Thursday, March 18, 2010

Fried on the Skillet.

Bob and I got the opportunity to ski a classic line in the Tetons on Mt. Moran. The weather was perfect, but the snow could have been a little better. I was invited by splattski , but he was unable to come. Since we didn't go to the summit (we were skiing, not climbing!), I'm sure that we will be back. My other friend Chris was going to go, but work wouldn't let him go. So Bob and I left on Sunday in the nicest Sportsmobile 4x4 conversion I've seen. I have a VW Westy and I may have to upgrade. We made good time and were loading up on bagels shortly after noon. Bob is very knowledgeable about the best spots around JH. Bob is also a very good climber and is mentioned in Stone Crusade, guidebooks and magazines. He was prolific in the Shawangunks and has put up a route that Henry Barber had to rest for 20 minutes on before sending it! Now Bob pushes the envelope with snowboard mountaineering.

There is a long slog across the frozen lake. After the end of the flat travel, we both had blisters. We are used to going up, not flat! It took 3.5 hours to go from Colter Bay to Bearpaw Bay. Partially due to a mistake in setting the azimuth on my compass and that we woke to a total white out.

We pulled the sleds as far as we could. Which was too far. We packed another 500 or so vertical feet and set up camp on the glacial moraine. We melted a gallon or so of water and I made Pad Thai noodles and had some tea. Heaven.

Four o'clock came and we started up. There were headlamps behind us. We had problems skinning on the bulletproof snow. We should have brought ski crampons. I have a list of things I would do differently. We had to start booting and the four guys caught us and passed. We stopped at the bottom of the glacier and fueled up. Then we started skinning again to the 'schrund. The bergschrund was barely open and we were able to go between the cliffs and the 'schrund instead of swinging way left.

We started booting again at the 'schrund and made our way around the corner and into the couloir. The angle is not nearly as steep as it looks from across the lake! It's still 40+ degrees and the snow was NOT softening up. Which brings me to my next item on the list of things to do differently. If the snow is hard at the 'schrund, put your crampons on then. You will not be able to until WAY up on the couloir. Probably make sure you can get to your axe, or bring Whippets. I'm glad I brought two tools...wink, wink, nudge, nudge (inside joke alert)!

We were stuck in boots on hard snow. It wasn't too bad until the sun hit the right wall. Then the icefall came. First a baseball sized chunk hit my kneecap. Bitch. Then at around 11,000 I felt dizzy and sick to my stomach. We pushed on and it got better. I have never had a problem with altitude, but then again, the highest I have been to is 14K+ so who knows. We pushed on and the Bozeman 4 made their way onto the summit ridge. The icefall continued to get worse and bigger. I heard a crack and thud. Then THUD, THUD, THUD. The thuds were getting further apart. I strained to see what was coming and saw a chunk of ice the size of a couch cushion coming right at us. Bob was about 20 meters below me and I yelled, "ICE"! He ducked into the slope and I tried to fit up into my helmet. It whizzed over me and landed about 5 feet in front of Bob and bounced over and on down. For the first time in awhile, I thought about mortality. I decided that I came to ski the handle and not worry about the summit. Bob continued up another 200 feet and found no soft snow. Bulletproof hardpack. The Bozeman guys continued up to the summit and I transitioned to skis. I told Bob that I would wait for him at the bottom of the glacier. He was going to wait for it to soften more. I really wanted to ski from the summit, but it wasn't there for us. I think we are both happy to just get to ski the Skillet. My first turns were nerve wracking. I skittered down 10 feet after each pedal hop. I thought about stopping and waiting for it to soften, but the shade of the chute was starting to come across and the East Horn was casting a huge shadow below. I pressed on and found great snow 1000 vertical feet below. Now it was fun! The whole chute from the notch to the cliff is pretty much the same angle. It is sublime! I couldn't recommend it more. I know I'll be back to finnish the job!

I stopped at the glacier and set up a chair with my sit pad and skis and waited. I fell asleep and woke up to see the Bozeman guys skiing by in the distance. No Bob! I was worried since there were more and more sluffs coming down the couloir. Finally Bob came out of the chute and down by the cliffs.

We skied the final chutes down to camp and packed up. We were going to stay another night to rest, but we decided to take one good kick in the nuts instead of two small ones. Good choice. We wandered around blistered and exhausted in the dark until finding the van. Soup, water, sleep... heaven. Bob has an uncanny ability to wake up at exactly 5 minutes to 5 a.m. I don't know how he adjusted for Daylight Savings, but he did. We stuffed and stashed, hoisted the main sail and were on our way for the breakfast special at Bubba's. I am very grateful to be able to go on such a great trip. Thank you Bob and thank you John. I am lucky to be surrounded by great partners (Chris is alway ready to go on one of my trips that my mind wrote a check for and our ass can't cash). I have yet to regret going with anyone. Now, I am off to lick my wounds and get ready for the Sawtooths in April.


Wes said...

Good Stuff!

Ralph S. said...

Thanks! Good work in 08 on the Skillet. We should get together and make some turns one of these days.