Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Skiing the Ford-Stettner Route on the Grand Teton


We awoke after a good 9 hrs of sleep at 4:15am. The moon was high and casting perfect light onto the Grand Teton massive that began practically out our tent door. Although the peak is close at the crow flies, getting to the route and up requires stamina, patience, skill, and a little luck. For us, this day, everything came together and the mountain allowed us passage and the privilege to stand atop.

Starting up the boulder field we hiked by the guide camp, trying to move quietly. It did not matter, we soon found out from another group of two camped close by- the guided group of 4 had left 2 hrs earlier.  Together the twosome from Bozeman and us hiked up the Teepee glacier. The sun was rising off in the distance, creating enough light to see and change into crampons and harnesses.

After the little saddle of Teepee we went down a slope and around an arete into the Stettner couloir.  Here the two guys zipped by as they were soloing the first pitch, whereas we roped up. Tim lead first.  We ended up simul-climbing as well because the distance was too great between the anchors.  A fact I learned later, which I was glad to find out after the fact.
At the first belay station. Not too steep, but worth starting out roped for the  confidence and the mind-set shift.  Now begins the climb- slow and steady in the Chevy

Once into the Chevy couloir the real climbing began.  I had thought it was a 'ramp' where we could just walk up.  Rather, there were three pretty decent pitches. Not that steep, but worth setting extra protection like ice screws and a cam into the rock.   Tim and I swung leads to the top of the section where I needed to do a hanging belay- not always my favorite, especially with skis on.
Thankfully we had been ice climbing twice that season--- not a great deal but at least I knew how to adjust my crampons to my once new skis boots :=)

Next up- The Ford Couloir. We had looked at it from across the way on the Middle Teton. It looked steep. I had thought, wow, a fall is certain death. Now that we were in it, I could see that there was a bench of sorts, after an hour-glass shaped run.  Not too bad.  However, I was a little worried about the snow which seemed to have a crust layer on top and unconsolidated, crystal-like powder underneath. Tim and I talked about bailing here, stating that we had come further than we thought possible.  I was concerned that if the conditions became bad we had no way to descending once we headed up.
 Me being the determined and stubborn one- I said, "I'm not coming back again- so let's do it."  Once I was in the lead, following the nice steps up the route everything seemed natural. The forced 'training' day the day before was paying off.

 Finally we approached the ridge and could here voices. The two other groups were making their way down. Fortunately, not any earlier while we were in the firing/sluff zone.  Standing atop the ridge one could see all the way down into the valley- it was amazing...  Now that we were on less of a slope you could look around, chat w the guides briefly, and set your eyes on the prize- the SUMMIT.

There was a small section of overhang where folks had stopped to layer up and take packs off. Here I crawled into the snow shelter exhausted and relieved. We had made it!
Got to admit_  I was a little emotional. This was the single most difficult climb I had ever done.
After some photos and quick snack it was time to head down.  The clouds that had been so gracious to mask the sun's intense rays were giving way.  We knew time was ticking on and the snow conditions would start to deteriorate.  I said to Tim "we are only half way, let's stay focused.'

Skiing down was more like the slide slipping I learnt when driving a toboggan on ski patrol.   Controlled and firm.   I managed a few turns at the top and into the Ford. Then we came across the guide group who were rappelling down a different line.  As to not shower them in sluff, I skied over the runnel line and to the other rappel station- the one we had decided to push forth from.

Tim talked with one of the guides who suggested a faster way to rappel, using their help.  We made pretty quick time of the six rappels, although I know I could be more efficient. Rope management has never been more strong point.

Here comes the sun!!! Now the heat is on. No glove rappelling

Instead of skiing the last pitch of the Stettner we decided to stay roped since it was there and quicker to descend and get out of the bowling alley.

Around and onto the Teepee, which by this time was a slushy mess. Fun though as we could now open it up between crossing wet avalanche debris.

All the way back to camp we skied!!! 

What a day, what an experience, what a partner....  

That evening we decided to stay put, at camp instead of packing up and skiing/hiking the 5 miles out. Why not relish in the moment and soak up our surroundings?  We had done epic 30 hour pushes before when necessary. Now, we did not have to be anywhere at that moment- it was time to be on vacation.

There are ways to get humidity in the mountains!
Catching the canvas of the day.  Looking up toward the Upper Saddle from camp.
That night/early morning we were treated to hail, graupel, lighting cracking right above head, wind and calm weather.  To me, I felt fortunate to have been given a window of opportunity to climb the Grand. Now the mountains and climate were facing off- un-relentlessly.... with Tim and I as witnesses to the show.

The next morning I awoke early- Alpine starts are habit forming I guess.  Worth it though as I was treated to some awesome colors in the valley and atop the peaks. The spindrift was spectacular and humbling to see whipping off the tops. 

Disappointment Peak and dawn

The Grand and the approach is shrouded. The Tee Pee is to lookers /climbers right.

Time to pack up and leave.  We could enjoy a few turns atop the graupel, then it turned to hard ice. The day before's lactic acid could be felt every turn.  Never before had I been so out of breath just skiing downhill. Maybe it was the 50 pound pack as well?

Taking our time heading down, I was rejuvenated by the colors, smells and sights of Spring. Tim, on the other hand, could not wait to be done.  His poor little feet (and ankles) had endured a lot. 

At last we got to the car and dumped our heavy backs to the curious onlookers of tourists.  The first thing Tim grabbed was a beer; me, an orange.

Even as we drove out of the park, devouring chips and guac, heading towards Lander, WY we could not stop marveling at the country-side.  What an amazing place.... So vast, diverse and gorgeous.

Since climbing the Grand, I have read up on some recent press about women doing 'firsts in these mountains.'  Interestingly, I did feel like out there in the Tetons, "it was a man's world.' 
Out of the 12 or so skier/climbers we saw that weekend, none of them were women.    A little lonely.... However hearing about Kit and Kim, I have set loftier goals.
Both these ladies are inspiring, gracious and stellar-athletes, moms, community members. 

Kim Havell skied Otter Body route May 15.
Kit Deslauriers made a solo ski descent of the Grand last week! Check out this article.

Thanks for reading- hope you enjoyed the story...

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