couloir
-Climb until there’s a rock in the middle of the couloir, look up and to the left and be greeted by the Chevy couloir
-Climb the Chevy and then enter the Ford couloir
-Leave ropes at top of Chevy
-High five on the summit
-Ski down following your tracks
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