Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Grand Rejection

The Middle on fire
Tuesday, July 5th was to likely be my last hurrah for this ski season.  Jon S and I both had the day off and we decided (with the gracious support from our wives) to make a sleepless trip to visit the object of my recent affection, the Grand Teton.

Jon has never skied the GT and was psyched.  He's always psyched though.  That's what makes him a great partner.  Anyway, a 10 PM departure from SLC, after we had both worked all day saw us driving into the night and arriving at the Lupine TH at 3:00 AM. 

We packed up WAY too much gear and set out at a brisk hike up to Garnet, passing numerous mountaineers.  That should have been our first clue that the season was closing.  If those trains of people think they can walk up the trail, over the summer snow pack, and then scramble up dry rock, then what I'm I doing trying to go skiing?  

The day dawned as we worked our way up to the JHMG high camp.  Brilliant rays of pink and orange were split by the peaks creating the morning play of light.  We skinned on a firm base but soft surface that allowed fast travel if one were inclined.  The name of the game that morning was slow and steady. 

Booting only a few steps out of the thousands of feet from the Meadows, we arrived at the Glencoe Col happy to get on with some semi technical climbing.  Our plan was to follow Bill Briggs' tracks and climb the Stettner, boot the East Face, tag the summit, and then flip it for the ski down.  Jon hadn't ever climbed ice and was about to get a crash course in one of the most stunning class rooms around.  I pulled the corner to the shadowy Stettner and was horrified to find that "our" wintery secret garden was now a deep rock strewn slushy goulotte. 

"Hmmmm," I thought, "better go up anyway and take a look."  

Jon came around the corner and was quiet.  I had him wait at the lowest fixed anchor in a safe alcove and scrambled up, hands and knees getting wetter with each step.  While running with water and bare in many places, I thought we could at least climb the thing if we were fast.  Then I reached a larger rock step with free flowing water that was percolating through the upper Stettner.  

Not the place to be as the sun was getting higher and higher.  

My favorite ski descent a few days too late
Looking down the Stettner.  Look closely, Jon is peaking out from his safe spot. 

My inner monologue continued for a minute or two while water splashed my lightweight red MH jacket and I snapped the above photos.  

"Well, maybe we can ski from the summit. It's sure to be fantastic corn... Ahhh, but then we'd have to rap down this gun barrel as it gets hot... So what, the anchors are all in relatively safe spots... Damn it.  Who am I kidding?"  

I quickly down climbed to Jon and relayed the bad news.  Here's part of our conversation.

Untitled from andy dorais on Vimeo.

Jon was a good sport and was more than happy to support the decision.  And, as he said, "Live to ski powder another day."  In fact, he was content with the day from the moment we stepped out of the car and the intense stars caught his attention unlike the dull night sky in SLC.  Good partners make the day.  A lesser person would have been resentful for the outcome. 

Jon, smiling ear to ear in spite of just finding out that we would not be tagging the summit.

I guess this was why.  That man loves skiing and he realized he had a few thousand feet of corn at his feet.
Bill's route heads down the East Face before cutting back into the Stettner (bottom right)
While I would have loved to have forced the day and skied the Brigg's Route, I'm happy with the decision to listen to the mountain screaming at us to go home.  In the Alstrin film, Higher Ground, I think it's Sean Issac who talks about how there is no feed back for the alpinist who makes the right choice.  A wrong decision leads to a broken leg or worse.  The right one?  A long car ride of "what ifs".  

Oh well.  As new friend Christian said afterwards, "The Grand's not going anywhere."  Then he posted this and now this addict is about to go through a 4 month agonizing withdrawal. 

169 days till winter


  1. You've had a great streak of luck this season. Well played.

  2. Thanks Jim. Maybe we're slowly learning to make wise decisions? Definitely hard to back down though.

  3. I tried to find this picture with Briggs trail and I cannot find it anywhere. Any ideas? :)