|Sunrise over Garnet's South Fork|
The plan was to drive up after work on Monday, try to catch some sleep at the trailhead, and then ski the Ellingwood Couloir on the Middle Teton. Always trying to imagine the perfect day, I suggested we link that up with the Chounaird and SW Couloirs and then the Glacier Route for a type of "quadfecta" or Middle Teton Project for lack of better name. However, both of us decided on the way up that if we could just ski the Ellingwood from the summit then the day was ours. The rest would be gravy. Steep white gravy.
I've been battling a cold for two and a half months (ever since Lars started daycare), so I opted to pay the $45 for a room at Motel 6. This allowed three and a half hours of dark, dreamless sleep, effectively recharging my battery. Poor Chad, twitching with nervous energy and unable to escape my snoring, passed those three hours with his thoughts and bright eyes.
By 4 am, we were skinning from the Taggert TH, following frozen tracks by a mix of moon beam and headlamp. Using ski crampons, we easily ascended the steep lower reaches of Garnet and another hour later, the dawning day revealed the great basin that forms the South Fork of Garnet Canyon.
I was surprised at how accessible the Ellingwood is while we readied our crampons. Initally, I was worried we'd be too late to safely ski these steep lines on such a warm day. Now, using French technique to ascend, I was curious if we were too early.
|Chad frenching his way up the lower Ellingwood|
|Firm conditions in the lower Ellingwood|
|Front pointing up the rock hard Ellingwood|
The firm conditions made for fast travel and we quickly found ourselves at the notch, looking toward the summit block. Here, Chad courageously and wisely declared that the Ellingwood was too bullet to ski within his margin of safety. I brushed him off and said it would be fine corn by the time we tagged the summit.
|The setting moon between the Ice Cream Cone and South Teton|
|Chad booting with the Mark of Zoro visible on Cloudveil Dome|
|Topping out the Ellingwood|
We worked our way up the East Face, passing a few rock bands along the way. Each one reinforced my suspicion that I haven't climbed enough in the past couple years and feel awkward on rock, particularly with ski boots, crampons, and skis on my back. Time to get back to the vertical I guess. Climbing rock really does lesson the relative verticality of ski lines as one becomes accustomed to the steepness of rock routes.
|Awkward rock scramble|
|Chad Ambrose punching it for the summit|
|Chad Ambrose, happy man, father of 4, and bad ass|
|Middle Teton Bench Mark with Nez Perce and the East Hourglass in the background|
|From the summit of the MT looking west|
|Steep upper aspects of the East Face of the Middle Teton|
|Skiing down to the Dike Pinnacle. Glacier route is to the left, Ellingwood to the right.|
Here, Chad very honestly and refreshingly stated that he had a duty to self and family and preferred to ski the Glacier Route with its promise of creamy powder. Feeling a duty to partnership in the mountains and happy to ski powder over stressful boilerplate, we bailed on the Ellingwood and the remainder of the Middle Teton Project. I have no doubt that we could have waited and scored the Ellingwood in ripe corn but to do so would have been at increased risk of wet slides from above. We followed a feeling or premonition and have no regrets.
Below is the alternative:
Off the Glacier and looking for more sheltered skiing, we considered our options. Both Hourglass Couloirs were still shaded and suggested soft conditions. Lacking steep, stable powder in the Wasatch this year, we decided to go looking for more after thoroughly enjoying the Glacier Route.
Ascent pics of the East Hourglass:
|Approach apron to both Hourglass Couloirs with Middle Teton in background.|
|Boot track up the East Hourglass Couloir|
|Chad's butt on display at a short rocky choke, complete with fixed rope.|
|A look back at the Middle Teton from the top of the Sliver/East Hourglass|
|Looking down the Sliver|
|Chad, topping out the East Hourglass. Skis left just below the last rock choke.|
Standing at the confluence of the Hourglass Couloirs, the right thing to do was to then climb and ski the West. Striving to always choose the right, up we went.
We lounged around at the top, reflecting on our amazing day. We hadn't skied what we initially intended but did find around 10,000 feet of beautiful climbing and skiing. We were loyal to each other and felt we were safe in our travels. I wish that daylight, food, and time could have been stretched to permit a couple more lines but the clock was ticking. As is nearly always the case, we both had to be back in SLC within 24 hours of leaving.
Down we went...
Looking back at the high peaks from the trailhead, I'm sustained for another few weeks. Hopefully, the next weather window aligns with my next bit of free time. And, hopefully Chad Ambrose will be back! It's hard to find strong, honest, happy partners that will always try to make the right call. And by "right", I mean as Bart once said, "The goal is to come home safe, friends, and successful, in that order". Success can have many definitions in the mountains and completing my prescribed Middle Teton Project is just one form. I'd say that skiing big lines in stable powder on Chad's first ski trip in the Tetons after a long winter of dangerous conditions would be just that.
|Upper East Hourglass - above the rocky crux|
|Tight turns in the upper East Hourglass|
|Nearing the rocky choke|
|Exiting the East Hourglass|
|Middle Teton from the top of the West Hourglass. Ellingwood and East Face visible.|
|Cloudveil Dome, a Bell bike helmet, and a bad ass|
Down we went...
|Getting started in the West Hourglass|
|Still finding soft snow around 1PM|
|Frozen but untrustworthy|
|The Cathedral Group|