Friday, January 13, 2006

Trans Teton Ski Tour 1.16.05

Today was the final day of my AMGA Ski Guiding course. The last two days we spent crossing the Teton mountain range. This trip was amazing. Sunday morning we started the tour at the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort. Our group of eight students and two instructors were on our way up the tram a half hour before it opens at 9am. It had snowed three inches the night before and it was extremely windy. I could feel the cumulative concern in the tram that morning. I think we all felt a bit worried as we heard the gusts at the top of the tram were reaching 50 mph and blowing the tram all over the place. It felt like an elevator to the arctic as we got off the tram at the top of Rendezvous... ding. We headed South West out of the ski area boundary above Cody bowl. After a short traverse we had to climb the top of Cody Mountain, it was a rocky and snowy face so we threw our skis on our packs and scrambled up.

From here Hans was our lead guide and he did a great job of getting us some pretty amazing knee deep powder turns in a lightly gladed area (here is a video of me skiing it). The weather was such that we were the only ones in the backcountry and on my own I would not have chosen a two day trans Teton trip in a snow storm and 50 mph winds. Our trip had started out pretty well. We all sort of helped navigate to our traverse. We traveled North West across the Middle and South Fork of Granite Creek and up a little ridge just before the climb to Housetop Mountain.
We had planned on camping around Housetop at 10,537 feet but that with the low visibility and high winds we decided to stop short. We camped below the ridge in a safe batch of trees. Here we ran an avalanche scenario where we had 3 transceivers buried. It was a surprise so after some initial chaos we found them all in 16 minutes or so. It was extremely cold so we got to making our shelters then covering it with our guides’ tarp. We used our skis and poles as the structure then covered it with snow for insulation.

The next morning we started our ski ascent of Housetop Mountain (10,627’) at 8am, it was 4 degrees. I could not warm up. I had every bit of clothing on I brought with me, but it didn’t seem to matter. On top of that we were keeping a clients pace which meant we weren’t skinning as fast as we would on our own. After the initial few hundred feet we were on the ridge to Housetop. This was the hardest most exposed section of the tour. The wind was blowing us off balance as we negotiated this corniced ridge. It wasn’t always obvious how we could progress and we did quite a bit of dropping low to avoid breaking cornices and then climbing back up. The female in our group started to get frost nip and by her moans of pain I wasn’t sure if she was going to make it out. We finally made it to the top of Housetop Mountain and started our mostly downhill traverse along the ridge. At the top of Housetop it was my turn to lead the group. At one point we came upon a knife ridge with 45 degree slopes on both sides and soft cornices on top.
The other group had started to attach their skis to their packs to boot pack it. I thought the snow was way too soft for that so we skinned on. This is where I looked back at Rob our instructor with a “this looks terribly dangerous” expression on my face. He just said “keep going”, you gotta love the seasoned confidence of a weathered mountain man. And so I skinned up the side of this knife ridge with soft snow cornices on one side
and avalanche slide danger on the other. After this assent we got some pretty sweet turns down to the creek before Baldy Knoll. The weather cleared a bit and we could see the Tetons in all their glory. That view made the whole trip worth it.

We then skinned around Baldy Knoll and out Fox Creek. We started at 9am on Sunday and finished the tour on the other side of the Tetons around 2:30pm on Monday, all told going clients pace we most likely spent 9 hours on skis.
We ascended 3,500 feet, descended 7,383 feet and our maximum elevation was 10,627. This route could be done in one day at a fast pace. Hopefully I’ll be able to find someone to journey out there with me before it’s time to leave this wonderful hole.
Click this image to see a larger version of the TOPO’s route – it’s pretty cool.

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