My eyes snapped open and drifted to peer at my phone: 12:20AM, still 10 minutes before my alarm. It would seem that excitement easily overpowered fatigue. Surprisingly alert and together after only 2 hours of sleep, a breakfast of 2 eggs and black coffee came together with quickness and ease. Gear already packed, the first transition of the day (house to car) was effortless. 1:50AM and I was on the road. Tunes: The Bambi Molesters: As the Dark Wave Swells. The music complimented the tranquil road almost too well, and I found myself at Lupine Meadows Trailhead, unaware of my journey.
My objective remained invisible to me in those narrow hours of morning. A moonless night left the Tetons to their own devices beneath a deep umbral blanket. 2:30AM. By headlamp I started out, following a path I knew well, up to the mouth of Garnet canyon. The night air was a warm caress that, combined with my brisk pace, quickly stripped away layers. The trail gave way intermittently to long stretches of firm snow, and despite variable conditions, I made it to the boulders in an hour and a half.
My eyes drank deeply the monolithic silhouette of Nez Perce, and satisfaction set in; the real adventure could start now. Sodden, cold shoes gave way to warm, dry ski boots. Skins slid easily across the refrozen crust. With the grade increasing, my lack of ski-crampons forced a transition to bootpacking after only an hour:
Dawn broke soon after, and for the first time that day, I felt a pang of worry. Being unsure of the exact route and of time needed for each leg caused my uncertainty to grow. Maybe I started too late; maybe it was going to get too hot, too fast. The possibility that I might have to turn back, shy of my goal, came into being. I put my head down and got to work. Without knowing for certain if I was behind schedule, I acted under just such an assumption, and spying a group ahead of me only intensified my fervor. As I charged up the Teepee Glacier, I noticed that the snow was alarming punchy, and there was much moisture under the thin crust. There hadn’t been a complete freeze overnight, even at elevation. This could spell disaster the second sunlight touched it. Something to worry about later I supposed. Onward and upward.
I overtook the pair ahead of me at the top of the col. The sunrise was stark and sudden. The play of light and shadow across the soft snow and hard rock made the austere beauty of this place come alive.
I got some beta from the pair, and offered them bacon in return. According to them about 2 hours from here to the summit. 6:30AM, with the sun already up, there was no time for dallying. Crampons on and axes out. The ascent, though steep, was pretty straightforward. Only a couple of committing moves over some ice bulges; just enough to keep things interesting.
As I popped out the top of the Chevy only a few hundred yards remained between me and the summit. And now I spied the only remaining group. I thought to myself, ‘I must crush them’. I pinned it as fast as I could go, and quickly gained ground. Right as we all summited I caught up to the trailing member of their group. 7:56 AM, Mission Accomplished!
Turns out the group ahead of me consisted of a couple of local legends, Hans Johnstone and his wife and 15 year old son. I guess when you are at that level, skiing the Grand is an appropriate family outing. We had a nice chat and some chill time at the top, but it was getting late and it was time to go.
I walked out onto the face, and prepared my skis. Easy does it, a mistake here could be ruinous; with my tech toe in place, I slammed my heel down. *click*. I watched in horror as my ski popped off my foot and started slowly rolling down the 45 degree face. The snow was rock hard, but the brake-less ski wasn’t picking up much speed. One last bounce, and it tumbled out of sight. My cool gone, I started yelling profanities. I absolutely lost it. “No fucking way did that just happen!!!” I rapidly secured all loose items and went running after it, chanting under my breath, “please be lucky, please be lucky…” Heart in the pit of my stomach, it began to sink in that I would be downclimbing and one-skiing it out of here. As the last glimmer of hope evaporated, my gut did a somersault at the view before me.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. This was nothing short of a miracle.
Emboldened by my preposterous luck, I quickly got everything in order and began my descent proper. A short ski over chattery, steep refrozen crud gave way to several rappels and downclimbs. Finally, I was back at the top of the Teepee glacier. My prediction from earlier proved to be true, and the ski down the Teepee was more of a 35degree downhill wallow. The sun had been baking the face, and the slush was hip-deep in spots. My tiny randonee skis did nothing to help the situation. Luckily, the snow changed to a more agreeable firm corn after the Teepee, and the lower section of the descent was actually some good skiing. 12:50PM The car was a sight for sore eyes. Exactly enough time for a shower, then off to work!
Solo trips are so powerful, and the ability to explore and ski an unknown route/peak only adds to the excitement.
Crazy fun adventure!