40 Years later, group retraces Briggs' tracks...

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40 Years later, group retraces Briggs' tracks...

Postby Hacksaw » Wed Jun 22, 2011 9:41 am

40 years later, group retraces Briggs' tracks

By Brandon Zimmerman, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: June 22, 2011

The autographed poster hangs above the desk in Christian Beckwith’s office.

It is a picture of Bill Briggs’ ski tracks taken from an airplane shortly after he became the first person to ski the 13,770-foot Grand Teton in 1971.

Without risk, there’s no adventure,
Bill Briggs

From the time Beckwith arrived in the valley in 1994, he has been inspired by Briggs. Last Thursday, Beckwith was recruited by three acquaintences to retrace some of the most famous tracks in American ski mountaineering history.

The foursome didn’t just ski the Grand. They did it 40 years to the day of Briggs’ famous descent.

They did it while following Briggs’ exact lines. They’re the same lines Beckwith has sat and studied on the poster over his desk.

“One of my most cherished possessions is the poster of Bill’s tracks from ’71,” Beckwith said. “I’ve studied those tracks for years.”

Beckwith was first introduced to Briggs shortly after moving to the valley. He would sidle up to the Stagecoach Bar on Sundays to listen to Briggs play with the Stagecoach Band.

Beckwith, 43, is an accomplished mountaineer. His life climbing and skiing in the Tetons was partly inspired by Briggs, who still resides in Jackson.

Briggs’ descent helped usher in the beginning of ski mountaineering in North America. Now that Beckwith had a chance to emulate one of his heroes, he was buzzing with excitement.

Beckwith was invited on the trip by friends Dan Nordstrom, Hans Johnstone and Martin Volken. The team left Lupine Meadows in the pre-dawn hours. Beckwith was a bit tentative. He hadn’t been in the mountains in weeks and wasn’t sure if he was up for the physical nature of the expedition.

As the group changed from sneakers into ski boots near Lupine Meadows, Beckwith had second thoughts. He felt out of shape and unsure.

This would be Beckwith’s third ski descent from the Grand, but the first time following Briggs’ route, which is completely exposed. The last time Beckwith skied the Grand, he hit a patch of frozen snow at the bottom of the Ford Couloir. It was a scary moment.

Beckwith, though, decided to continue on, knowing he could bail out higher up if need be. When the route steepened, they changed into crampons for the frozen surface.

The first sunlight of the day hit the mountaineers as they traversed the Teepe Glacier. As the group rose skyward, Beckwith noticed a snowpack deeper than anything he has seen. The group moved toward the summit. There is a thin band of rocks that guards the entrance to the east-face snowfields, which Briggs skied.

The group paused for a moment to admire the surroundings. Then, Beckwith said he began to visualize the poster above his desk, wondering which exact section Briggs skied through.

“The first time I skied the Grand, the elation lasted for week,” Beckwith said. “What could Bill possibly have felt when he stood here 40 years ago?”

One thing that made Briggs’ descent so amazing was that he did it with gear far less superior than what is available today. Ironically, it was Beckwith who had trouble with his bindings. A piece of plastic popped off his equipment as he tried to snap into his skis. He feared he had broken his binding at the worst possible time.

As it turned out, it was a broken toe piece on his boot. But Volken examined Beckwith’s gear and determined he was safe to ski.

Meanwhile, clouds enveloped the group. Beckwith’s partners drop in, disappearing into the fog. He followed. The first thing Beckwith noticed was the openness.

“The exposure is what gets you,” he said. “It scurries into your thoughts, weaving itself around your breathing as you ski. If you let it, it will wrap everything in a sticky web of doubt.”

Briggs’ route is on the east face. It slopes down toward the Ford and Stettner couloirs. Johnstone set an anchor near there on the way up, and the group sidestepped toward it. There was some downclimbing and rappelling. Soon enough, they were back at Teepe Glacier.

They collected a cache of gear they left on their ascent and completed the journey back to the valley floor.

“We were just four old guys up there, out there for the fun of it, following in the tracks of a legend.” Beckwith said.


Brandon Zimmerman is the sports editor at the News&Guide. His column details offbeat sports stories and runs weekly.
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Re: 40 Years later, group retraces Briggs' tracks...

Postby rocky » Wed Jun 22, 2011 12:16 pm

Bravo! =D>
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Re: 40 Years later, group retraces Briggs' tracks...

Postby Presto » Wed Jun 22, 2011 1:10 pm

“We were just four old guys up there, out there for the fun of it, following in the tracks of a legend.” Beckwith said.

=D> :iluvu: :YY

Gotta love the "old guys"! :D When we were coming back from a trip in the Cirque of the Towers, we passed a group of three old guys backpacking in. I made them stop and let me take a photo of them (which I still have in a photo album somewhere).

Thanks for posting this, Hacksaw.
As if none of us have ever come back with a cool, quasi-epic story instead of being victim to tragic rockfall, a fatal stumble, a heart attack, an embolism, a lightning strike, a bear attack, collapsing cornice, some psycho with an axe, a falling tree, carbon monoxide, even falling asleep at the wheel getting to a mountain. If you can't accept the fact that sometimes "s**t happens", then you live with the illusion that your epic genius and profound wilderness intelligence has put you in total and complete control of yourself, your partners, and the mountain. How mystified you'll be when "s**t happens" to you! - FM

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