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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Sunday Funday

Nez Perce is one of the closest peaks in your face when you stare up into the Tetons from the Bradley-Taggart parking lot, or from the bar at Dornan's.  And smack down the east side of it is an iconic elevator-shaft couloir called The Sliver:



Then if you work your way around to the north side there are two more Teton classics--the Hourglass Couloirs:

The Hourglass Couloirs form an "x" on the north side of Nez Perce.
Photo: Jared Inouye, via

Between my work schedule, getting the flu, and any number of other excuses of dubious validity, it's been a damn long time since I've had a chance to get up into the alpine, so when it turned out that Scotty:

With the Sliver conveniently rising above the trees in the background.

 and Van:

Angle of repose?

had last Sunday free, ambition kicked in and it was on.  Why not see if we could ski The Sliver, the East Hourglass, and the West Hourglass in the course of a day?

Granted we weren't the first to think of it, but there's a certain aesthetic brilliance to the idea.  All three couloirs are great objectives in their own right, lovely rock-walled shafts of snow that all top out a bit over 11,000', each somewhere north of 1000' tall, and each with its own personality.  The lynchpin of the whole plan is that the notch at the top of The Sliver happens to be the same notch that is at the top of the East Hourglass, allowing one to avoid a fairly long walk from the bottom of The Sliver around to the north side of Nez Perce.

How to make it happen?  Let's start by skinning to the skier's summit of Shadow Peak under bluebird skies with no wind while Jackson lies below, shrouded in its perpetual inversion fog.

Then make our way across the Shadow Peak Cirque to The Sliver and climb to the top,

Where we get wind-blasted in the notch before skiing lovely sun-warmed powder back to the Cirque.



Mmm, good.

Yours truly.

Damn, that was fun.

Then get ourselves back into the climbing game and head back up the remains of the bootpack that we put in on our first trip up The Sliver,

Toss ropes down into the East Hourglass,

And see how many pitches of rappelling it takes us to get down to continuous snow.

(It turns out to be three, with my twin skinny 35m ropes.)

Having stowed away the ropes, we then make turns in unbreakable windboard conditions down to the point where the East and West Hourglass Couloirs converge,

Mmm, scratchy.

Which at the time feels a little rough on tired legs, but will feel pretty good in retrospect once we see the conditions in the West Hourglass:

Ouch.  Where did all of the snow blow away to?

Now we climb ankle- to boottop-deep sastrugi up what feels like an awfully long way to the top of the day's final couloir, and given our new knowledge of the character-building conditions we are about to descend a few pulls of High West Whisky and some Ritter Sport chocolate seem appropriate while looking out at the wonders of Garnet Canyon.

Up here, it's all about the company you keep.

Then it's back down we go; the turns don't disappoint, but they don't impress either.

Windboard in the East retrospectively feels pretty decent in comparison to boot-top sastrugi in the West, and with our cups newly overflowing with character we reach the Meadows in Garnet Canyon and our exit from this day's adventure in the Tetons.

One might ask, why go to all of that trouble for such marginal (horrible?) skiing?  One might answer that you don't know if you don't go, and the turns in The Sliver were actually quite good, and even if the rest of the turns were less than desirable the adventure is really what it's all about.  Sort of like starting a meal with a lovely fresh, crisp salad only to discover that it's actually tofu in the lasagna and the chef inexplicably used carob instead of chocolate in the dessert; not necessarily what you were looking for, but not a showstopper either, and probably good for you in the long run.

Wait, does that splitboard have fishscales?  Hell, yes.  It's Voilé's Revelator BC, and it freaking rips.

At least that's what we told ourselves on the trip across the lake, over the moraines, and back to where the day began.  

(And in reality we did get 2500' of legitimate powder turns from the Meadows down to Bradley Lake, after all.)

Then a couple of days later, I was gazing out across Avalanche Canyon and this beauty of a ski line jumped out at me:

But that's a story for another time...

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