Middle Teton – SW Couloir: April 10, 2013

Weather in Jackson had been mediocre for several days, and the snowpack down low was thinning quickly.  So of course, Pat and I took advantage of a short window of clear skies, with our sights on the summit of the Middle Teton.  With 6200′ of vert to gain and a chance of snow in the afternoon, a typical wintertime Teton start around 7 am was more or less mandatory.  As always, we had a couple miles of approach to knock out before heading upward.

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Creek flowing across the trail down low, which was easily skiable just last week.

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Crossing Bradley Lake to the mouth of Garnett Canyon

Clear skies, calm winds, comfortable slope and preexisting skin track made the first 3000′ to the Meadows quite pleasant….especially considering that the last time I was up here, we were socked in the entire time.  Some of the most spectacular mountains in the Tetons surround you, and it’s obviously much nicer to see what you’re hiking through instead of just knowing it’s there.

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Approaching the Meadows, with the Middle Teton straight in front of us

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Firm wind-packed snow, but no trail, leading up from the Meadows

Beyond the Meadows we encountered nice, wind-packed snow, but no trail.  As we continued for another 2000′ or so, the winds picked up and the snow got deeper.  Winds are often strong through the saddle between the South and the Middle, and today was no exception.  Once at the saddle, we switched over to crampons to make our way up the rocks and scoured snow ahead of us.  Fingers freezing, we hurried ahead to get the blood flowing again.  To our surprise, the winds died down to a breeze once we were in the couloir, and aside from poor visibility the weather for the rest of the climb was quite nice.

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An Exum guide had just passed us, but his client decided to turn around shortly after

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Pat booting up near the entrance to the couloir

The initial cramponing was easy, but as we got higher up in the couloir conditions got much more difficult.  The couloir is typically wind-stripped and bare, but the winds in our most recent storm had been opposite of their usual direction.  In many spots, this meant punching through waist deep snow to maybe rock, maybe snow, maybe a hole.  Progress became extremely slow, and it literally took us 2 hours to cover the final 500′ up to the summit.  In spots we elected to travel over rock instead of through the steep and deep, and while we probably saved some time, this definitely upped the technical difficulty a little.  Nothing too exposed, just frequently using our hands / axe pick to pull upward.  Neither of us had been expecting to stem our legs out on rock or stick our hands into cracks, but it was nice to mix it up a little.

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Crossing over from the wide lower couloir to the entrance of the narrower portion.  On our eventual descent, this was the only place where we had to take off our boards between the summit and the saddle.

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Pat coming through the same section

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Another short section of rock, keeping things interesting

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Pat nearing the top of the couloir, and the skies starting to clear

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Starting to find firmer snow again towards the top

This part obviously took way longer than we had expected, but the good news was that the couloir looked skiable from the top, and the summit was just a few feet above us.  Just a few easy, airy moves and we were on top.  Winds picked up again on the actual summit, but not as bad as before and confined to the top 15′ or so.  With the clouds mostly below and west of us, a clear view of the Grand Teton dominated the scene, with the Dike Pinnacle and Nez Perce below us in thin clouds.  Pretty sweet.

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Taking the final steps to the summit

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Pat at 12,800′

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Nez Perce behind the haze

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Looking down the Glacier Route….maybe next time

After downclimbing off the rime-encrusted summit and out of the wind, we transitioned into snowboard mode and got ready to drop into the couloir.  People are often forced to downclimb this route, but the funky winds this time around had delivered pow.  While the rocks underneath added a touch of sketchyness in spots, it actually skied surprisingly well!

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Exiting the upper couloir, where rock forced the board to come off for a minute or two

Exiting the couloir, we surfed a long, spine shaped windlip down to where we had cramponed up, and had to walk down 10 minutes or so of loose, icy, uneven rock.  The lateral motion kinda sucked on the injured knee, but what’re you gonna do.  On our descent, the snow was mostly windpacked down to the Meadows, powder in the middle, and super heavy slush down low.  Skinning back to the car by 6:30, this qualified as the longest day I’ve yet spent out in the park….and one of the most awesome as well!

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Skiing out of Garnett Canyon, a short ways above the Meadows

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