Cody Pitz - Contributor
The winter of 2016/17 will be remembered as a long, snowy, and altogether great winter for all the skiers of Western North America. So, in light of some fat snowfall totals throughout the area, Patrick and I decided to tee off on some big ski-mountaineering lines that a lot of years wouldn't typically "go" as we like to say.
Past missions had brought me in and out of the big terrain above Cascade Canyon on various routes, so I had a strong desire to revisit the area and "up the ante" on some larger lines that don't get skied a whole lot-if at all. One line in particular had caught my attention, a large hanging snowfield parallel to the more popular "Tall Boy Couloir" only this line had a large cliff-face halfway down the line which keeps most skiers away.
In addition to some obvious route-finding while up on the mountain, the walk back to the trail head afterwards is no slouch either. Most skiing that takes place in and around Cascade Canyon typically occurs in the spring when the inner park road opens to bicycle and vehicle traffic after a lengthy snow clearing effort from the park service in March/April. Spring skiing is fun and all, but nothing compares to the feeling of skiing cold soft snow in big ski-mountaineering lines that generations past never really had the proper equipment to do so until the spring freeze-thaw cycles consolidated the snow-pack a bit.
So there we were, pre-dawn start out of the trail head taking us up through the forest and into Glacier Gulch with breathtaking views of the Cathedral Group above us as the sun came over the Gros Ventre Range on the other side of the Jackson Valley. From a frozen Delta Lake, a long, steep, and altogether taxing ascent up to the saddle between Mt. Owen and Teewinot ensued. Skeats at this time were in a developing phase and proved extraordinarily useful on the steep skins-on climb to the saddle. Patrick, with his trademark no-nonsense straight up and down skin-tracks, provided some relief as we traded spots breaking trail through the varying snow conditions characteristic of blowing winds.
The "mountaineering" in "ski-mountaineering" started to come into play as we put our skis on our packs and opted to climb through an ice-filled ascent route before topping out on the saddle where we would begin our descent. After transitioning to downhill mode, getting some mountain snacks in our bellies, and enjoying the view from the top, we decided to get moving as some big winds started making their presence known in the early afternoon hours.
Our climbing efforts were rewarded as we put our "signatures" on the mountain; making big hero turns through the soft snow above the large cliff band high above Cascade Canyon. As we approached the cliffed-out zone from above we began scanning the area looking for anchor building options. We found a large boulder with a nice horn on it that was seemingly ideal for what we were trying to accomplish. With skis on my pack, I decided to lower myself down to peer over the edge to really size up how far down we needed to go.
The night before had been spent viewing pictures from my personal vault, as well as, some time spent flying around on Google Earth studying what we may be getting ourselves into the next day. Now, on top of the large cliffed-out section, peering down below had me a bit nervous as I realized our rope wouldn't be long enough to make this rappel as we currently have our anchor station set up. Climbing back up to my anchor I revealed to Patrick the situation we currently found ourselves in.
After a short discussion, we decided climbing back up and over the way we came would be an option if we couldn't figure out a better anchor station that would give us a bit more length on our rope over the cliff. Rappelling single-stranded and abandoning our rope on the route was a topic of discussion as we struggled to build an anchor on the ice-covered rock beneath our feet while constantly being reminded of the big terrain we were in with every strong gust of wind that hunkered us down as we began excavating around a boulder with our ice axes.
After breaking through a considerable amount of ice, lacking ice screws for an anchor, I was able to rap a short length of accessory cord around a boulder to be used as a proper anchoring device. Shortly thereafter, I threw our rope over the edge of the cliff hoping it would touch the snow beneath the cliff allowing for a safe rappel. It was close, so I decided to go for it; rappelling the roughly 30+meters to the safety of snow below and literally rappelling off the end of the rope a meter or two before my feet actually touched the ground. On most other years without a fat snowpack, this mandatory rappel would go closer to 40 meters and wouldn't have been an option with the length of rope we were carrying.
From the bottom, I was able to instruct Patrick on a slightly different rappel route of the large cliff band which we were not able to see from above looking down which provided a safer alternative to rappelling off the end of the rope while still suspended a short distance above the snow below.
With both of us a bit shooken up, cold, and a bit unnerved from the stressful rappel we took a couple deep breaths before clicking into our skis to continue the remaining skis on descent into Cascade Canyon. We were rewarded for our efforts with more cold smoke turns before reaching the bottom and starting our long walk home over the frozen Jenny Lake. As we approached the truck at the trail head a couple hours later we were ready for some hot food, a beer, and some sleep after such a big day in the mountains.
Going up there, scaring yourself a bit, feeling the pull to get back to the bottom safely, then successfully doing so brings a great feeling of accomplishment upon completion. Sometimes you ask yourself "what am I doing up here right now? I could be riding chair lifts at the resort, drinking beers at the bottom with my friends". We all know that just wouldn't be as exciting as adventure skiing big ski-mountaineering lines in Grand Teton National Park.
We decided this route needed a proper name, "Just Enough Couloir" seemed appropriate after having just enough rope to successfully complete the route.