Monday, January 14, 2013

South Teton, Southeast face

Sunrise on the approach to Taggart lake.
Instead of racing at Targhee on Sunday, Leah, Blake and I took advantage of stable conditions and what we thought would be perfect weather to ski in the Tetons.  We left the car a little after sunrise, clad in multiple layers of down, headed for the Southeast face of the South Teton.  We followed the skin track highway to Bradley lake, then up into Garnet canyon.  Blake and I were both feeling the effects of racing, and it was all we could do to keep up with Leah.  Taking advantage of ski crampons, we caught or passed two parties above the meadows, and proceeded past them into the the South fork of Garnet canyon.
Leah shows us the way in the icebox of Garnet canyon.

As we neared the head of the South fork, the weather took a turn for the worse, with increasing winds and light snow, and we were debating the merits of bailing by the time we gained the northwest flank of the peak.  I was able to convince everyone to keep poking upwards, and we continued bootpacking and talus hopping up into clouds.  Eventually, we summited via the normal Northwest ridge.
Weather getting a little western as we near the summit of the South Teton.
From the summit, we followed ski tracks which deviated from the ridge proper before regaining it via an exposed traverse about 100 yards below the summit.  From there, we continued down the ridge proper, taking note of the intimidating Southeast couloir.  I need to return some day with more snow and a good head for steep skiing.  The ridge rolls over about 500 feet from the summit, and we worked our way down through a pitch of 50 degree snow and rock.  Snow conditions were difficult through here, and we did a lot of sidestepping with an ice axe, trying to not think about the gaping abyss far below.   Eventually the pitch mellowed, and we made turns down the ridge before hanging a left into the hanging snowfield at the base of the Southeast couloir.  I was unsure whether the lower choke was filled in at the base of the hanging snowfield, so we instead opted to exit via the next ramp to the east.  This was accessed via a short bootpack to a col just north of Matternought peak.
Blake dropping in to the Southeast face of the South Teton.
Leah working down through steep, icy snow.
I took a minute at the col, perched above the unknown, to reflect on how lucky skiers are to be able to dance around the Tetons in the dead of winter.  From the col, we skied moderate sastruggi for over a thousand vertical feet to a bench, then sidestipped wind-scour boulder fields to more open slopes down to Avalanche canyon.  Unfortunately, the snow on the lower slopes had a nasty ice crust, which was both dangerous and unpleasant, and we were forced to revert to survival skiing for most of the descent to lake Taminah.  From the lake, we exited down Avalanche canyon, stoping only to take in the brilliant orange sunset.  We made it out a little after dark.  In retrospect, the Southeast face of the South teton is truly a classic ski line in all the right ways - committing, interesting, long, aesthetic, challenging but moderate enough to be fun.  Certainly a run I hope to ski again some day.  
Blake starting down the alternate exit north of Matternought peak.
Leah skis powder in Avalanche Canyon at sunset.

We skied the Spoon couloir on Dissapointment peak the following day.
What an enjoyable ski route in an immaculate alpine basin.


  1. Nice work. How technical is the ascent of south Garnet? Can you simply skin up and look down onto, say, Icefloe Lake without need for crampons?

  2. In winter, the South fork of Garnet can be climbed to its upper terminus by skinning and a little talus hopping in 3-5 hours from Taggart lake. In the summer, it goes a little faster, and the conventional start is from Lupine. Crampons should not be required for most parties.

  3. That's a beautiful lin, has been on the list for years now. Thanks for the TR.