Grand Teton North Face First Ski Descent...

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Grand Teton North Face First Ski Descent...

Postby Hacksaw » Thu Apr 11, 2013 9:55 am

Guides ski the Grand Teton's North Face
Collins and O’Neill linked series of ledges to complete the technical first descent.

By Miller N. Resor, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Date: April 10, 2013

The backcountry in Grand Teton National Park shook with the rumble of wet-slide avalanches on Easter Sunday, but on the North Face of the Grand Teton Greg Collins and Brendan O’Neill found powder stashes nobody had skied before.

For decades the North Face of the Grand Teton has loomed large in the annals of American mountaineering, a goal of climbers worldwide, but on March 31 it became a ski run.

On a descent they are calling the Direct North Face, Collins and O’Neill rappelled from the top of the mountain and skied down a series of landmark ledges, reached the Grandstand, a nearby shoulder, and completed a ski-mountaineering descent that Jackson mountaineers have considered for years.

The duo ascended the 13,770-foot Grand by the traditional approach — up the Tepee Glacier and into the Stetner, Chevy and Ford couloirs.

They hoped to be able to ski from the summit, but wind had blown it dry. So they descended across icy rocks in their crampons to a V-notch and rappelled down the Pendulum Pitch to the third ledge.

The third ledge runs into the second ledge and appears near the top of the North Face of the Grand like an S-shaped handhold in the sheer face.

Below the top two ledges, the first ledge perches, still thousands of feet above Teton Glacier.

The plan was to ski all three ledges, the Grandstand and Teton Glacier back to their car far below.

Collins and O’Neill are both professional mountain guides — Collins with the Alaska Mountaineering School and O’Neill with Exum Mountain guides — and during the past year they had climbed the North Face of the Grand several times and observed it in winter from vantage points on Mount Owen and Teewinot.

A week before Easter, O’Neill had guided Jeremy Jones and Bryan Iguchi down the Otterbody, an east-facing ski descent on the Grand, as the professional snowboarders started filming the latest in Jones’ three-part series, “Deeper, Further, Higher.”

O’Neill had spoken with people about the route before leaving. He said Grand Teton snowboard pioneer Stephen Koch had talked about it since the early ’90s.

This collective knowledge convinced him and Collins the ledges were wide enough to ski, the objective was a natural progression of their mountaineering skills and that there might be some powder to be had.

Before they arrived at the top of the third ledge, however, there was no way to know if the snow would be skiable. The south-southwest winds and recent snowfall, followed by high pressure and no wind, boded well for their plans. But they couldn’t be certain until their boots touched down.

O’Neill described feeling a “little bit” of apprehension facing the unknown as he dropped into the first committing rappel. But overall, he said, he trusted himself and his partner and did not feel he was getting in over his head.

In the end, Collins and O’Neill had judged the conditions correctly and found 4 inches of powder on top of a stable layer.

The most intimidating part of the trip for O’Neill came immediately after.

A narrow crux at the top of the third ledge forced O’Neill and Collins to pick their way through a rocky narrow section and then straight line across an extremely narrow ledge, stopping abruptly in a concave section of the cliff face.

Collins described the crux as a 5.5 slab — a climbing rating that suggests moderate moves over rock requiring elementary techniques.

Going down such terrain on skis is another matter.

“We skied the third and second ledge on very steep and very exposed, soft snow,” Collins wrote in an email.

Almost 2,000 feet above the highest point on the glacier below, on a ledge only slightly wider than their skis, catching an edge or getting turned around and sliding backwards, would have been disastrous.

From the bottom of the second ledge they rappelled to the top of the first ledge.

To take advantage of the 1,000 vertical feet of good snow on the first ledge, they skied the slope, and, using crampons, climbed back to where they started from to make their final rappel down the Merrick-Ortenburger to the Grandstand.

The logistics of finding and building anchors was the most difficult part of the trip, O’Neill said. They made 10 rappels in the descent but could have done it in six or seven if they had had a longer rope.

From the Grandstand, they skied down to the Teton Glacier and back to the parking lot.

The trip took them 15 hours.

O’Neill said for him the trip was an evolution of years of ski mountaineering and a season of ski mountaineering.

“You get more and more comfortable skiing extremely exposed terrain with experience,” he said, “You build up experience over years, but also over a season.”

O’Neill, who has skied mountains around the world, said the Direct North Face, while hard to compare with 7,000-meter mountains, is as “technical a ski descent as there probably is.”

At the end of the trip, Collins, who could be reached by a series of Facebook messages, wrote, “We clicked sticks and confirmed it was good to be alive.

“We only looked back once, to check the conditions on the East Ridge (next run?). Then we stepped on the gas, trying unsuccessfully to avoid the refreeze,” he wrote.
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Re: Grand Teton North Face First Ski Descent...

Postby benners » Thu Apr 11, 2013 12:48 pm

Dang, sounds intense! Yet another first descent that I both clap my hands and scratch my head at...
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Re: Grand Teton North Face First Ski Descent...

Postby mtgirl » Thu Apr 11, 2013 7:22 pm

:bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: HOLY CRAP !
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Re: Grand Teton North Face First Ski Descent...

Postby lodgling » Thu Apr 11, 2013 8:33 pm

It must really be getting crowded in the Tetons if these are the lengths people are willing to go to in search of 2K of untracked powder. :shock:
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Re: Grand Teton North Face First Ski Descent...

Postby AlexMack » Thu Apr 11, 2013 8:43 pm

That is quite possibly the most insane line I've ever seen. I tip my hat to those guys.
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Re: Grand Teton North Face First Ski Descent...

Postby Steve Climber » Fri Apr 12, 2013 7:04 am

mtgirl wrote::bow: :bow: :bow: :bow: HOLY CRAP !

What she said. :bow:
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Re: Grand Teton North Face First Ski Descent...

Postby wasclywabbit » Fri Apr 12, 2013 11:53 am

That someone could ski that is amazing. That they could look up at that line from the valley floor and even fathom attempting it is beyond my level of comprehension.
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Re: Grand Teton North Face First Ski Descent...

Postby Carl » Fri Apr 12, 2013 12:25 pm

Nuts. Make's Capitol's standard ski line look like a walk in the park by comparison. However, I thought the Hossack-MacGowan route (also an insane line) was considered to be a north face ski descent? I suppose that's more NE. Hossack-MacGowan is rated a 21 on Lou's scale, does that mean this one is a 22 :shock:

Here's a breakdown of the easier Hossack-MacGowan route skiers right...


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