Category Archives: Wyoming

Lots of Teewinots

2016 version

2016 version

2010 version

2010 version

Teewinot gets a bad rap because its standard route is a good place to get avalanched or fail to self-arrest in the early season, and becomes a crowded scree-chute later on. However, it has the advantages of avoiding Garnet Canyon, allowing a quick bail-out if conditions go bad, and offering 5500′ of vertical with a minimal approach even by Teton standards. As the years go by and I have fewer Teton objectives, I find myself using Teewinot more, both as a climb and as a work-out peak.

My first Teewinot of this year was a quick run up to the Apex, about 2700′ of gain on a steep trail to treeline. I did this to gauge both my fitness and snow conditions in the range. My fitness seemed okay: the climb took about 45 minutes. As I had experienced in the Gros Ventres the day before, the snow line is abnormally high this year: I only hit consistent snow in the last 100′ vertical or so, and the face above seemed to have consolidated.

Approaching past Worshipper and Idol

Approaching past Worshipper and Idol

My second was a bit of exploration and two tick-marks. The Idol and Worshipper are two prominent pillars just south of the standard route. I had passed them too many times to count, but never taken the time to climb them, despite their being only low 5th by various routes. With an easy day planned and a mediocre weather forecast, I decided it was time to check them out.

I made my way to the Apex, much slower now with a pack, then kicked and postholed up through the krummholtz toward the Worshipper. I watched three skiers make perhaps a dozen turns each, then pick their way back through the brush and rocks to their shoes for the long hike back down. It didn’t seem worth the hike to me, but then again, I had just done the same for two pitches of scrambling…

Worshipper from near Idol

Worshipper from near Idol

I started out by trying the Worshipper’s long, east, downhill face, supposedly the easiest route to the summit. While the climbing was not especially hard, the variable-quality rock and outward-sloping ledges were not fun, so I traversed around left into the notch between it and the Idol. This side is shorter, steeper, and harder — 5.4, according to the Ortenburger guide — but also more secure and fun, climbing a near-vertical crack/chimney with a bulge partway and positive holds to be found throughout.

Pulling over the bulge, I was surprised and pleased to see a natural arch directly in front of me, with a small tree in its center. From the top of the chimney, the route goes through the window, then around to the right and back over it to reach the highpoint. Cool! I even found a summit register, a rarity in the Tetons. It only went back a few years, but suggested that perhaps 1-2 parties a year make the climb.

I retraced my steps, passing an old piton-based rap anchor, then traversed and climbed around the north side of the Idol. I made this harder than necessary, crossing some wet, slimy slabs and grinding my way up a chimney rather than going the long way around and traversing in from the northwest. Still, the climbing was still all easier than the Worshipper, with a couple low 5th class moves and some scrambling on the southwest side quickly leading to the top. I appreciated the view quickly, as the weather was getting colder and possibly wetter, then returned to the Ranch to waste the rest of the day.

Moran, etc. from north ridge

Moran, etc. from north ridge

My final Teewinot turned out to be an excellent use of a half-day, timed nearly perfectly to avoid the atypical early-season afternoon thunderstorms. Eric, a squad leader in the 10th Mountain Division, had a couple free days before starting a course, and was itching to climb. After considering more ambitious options on Owen, we gave in to the realities of the forecast and settled on a shorter route on the north side, starting from the col with Crooked Thumb.

With a 4 AM start from the Ranch, we actually had a bit of headlamp time passing through the aspens at Teewinot’s base. Stripping to t-shirts, we made the climb to the Apex in between 1h20 and 1h30, good time with trad gear. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that Eric was fast: he does this for a living, usually with a much bigger pack.

The snow in the krummholtz was slushy, but above it was firm enough to boot past the Worshipper and Idol without postholing. Above, we traversed around the right-hand shoulder, suffered across some snow already softened by the northeast-rising sun, then followed a grassy, partly snow-covered ledge on around to the couloir leading to the Crooked Thumb Col. This perch has excellent views of Owen’s northeast face, Cascade Canyon, and the seldom-climbed peaks north of Mount Moran. Unfortunately, it is too close to offer a good overview of Teewinot’s north side.

A few pitches of actual climbing

A few pitches of actual climbing

We puzzled over route descriptions and photos for awhile, then descended back east, roped up, and started simul-ing some random terrain left of the north ridge. When we got tired of this, we headed back right, where Eric built and anchor and started leading up the left side of the ridge. Since he passed a couple of old pitons, we figured we were “on route” for some version of “route.” The climbing was varied, fun, and mostly moderate, with the exception of a wide stem followed by some thin face climbing. I haven’t climbed in boots for awhile, but it felt like 5.8 or hard 5.7.

I led the second pitch, whose crux was an undercling/traverse left around an overhang then easier climbing to a broad ledge. One could probably exit left from here, but I thought it would be fun to continue straight up a chimney/crack. This turned out to be incorrect. After thrashing and scrabbling up some sort of off-width, I was forced by my own rope drag to build a semi-hanging belay out of a #2 cam and two tiny nuts. After an awkward sit-on-my-face gear exchange at the belay, Eric led 20 feet more tricky climbing up out of the chimney, then continued across easier ground to just below the summit.

Other than 20 seconds of graupel, we had enjoyed calm, clear weather for most of the climb, and had talked about traversing on to Mount Owen. However, as often happens on a northeast-facing Tetons route, we topped out to find that the weather situation was not as we hoped. With inclement weather coming from the south and west, we quickly packed up and headed for the summit, where I reenacted the photo I took on my first Teewinot climb in 2010. Descending the east face took longer than anticipated. The snow was thin slush over a harder base layer, soft for kicking steps but hard for boot-skiing, so we stuck to the rock for much of the upper face. Back at the apex, I resigned myself to an hour or so of clomping misery descending the dry trail in full-shank boots. The rain and lightning started maybe a half-hour after we reached the Ranch, and continued for much of the afternoon, but our well-chosen mission was complete.

Grand Teton speed attempt

Andy Anderson’s 2h53 on the Grand is far out of my reach even in perfect conditions, but with decent fitness and a reasonably cold night up high, I figured I might as well give speed-running the Grand a try before I left. The major disadvantage of an early-season attempt is the extra gear required: with crampons, ice axe, and warm clothing, one is forced to carry a backpack. The major advantage is a blazingly-fast, low-impact descent via glissade from the Lower Saddle to the Meadows. In perfect snow conditions, the early season run could potentially be faster, and would favor mountain skill over raw athletic ability. While I found difficult conditions up high and decided to stop short of the summit, I believe that the early approach has potential, though probably not in a year like 2015 with low winter snowpack.

Starting from the Ranch, I took it easy across the flats before ramping up my effort on the climb up Burnt Wagon Gulch, reaching the junction in a leisurely 27:45. Using both shortcuts, I reached the Meadows sign at 1h03, stopping to put on crampons a few hundred yards up the snow. The winter route was thin but doable, and the Lower Saddle headwall lacked the boot-pack normally put in by guided parties; with slightly softer-than-ideal snow conditions, I reached the Lower Saddle around 1h56.

Switching back out of crampons, I talked to a guide and client who had turned around on the Upper Exum because of supposed bad snow conditions and avalanche risk. As is often the case when guides talk to non-guides, he wasn’t being particularly honest: the snow was nice hard-pack with a bit of crunchy fuzz on top, it was cold, and the sun wouldn’t touch the upper route for another couple of hours. I guess I didn’t look like I could handle the truth.

Finding hard, shaded snow above the Black Dike, I went back to crampons, hacking and front-pointing my way up the steeper terrain. While rarely tenuous, this section was often slow going with worn running-shoe crampons, so it was 2h38 by the time I reached the Upper Saddle. I found the belly crawl slightly iced but basically okay, but soon ran into more difficulties. When dry, the rest of the climb is a quick scramble up two short chimney-ish sections and some connecting ledges. What I found instead was partially ice-filled chimneys and steep, hard snow on the ledges. While this would have been manageable with Real Mountaineering equipment (boots, crampons, possibly ice tools), I decided after some flailing that it was more than I wanted to try with running-shoe crampons and a mountaineering axe.

I carefully retreated to the saddle, then headed over to the pleasantly sunny Enclosure to enjoy the view. No longer interested in my overall time, I spent about five minutes eating and looking around before time-trialing the descent. The hard snow between the Upper Saddle and Black Dike once again cost me time, as I had to downclimb facing in rather than plunge-stepping or boot-skiing. But the stretch from Lower Saddle to the Meadows was awesome: with a combination of boot-skiing, glissading, and snow-running, this stretch took something like 10 minutes. The whole descent from the Lower Saddle to the Burnt Wagon Gulch turnoff took only 29:47, despite having to skip the lower shortcut because of nearby hikers.

A half-hearted attempt at speed on the unpleasant BWG trail got me to the Ranch at about 4h40 feeling surprisingly spry. Based on my splits, I think I could come close to 4 hours on an all-out, rested effort in late summer conditions. That’s nowhere near the record, but it’s not bad for an aging dirtbag. I’ll take it.

Avalanche-Cascade Loop, and Veiled

Off to south Cascade

Off to south Cascade


In addition to climbing, the Tetons are made for long loop hikes and runs. With the Crest Trail running behind the major peaks, and the Valley Trail running along the eastern base, it is possible to go up one canyon (with or without trail), follow the Crest Trail to another, descend it, and return to the start along the Valley Trail. Unfortunately, the high-elevation Crest Trail is only a trail in mid- to late-summer, when I am elsewhere. Despite the sometimes-frustrating snow, I have managed to do a couple of these loops this year, and if I were more of a trail runner, I would probably come back for more while they are in season.

While Cascade Canyon features easy access and a crowded trail, Avalanche Canyon is famous for the bog blocking one end and the Wall blocking the other. On the one hand, I had always wanted to visit the Wall, a striking limestone cliff visible from the Jackson Valley, and to tag Veiled Peak, one of my last unclimbed summits between Death and Moran Canyons. On the other, I had tasted the bog once, and was not eager to do so again. Free time and Kate’s perverse fondness for the place finally moved me to return this year.

Splitter fist crack, bro!

Splitter fist crack, bro!

Starting off from the Ranch, we headed toward Braggart and Tadley Lakes, then thrashed around a bit until we found the reasonably well-used (more by wildlife than by humans) Avalanche trail. A recent windstorm had downed a number of trees around the park, adding more obstacles, but not enough to make it significantly worse than it was before. Passing a giant boulder split by a perfect fist crack, we made our way upstream though dense forest, trying to avoid both the bog in the center and the large talus on the north side. The trail mostly follows subtle high ground in the forested canyon bottom, with a few forays into the bog and one onto the boulders. Finally emerging from the dense forest, we crossed a large slide path descending all the way to the creek and reached the fork between north and south canyons.

Taminah Falls and Wister

Taminah Falls and Wister

Taking the north branch, we skirted the impressive Taminah Falls to the north on scree and talus, finding the occasional cairn or bit of trail left by climbers headed to the supposedly good but seldom-climbed arĂȘtes on the north side of the canyon. After pausing at half-melted Taminah Lake, constantly reshaped by fresh rock-slides, we continued to the equally large and mostly frozen Snowdrift Lake, crossing snow just soft enough to kick steps in running shoes, and patches of the underlying heath.

Wall and Snowdrift Lake

Wall and Snowdrift Lake

Kate was apparently happy to just hang out under the looming Wall, so I “sprinted” off to tag Veiled and rejoin her near the pass into Cascade Canyon. My hoped-for sprint was actually a bit of a slog, as the northeast-facing snowfield leading to Veiled’s east ridge had turned to slush under the northern morning sun. After extracting myself from the slush near the ridge, I spent awhile cliffing out on the dry south side before traversing around the north to reach the summit on chossy, wet class 3 rock.

Wall and Snowdrift from Veiled

Wall and Snowdrift from Veiled

Rather than return the way I came, I decided to continue west along the ridge, hoping to traverse the Wall, or at least find better snow. After another cliff-out on the south side, I found a circuitous route down the north ridge, then back through a gap in the east ridge to the scree below. The south-facing slope to the west was mostly snow-free grass, so I was able to jog and make good time, but the southern end of the Wall was guarded by an unpleasant choss-cliff. I could probably have looped around south to gain the top, but I wasn’t sure if I could get off the north end. Rather than boring Kate by potentially spending hours route-finding through rotten rock, I cut directly back across the base of the Wall on decent but softening snow.

"Toilet Bowl" near the Wall

“Toilet Bowl” near the Wall

Later in the season, a trail connects the pass north of the Wall to the south Cascade Canyon trail below, but we were faced instead with miles of varied snow. After a disheartening initial plunge through knee- and thigh-deep sludge, we found good walking and even what looked to me like a perfect boot-skiing hill. Kate was reluctant, but it has been my mission this summer to spread the Gospel of the Boot-Ski in the Tetons, and I managed to convince her to give it a try. The runout was not great, but fortunately nothing bad happened, and I had another convert.

NW ridge of Enclosure from Cascade

NW ridge of Enclosure from Cascade

Quite a bit of sludge-trudge remained, but it was warm and the views of the southwest side of Owen and the Grand were impressive and relatively new to me, so I squelched along happily, looking down just enough to avoid tripping. We stopped for lunch at an apparently-popular rock outcrop with a clear view of the northwest ridge of the Enclosure, the Valhalla Traverse, and Owen’s upper north face. This is another area I would like to explore, though I am not sure when, since most of the climbing would require a partner.

Look, a swamp-donkey!

Look, a swamp-donkey!

From the junction with north Cascade Canyon, we faced an increasingly tourist-choked hike to south Jenny Lake, then a walk along the bike path back to the Ranch. While Cascade is a nice hike, with its impressive views of the steep north faces of Owen and Teewinot, we were both back on familiar ground and somewhat impatient. Thus it seemed like a good idea, when we reached Inspiration Point and saw 50 canvas bags of rocks and no workers, to try to poach the closed trail down its south side. Bad idea: no more than 100 yards down the trail, a worker emerged from hiding, silently making the universal sign for “WTF?!”

After some not-so-convincing feigned ignorance on our part, we meekly retreated to the roundabout trail to the boat dock. As a small consolation, the hiker trail along the lakeshore had finally reopened, sparing us the rolling, boring horse trail higher up. Unfortunately, the trail crew had apparently packed up just minutes after thwarting us above, so we got to meet the same worker again on the way around Jenny Lake. He apparently didn’t hold a grudge, and we even talked a bit while we paused to watch three healthy kits and a vaguely protective mother fox in the boulders near the trail.

I was glad to have company on the final stretch, as the long walk along the flat, paved bike path began to wear on the soles of my feet, which had been softening and marinating in snowmelt all day. The whole thing ended up about 12h30 at a fast walk with some breaks, the most time I have spent on the trail since last season. With jogging and dry trails, it would have been a pleasant and more manageable 7-8 hours.

Moran (Triple Glacier, 8h10)

[Some “workout” peaks were skipped, including a few good ones. Emigrant Valley is a nice place. — ed.]

With Work Week ending a bit early, I wanted to use the free day to do something semi-legitimate in the mountains. After considering a few options, I went with Bill’s suggestion of the Triple Glacier route on Moran, an obscure goal on the southern end of the Strategic Grizzly Reserve. The route was first climbed solo in late 1935, an impressive bit of early mountaineering. The approach was likely to be unpleasant, as the forest around Jackson Lake is choked with deadfall and underbrush, but the descent of the Skillet Glacier would make up for it, and my time the Cascades has left me much less bushwhack-averse.

The route is rated “5.6 AI2+” in Ortenburger, but after a warm night early in the season, I counted on its being a pure snow climb. Given this and the relatively long approach, I decided an early start and running shoes would work best. After having done the route, I believe it is best in these conditions, as the rock one would climb later in the season is the outward-sloping, rounded slabs left behind above a retreating glacier.

I quickly killed my alarm at 3:00 to minimize the disturbance to cabin-mates, then drove over to String Lake while eating breakfast, and was on the trail by 3:40. The trail to Bearpaw Bay, at the southern end of Jackson Lake, is entirely too familiar and tedious to walk, so I jogged most of it by headlamp, reaching the end in about an hour. I had initially considered following the lakeshore to Moran Canyon, but found the lake full and therefore shore-less. Cutting back uphill, I picked up the use trail to the Skillet Glacier, which heads in more or less the right direction.

Where the Skillet trail turns up toward the glacier, I continued north, contouring around the foot of Moran’s northeast ridge through semi-obnoxious brush and logs until I found an amazingly well-maintained game trail. I continued on the elk highway until I crossed a few small streams then, following Ortenburger, left it to bash my way directly uphill, hopefully toward an open grass and talus bowl between the north and northeast ridges.

After some wet and nasty (though not Cascades-nasty) work, I emerged in the bowl shortly after sunrise, and finally had a clear route to follow. Moran’s north ridge rises broad and wooded to a treeless saddle around 9800′, before turning vertical. The right-hand side of the valley is steep but mostly open, making it an efficient climb. The local wildlife is clearly familiar with this route: along the various game trails, I found the largest pile of bear scat I have ever seen, and was glad to have (uncharacteristically) brought my bear mace.

The climb went quickly, and I was pleased to find the snow well-consolidated on the ridge below the saddle. From there, the terminal moraines of the much-diminished Triple Glaciers are clearly visible, and a short talus chute leads directly to the eastern one. Stopping to bag my feet and put on my crampons, I was displeased to find that one of the plastic buckles had broken, but I managed to tie the strap in place well enough.

The route climbs to the head of the glacier, then crosses some bare rock to reach a snowfield leading to just below the summit. I eyeballed a likely ramp through the rock, then started off across the glacier. Wet slides over the past few days had somehow failed to create a supportive surface, so I initially faced aggravatingly breakable crust over slush, but the snow began to firm up as I neared the rock. What I hoped was a ramp on the left turned out to be a tricky-looking off-camber crack, so I instead headed right, zig-zagging up steep snow between rock outcrops, then cut back left to the toe of the snowfield. I was grateful for the early start, northern aspect, and high cloud-cover, as this section would have been treacherous once the snow softened and began to slide.

The snow remained steep and grew progressively harder as I climbed, and I sometimes found myself daggering my axe and kicking several times to get some purchase with my worn-down running-shoe crampons. Feeling sluggish, I stopped often to look at the impressively steep tower of Moran’s north ridge, and the U-shaped valley of Moran Canyon. Well-defended by brush and grizzlies, this wild section of the park probably sees few if any human visitors in an average year.

Bearing right near the top, I emerged on Moran’s west ridge a short distance from the final step before the summit plateau. After wasting some time trying the crack/chimney I have used before, I traversed all the way left on snow to find a much easier route to the summit. I ate and removed my crampons while admiring the familiar view, then headed for the down elevator, a.k.a. the Skillet Glacier. I found it in suboptimal shape, with crust-over-slush on top, and semi-threatening slush over a hard layer a bit farther down, but the bottom was still great boot-skiing, and I managed to lose 5,000 feet in 32 minutes before stopping to put up my axe and wring out my socks.

I had little trouble finding the start of the familiar trail — stick to the north side of the valley, then descend steeply near a boulder-field and meadow near a stream — but managed to lose it in the bogs and recent blow-down closer to the lake. Following faint game trails, I eventually regained the trail where it crosses the stream just before Bearpaw Bay, then turned off my brain to jog the trail to the car. I had expected the excursion to take at least 12 hours, and was pleased that it took just over 8. Despite a somewhat chaotic May, it seems like I have the resources for some Serious Business later this month.

Cloud

Upper boulder-hop and Cloud's west face

Upper boulder-hop and Cloud’s west face


Cloud Peak is the highpoint of the Big Horn (not “Bighorn,” for some reason) range in north-central Wyoming, a small, isolated range between Greater Yellowstone and the plains.
Black Tooth and Woolsey

Black Tooth and Woolsey

The range’s isolation gives Cloud over 5,000 feet of prominence, which is what brought it to my attention. The Big Horns are home to two peaks over 13,000 feet, Cloud and Black Tooth, a fairly healthy glacier, and some surprisingly sheer granite. The terrain is reminiscent of the southern Winds, with most peaks being flat on the west side and glacially-carved on the east, though Black Tooth and Mount Woolsey (or “The Innominate”) are carved on all sides.

Moose, staring

Moose, staring

After sleeping in the completely-deserted West Tensleep trailhead lot, I started off sometime between dawn and sunrise, hiking up the trail toward Mistymoon Lake. Though I had the area to myself, this trail apparently sees a great deal of horse and foot traffic during peak season. With a couple hours’ uneventful hiking through woods and meadows ahead, I turned on a podcast and tuned out. Entering one meadow, I was startled by a bull moose who, during hunting season in a national forest, should have been far more wary of me. Perhaps he only sees humans wearing orange and camouflage as threats. In any case, he started at me from 50 yards away, then meandered along the trail ahead of me, glancing back from time to time, before finally getting out of my way in the woods.

Typical approach trail

Typical approach trail

The trail climbs intermittently past lakes Helen, Marion, and Mistymoon, then turns west to descend out of the range. Following the standard route, I left the trail after it descends into a marshy flat and, near a small waterfall, found the cairned climbers’ trail to Cloud’s southwest talus ridge. The talus was surprisingly pleasant, with stable boulders alternating with tundra, slabs, and bare dirt, and I soon found myself near the broad crest.

Upper boulder-hop and Cloud's west face

Upper boulder-hop and Cloud’s west face

Following the crest toward the summit, I admired the surprisingly steep west face, which reminded me a bit of a mirror image of the trail up Mount Whitney. Like Whitney’s, Cloud’s summit is a broad, flat boulder plain; a cairn on one boulder seemed to mark the highpoint. Around this plain, sharp ridges extend north to Woolsey and Black Tooth, and east on either side of the Cloud Glacier. Steep granite cirques on all sides offer technical climbing opportunities and scenic camping near alpine lakes.

Cloud Glacier from summit

Cloud Glacier from summit

Though Black Tooth beckoned, there seemed to be no easy direct route, and the way back and around via Middle Cloud Peak Lake was too long for me, especially with the growing clouds. After a cool summit nap, I retraced my steps, once again zoning out on the long trail. Despite its being a Friday afternoon, I met only one other party, a group of three with overnight packs, presumably bagging Cloud as an overnight.

Middle Teton (NW ice couloir), South Teton

Clmibing upper chute

Clmibing upper chute


[This out-of-order entry is the last of this year’s Teton outings. After a bit more tourism, the type II fun will begin. — ed.]

Of the three classic Teton ice couloirs — the northwest on the Middle Teton, the Enclosure, and the Black Ice — the first is the easiest to both reach and climb. It is also still mostly snow this early in the season, making it easier as long as the snow stays frozen. However, I hadn’t climbed any ice in awhile, and the next day’s weather looked cold but otherwise dubious, so it seemed likely to be plenty challenging and fun.

With even worse forecasts for the next few days, Josh and I set out at the ungodly hour of 3:30 AM with spikes and tools. I hadn’t climbed with Josh before, but he seemed solid and came with a reputation for speed. After a moonlit grind up Burnt Wagon Gulch and a pre-dawn trip up the switchbacks, we reached the meadows in Garnet Canyon just as the sun hit Cloudveil, then put on crampons for the winter route to the moraine.

Crossing moraine

Crossing moraine


The standard approach to the couloir follows the trail to the Lower Saddle, then winds south along Middle Teton’s north ridge. However, the saddle is normally a frigid wind tunnel, so I chose to take a more direct-looking snow chute to its left.
Chute shortcut

Chute shortcut


This proved to be both fun and direct, as it leads directly to the notch near the base of the route, and involved some steep, hard snow finishing with a vertical mantle. After exploring a bit to the left — probably the start of the north ridge route — I returned to the saddle and followed Josh around the west side of the ridge, where the couloir became obvious despite the enveloping clouds.
Traverse into NW couloir

Traverse into NW couloir

Start of NW couloir

Start of NW couloir


We mostly climbed side-by-side up the couloir, choosing our own lines or waiting to follow the other if he had found a better option. The couloir was still mostly snow, but hard from the cold night, and with the occasional ice bulge for fun. With the clouds, it was impossible to judge how much climbing remained until we were nearly at the top. I opted for a bit of gratuitous spice by climbing up a narrow runnel until forced to traverse out to its right, then scrambled up the remaining easier snow and rock to the summit.
Crux in upper couloir

Crux in upper couloir


After a snack and some time spent enjoying intermittent views of the Grand and some friends ascending the south fork of Garnet Canyon, we headed down the standard southwest couloir. This was mostly hard snow, though only a few sections merited face-in downclimbing. The clouds cleared as we descended and we were treated to a spectacular view of Icefloe Lake, west of the Middle-South saddle.
View down SW couloir

View down SW couloir


The final, traversing descent to the saddle involved some messy loose snow over hard-pack; I ran heedlessly across, while Josh exercised more caution.
Awkward snow traverse.

Awkward snow traverse.


Just below the saddle, we waited no more than 5 minutes for Pam, Eric, Kate, and Mitch to catch us, then hiked with them up the mixed talus and softening snow of the South Teton’s northwest ridge.
Hiking up toward South Teton

Hiking up toward South Teton


After the cloudy and intense morning, it was a pleasure to stroll in the sun and catch up. We eventually met an old boot-pack, which helped in crossing the harder snow leading to the summit scramble, a straightforward mess involving fresh powder over loose rocks. After sharing other people’s food on the summit (as usual, I had packed just enough for myself and had nothing to contribute), we took some photos and separated for the descent.
Group shot on South Teton

Group shot on South Teton


I headed straight down as soon as I reached snow, executing a rough and clumsy boot-ski, then looked back to see Josh just behind. The others appeared to be taking a safer (i.e. slower) course, so we abandoned them without a second thought, skiing, sliding, and hiking to the meadows, then taking both shortcuts down to the Burnt Wagon junction. From there to the Ranch, we both retreated into our own worlds of private boredom and/or foot pain.

Moran (“Contra couloir”)

Sandinista couloir (r), I think

Sandinista couloir (r), I think


The Sandinista Couloir is a steep, aesthetic line that is seldom climbed due to its remote location on the southwest side of Mount Moran. Since this was a good snow year, and I am familiar with the bushwhack approach from traversing from Thor to Moran two years ago, I thought I might give it a try. Unfortunately I managed to walk right by it, and instead climbed some other couloir that deposited me on the ridge between Thor and Moran. Call it an “adventure.”

I got the standard north Tetons start from String Lake, reaching the 4-way trail junction north of Leigh Lake at the end of headlamp time, and headed south to the ranger cabin before turning west along the lakeshore.

Moose and calf swimming in Leigh Lake

Moose and calf swimming in Leigh Lake


The trail seemed a bit fainter than last year, with a few more downed trees, but it was familiar enough for this not to matter. Remembering to stay near the shore, I found the expected mix of old trail, game trails, big deadfall, and moist bushwhacking. Passing the base of the CMC route on Moran, I headed up the CMC couloir to get around some brush, then descended slightly into Leigh Canyon to pick up the cairned climbers’ trail to Moran’s south buttress.
Waterfall near Moran's south buttress

Waterfall near Moran’s south buttress


Continuing past the buttress, I started up the east (Moran) side of the broad talus slope into the Thor-Moran cirque, pausing for 20 minutes to hide from a morning rain squall under a rock. I eventually downclimbed into a broad snow gully — in retrospect, Moran’s southwest couloir — where I put on crampons and climbed up along the south buttress to where my snowfield branched and narrowed. I saw one gully that roughly matched the Sandinista route description — steep snow, a rock step, a straight couloir, and a rock exit to the ridge — but did not recognize the surrounding terrain, including another couloir to its north.
Sandinista (r) and unknown (l) couloirs

Sandinista (r) and unknown (l) couloirs


Climbing out the northwest side of the gully, I spied a Y-junction below that might be the southwest and Sandinista couloirs. A bit of tricksy downclimbing on rock and turf got me to the junction and, after proceeding up the right-hand fork for a few hundred feet, I realized that I had taken a wrong turn. However, I figured this couloir would probably work as well, so I continued up moderately steep, shaded snow through a couloir and left along a broad ledge.
Start of "contra" couloir

Start of “contra” couloir


Near my couloir’s junction with what I later found was the Thor-Moran ridge, I spied a funner, narrower snow-and-ice gully to the right, and decided to have some fun.
"Exciting" finish to couloir

“Exciting” finish to couloir


After some fun climbing on a mixture of snow and ice up a slot no more than 8 feet wide, I reached a moderate-sized chockstone at the top. After a bit of experimentation, I managed to stem high enough on the sides of the couloir to find a hold above the chockstone and mantle through.
Chockstone below ridge

Chockstone below ridge


A short scramble got me to the ridge, where I immediately recognized my location as somewhere near the Zebra, only slightly more than half-way from Thor to Moran. Cursing ensued.
Top-out of couloir

Top-out of couloir


Having done this traverse two years ago, I knew what to expect: moderate class 4-5 climbing on sometimes-terrible rock. Stowing my axe and crampons, I grimly set off to do the job. The climb was as remembered though the morning’s rain had frozen onto the final, shaded pitch to Moran’s summit plateau, forcing me into a different route that ended in an awkward chimney. Annoyed at my poor route-finding, I found a sheltered spot on the summit, ate the last of my food, and lay down for an hour-long nap on this surprisingly warm day.

Finally rousing myself, I proceeded northeast to the head of the Skillet Glacier for the (type I) fun part of the day. While it is often necessary to downclimb the steep top pitch, I found a deep layer of slush, and was able to take it as a sitting glissade, occasionally rolling to one side to let the accumulated slush avalanche behind me pass. Once the slope lessened, I switched to my preferred mixture of sliding steps and boot-skiing and, 30 minutes from the top, I was at the base of the snow, 4000-5000 feet below.

30 minutes from top of Skillet

30 minutes from top of Skillet


Past experience paid off again, as I picked up the climbers’ trail on the north side of the valley, and returned to Bearpaw Lake with very little bushwhacking.

Bivouac

Bivouac from Jackson Lake

Bivouac from Jackson Lake


So much hardship for such a small peak…

Other than Veiled and the many minor spires (Gilkey’s, Teepee Pillar, etc.), I have more or less run out of summits in the Tetons between Death and Moran Canyons. Since Moran Canyon and parts north are effectively a grizzly bear preserve with no maintained trails, it can be both difficult and intimidating to expand my range north. Bivouac Peak, at the eastern end of the north side of Moran Canyon, is one of the easiest northern Teton peaks to reach, though “easy” is relative. Though I had hoped to combine it with nearby Traverse, inclement weather stopped me after just Bivouac.

After my second 3:30 wake-up in a row, I drove up to String Lake and was on the trail by 4:20. I was feeling too sluggish to run by headlamp, but hiked at a brisk pace, reaching Bearpaw Bay just before sunrise. As the sun rose over Jackson Lake, I made my way along the rocks, bogs, and downed logs of the beach.

Sunrise toward Moran Bay

Sunrise toward Moran Bay


At the final impasse near the south side of Moran Canyon, I bushwhacked up to a well-established game trail, forced my way through the recent avalanche debris, then continued on the trail to Moran Creek.

I had come prepared for the ford: I put on my wading shoes, rolled up my pants, and started across. After testing the main channel upstream of the lake and finding it too fast, I forded where it slowed entering the lake, and was dismayed to find a hip-deep channel. Finally emerging on the other side, I stripped off my pants, wrung them out, and had a snack while I pretended that they dried.

Hip-deep crossing of Moran Creek

Hip-deep crossing of Moran Creek


Failing to find the hoped-for abandoned trail on the north side of the creek, I made my way toward Bivouac’s east ridge, finding game trails where I could and bushwhacking miserably elsewhere, immediately soaking my shoes and pants to the thigh. I eventually reached an aspen/brush slope leading to the ridge, where I made my way up some game trails, then up steeper slopes, pulling on various plants to keep from sliding backwards on the wet ground.
Moran Bay from bushwhack to ridge

Moran Bay from bushwhack to ridge


Finally reaching the ridge, I was greeted by sunlight and a good, snow-free game trail. I wrung my socks out once, followed the trail up the slope some more, then wrung them out again.
Easier terrain on ridge

Easier terrain on ridge


Though the ridge was mostly snow-free, I did have to cross a few minor and one larger snowfield. A short way into the latter, I looked up to see a mountain goat watching me with characteristic disinterest. I took a few pictures, then scuttled over to some 3rd class slabs leading to the where the ridge flattens.
Mountain goat

Mountain goat


Thinking I was near the summit, I was disappointed to find a series of false summits and pinnacles. I climbed the first head-on with a few class 4 moves, then wove around the rest. Most of the climbing was straightforward, though I did have a scare on some wet, sloping, lichen-covered slabs. The long-threatening clouds had finally engulfed the ridge and, as I neared the apparent summit plateau, I found myself in a blizzard.

Reaching a cairn at the plateau’s west end, I saw that the ridge toward Traverse Peak looked more complicated; I had neither the gear nor the desire to traverse it (twice) while wet in a blizzard.

Summit "view" of Traverse Peak

Summit “view” of Traverse Peak


After enjoying the summit for all of 15 seconds, I dove down the couloir leading back into Moran Canyon. This turned out to be perfect for a barely-controlled boot glissade, and I quickly slid from snow to drizzle. As promised in the guidebook, the bottom of the couloir was blocked by a large and tricky chockstone. Fortunately I was heading down, and there was still plenty of snow below, so I was able to downclimb a few low 5th-class moves on the wet rock to one side of the chockstone, then jump to the snow below.

After more boot-skiing, I whacked my way through some freshly-drenched bushes, and was pleased to find the abandoned Moran Canyon trail near the creek. Not finding any suitable log to cross to the south, I followed the trail back to its outlet into Jackson Lake. My clothes were already as wet as they could get, so I simply hung my wading shoes around my neck, grabbed my axe in one hand and a stick in the other, and started across the creek. I chose a different line farther from the outlet, but still found the same crotch-deep channel.

I spent the rest of the hike back consistently damp, running most of the trail to minimize boredom. Stopping along Leigh Lake to doff my jacket, I discovered that the mosquitoes are very active and hungry. Bring your DEET or move fast, folks.

Owen (Fryxell route)

Yes, Owen again: Scott wanted the summit, and I wanted a look at the Fryxell route (which includes part of the traverse between Owen and the Grand). The 4:00 AM start was uncomfortably early, but at least I didn’t have to see much of the Burnt Wagon Gulch trail as I cruised up to Surprise Lake. The Amphitheater Lake trail disappears under snow shortly after the Garnet junction, so I put on boots and crampons and made my way straight up the ravine.

Reaching Surprise Lake a bit after 6:00, I met Scott outside his tent, where he kindly brewed me a pot of coffee. We then took off for the Teton Glacier, passing Amphitheater Lake to reach the non-obvious ledge/slope past the northeast side of Disappointment Peak.

Descent from Amphitheater Lake

Descent from Amphitheater Lake

... in perspective.

… in perspective.


Later in the season, this route is a well-traveled and easy climber’s trail, but now it is a slightly treacherous side-hill across a steep snow slope. Unsurprisingly, no one had been by since my exit a few days earlier.

Crossing under the Grand and entering the glacial cirque, Scott was feeling tired and moving slowly, so he decided not to continue to Owen. I continued alone up the bottom of the Koven Couloir, then turned left onto the series of benches comprising the first part of the Fryxell route.

Fryxell ledges from junction with Koven

Fryxell ledges from junction with Koven


Though it was in the sun, most of the snow was still pleasantly firm, and there was no rock- or ice-fall from the upper snowfield. The two steps between the three benches were melted-out enough to require a bit of scrambling on wet rock, but none of it was long or difficult.
First rock step

First rock step


Some of the steeper snow on the inside of the bench had to be climbed facing in, but most of the traverse was straightforward side-hilling. Along the way, I passed a surprising amount of tat for easy terrain on a non-standard route.
View back down from steeper snow

View back down from steeper snow


Nearing Owen’s southwest ridge, I had an illuminating view of the Grand’s north face up close and in perspective. While scary head-on, it looked much more approachable from this angle; if I make it back here later in the season, I will have to try climbing it.
Grand Teton north face/ridge.

Grand Teton north face/ridge.


Sticking my head over the ridge, I found cold wind and dry rock, so I ducked back east to take off my crampons, then made my way around the west side of the first tower between me and Owen. I must have done something wrong, because while Fritiof Fryxell was supposedly not a particularly strong rock climber, I ended up doing some surprisingly delicate and exposed climbing to reach the notch northeast of the tower. After a bit of traversing, I climbed a leftward hand crack, then did some delicate traversing around the corner to reach the gully below the notch. In retrospect, easier climbing might be found either by staying lower around the west side of the tower, or returning high to the east side.
Airy traversing west of ridge.

Airy traversing west of ridge.


From the notch, I returned to the east side, where I found fun, blocky class 3-4 climbing the rest of the the way to where the Fryxell and Koven routes join at the west edge of the upper snowfield.
Fun, blocky climbing east of ridge.

Fun, blocky climbing east of ridge.


Having just summited a few days before, I skipped the final scramble up the summit knob and started down the Koven. While the summit snowfield was at least as awkward and treacherous as before — runnels of slush over hard-pack — the couloir had firmed up enough to be climbed facing inward most of the way down.

After crossing the glacier, I picked up Scott where he had been napping on a rock, then packed up a bit of his camping gear before boot-skiing down toward Burnt Wagon Gulch. Taking the gully from Surprise Lake and skipping the switchbacks saves lots of time and leads directly to the lower shortcut on the Garnet Canyon trail, even if it does make me a bad person.

Owen (NE snowfield, 5.6)

[By special request, this post has more details and (as an experiment, interstitial) pictures than usual. — ed.]

After the Grand Teton, Owen is my second-most-climbed peak in the range, perhaps because there is no easy route to its summit, and it sees little traffic compared to its neighbors, Teewinot and the Grand. I have previously approached it from the southeast via the standard Koven couloir, but Bill put the big, rarely-done northeast snowfield route on my radar a couple of years ago. This route links together the several snowfields on the huge face visible from Cascade Canyon and Symmetry Spire, with its character and difficulty varying considerably over the course of the season. It is normally only “in” in late spring, right after avalanche season, and in late summer, when nights start to cool off. This year I finally had the time, fitness, and conditions to pull it off.

Though not long by e.g. Sierra standards, the route is somewhat challenging to do in a day: the approach requires a several mile, nearly-flat hike around Jenny Lake and up Cascade Canyon, then a crossing of raging Cascade Creek, and the snow on this east-facing route quickly deteriorates in the morning sun. Having run up Cascade to locate a suitable crossing log the day before, I set my alarm for a grim 3:00 AM, then managed to get about four hours of sleep, waking up at 2:58. After “breakfast,” I drove up to the Jenny Lake boat dock, and was on the trail by 3:40.

Convenient log

Convenient log


After crossing my log around 5:00, I put away my headlamp, put on my up-armored mountaineering boots (thanks, Scott!) and crampons, and started up the forested south side of the canyon, aiming for one of two avalanche chutes I had seen higher up.
Chute up from Cascade Canyon

Chute up from Cascade Canyon


I eventually found the one leading to the base of the golden buttress forming the northwest side of the Owen-Teewinot bowl, and enjoyed perfect crampon-ing on snow that had yet to see the sun.
Teewinot from traverse into bowl

Teewinot from traverse into bowl


Reaching the buttress, I stowed my spikes and traversed southeast around the corner, then dropped down a short 4th-class section (probably avoidable lower down) into the snow bowl.
4th class scramble into bowl

4th class scramble into bowl

East Prong (l) and Owen snowfields (r)

East Prong (l) and Owen snowfields (r)

Route from base

Route from base


From the bowl to the first constriction up Owen, the route is a low-angle walk. Though not annoying, the snow was already fairly soft at 7:00 AM. I was surprised to see a boot- and a butt-track descending through the bowl, and relieved to see them coming from a col near the East Prong; it would have killed the feeling of adventure to follow a boot-pack. The constriction would have presented the first rock difficulty, but there was still just enough snow in the main channel to pass it easily.
First exposed step

First exposed step

View NE down route

View NE down route


Once across, I followed the main snow-channel to a second step with a waterfall to one side, this time not bridged by snow. Mindful that a fall would pitch me into the moat, I carefully made my way up the decaying snow to its left, then across a narrow rock ledge to easier rock and turf, from which I could regain the snow channel.
Narrow chute above 1st step.

Narrow chute above 1st step.

Teewinot from route

Teewinot from route


From here, I followed what seemed like the “main” snow channel through various branches and lobes, and was fortunate not to run into a cul-de-sac. Teewinot looks especially sharp from this angle, and I often looked back while I rested to see if I could pick someone out on the summit.
View from 2nd step bypass

View from 2nd step bypass

Franken-anchor

Franken-anchor


I passed the next snow-free step via a chimney filled with a mixture of snow, ice, rock, and turf. Above this was the only fixed gear I saw on the route, a ridiculous Franken-anchor with one pin, two fixed nuts, two dangling nuts (which I, um, bootied), and a mess of cord.
Ledge past Franken-anchor

Ledge past Franken-anchor


A traverse along a wet, ascending ledge led back to the main snowfield, which steepens here near the summit.
Upper snowfield

Upper snowfield


The snow was becoming annoyingly soft at this point, and I was slowing down, so I hunted for harder sections in minor runnels and stopped more frequently to rest.

While it may be possible to traverse around the summit knob to the southeast side at this point and follow the standard Koven route, I wanted to do something different. I had not memorized the route description, but I remembered from the topo that it gained the north ridge before the summit.

Idaho from notch

Idaho from notch


Choosing a likely-looking notch, I climbed a bit of steep rock and snow, only to be greeted by blasting wind and a cold and unpromising traverse along the west side of the ridge.
Messy climbing NE of summit

Messy climbing NE of summit

Steep snow

Steep snow

Inside ice tunnel

Inside ice tunnel


Upper end of ice tunnel

Upper end of ice tunnel


View down ice tunnel

View down ice tunnel


Descending from the notch, I traversed south and ascended the left-hand side of the bowl, heading more-or-less directly for the summit. This section featured varied but consistently spicy climbing on mixed terrain. Highlights include a near-vertical snow step, some steep and rotten slopes, and a mixed tunnel with some solid icicles.
Slabby side of summit

Slabby side of summit

Short 5.6 pitch to summit

Short 5.6 pitch to summit


Just above the tunnel I reached the bare rock of the summit knob. The direct approach required climbing 8-10 feet of steep face with few positive holds, after which there were plenty of features. I tried this with bare hands and crampons (to balance on tiny features), but could not quite make it to easier ground. Backing off, I traversed left and found a seam and crack with two old pins next to a more featureful face. After trying unsuccessfully to climb the crack, I traversed carefully left to a shallow dish in the face, then up to easier ground and the summit. This felt like a harder version of the “friction pitch” on the Upper Exum; looking it up in the guidebook, I found it rated 5.6, and was pleased to have climbed it in boots.
This is where I chillax.

This is where I chillax.


Though there was a good wind coming from the west, Owen’s summit has a perfect windbreak in that direction; basking in the sun in my down jacket, I nearly took a summit nap.
Koven chimney

Koven chimney


The Koven route was in decent shape on the descent: the tunnel was partly filled with snow, and the crux slabs were dry. Most of the snow was an annoying-to-treacherous mess. Getting lazy and hoping I could kick steps across the snowfield below the summit knob, I found that it is surprisingly hard to self-arrest in 2″ of slush over hard snow. And even though it was still in the shade, the Koven couloir itself was softer than I have ever experienced it.

The Amphitheater Lake trail was, fortunately, nearly nonexistent, so I boot-skied straight down the ravine to where the snow gave out, switched back to running shoes, and continued cross-country nearly to the Lupine Meadows trail junction. I learned a bit about the state of modern China while walking the long trail and road to the boat dock, reaching my car a bit before 2:00 PM.