The East Face of the Middle is a line I’d had my eye on for nearly a year before finally getting the chance to ski it. With one zone of significant exposure and slopes near 60 degrees, this wasn’t a route to be skied without careful consideration of snow and weather conditions. Our only other period of extended high pressure this winter occurred in January, but the Middle Teton Glacier wasn’t yet completely covered with snow, and the threat of persistent slabs kept plenty of areas off limits. February brought warm temperatures and relentless heavy snowfall to the mountains, creating a period of severe instability (and frighteningly massive slides) while slowly healing the weaknesses in the snowpack. Once the right conditions finally rolled around, there was no question we’d have to head out and take a stab at it.
East Face / Glacier Route as seen from Disappointment Peak, 1/22/14
The weather in the Tetons had been clear and temperate for 3 or 4 days in a row, and avalanche activity was minimal. It seemed that we finally had a deep, stable snowpack and shreddable surface conditions, and we did our best to verify this with a recon mission up the Garnett North Fork the day before. Our main concern was the storm due to arrive sometime in the afternoon, so we were out on the skin track by 6 am. Headlamps and coffee got us up to the Meadows about 2 hours later. It’s often quite windy here, but today we were greeted with light winds and blue skies.
Morning light on the south wall of Garnett Canyon
Second breakfast at the Meadows with Sir Rodney
From here, we continued to the summit via the south fork of Garnett Canyon and the Southwest Couloir – a straightforward, 3rd class snow climb. I wrote about this route in more depth in a couple of last year’s trip reports, and will skip over those details here. Let it suffice to say that shortly after noon, we arrived at the summit under perfectly clear skies with nothing more than a gentle breeze – and it was glorious.
Looking south from the summit of the Middle Teton
Rodney and the G.T.
Seeing the surface conditions we had hoped for, it was time to put the splits together and get to the steeps. For us, the scariest part of the descent came at the very beginning: a steep, exposed traverse leading to a small jump down to the notch between summits. Despite the remarkably deep snow throughout most of the range, winds and sluffs had allowed only a meager amount of snow to accumulate near the summit, and we each tagged a rock or two as we carefully snowboarded over to the notch.
Rodney looking down at the line from the notch
Upper east face looking damn near perfect
Now, it was time to reap the real reward for our efforts: over 1000 ft. of steep, sustained, fall line skiing through a few inches of old, dry, well-bonded powder on the upper east face. Leapfrogging once in the middle, we played the sluff management game through the steeps and made carefree, wide open pow turns on the glacier below. Giddy with stoke and fairly confident that we’d just made the route’s first descent of the season, we devoured the remaining vert back down to the lake, enjoying all the playful, mellow riding along the way. Feeling satisfied with the day’s adventure, we leisurely threw the skins back on and made our way up the moraine, with only one objective remaining: acquiring burgers and beers back in Jackson!