Apocolypse Coulior

Yesterday, January, 30th, Jeremy Lupp and I skied the coveted Apocalypse Couloir off of Prospector Peak in Death Canyon. Jeremy suggested this route to me last Friday after he had got a glimpse of it while ice climbing on Prospector Falls the day before. The Apocalypse Couloir is truly a Teton Classic and one of the steepest and most hazardous ski lines in the range. We started out from Jackson a little after 7:00 a.m. and were skinning from the Death Canyon trail by 8:10. It was a relatively warm morning and we made quick work of the well laid skin track past the Phelps Lake overlook and into the canyon. My first glimpse of the couloir was a memorable one, it looked steep…very steep. While I have spent much of the past two winters ice climbing in Death Canyon I had not known of this ski line until recently. Shortly after 10 a.m. we were making our way up the cone beneath the Apocalypse.

 It was warm but the narrow NE facing couloir remains well shaded. After re-hydrating and refueling at the top of the cone we began the long bootpack up the couloir. The snow was firm in some areas and deep powder in others which made for quite a workout. After an hour and 1,000 feet of elevation gain we had reached the “crux” or narrowest choke of the couloir, only 4 feet wide, icy and about 60 degrees. After navigating the crux we continued up the couloir and then turning left to climb the South Fork of the Apocalypse.

 At approximately 1:15 p.m. we were kicking out a ledge large enough to take a break and put on our skis for the exciting descent. The air was crisp and cold in the shade of Prospector Peak above as we discussed our ski route and how we would navigate the narrow crux. We decided that we would have to remove our skis, stow them on our packs and downclimb the precarious ice choke. With the decision made and nothing left to do but begin our ski descent we set off down the couloir. The snow was well condensed and stable which eased our minds of the potential for avalanches but also made for fast, exhilarating turns. Jeremy stopped a couple hundred feet above the crux of the route to stow his skis before the couloir rolled over to steeper terrain. I decided to leave my skis on and gingerly make my way to just above the narrows. This proved to be much faster and surprisingly comfortable as I had no problem keeping an edge on the softening snow. A quick downclimb of 40 feet or so lead me below an ice bulge where I could kick out an area to once again put on my skis and continue the descent. Jeremy was soon reattaching his skis as well and I handed him the camera to video my turns down the steep, narrow couloir. It was by far the most aesthetic line I have ever skied, the beautiful blue ice on my right playing contrast to the monochrome granite walls on my left. Half way down the couloir I stopped at a small alcove where I yelled up to Jeremy to start his descent. Even on Teli-skis Jeremy made great turns down the tight chute and stopped next to me for a minute to share his jubilation at skiing the beautiful line. The walls of the couloir then widened and eventually gave way to the cone below Prospector Falls and the Apocalypse. The snow was warm and soft and we were soon across the creek. We then paused to gaze up at our accomplishment, a tiny sliver of snow tucked in the mass of rock of Prospector Peak.

The skiing out of Death Canyon on the hard skin track made for a quick return to the trailhead. Shortly after 4 p.m. we were honoring our successful day in the park in the usual manner, with cold beer and whiskey at Dornans, then burgers with my girlfriend Natalie at the Cadillac Grill. A perfect day in Jackson Hole.

Natalie vs “The Pass”

I awoke early that day, about 5 am. Tired and in an affectionate, cuddly mood, I begrudgingly hoisted my warm body out of Bryan’s inviting bed and began dressing myself for the quick drive to my house. After slipping into many layers of ski attire, pulling my blond hair back into a ponytail and refreshing my mascara smudged face, I felt confident and ready to go. Bryan arrived promptly as always and after a series of unfortunate mishaps such as forgetting my ski-backpack, smacking Bryan in the face with the ski-backpack and a minor that-time-of-the-month emotional episode, we were on our way. The sun was rising, meaning I didn’t need to use my newly purchased head lamp and the time was approximately 6:15 am. Skis strapped tightly to my back, ski boots fastened and ipod cranking, Bryan and I made our way up the bootpack with high spirits and smiles on our snow-kissed faces. My dear Bryan can easily ascend the bootpack in about 40 minutes from bottom to top. We estimated the process would take the two of us together roughly 1 hour, 30 minutes. Just about 10 minutes into this process, my body is already feeling the effects of climbing this icy stairmaster. I realize that my lungs are working harder than a two-bit hooker the day before her rent is due. My arms are screaming louder than a fresh lobster submerged in boiling water. And my booty? Let’s not even go there. After multiple stops where I was barely able to catch my breathe and countless hard-core Jacksonites surged past us, I looked sweetly up to Bryan and asked, “Are we at least over half-way through?”. His bluntness hit me like a mack truck, “We’re allllmost half way.” Great.

The slow process of climbing this never-ending white staircase seemed to drag on forever. Minutes felt like hours. Steps felt like miles. Bryan was not only making the same movements but also packing the snow firmly into the foot holes to try and ensure my balance while I huffed and puffed along side. He could have sang an opera and I could barely speak. Finally, my eyes rose and I could see Bryan at the top of the pass, gazing down upon the valley. Success! I. Had. Done it.

Happy to be rid of the burden of carrying two large skis on my back, I excitedly slid into my bindings with ease. Little did I know, I would be stepping into those bindings many more times on the seemingly short trip down. Any experienced skier or snowboarder will sing the praises of skiing untracked powder the day after large pillow-like flakes fall from the sky. The ground becomes blanketed by thick layers of velvety, flour-like clouds which skis and snowboards glide across effortlessly. However, for a beginning skier, this is most definitely not the case. Being my 11th day of skiing since birth and having never skied powder before, I looked down the mountain and felt a wave a panic shock my body from the tips of my fingers to the tips of my toes. I looked over at Bryan, who could undoubtedly feel the fear oozing off of me and he smiled. As we began, the panic began to grow larger and larger. The snow did not feel light and cloud-like as others had described. As I slowly trekked down, boulders seemed to force my skis deeper and deeper into an ice-cold abyss. When it came time to make a turn, everything I learned about skiing went out the window and down I went. Legs flailing, arms outstretched, skis detached from my boots and doused in snow, Bryan was forced to crawl back up the mountain to locate and retrieve my missing ski and assist me in re-attaching it to my boot. The frustrating process of attempting and failing to complete simple pie-wedge turns continued to worsen as my body grew colder, sorer and my cheeks were stained with tears. Bryan’s encouraging words and positive energy allowed me to muster the strength to push through the complete and udder frustration I was feeling inside to finish the ski down physically un-harmed.

Riding home in Bryan’s warm Jeep with my snow-saturated jacket and stiff boots peeled from my body, I felt…well, relief. I had done it. Not only the most physically challenging feat I’d ever completed, but also the most emotionally and mentally draining as well. Although sniffling, sore, tired, cold and wet I was excited and happy at what I had just accomplished. Life is about challenging yourself to achieve great things. I used to think the crazy mountain-climbing citizens of Jackson Hole were silly. I guess now I realize the amazing power the mountains possess and their stirring ability to strengthen the mind and ultimately, elevate the soul.

Teewinot

 

Jeremy on his bike on the way to Teewinot

Jeremy biking to Teewinot

We met at my house at 4am and drove up to the Bradley/Taggart trailhead (the road from this point through the park is only open to bicycles, runners, in-line skaters…etc). From the parking lot we jumped on our bikes and rode the couple miles to the Lupine Meadows turn off. It was a very cold ride and we had to stop a couple times to warm our hands. There was no moon and the stars were absolutely spectacular! At the Lupine Meadows turn out we locked up our bikes and made our way on skis across the snow covered meadow below Teewinot, looming 6,000 ft above. Skinning up the lower east face was less difficult than I had expected, the snow had firmed nicely with our recent abundant sunshine and lack of snowfall. By sunrise we had progressed up to 8,000 ft and took a short break to watch the sun crest above the Gros Ventres and devour a couple protein bars. Shortly after 9:00 am we reached the “Apex” where the trees give way to the steep, rocky alpine setting of the upper face. At this point the terrain became too steep to climb on skins, so we would have to take off our skis and boot pack the remaining 2,800 vertical feet.
Bryan bootpacking up Teewinot Mountain

Bryan bootpacking up Teewinot

We took a short break at 10,200′ to refuel and determine the snow conditions. We found the snow to be stable enough to climb and ski but the snow on the upper face of the mountain was far from spring conditions. The temperature above 10,000 feet had yet to reach levels that would produce good corn skiing. It was an utterly exhausting effort breaking trail on the 50 degree slope, I had to stop every hundred feet to catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my brow. At 11,500′ I reached The Choke, a three and a half foot wide vertical section of ice. I removed my ice tools from my back pack, stowed my ski poles and began to climb the extremely precarious section of ice. Above the choke lay a steep snow field for 500 ft up to The Notch and more exhausting climbing. Reaching the Notch at 1:30 pm I began my descent, the whole east face of Teewinot laid out below me, a fall or mis-step could mean complete disaster. A few years ago a guy fell skiing this route and tumbled 2,000 feet to his death. I would have to remove my skis at the ice choke and down climb with my crampons and ice tools to get back on to snow. After this down climb was over however, there would be no more obstacles, a continuous 4,500 vertical feet of steep untracked snow. The snow was fast and crusty and my weary legs fought to maintain control of my skis. It was terrifying, exhilerating and liberating all at the same time! Jeremy waited above the Apex for me to meet him and as I skied to his position, with the biggest smile on my face that I can imagine, we exchanged words of our amazement at what we had just skied. We then made our down the remaining 2,500 vertical feet of the lower face. What we found was the most amazing corn conditions I have ever skied and one of the best runs I have done all season. We made big easy turns through the wide open trees and gently sloping faces that basked in the sunlight. At 4 o’clock we reached the Lupine Meadows turnoff were we strapped our skis to our backpacks and lazily rode our bikes back to the parking lot. Upon reaching the car we endulged in a couple cold beers and a pint of whiskey and stared up at our accomplishment as a great wave of quiet satisfaction washed over my body.
View of Teewinot

View of Teewinot