Category Archives: Wyoming

Table Mountain

Tetons, Jim, but not as we know them: Table with the central Tetons behind

Tetons, Jim, but not as we know them: Table with the central Tetons behind

Having never hiked on the west side of the Tetons, I decided to check them out on my way northwest. With most of my day taken up with packing, maintenance, and provisioning, Table Mountain seemed like a good afternoon objective. The west-side route gains 4,000 feet in four miles on an officially unmaintained but good (and popular) trail.

After hanging around a bit in the sweltering heat, I got started around 4:00, quickly gaining elevation on the no-nonsense Idaho-style trail. After gaining most of the elevation in the woods, the trail levels out to cross the long, grass-and-talus plateau to the summit knob. I was tempted to run, but did not want my outing to turn into an FKT attempt. Still, consistent hiking got me to the summit in 1h30-1h40 — nowhere near the sub-1h20 time of a real attempt, but still faster than I had expected. Seeing that I had three bars, I called a friend from the summit, then ran back to the car in well under an hour.

I had planned to do Maidenform and the Cleaver, two obscure peaks west of Moran, the next day. Reaching the North Leigh Canyon trailhead is not easy, as the current roads are not represented on current maps. At one point I followed what used to be the South Leigh Canyon road straight to someone’s house, where I asked for directions. In addition to setting me on the right path, the owner warned me (unprompted) to bring my bear spray — he had been up North Leigh Canyon before, and had seen bears every time. Though I found the trailhead, I only made it about a quarter mile before deciding I would rather spend the day driving than hiking through grizzly country.

Grand Teton (E ridge, III 5.7)

East ridge from near Amphitheater Lake

East ridge from near Amphitheater Lake

I nearly spent the whole month in the Tetons without either climbing with Keith or summiting the Grand, but we finally teamed up on my last day to climb the east ridge, the longest route on the mountain. I woke up once for a downpour, once more for some guy who kept shining his headlamp at my face, and finally for my alarm at 3:00 AM. Because Burnt Wagon Gulch is just that awful, we drove over to Lupine Meadows, hitting the trail around 3:50 AM. By the time we reached the switchbacks, it was already t-shirt (or no-shirt) weather, suggesting that we were in for a brutally hot morning on our east-facing route.

We reached Amphitheater Lake by 5:45, and the base of the route about an hour later. Despite its name, most of the east ridge route stays left of the ridge itself. The first 2,000 feet, from the moraine to the Molar Tooth, are easy class 2-3 scrambling on grassy benches between short granite cliffs. We had to cross a couple short patches of snow, but stayed mostly on dry ground and rock.

Reaching the Molar Tooth, we headed left, then up broken 4th or low 5th class ground, finding a nest of slings and passing through a tunnel under a slung chockstone to the southwest side. The climbing finally became rope-worthy here, at least while wearing running shoes.
Keith led one pitch, up a meandering hand crack and across some lower-angle ground for somewhat less than a full rope length. I led through a short, relatively tricky traverse, then up some blocks and across some mud to the end of the rope. From there, Keith kicked his way up snow to the col west of the Molar Tooth, clipped two fixed pins, and pulled through the crux, mantling onto a wet, outward-sloping slab. Being a considerate person, he put in a piece for me above it before traversing right onto easier, slabby ground.

We unroped here quickly soloing up the easy, slabby terrain to the southeast side of the Second Tower. The book describes crossing behind a gendarme to the north side of the ridge, but we apparently missed it. Instead, we climbed around to the south side of the Tower, then up some steep, blocky, and very rotten low 5th class rock back to the ridge. I was in my crappy-rock element; Keith was not amused.

Continuing on easier ground, we found ourselves cliffed out south of where the ridge meets the Grand’s east snowfield, and realized our error. Retreating to a notch in the ridge, we found about 2-1/2 rap anchors, proof that we were not the only ones to make this mistake. I pillaged a nut from one, which Keith used to shore up one of the others, from which we made a 30 meter rap back to the route on the north side. Keith led a short pitch up the “flake-filled chimney” (really just some flakes with big air on one side), then we put the gear away.

The summit slush-field was more tedious than treacherous to us, though we managed to set loose some wet slides that would have been bad news for anyone in the couloirs below. After an endless, sweaty, calf- to knee-deep traverse, we reached the upper end of the Exum Ridge, from which easy rock and yet more slush-climbing led to the summit. After enjoying the near-perfect weather and views, we returned via the standard Owen-Spalding route (with rappel). We mostly avoided snow by staying left above the Lower Saddle, then shot down one of the parallel luge tracks to the moraine and stitched together patches of snow for a partial boot-ski to the meadows. After a long-ish hike (not taking the shortcuts for a change), we returned to the car in just over 12 hours.

Middle Teton (Dike, IV 5.6)

Follow the black rock road

Follow the black rock road

The Dike route, following the obvious stripe of black rock across Dike Pinnacle, is the longest route on the Middle Teton. Though its rating suggests that it is Serious Business, there are only a few 5.6 moves, with some 4th and low 5th class climbing before them and mostly class 2-3 scrambling after. I had been meaning to do this route for a couple of years, and had no real plans, so when Keith suggested it I was game.

I had expected to leave with a crowd headed for the South Teton at 4:30, but as is usual when more than two people try to do anything, they were delayed, so I set out on my own at 4:45. I passed through the Meadows camping area on dry ground, then reached snow and eventually put on my crampons to climb the steeper slope leading to the base of the dike. I easily crossed the small gap to the rock, then put away my crampons on a small, shady ledge, thankful that the cold, wet climbing was easy enough to do without rock shoes.

With some snow above, the dike was usually wet on one side or the other, but it is wide enough that this did not increase the climbing difficulty. The horizontal facets of the blocky rock are mostly outward-sloping, but the rock is generally solid, and fractures at sharp corners, so there are plenty of positive holds. Where the black dike rises to reach the right-hand wall, I found some 5.4 climbing to the left, then a ledge and fixed pin below what turned out to be the crux. After trying the undercling-stem-mantle in running shoes and backing off, I put on my rock shoes, pulled it without much trouble, and soon topped out.

From here to the summit of Dike Pinnacle, the dike disappeared under moderate-angle snow. Given my footwear and the warm temperatures (most of the snow was slush), I headed right and followed the drier ridge to the summit. Looking south, I occasionally caught sight of the South Teton group keeping pace in the valley below. The ridge to the west has a tricky gendarme and a step requiring a rappel, but there is a downclimb to the south that does not lose too much unnecessary elevation. After some exploration and backtracking, I found an acceptable downclimb to the obvious, partly snow-covered ledges, and found myself only 40-50 feet below the col.

I stayed on rock where I could, but still spent more time than I wanted kicking deep steps in the slush on my way to Middle Teton’s summit. Finding a comfortable perch, I wrung out my socks and sat down for a 15-minute break; had I found a larger flat spot, I probably would have napped.

I used the standard southwest couloir route for the descent, glad I was going down rather than up the horrible loose scree and dirt at the top. Once I reached the snow, I was able to plunge-step then boot-ski my way to the valley, apparently passing the South Teton group as they started up the opposite side. I probably should have caught up with them on their climb rather than heading straight for the 90-degree ranch, but I was out of sandwiches, and already mentally on the return. Passing John and Ian above the meadows, I slid and fast-walked my way home for an 8-hour round-trip.

Owen to Teewinot traverse (5.6?)

West from East Prong

West from East Prong

Since Noah had not climbed Owen, and I want to check out parts of the Cathedral and Grand Traverses, traversing from Owen to Teewinot seemed like a good, moderately-long day. Plus, having seen Scott off in the opposite direction the day before, I was curious how he was doing. I gathered that the west side of the East Prong might be tricky, but knew that it was easy to bail south if I could not climb it.

After the usual hike to the ridge above Amphitheater Lake, Noah and I stopped to consider the cold, gray day. The cloud-line was below Owen’s summit, but above the ridge; since it was still early, we chose to keep going and see if the weather improved. The lower Koven step was melted out, but the rocks were mostly dry. The upper couloir was mostly hard snow, with a couple short stretches of water ice for spice. Topping out on the ridge, I was surprised to find it calm and pleasantly warm. I saw no sign of Scott, and assumed he had turned around.

“Pleasantly warm,” of course, meant that the snow was mostly some variety of slush. While mostly harmless before the east side of Owen’s summit rock, the south-facing traverse around to the west side was sometimes loose and semi-treacherous. After climbing the short chimney in crampons, we found a mixture of wet rock and snow on the rest of the route, and chose to keep our spikes on for the rest of the climb, adding some spice. Crossing onto the northwest side of the summit, we were suddenly exposed to blasting winds.

We rested in a sheltered spot just below the summit survey marker, finding part of a climbing ranger’s pack, which I put in my own after pillaging it for food. The descent was much like the climb, but with colder hands from climbing wet rock with now-soaked-through gloves. Once back on the traverse south of the summit, we were sheltered from the wind and quickly warmed up.

The clouds were starting to lift as we made our way toward the East Prong. After some steep snow to the summit of the prong just east of the Koven Couloir (West Prong?), the ridge turned to mostly rock with some soft snow, making crampons unnecessary. After some 4th-class scrambling, we met several people with fancy cameras on the next prong. They had started up Teewinot the day before, and suffered a rainy bivy on some mud ledges west of their pillar. They seemed happy to spend the day shooting each other in heroic climbing poses.

We followed their tracks to the intimidatingly vertical west ridge of the East Prong (which they had rapped), then contoured left toward what seemed like a more climbable gully. We both thought it looked climbable, attacking it in slightly different ways. Partway up and a small ridge apart, we were both stymied. Noah was on golden rock perhaps 30 feet right of the gully, while I was on lichen-y rock slightly farther over. After exploring a few options, I found a chimney with positive enough holds for me to reach the easier terrain above. It felt harder than what I am normally comfortable climbing in boots (5.6?), so I did not recommend it to Noah. He tried various moves on his part of the face, finding nothing he liked. Since I did not want to downclimb what I had just gone up, we parted for the day.

After an easy scramble to the East Prong’s summit, I postholed down to the grassy plateau west of Teewinot. Here I was surprised to find a bit of a trail, which took me (as expected) straight to the gap between Teewinot’s “thumb” and “fingers.” I took the standard east face route up to the summit, then back down to the parking lot, enjoying a good boot-ski on the remaining snow. A wrong-way hike to Jenny Lake paid off when, after I returned the pack and contents (minus food), one of the rangers gave me a ride back to the ranch.

West Horn (W ridge, 5.4), Moran (CMC, 5.5)

Moran from Leigh Lake beach

Moran from Leigh Lake beach

[Catching up on Teton outings — ed.]

Moran is a huge mountain with many quality routes, but reaching them is made difficult by a combination of hideous bushwhacking, Leigh and Jackson Lakes, and grizzly bears. Recently, the Chicago Mountaineering Club (CMC) route has become the standard one, despite not being the easiest. It has a reputation for fun, moderate scrambling, so it has been on my Teton climbing list since I first came here in 2010. The normal approach to the CMC involves rowing across String and Leigh Lakes but, lacking a boat, I took the bushwhack around the north side of Leigh Lake, familiar from last year’s outing to Thor and Moran.

After an hour of trail time along String and Leigh Lakes, I reached the 4-way junction near Bearpaw Lake, turned left, and passed the ranger cabin near Leigh Lake’s north shore. The trail becomes painfully unmaintained just past the cabin, partly overgrown and covered with deadfall. However, staying near the shore, I was able to mostly follow it to where it crosses a wide, dry, rocky stream-bed. Last year, I lost it here and followed intermittent game (i.e. bear) trails higher up the hillside. This time, I stayed closer to the shore and soon found more patches of trail and less bear scat.

Though it was not easy, this route was relatively painless until the last few hundred yards, when the trail disappeared into chin-high fiddle ferns on steep, muddy slopes. Some misery later, I reached the base of the CMC route, where the stream from the Falling Ice Glacier reaches the lake. The whole approach took about 2-1/2 hours; since rowing across supposedly takes 1-1/2, and since I could descend the Skillet Glacier on the return, the ‘schwack is not too time-consuming.

After some talus, I found a climbers’ trail starting on the left side of the stream-bed; other than getting around a cascade partway up, the route to the CMC campsites was steep but easy. Since the Falling Ice ends on a steep slope rather than a valley bottom, the blue layers of its snout loom impressively between the East and West Horns. The trail disintegrates near the camp, but the route left of the West Horn is fairly obvious. Not having crampons, I stayed on a rock rib rather than in the gully to its left, finding more bits of trail and only having to cross two small, low-angle snow patches.

Where the CMC route continues over Drizzlepuss, I turned right up the West Horn’s amazingly narrow and overhanging ridge. After traversing some ledges on the right-hand side, I reached the impressive overhanging beak visible from the approach, where I found the hardest climbing of the day passing a chockstone at the top of a short, steep chimney. While the route is supposedly only 5.4, I found this move harder than anything on the CMC: I had to take my gloves off, and half-wished I had rock shoes. After the chockstone, the climbing was mostly 4th or low 5th class, but wildly exposed, making for some slow, careful climbing.

The West Horn’s summit is surprisingly large and comfortable. After checking out Moran’s CMC face — the snow seemed mostly avoidable — I cautiously retraced my route to the col and headed the other way, staying on the right side of Drizzlepuss to avoid the snow. A series of broad, moderate ledges got me from a notch in the Moran side most of the way to the base, where I found a final, steep step too high to jump. A bit more exploring to the left got me into the left couloir just below the notch.

Though Ortenburger gives a route description, the only important part is to remember to stay to the right as you near the top. Otherwise you can just wander up the wide face, taking whatever route looks appealing and looking ahead to avoid getting trapped. Trending too far left, I reached a precipice and had to retreat slightly and cross a couple or ribs to get back on-route. Near the top, I followed an old boot-pack across a couple of unavoidable snow patches, then headed well left to pass the cornice and reach the summit plateau.

Though I had half-planned to tag the Zebra, a minor peak to the west, the prospect of another couple thousand feet of elevation loss/gain along a tricky ridge did not appeal, so I finished my lunch and headed down the Skillet. Though it was not as easy as last time, it was still much faster than downclimbing the skillet. By staying well left, I even managed to find the use trail to Bearpaw Lake with minimal pain. Picking up the maintained trail again, I tuned out and started hiking for the car, until boredom forced me to a jog.

Disappointment Peak (E Ridge, II 5.6)

Spoon (l) and ridge (r)

Spoon (l) and ridge (r)

Having been shut down by morning rain on a previous attempt with gear, partner, and running shoes, I decided to return by myself with rock shoes instead. The weather was somewhat friendlier as I again set out around 5:00, and I was happier to be carrying a lighter pack. When I reached snow below Surprise Lake, I found it mostly firm with a slushy surface. The clouds to the east and south kept their distance for the nonce.

Reaching the ridge north of Amphitheater Lake, I turned west up Disappointment’s east ridge rather than descending to the glacier as usual. The first part looked blocky and easy, so I scrambled it in running shoes, walked through some woods, and kicked steps across a small snowfield to the next steep part of the ridge (saving two shoe changes). After trying a right-facing dihedral, I finally gave in and put on rock shoes, with one eye on the clouds approaching from the south.

I ended up climbing some easier terrain left of the dihedral, then returned to the crest of the ridge above it. From there, a steep step left brought me to more face climbing leading to the final headwall. A short lieback section then led into a steep crack/chimney ending on the corner of the long summit plateau.

The graupel and lightning started as I changed out of my rock shoes, so I forewent the summit (having tagged it a couple years before after doing Irene’s Arete) and made for the Spoon Couloir, uncomfortably aware of my metal ice axe. After a bit of messing around, I found my way into the Spoon and boot-skied down in a shower of graupel and slush. By the time I rounded Amphitheater Lake, the storm had passed and the sun had returned to mock me. Jogging most of the trail, or shortcutting on snow where possible, I returned to the ranch around 9:30.

Living down to its name, the east ridge was something of a disappointment. It was okay as a solo, with some though-provoking climbing near the top, but awfully short. I am glad I did not end up doing it roped.

Symmetry Spire (Durrance, II 5.6), Ice Point, Storm Point

Storm, Ice, Symmetry Couloir, and Symmetry Spire

Storm, Ice, Symmetry Couloir, and Symmetry Spire

With the snow up high a slushy, sliding mess, I was looking for some dry rock lower down. Symmetry Spire holds a number of classic routes, and the Durrance Ridge, a long, scrambly 5.6, looked like a perfect solo. Reading Ortenburger’s description, I saw that the first ascent party had summited Ice and Storm Points on the same day, and decided to do the same. Though I originally intended to do so via a more ambitious route, I decided to simply approach via Symmetry Couloir and tag the two Points via their 4th class routes.

Waking up alarm-free at 5 AM, I had breakfast, chatted with Rob for awhile, and biked over to the southern Jenny Lake boat launch around 6:20. After the all-too-familiar hike around the lake to Inspiration Point, I located the use trail to Symmetry Couloir. Some bushwhacking and scrambling got me through the cliff band and up to the snow, where I met (in alphabetical order) Dave, Mark, Mitch, and Scott, fueling up for the long slog.

At around 8:00 after a toasty night, the southeast-facing snow was just soft enough to kick steps, though I was glad to have my axe. Since the duct tape was wearing through on my shoe, I avoided the snow where I could, climbing dirt on the left, then some 4th class rock on the right where the couloir steepened. This deposited me at the obvious base of the Durrance Ridge, just left of a deep couloir, where I switched into rock shoes.

The ridge was basically as advertised — generally steep, with two protectable cruxes featuring fixed pins and a mixture of steep, juggy climbing and scrambling in between. The ridge starts out intimidatingly steep, but with enough positive holds to be secure. The first crux, marked by a ring piton, felt secure and not particularly difficult. Above it, I followed a wandering path through a mixture of 3rd- through low 5th-class climbing. As the ridge steepened near the top, I found another piton at the base of the second crux. This section, a steep lieback/stem up a corner and around a chockstone, proved somewhat intimidating, especially since I lack the hand strength I had developed by last December. After a bit of dithering, I dried my palms, went for it, and pulled over the chockstone with great relief.

A short scramble later, I saw that I was on 4th-class terrain to the summit, and switched back to running shoes. From the top, I followed bits of trail down the sometimes wet, muddy northwest face, then cut across to Symmetry Col. A quick plunge step and boot-ski, plus a bit of side-hilling, got me to the Ice Point saddle, where I met the others recovering from the long snow climb. After some easy, blocky scrambling, the final climb to Ice Point became interesting, with some fun scrambling on a narrow white ridge.

After chatting with Mitch on the summit, I retreated down the white part, then found a chossy ledge to the saddle with Storm Point. The climb up its west/northwest side was mostly an easy scramble, but it looked like it might live up to its name, with clouds building in the valley to the south. The weather seeming stable for the moment, I relaxed on the summit, watching the others deal with Ice, then explored my way down Storm’s eastern gullies and ridges back toward Symmetry Couloir. While this worked, it was probably a mistake — instead of enjoying a long boot-ski, I had to fight my way down chossy ledges and steep mud to reach the couloir. Returning to the trail, I wove my way through hordes of tourists to reach my stashed bike, and rolled back to the ranch sometime before 2:00.

Nez Perce (Direct S Ridge, III 5.7)

Topping out with Buck behind

Topping out with Buck behind

I had performed better than expected on a leisurely but steep trad climb the previous day (Dihedral of Horrors, 5.9), and wanted to get back out in the alpine. (I unfortunately forgot to bring a camera on the Dihedral, so I didn’t capture the nonchalant fox we met on the approach, or the impossible-looking climb (There are magic holds to take you out from under a large roof.).) Noah suggested Nez Perce’s Direct South Ridge from his to-do list, a long-ish 5.7 on some of the peak’s only good rock, and I was game.

We left the Ranch sometime between 4:30 and 5:00, late enough not to require headlamps, and kept up a brisk pace to minimize mosquito damage. The chute up from the platforms to the bowl southeast of Nez Perce was half easy talus and half slush, it having been unseasonably warm overnight. Partway up, I became aware of the hole in my left shoe’s toe, and of the snowball that had accumulated there; my feet spent most of the rest of the day in plastic bags.

We continued up the snowy basin to the high col on the north end, and nearly made the mistake of starting up what proved to be a chossy mess of a ridge, but fortunately Noah read the route description, and we continued one more ridge west. Since we were roped, and the climb was only 5.7, we stuck to our running shoes. As usual, we ignored the pitch breakdown, swapping leads for seven pitches with some scrambling and a bit of simul-climbing, and generally finding comfortable belay ledges. Between the wind and the thundering Taminah Falls below, verbal communication was usually impossible.

P1 wandered up a bit of slabby terrain before climbing a blocky chimney to more blocky terrain and a good belay ledge. This was followed by a rope-length of easy scrambling, during which Noah placed absolutely no pro. The start of P3 was the crux, with a tricky move involving dubious feet (harder in running shoes) and a big reach right on the arete to reach more positive holds. The pitch finished on a knife-edge, sheltered from the wind, with an excellent view of Buck to the south. P4 ascended more easy terrain, and required a bit of simul-climbing to reach the next belay — Noah even placed some gear for a change.

P5, after a somewhat tricky start, crossed some lower-angle terrain on the way to a huge, steep buttress. I had hoped to reach its base, and was brought up in an awkward position 10-20 yards short when I ran out of rope. I put in a piece and, after Noah stood up and walked forward from his anchor, I was able to find a good stance, put in another piece, and belay him up. We walked over to the base of the tower, paused to examine the topo, then scrambled along a ledge on the east side before climbing two rope-lengths up a mixture of fun, moderate, excellent granite. From the top of P7, it was an easy scramble to the summit.

We both felt energetic, and it was only around 12:30, so we decided to traverse towards the South Teton. After the usual route-finding SNAFU on the way down Nez Perce’s rotten north face, we started along the ridge, staying much closer to the crest than I did when traversing the other way last year. Every few minutes, an avalanche would let loose on the Grand Teton’s upper snowfield or one of the south couloirs on the Middle Teton — the warm temperatures have created atrocious snow conditions.

Though there was some nice ridge and fun scrambling to be had, our energy was quickly spent fighting through wet 4th class, loose rocks, and slush. When we reached the saddle just before Cloudveil Dome, we agreed that it was time to head back, and had a fun glissade back to the meadows.

Woodring (E Ridge, 5.1)

Crux step (crack on right)

Crux step (crack on right) and summit

With an unexpected day off, I had to quickly come up with something to climb. The previous day’s early-morning jaunt up Teewinot had left me too tired to do anything too big, and the short notice gave me too little time to prepare mentally for anything serious. I had yet to climb Woodring, which Ortenburger describes as a nothing-burger, but which has a non-trivial east ridge. The summit has views of some of my other objectives, and I had yet to see Paintbrush Canyon, so I threw some stuff in my pack and set my alarm for a “lazy” 4:00 AM.

After breakfast and a drive up to String Lake, I got started a bit before 5:00, using my headlamp for only a few minutes in the woods. The Paintbrush Canyon trail is about 1.5 miles around either side of String Lake, and by sheer luck I chose to go around south, avoiding the northern route’s lack-of-bridge. As the trail turned west up-canyon, I looked north at Leigh Canyon and Mount Moran and wondered again why the preferred non-canoe approach goes around the north side of Leigh Lake. While the bushwhack from Paintbrush to Leigh is supposedly horrid, it is much shorter both on- and off-trail than the northern route, which is itself fairly awful.

Continuing up-canyon, I met a few patches of snow, then crossed the bridge where Ortenburger says to leave the trail. With almost no bushwhacking, I reached the base of a partly-melted snow chute. Avoiding the gaps and waterfalls via slabs and steep ground to the left, I regained the snow through some krummholtz, then put on my crampons and chose a line up a narrow, steep rightward branch of the main chute. Much of the snow was too soft to require crampons, but the snow in the avalanche runnels was still hard. I was sweating profusely in a t-shirt and, feeling yesterday’s effort, stopping to rest more often than I should have.

I finally reached the ridge at a notch with a view down into Leigh Canyon, and found most of the rock to be bare and dry. There were several minor sub-summits between me and the summit, a few of which were annoyingly vertical on their west (back) sides. While I gratuitously 5th-classed one, they were easily passed on the north without losing unnecessary elevation. The one seemingly-unavoidable difficulty was a steep, golden face near the summit. After pulling out several loose flakes and blocks, I climbed it via the short, angled 5th-class crack on its right.

From the summit, I took in some views useful for future objectives: upper Leigh Canyon and Grizzly Lake, and the north faces of Owen and the Grand. I looked over at Paintbrush Divide, and briefly contemplated coming out via Cascade Canyon. Then I saw a nice flat rock, and the warm sun and my early start got the better of me, causing an hour nap in just my t-shirt and overshirt.

I had noticed what appeared to be a fat snowfield southeast of the summit, perfect for the descent. The upper part was knee-deep slush by the time I started down, but mostly painless. Unfortunately, it hid a smooth cliff-band partway down. After some moments of unease, I found my way around the left side on outward-sloping but (fortunately) dry slabs. The snow became firmer as I descended, with excellent boot-skiing near the bottom. After a final altercation with 3rd-class bushes, I was back at the popular trail less than a mile above where I had left it in the morning, and a couple podcasts from the trailhead.

Albright, Static, Buck

Buck from Static

Buck from Static

Albright and Static are two unimpressive peaks just north of Death Canyon. While this traverse started out as a box-checking exercise — I had yet to climb Albright and Static — it turned out far more interesting than I had expected. With fun scrambling to be found on Buck’s south ridge and warm, calm weather, it was a good reintroduction to the Tetons.

After spending the night near Death Canyon, I got a semi-alpine start around 6:00 AM. I glanced at the Apocalypse Couloir on Prospector Peak, but it looked partly melted out; I thought about the 7.7-mile hike around to Static Divide via the trail, and was not enthusiastic; so I took off straight up the clearing and snowfield on Albright’s southeast side. The clearing was more brush than meadow, but the elk had helpfully cut a path. Nearing the top shortly after 8:00 AM, I was climbing in a t-shirt and the snow was already becoming soft.

I stowed my crampons at the summit, then occasionally post-holed my way across the snowy portions of the ridge, dodged some rocky outcrops, and rejoined the trail at Static Divide. Much of the subsequent south-facing ridge was blown clear of snow, and I followed a sort-of trail to Static’s summit.

Looking along the ridge to Buck, I was not optimistic: the obvious step in the ridge looked awfully steep. It looked like I could bypass it via a steep snow chute to the right, but I reassured myself that climbs always look steeper when viewed head-on, and started down toward the saddle. In retrospect, following the ridge was a bad idea, since the rock from Static to the saddle is alarmingly rotten. Though I realized it too late, I should instead have dropped onto snow to the west, then contoured across to the saddle. Instead, I carefully picked my way down the ridge.

Traversing one section, I split an apparently solid part of the ridge, pulling off a sizable chunk. It split into two microwave-sized blocks, one of which pinned my lower leg in the slush. Though it took me ten uneasy minutes to dig myself free, I was lucky — had it been summer, it might have broken my shin. Somewhat shaken, I continued to the saddle.

The step still looked intimidating, but I saw a sort of ramp at the base, and tentatively started up. I was amazed to find solid, golden granite with large, positive holds. Instead of dodging to the right, I found a winding line straight up the face, with excellent 4th and easy 5th-class climbing. At one point I was stymied by an overhanging chockstone guarding a chimney, with steep climbing to the left, but found a “secure” (i.e. “awkward”) squeeze chimney to the right, then returned to the face. Thinking the hard part was over, I was briefly dismayed to find a notch with a rap sling, but quickly found a bypass on snow to the right. A bit more fun, steep climbing from the notch led to easier terrain and the summit. As it turned out, Buck’s south ridge is an excellent scramble and, being south-facing, was mostly free of snow and ice.

I sat for awhile sunning myself, checking out conditions on the main peak, and watching another party make their way slowly up the east ridge. When I finally decided to come down, the snow on the east face was mostly slush, so the descent involved more plunge-stepping than glissading or boot-skiing. Leaving the snow near where the trail parallels the creek in Stewart Draw, I squelched my way back to the car in my sopping boots, cooked a leisurely lunch, and headed into the Ranch for a shower. It’s good to be back.