After a hard week of training and two days of downhill at the Village, I was eager to get back on my touring skis and up into GTNP. As luck would have it, the weather looked perfect for a bigger objective. There has been one line that I’ve wanted to ski for as long as I can remember, and that is the Glacier Route on the Middle Teton. When I realized we were to have blue skies and warm temps, and that the snow pack had stabilized over the previous few days, there wasn’t a moment’s hesitation regarding what I was going to attempt.
Lucky for me, I had an eager partner in my college friend Brittany Ziebell. Ive seen a lot fo her this winter via JH Ski & Snowboard club events, which she helps put on, but we had been finding it difficult to get out into the backcountry together. The day was shaping up nicely.
Full disclosure: I got pretty drunk after the race on Sunday. It was a sunny spring day and the euphoria and devil-may-care attitude that comes with finishing a weekend of downhill got the best of me. I was in the mood to let loose, so I had a few beers. Long story short, I spent most of the night rolling around in bed, nauseous with a biting hangover. Thankfully a combination of maté, espresso, ibuprofine, soda water, and maple syrup had me feeling bright eyed and bushy tailed by the time I picked Britt up at 5 AM. We made our way to the Bradley Taggert Trailhead and set off in the dark. Thankfully, I was very familiar with the route, making skinning in the dark slightly less difficult. The sun rose right as we hit the meadows, a perfect place to take our first break of the day. We stopped to sip some coffee and enjoy the alpenglow on the Middle summit, pinnacle dike, and all the granite walls around us. In a flash the brilliant pink and orange light was gone, replaced by the normal light of day. It was a good reminder of the fleeting beauty of sunrise.
We pressed on in some lingering clouds, before rising above them a little ways up the South Fork of Garnett Canyon. A little bit further on and we were at the top of the canyon, where we had a snack and transitioned to crampons for our final push of the Southwest Couliour. At this point we could see over the crest in the direction of Iceflow Lake and Idaho, which is always a beautiful view. I love the long cliff bands and vast stretches of filled in basins. The peaks might not be as high, but its no less beautiful.
The bootpacking conditions could not have been better, and we made super quick and easy work of the SW couliour, gaining the summit by about 11:30. The views in every direction were stunning, and it was hard to believe how far we had come since morning. After layering up and devouring some food, I got straight to figuring out our route down, since it was obvious right away that it wasn’t going to be straightforward. I had studied this route many times before, however, and was confident I knew the rough idea of what had to be done. Sure enough, it was like I had been told–start skiers left, traverse skiers right, then make a small move over some rocks to get the the east face snowfield that will take you down to the col at the top of the Ellingwood Couliour. I had seen in videos and photos that the small rock move is sometimes a ski through, and sometimes a rappel, but I had heard of many people skiing off the summit this year without any trouble, so was confident it could be done with little fuss.
As it turns out, the move took the form of a small drop, maybe 4 feet, onto a decent sized platform on the col between the summit and a small peak right next to it. I decided the easiest method would be the least graceful–plopping right onto it with a bit of momentum. Both of us were a bit jolted by the flat landing, but made it safely.
From this point forward all the difficulties were behind us, with only the skiing left to enjoy. This is what we had come for, steep, high altitude turns on one of the most beautiful and sexy faces in the world. I dropped first, battling warm, heavy snow, avoiding my slough, and enjoying the hell out of the challenge of keeping it tight in such an awesome place. After reaching the lower col, I pulled over to watch Britt ski. She rocked the east face, also battling heavy snow and steep slope angle, and joined me for a big sigh of relief on the col, knowing we had all but nailed our objective.
We had one more prolonged steep section to ski, this time in the shade underneath a big granite wall. When the slope finally started to mellow out, we both opened up our turns and sped down the ever-widening apron, enjoying the speed and sun. After convening one last time on the glacier proper, we skied down the the north for of Garnett and then down the headwall to the Meadows, making turns on snow that wasn’t quite powder, and not quite corn, but divine none-the-less.
We then meandered our way down Garnett, making even more good turns on tired legs, all the way to Bradley Lake.
Once back at the car we each had a roadhouse beer while lounging on the warm tarmac right behind my truck, enjoying the hell out of the absolutely incredible weather and sense of pleasure that comes with checking off something big.
I think we both could have stayed relaxing in that lot all day, but eventually we packed up and drove back to town.
For me, it was a dream come true. I first hiked the Middle Teton when I was about 13 years old with my Dad and Brother. It took us two days and at the time I had no idea what backcountry skiing was and that mountains like the one we were on could be skied. When I eventually moved out here after college and started backcountry skiing, it still loomed as something that seemed inaccessible to me, a stadium for the pros, the likes of which I would never play on. So finally skiing it served as a way of showing myself how far I’ve come, in addition to further expanded my knowledge of this area that I’m trying to learn. And it was great to share the day with a good friend who also savors big challenges.
Overall there is nothing I would change, other than maybe drinking one more beer in the lot afterwords, holding on to the magical day a bit longer.