Reliving a Grand adventure
Special to the Sun
Editor’s note: Kip Garre, a 10-year resident of Squaw Valley, recently returned from a ski trip to Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park, where he and friend Andrew Eisenstark summitted and skied the Grand Teton.
Not being content with the ski season coming to an end, Andrew Eisenstark and I opened our hit list book and searched for a ski route that would help us ease into the warm temps of summer.
We wanted to ski the Grand Teton ” the tallest peak in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park ” but told ourselves that our goal was just to enjoy some backcountry skiing in the area.
Though it was still early in the season to be attempting the Grand, we packed up our gear and headed east, trying to be realistic about the weather and conditions. Upon driving over Teton Pass and getting our first look into the Jackson Valley, we were excited to be there but a little concerned by the size of the snow banks at 8,200 feet.
The Grand Teton has been labeled a test piece for ski mountaineering in the lower 48 states. It is a complete ski descent that involves ice climbing, route finding and about 7,000 feet of hiking to reach the 13,770-foot summit.
Then you get to ski down.
Any picture of the Tetons leaves most ski mountaineers dreaming of all the lines that get plastered with snow. There are so many perfect ski runs in the park, I would recommend a trip here to anyone who wants to check out some new terrain. The town of Jackson is a perfect complement to the Tetons, with lots of local brew and plenty of good places to eat.
Packing up, we knew that we should bring all the gear required to climb the Grand just in case the weather and conditions allowed us to head in that direction. We had other options and felt comfortable about skiing any of the other lines in Garnet Canyon, gateway to the Grand.
After slogging our heavy packs and skis through the dirt and woods, we finally got to a place to camp and got a good view of the Grand and Middle Tetons. The weather was not looking good ” rain, wind and a little snow, not much sun or fun. We decided while setting up camp that if the weather wasn’t better in the morning we would have to abort our plans for the Grand and try something with fewer hazards.
The morning skies were clear enough to send us packing for the Grand, making our way onto the Teepee Glacier.
We had already decided that the guidebooks for this area are slightly vague and that route-finding was going to be an issue. With a little bit of extra climbing and backtracking we made our way to the bottom of the Stettner Couloir.
From here we felt more confident in the route but less in the weather. Occasional breaks in the clouds kept us moving forward.
After two pitches of ice climbing we were in the Chevy Couloir, which is the way to the summit. Comfortable about retreat, if necessary, we headed up another two pitches of ice and could see toward the top.
It was funny how it worked: We were way behind schedule but the clouds had kept the route in good shape. The weather was starting to clear and soften up the snow ” perfect timing. Some deep boot packing brought us to the summit and a break in the clouds gave us some beautiful views of the town and Snow King Resort Ski Area.
Like most ski mountaineers, we found ourselves feeling more comfortable once we clicked into our ski bindings. Knowing that we still had some serious hazards on the descent, we kept from getting to excited and confidently started down.
Off the summit we enjoyed 1,000 feet of 50-degree skiing over lots of exposure.
Soft snow allowed us to ski all the way down into the Chevy Couloir, where we were forced to repel into the Stettner Couloir and downward.
Below the Stettner we were able to carve some nice turns in the corn snow for the next 2,000 feet back to camp. Looking back to the summit face, we could now make out our turns and felt good about our decision to tackle the summit in the adverse weather.
Hiking out felt good as we reveled in our accomplishment.
In 1971 Bill Briggs shocked the ski mountaineering community by becoming the first person to ski off the summit of the Grand Teton.
No one believed it was possible at the time.
Today, the Grand gets skied occasionally when weather and conditions allow. We felt lucky to show up and leave our tracks on the Grand.
Kip Garre spends most of his winters skiing, figuring out where to ski and working so he has money to go skiing. He works in the spring as a guide for Points North Heli-Adventure in Alaska and paints houses in the summer when not mountain biking, climbing, running and skydiving. Andrew Eisenstark has lived in the Tahoe area for four years and spent this past winter coaching for the Sugar Bowl freeride team.
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