Monday, June 13, 2011

Grand Teton via the Ford/Stettner: A Dream Fulfilled

With all the success JD and co (and here) had last weekend in the Tetons, I was beginning to go stir crazy stuck at work from 5AM to 6:30 PM every single day.  So when the opportunity arose to take Saturday off, I loaded up the car Thursday night and after work Friday, I drove straight to Jackson.  A marginal weather forecast kept us guessing as to what might be "in", or rather, "doable".  The only sure thing was that I wanted to get up the Grand.  

I suggested to my partner, BH, that we should maybe take a look at the Otterbody Couloir.  He instantly agreed.  An email exchange between Brian and Mark Newcomb left us wary but least from taking a look.  

Warning: This TR is full of excuses and what ifs...

Brian approaching the Otterbody Couloir
At first, the plan was to head up the Stettner/Chevy/Ford Couloirs, summit, and then drop down to the Otterbody if conditions felt right.  On the Teepee Glacier we caught a glimpse of some continuous ice that made me deeply want to climb up the Otterbody en route to the summit.  I love climbing what I intend to ski.  That way, we would know for sure if conditions would even closely approximate "right".  From far, it looked very doable, but as tends to happen with alpine ice/mixed, things look more difficult on closer inspection.  We had planned on a light and fast trip and had neglected to bring any real ropes, carrying only 6 mm cord for the rappels. We did have an assortment of stoppers, pins, and a picket for anchors, but no screws.  Brian sagely decided we probably shouldn't solo the unknown terrain.  Probably a good thing because my dumb ass was ready to jump on.  
Brian thinking about climbing some funky ice at the bottom of the Otterbody
Back to Plan A.  We traversed back past the Teepee Pillar and up to the Glencoe Col.  About this time I began to completely crash.  I think a combination of poor sleep (too much work), deconditioning (too much work), and not enough time in the mountains at elevation (too much work), had left me in rather pathetic shape.  This affirmed Brian's decision and made me grateful to have a partner who was willing to be thoughtful about the day.  

BH on the Teepee with ominous clouds on the horizon
My low continued to get lower and I slowly followed up the Stettner/Chevy/Ford Couloirs.  Luckily, Brian was a champ and was happy to break trail.  I took a short pull in the Ford but was moving a bit too slowly for his liking as he surged past.  The only other times I have felt this badly have been skiing with JD after working a night shift.  I guess sleep matters.  

View down the Stettner Couloir

BH on a short patch of ice in the Chevy Couloir
We soloed up the short icy sections, which are nearly filled in and were very casual as of 06/11/11.  Somewhere in the Chevy, clouds rolled in and the vis went to zero.  Early in the Ford, we decided the Otterbody was definitely out and stashed all our gear since we'd be coming back the same way.  Oh well, it's not like the Ford is a bad consolation prize.  Hell, it's the Grand Teton after all and this was my first time skiing it.  
I like this pic because Brian seems to be beckoning to move along with the summit in view

Clear shot back to the Ford with the top of the Petzoldt Ridge visible at the bottom of the couloir. 
On the summit, the visibility improved and we were catching intermittent views of the surrounding peaks.  Eager to have some vis on the descent, we dropped in right off the summit just as the clouds closed in.  
Brian skiing from the summit into the void
We waited a few minutes and were rewarded by stunning views and great light as the clouds parted briefly enough to enjoy the descent.
BH skiing the East Face to the Ford Couloir

BH in the Ford Couloir with my shadow visible
We found soft conditions up high that transitioned into breakable crust midway down the Ford.  Near the bottom of the Ford, we encountered unbreakable crust that might as well have been ice.  At this point, we were forced out of our skis and back into the spikes for a wind blasted down climb over the small ice bulges.  
BH near the bottom of the Ford Couloir
At the bottom of the Stettner, we transitioned back to skis and traversed back to the Teepee where we found near perfect corn making me really wonder what the Otterbody snowfield was doing (same aspect, maybe 500 ft higher).  
Looking back at the Teepee Glacier with the Otterbody visible as a thin strip of snow on the East Face.  
Wanting to eek out a little more adventure, we skied down the Dike Couloir and into Glacier Gulch since neither of us had gone down that way previously.  The fine corn continued until out in the Gulch proper where conditions began to get a little sloppy.  
BH finding a corn feast in the Dike Couloir with Teewinot in the background
As we were traversing around Delta Lake trying to find a reasonable exit down to Lupine Meadows, I turned around and found the summits again shrouded in clouds.  Reaffirming the decision to act conservatively.  
Glacier Gulch with Gunsight Notch in the center
I have felt for the last few years that being able to ski the Grand Teton would be a life long dream.  What I didn't realize is that these dreams are drugs.  I'm building up a tolerance.  The Grand was amazing.  It's position, history, and beauty make it an all time classic.  My partner for the day was the work horse of the trip and had a great positive attitude the whole time, in spite of just having skied the same line last week.  But, I feel like the climbing, skiing, and emotional high were slightly more mellow than anticipated.  Part of that is due to my brother and friends taking away the mental unknown as they skied it last week.  The other part is due to the fact that this is no long the "biggest thing" that I (and partners) might have a chance of  pulling off.  It was a beautiful thing, but not the biggest.  Adventure makes life more poignant and as I've mentioned before, I think success needs to be uncertain to have a real adventure.  In spite of the mediocre weather, our line of descent seemed "in the bag" (maybe because Brian was strong and was familiar with the route) with the real adventure laying further out on the East Face.  Regardless, I'm psyched! I feel my season is more complete.  I got my fix and can now go back to being a slave for the rest of the month.  But early next month...?

As Bill Briggs once said, "What's the point of living? ....Well gee, it's to have some adventure."

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