Middle Teton, WY Report: Southwest Couloir, Successful Summit, and Variable Snow

Dominic Gawel | BackcountryBackcountry | Conditions ReportConditions Report
Looking down the Southwest Couloir! Credit: Dominic Gawel

Report from Saturday, April 24

Brought to you by 10 Barrel Brewing

Grand Teton National Park, WY – After 16 miles and 7,000 feet of elevation gain in 11 hours, Josh, Quinton, Micah, and I are exhausted after climbing and skiing the Middle Teton. Having looked forward to this objective for months, I am beyond stoked about our summit and ski of this iconic mountain.

On Friday, April 23 we drove from Gunnison, Colorado to Jackson, Wyoming. We found a campsite just outside of Grand Teton National Park and prepared for the next day. We discussed our route, risk management, safety plans, contingency plans, made dinner, and went to sleep early.

We woke up at 2:15 AM for an alpine start and drove 30 minutes to the Taggart Lake trailhead. We started skinning half-asleep at 4:00 AM. There was just enough snow to skin from the trailhead, although we had to cross several patches of dirt. After the first mile or two, there were no dirt patches and classic icy spring touring conditions.

Despite survival skiing-style conditions, we still managed to get a few turns! Credit: Dominic Gawel

We continued our tour across Bradley Lake and up towards the Garnet drainage. The group reached the top of the Garnet drainage and the bottom of the Middle Teton glacier at about 7:05 AM. We took a quick snack break with gorgeous views of the Grand, Middle, and South Teton. After our brief refuel and conditions observation, we continued up the standard route towards the Southwest Couloir.

There was active wind loading with fresh snow from small recent storms. Even light precipitation with the right wind speeds can cause depths several times as deep that cause an increased avalanche hazard. We managed risk on any potential wind slabs with ski cuts and spacing. This continued to be our main risk to assess throughout the rest of our tour.

At the bottom of the Southwest Couloir, we navigated around several wind slabs and assessed the weather. We determined the visibility and conditions warranted a summit attempt. A storm was forecasted to begin around noon and increase through the afternoon, so we wanted to be off of exposed terrain before the storm became too heavy.

We continued up the Southwest Couloir and made it to “the notch” just below the summit. The summit was just above us – the group scrambled up a class 3 section of rock and bagged the peak at about 11:30 AM! We knew conditions were going to deteriorate quickly, so there was little time to spend on the summit.

Ascending towards the Southwest Couloir! Credit: Quinton Gonzalez

After climbing up the Southwest Couloir, we knew the conditions were not going to allow a ski descent of the couloir. Rocks, thin coverage, and wind slabs blocked us. Unfortunately, we had to downclimb the couloir with skis A-framed on our backs. Another option, the East Face Glacier route, was also not going to warrant a descent due to wind loading. We came prepared with technical gear just in case this was a descent option.

At the bottom of the couloir, we finally transitioned to skis and began to ski out. We ran into a group of ten ascending when we reached the bottom of the couloir. I had met some of them scoping the peak in the Glacier View parking lot the day prior.

We skied variable, punchy, icy, wind-loaded, and awkward snow down towards the top of the Garnet drainage. Conditions made it difficult to ski fast. The group crossed several sections of scree while skiing down the basin.

Micah Linscheid ascending the Southwest Couloir! Credit: Dominic Gawel

Once into the Garnet drainage, ski conditions improved with slush – much better than icy wind-loaded crud! We continued and picked our way down to Bradley lake. At the other side of Bradley Lake, the group transitioned to skins for the last couple of miles out. 11 hours and 30 minutes after starting, we made it back to the Taggart Lake trailhead.

We capped off the day with pizza, a debrief, and hot springs. Despite variable weather and poor ski conditions, this was a season highlight. We made strong risk management decisions, had a successful summit, skied, and checked off another peak from the list.

Avalanche Forecast:

Credit: Bridger -Teton Avalanche Center

Weather Forecast:

Credit: NOAA

Snowpack:

Credit: USDA NRCS

Photos:

After our 4:00 AM start, the sunrise was unforgettable! Credit: Dominic Gawel
Skier Quinton Gonzalez making his way through the variable conditions. Credit: Dominic Gawel
Skiing rocks in a true ski mountaineering style! Credit: Dominic Gawel
The top of the Garnet drainage with the Middle Teton in the background. Credit: Dominic Gawel
Just keep skinning! Credit: Dominic Gawel
Ascending the Southwest Couloir. Credit: Quinton Gonzalez
Hot springs recovery. Credit: Dominic Gawel

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