Monday, July 2, 2012

A Grand Scheme

For years I’ve hung my head in shame, every time the inevitable question would arise, “Have you ever climbed The Grand?”

Given the number of high-school kids and tourists that I’ve known to summit, it’s felt embarrassing to answer, “No, nope, never..." sheepishly confessing, "I've been to the saddle a few times.”  With distaste for busy mountains, I’ve always avoided the park during peak-season and have been trounced by hard weather and sketchy snowpack on my half-dozen or so attempts at winter climbing in the Tetons.

Now, alas – I can hold my head high and answer, “Well, sorta...I mean, I’ve skied The Grand...

While the descent has overshadowed the climbing experience, there was certainly a “mountaineering” element know:  lots of slowly-walking-uphill & not-feeling-so-good sorta stuff.  There was a cool stretch of gully ice in the middle, but that seemed to be more of an obstacle to the skiing than a technical challenge.  Mostly, I felt like my legs were very skinny and my cardio weak-sauce at the high elevation - penance for several weeks of either sitting in a bar at sea level, or lounging around base camp on the Kahiltna Glacier...eating far more than the shoveling and short tours burned off.

Chris Ebeling getting his slog on

Eyeing up the Teepee Pillar, sucking wind and hoping for cloud cover

Mid-way through the Chevy Couloir, 200 meters of rolling ice offered respite from the slog

With those weeks of poor weather and inactivity, I had festered for long enough, and only needed a moment on return to empty the duffels and spin some laundry before I was not only ready to get up and move, but simply needed a mission.  Chris Ebeling jumped onboard and we were southbound in a matter of hours.

We made a quick afternoon approach in trail runners, set up camp in the meadows, knocked out another 1,500' to scout the next morning’s approach, then made a scratchy evening run from the Jackson Hole Mountain Guides hut - timing the freeze perfectly for bonus points to round out the day.

Hard, frozen conditions on our way back to camp after the evening scout

Topping out the following afternoon, I was warm & fuzzy and savored the simple pleasure of excellent conditions coupled with steady movement (We clipped the rap stations as running belays…otherwise, I placed only one screw on the sharp end and discovered that despite the apparent contradiction, “mountaineering” can actually produce Type1 Fun – go figure.), then I realized – this time around I was totally comfortable with turns like these being my “first” of the season.  (Full disclosure:  this past winter, I did actually managed three days on my skis, working as photo assistant to Paolo Marchesi, but honestly, hauling around his camera kit, linking perhaps half-a-dozen turns at a time, as we moved from one position to the next, was hardly the same as “going skiing.”

Apparently, the frequency (or infrequency) is paying off…for the last several years, I’ve been having great winter seasons, filled with ice climbing, yet utterly devoid of skiing.  The payoff?  Every spring I end up ski mountaineering someplace rad, and stepping onto the boards for the first time in ten months or more atop some wildly exposed position.  I guess experience breads confidence.

Chris Ebeling, exiting the Chevy Couloir

Chris Ebeling, getting his tourist-pose on

Leaving the summit snowfield, dropping into the Ford Couloir

That said, I was far from rippin’ it up there.  I enjoyed carving some sweet, buttery turns, and even laid into a few – in the good snow – but I also rested plenty on the way down, kept my legs fresh and maintained control with a series of jump turns, and even anchored off my uphill Whippet a few times in between as I caught my breath.

Pausing to suck wind, shortly above the rappels

Feeling good after catching my breath and charging toward the Chevy - good snow and massive exposure:  a delightful combo

The raps were pretty casual to approach, but a shocking junk show of rigging, along with a variety sketch-o pins gave pause to re-think our running belay and meager reinforcement gear on the way up.  We re-set a number of anchors and found a few bomber nut placements in the process.  With the amount of traffic this thing is seeing now, it should tighten up soon.

Chris Ebeling, somewhere in the middle of four 60m rappels - to save weight, we used a single 7.8mm along with a 6mm tag line

Letting 'em run on the Teepee Glacier

Two happy dirtbags, as seen from the meadow camp with The Grand towering above - remember, "If it wasn't for foreshortening, no one would go up on anything..."

All in all, a hoot of a quickie…  We broke camp, jogged down the hill, dosed on caffeine and punched the return drive.  It was just what I needed – a quick and successful adventure fix.  Now then,  to climb something on The Grand…

Point-and-shoot shadow play on the hike out