Middle Teton: East Face Glacier Route
Chris and I woke up at 2am and were skinning by 3am. We wore headphones and listened to music, agreeing that we'd stop and regroup at the shoulder before descending to Bradley Lake. The lake was on the brink of thaw. There was certain evidence of some folks in boots punching through the ice, but since skis disperse weight incredibly, we didn't think much of it. I listened to the new Valerie June album and then comfort music: Chance.
Once the headwall into Garnet got steep we took a second to put on our ski crampons. It was my first time using them and the takeaway? Ski crampons rule. To not have them on this occasion would have definitely added hours to the entire endeavor, and given that by the time we summited the snow was already warming, perhaps we would have never made it.
We cruised for a while under the stars and in no wind up and up to the Platforms and then finally the Meadows. As we entered the Meadows the big dipper was glowing directly up the North Fork of Garnet. The Grand and Dike Pinnacle glowed in the 3/4 moonlight and Nez Perce was silhouetted on our left. Winter was flowing down from the higher elevations like a river of air carrying graupel and small snow particles with it.
We took a break at the base of the North Fork headwall, put on some layers, ate some food, and finished some water. We bootpacked the headwall, then skinned to the base of the Glacier. By this time we could see the first glimpses of sun to the East past the Gros Ventre. Thank God the suns gonna rise again today! It'd've been a shame if it hadn't. We started up the Glacier on skins.
About when the sun finally came out we'd started bootpacking. We talked about digging a quick pit at some point and then decided against it as the consequences of losing some gear during the process seemed to outweigh the potential information we could gain from looking into the snowpack. We were pretty damn confident about what was below our feet.
We continued up to where the Glacier gets less wide near the Dike Pinnacle. The snow was Winter, and that's why there's a Glacier. I started to feel nauseous around there. Was it altitude? Probably. We continued to the saddle between the Dike and Middle (or col between the Glacier and Ellingwood Couloir) and took a break.
As we started up the East Face we left the shade of the Pinnacle and the snow changed immediately. It was soft. Too soft? Not yet, but we had to move fast. I got out the two technical ice tools we'd brought. Chris led out. We traversed right for a ways, avoiding proximity to any rocks. Why? When Thaw Instability is an issue, when the snowpack is warming quickly, rocks accelerate that process by absorbing solar radiation and sinking it into the snowpack. In the Spring, rocks are often trigger points for avalanches and in this case they seemed like our biggest hazard.
After another half hour we were at the summit. Well, the col between the North and South summits...both summits had been completely scoured and then covered in a freaky three-inch layer of rime. We talked about summiting briefly. We had crampons but no rope and no idea what the rime would be like. Were we here to summit? No. We came up here to ski the East Face. So let's ski the East Face, not risk everything to climb another thirty feet.
We ripped our skins. The descent is captured in the below video. Enjoy!
The snowpack had settled hugely over the past week dropping the Avalanche risk to Low. That said, we knew that up high in the Tetons anything can be present. A friend had mentioned that he'd been up on Disappointment the other day and the entire East Face had been scoured. With that in mind, we expected that the Glacier would likely be very nice and filled in, and that the East Face of the Middle would be on the thinner side, but likely as stable as can be.
Over the past 24 at the summit of Rendezvous we'd had high temps right around freezing with a nightly low of 22F. The wind had been of note with average wind speeds of 30mph and a max of 45mph, but ultimately there was very little snow for transport. The forecast for our day was lower wind, clear skies, and similar temps. This felt close to ideal.
Massive terrain at high elevation. All avalanche terrain (30-50deg). Very high consequence in the event of a fall or slide, yet within both of our comfort levels.
- Human Factor
I was overly excited to ski this line, which may have affected my thinking a bit. I'd spent days during my last NOLS course thinking about the Middle.
Familiarity - Neither of us had skied this before.
Acceptance - Perhaps we were in it for the Instagram, but I don't think so.
Commitment - Present. Its a huge day.
Expert Halo - Not likely affecting us.
Tracks - No one else was up there that day, so no rush.
Social Proof - No evidence that it'd been skied in the recent future.
- Avalanche - None on similar aspects or elevations within the past 48 hours.
Loading - Likely on the Glacier, while the East Face would almost definitely be scoured.
Path - Yes.
Terrain Trap - Yes...cliffs everywhere, the top of the Glacier is a constriction.
Rating - No, it was "Low" for us.
Unstable snow - No cracking, whumphing, collapsing.
Thaw instability - Yes, but only on the East Face.