Crossing Owen – Koven and Diagonal Couloirs: April 21, 2014
With two days of sun and another clear, warm day ahead of us, Kevin and I knew we had to seize the opportunity for a nice long tour in the park before the return of unsettled weather. On today’s menu were the Koven and Diagonal Couloirs, which bring you from the Delta Lake / Teton Glacier area up to the east shoulder of Mt. Owen, and down into Cascade Canyon on the other side. I consider this zone one of my favorite parts of the park, as you tour right up to the base of one of the gnarliest faces on the Grand, and are surrounded by some of the range’s most impressive peaks and ski lines.
Delta Lake and the Grand Teton back in January. The Koven Couloir is in the upper right corner, tucked behind the East Prong.
In order to take advantage of the refreeze, we left the trailhead shortly after 6:00 and really couldn’t have gotten away with much later. Knowing that the valley temps would peak near 60 degrees and that we had a long ways to travel out of Cascade Canyon and back to the car, we opted to plant bikes ~2.5 miles up the Teton Park Road to make our exit a little less painful. The only unfortunate consequence of this was having to find a way across Cottonwood Creek, which forced us to take off our boots and walk across the shallow stream before seeing even a single direct ray from the sun. However, our feet were feeling normal again within seconds of putting our boots back on, and we took off up Glacier Gulch in a race against the clock. While things were well consolidated, we could feel the surface snow softening early in the day, and knew we would have to hurry up to the high country to avoid getting bogged down in slop. Ski crampons and an honest pace brought us to the Teton Glacier about 3 hours after we’d ditched our bikes, and before we knew it we were looking directly up our line.
Cruising up the lower moraines of the Teton Glacier
The Lower Koven and Koven Couloirs are both notorious for providing insecure, icy, scary skiing, and today was no exception. Luckily, we were only planning to use them for our ascent route. Firm snow covered in a thin coat of water ice (from the overhanging cliff walls) filled the majority of the couloirs, and most steps probably took 4-6 kicks to really feel good about. As a splitboarder, there is no way that I would have been able to kick so many steps without the rigid toe box on my Fitwells….as much as I love those Nikes, I didn’t miss them for a second while cramponing our way up through the icy portions. Of course, an axe here was mandatory, and I was very happy to have my whippet along for my other hand.
Looking up at the Koven and Lower Koven from the Teton Glacier….and through some water on my lens.
Kevin emerging from the Lower Koven as the whiskey starts to take hold
After carefully making our way up the steep and icy Lower Koven, we began booting up the (noticeably warming) snowfield to the base of the Koven. Again, we faced slow, icy climbing in the shadow of the East Prong most of the way up to the Koven Col.
Soft snow at last after diverging from the cliff wall at the very top of the Koven
Walking up to the Koven Col, with the Grand Teton in the background
On the other side, we had been expecting mostly firm snow from the scorching temperatures over the previous couple days, but instead found settled, slightly warmed pow. While eager to ski it before it got too hot, we took some time to feel out snow conditions, digging a quick pit and building a deadman anchor on the other side of a small, vertical cornice to belay the first few turns. While the Diagonal Couloir itself is not very challenging, reaching the entrance requires traversing a steep, slightly concave snowfield perched above a likely fatal runout. Pretty bad place to take a tumble.
Belayed turns and some stomping before committing to the traverse
Having reached the top of the Diagonal, we knew we were more or less home free from here. The very top of the couloir held only a shallow layer of soft surface snow, but we enjoyed some surprisingly good pow turns throughout most of its length and on the wide, open snowfield beneath it. Neither of us had been expecting to find skiing this good.
Top of the Diagonal
Looking down the length of the coolie
Kevin enjoying the grippable semi-fresh
Looking back up at the Diagonal, with a tiny Mr. Bradford for scale
Snow not nearly as appealing in the Tallboy Couloir
As we put in distance away from the couloir, the heavy pow we’d been skiing turned into nice pseudo-corn at the mid elevations and eventually pure slop through the steep trees at the bottom. While we were feeling great about what we’d just skied, we were now somewhere in the middle of Cascade Canyon, far away from the car….and even our bikes for that matter. After a generous break to put away some layers, transition, refill water, and get in the mindset for our long skin out, we started shuffling on out towards the mouth of the canyon. Luckily, the warm temps over the last few days had consolidated the low-elevation snowpack quite well, and while we were nearing the warmest part of the day, the skinning actually wasn’t too bad.
Looking back up to the Koven Col, with the Diagonal Couloir partially visible on the left, and the exposure beneath the initial traverse in the center.
By the time we got down to Jenny Lake, I was starting to notice that my toes had gotten a bit banged up from all that step kicking, and the downhill skinning probably didn’t help me either. I’d gotten somewhat lazy with keeping my boots laced up snugly. While we still had a good bit of slogging left before reaching our bikes, I kept thinking about how glad I was we didn’t need to skin the entire way back to Bradley-Taggart. Upon arriving at the bikes, we made a hasty transition and finished the day off with some honest pedaling. We were a little behind schedule, and I didn’t want to show up TOO late to work….although after a memorable day in the Tetons, I find it difficult to care too much about anything other than the mountains!