Skinning away from the comfort and safety of the car at 3am, I find myself confronted with a challenging blend of emotions: exhilaration, fear, cold, hearing enhanced by the limited vision provided by a headlamp's glow. Fingertips bite inside gloves, noses drip, skins hiss across hard-frozen snow. The unknown of the day weighs heavy--will we work for hours to get up there only to be turned back? Will conditions work out? Will I fall off of this mountain?
The late Andreas Frannson wrote of it in his journal: "Would it be a game worth playing at all if the outcome was certain?"
There is an old Irish blessing/curse that goes, "May you live in interesting times." The Tetons have seen interesting weather this year, resulting in interesting conditions in the alpine, with strong winds blowing out many of the lines up high and unexpectedly filling in others. Many lines are unskiable, or at least not worth the effort for the amount of ropework that it would take. Others are as fat as I've ever seen them.
The Ford-Stettner on the Grand looked pretty well filled-in from the valley floor, and we had been hearing reports that it was skiing well. There were even whispers of powder turns off the top...
|Sunrise from the Teepee Glacier.|
So we skinned into Garnet Canyon with a brilliant quilt of stars above and firm, easy-travel snow under foot. Above the Meadows the previous days' sun had hardened the snow surface to the point that skins were no longer practical, so we stowed them away for the rest of the day and initiated a few thousand feet of bootpacking. Efficient travel landed us on the moraine at the toe of the Teepe Glacier just before sunrise, where we unexpectedly spent an hour fixing Paul's Dynafiddle heelpieces as the eastern sky turned orange.
|Damn these Dynafiddles...|
Ah well, at least we were beyond the point where he would need to stand on the Dyna-heels for skinning. And as long as they kept his boot heels firmly attached to his skis they could avoid being classified as dead weight.
We couldn't have asked for or expected better weather than what we received up there: crystal-clear skies without a breath of wind and temperatures that begged no more than a light windshirt.
|Upslope winds left some previous party's tracks raised above the rest of the snow in the Stettner--pretty cool feature.|
Really, the climbing up to the top of the Chevy went quickly and as easily as could be expected for climbing above 12,000'. The Stettner ice went easy, though I was a little disappointed to see that there was so little snow in there that taking the time to transition to making turns on the downhill journey would hardly be justified (after rappelling the Chevy,) so we would be rappelling everything below the Ford. We chose to rope-up to climb the steeper pitch of ice in the Chevy, but almost just as a formality.
|Exiting the top of the Chevy, and contemplating our first real views beyond Garnet Canyon.|
|Phew, still got a ways to go.|
|What a place. Exiting out of the top of the Ford and onto the South Ridge, well above everything else in sight with roughly 700' of climbing yet to be done.|
|And feeling it.|
Midway up the Ford things slowed down notably. Then around 13,500' on the South Ridge the altitude started to really hit, and those last 300' took an eternity.
"Alright, just 50 steps and then take a breather. Just 50 steps. You can do that. Okay, maybe 20 steps--that'll work. Just get those 20 steps before you stop. Fuck it, 10 steps. Just kick 10 fucking steps." And on...
Until finally, mercifully, there wasn't any more up to go and we stepped into the day's first wind flowing over the top of our world.
|The obligatory summit shot.|
We tucked into an alcove out of the wind and reveled in the view for a bit, eating nibbles of chocolate and drinking the last of our water as we slowly made the switch to playfully embracing gravity. Paul got creative with ensuring that his ski bindings wouldn't fail at some inopportune moment, and we re-discovered the wonder of Voilé's classic orange straps.
|Lock those things in there, dude. And yet he skied with confidence--that is grace.|
And then we were off. Damp powder turns from the top of the highest thing around, with thousands of feet of exposure below. Like flying, while staying firmly attached to terra firma. Just enough tingling fear from looking down at that exposure to induce a heightened state of focus and awareness. A whole different kind of high, brought on by being way up high.
A whole lot of fun for a little while, and then just like that the Ford ran out and we were forced to resort to ropework to continue downward progress. It's a funny feature of this route that I inevitably forget how skewed the skiing-to-rappelling ratio is. There is actually remarkably little skiing when one thinks about it. Not to diminish the experience of being up there--it's rad to spend a day like that way up in the alpine. But as a ski objective? Hmm.
That being said, once we stowed away the ropes and opened it up down the Teepe, all those thoughts melted away in powdery, arcing mach-speed turns to lower elevations. Fatigue? What fatigue?
|Looking back up at the Teepe. Damn, those were fun turns.|
That run confirmed it--I love this board. After years of questioning splitboard performance and adamantly carrying around a solid deck, the Voilé Revelator has turned me. Super light and responsive, stiff just the way I like it. Feels like every gram of energy that I put into this board comes back in snap, precision, and Grrrrr.
Would we have even gone if we knew Paul's Dynafiddles would malfunction? Or if we knew how much ice was in the Stettner? Would we have chosen an alternate objective that offered up more turns? Not knowing leaves an infinite myriad of possibilities for what might happen and how our skills can be pushed. Not knowing makes the adventure exciting, and a little bit scary, and challenging, and... worth it. And it's often the unexpected outcomes of a day's adventuring that become the most memorable parts of the day.
It's the not knowing that makes it all worth doing.