Mount Wister

Wister from the valley

Wister is a minor peak between Buck and South Teton, separating the two forks of Avalanche Canyon. While not as impressive as the other Teton peaks, it has two advantages: (1) it is not approached via Garnet Canyon, of which I could not be more sick; and (2) I had not climbed it. It also has a good view of Buck’s north face, with two interesting snow couloirs. So why not?

Off we went at a leisurely 5:30. It felt warmer in the morning than it had the night before, and the forecast high was 82, so nothing up high would be even remotely frozen. Spring has finally sprung, and the flowers and mosquitoes are both blooming madly in the valley. The late and sudden melt should yield a bumper crop of both.

The unsigned trail up Avalanche Canyon starts out nice, but quickly deteriorates as it weaves over and around accumulated deadfall. As lingering snow meets snowmelt farther up, the trail all but disappears into a mixture of bogs and slush-drifts. An attempt to bypass both up the north wall of the canyon just wasted time; the best approach is to stay in the bottom and get wet feet.

We finally reached snow near where the canyon forks, and put on (mostly unnecessary) crampons for the climb. Crossing the deep runnels on the left side of the canyon was tricky, but it was mostly a straightforward snow slog to the east end of Lake Taminah. Ian was less energetic than I expected, but kept up a good pace.

Somewhat on a whim, I decided to head up a couloir on the east side of the lake, rather than circling around to the other end. In retrospect, this was probably the couloir the first-ascent party climbed, but bypassed on the way down. It looked doable, though it got a bit steep at the end. We followed a mountain sheep as it zig-zagged up the couloir, then presumably scrambled over rocks to the ridge. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, Ian was not so comfortable with the high-angle snow. He climbed fine, but decided not to continue up when I stopped for him at the top of the chute.

Given that the steep slope had unnerved him, it seemed to make sense to accompany him back down to low-angle terrain. He seemed to get the hang of plunge-stepping quickly, and we were soon back at the lake without incident. We crossed a frozen part of the lake, circled around the slush-lagoon, and found ourselves at the base of a broader, easier chute to the saddle.

I wanted to take another shot at the peak, but Ian seemed worn down by our previous adventure, so he gave me some spare food and headed back down, while I laboriously kicked steps up the slush toward the ridge. Turning back partway up, I saw something unusual; upon investigation, it turned out to be a single ski, climbing skin facing up. I didn’t see its mate, but stood it up in the snow to retrieve on the return.

The ridge was mostly snow mixed with a bit of class 3 rock, with awkward transitions between. I reached the summit in 1h20 from where Ian turned back, with storms building to the south and west, but clear sky overhead. After a relatively brief snack and photo session, I carefully clambered back down the ridge, then bombed down the chute, retrieving my prize ski on the way.

Carrying a ski over one shoulder made my boot-glissades absurd and the bushwhack down in the canyon awkward, but this was piece of loot was way too cool to leave behind. Once I reached the official trail, the ski broke up the monotony: of the people I passed, how many would acknowledge that I was carrying a ski over one shoulder like I was at a resort? How many would notice that I had only one ski? Most people just stumbled right by.

In the end, I couldn’t think of a good use for a single ski, so if you lost a ski on Wister, it’s at the Jenny Lake climbing ranger station.

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