Nez Perce – West Hourglass Couloir: March 2, 2013
This route had been on the GTNP hit list all season, given that it brings you right into the heart of the Tetons (surrounded by the South, the Middle, and the Grand), isn’t overly technical, and is on the cover of our frickin’ guidebook. For days on end the forecast had predicted sun, but on the morning of our climb there were low level clouds all over the place. They were supposed to clear out by afternoon, so around 7:45 Mike and I started skinning the flat couple miles to the mouth of Garnett Canyon. Conditions ranged from overcast to fully socked-in for the first 3000′ of the climb, but we continued upwards with the hope that we would eventually get some sun. Upon reaching the base of the couloir visibility was still pretty terrible, and most of the time we couldn’t see more than about 50 feet ahead. So, we posted up on a rock for a couple hours, teased with views of our line and the surrounding ruggedness during brief periods of clearing, trying to wait out the clouds.
Stock photo of Nez Perce’s north face, taken on a clear day. Our line, the West Hourglass, is the prominent couloir on the right.
Looking to the north side of Garnett Canyon through a small break in the clouds
A little before 1:00, we decided to get up and take a stab at it. While the periods of good visibility still weren’t lasting that long, it seemed like more of the clouds were staying down in the valley where we were, and things might work out for us if we continued upward. Plus, if we had to wait any longer, we’d run the risk of getting to the car after sundown. Skinning up to the very bottom of the couloir we encountered the last low clouds of the day, and the sun finally came out for us to clearly see our (incredible) surroundings as we transitioned to crampons and axes. It was a warm day and avy danger had been predicted to rise in the afternoon as a result, but in reality our north-facing line wasn’t melting at all and stability was bomber. So bomber, in fact, that it was immediately apparent our ski down would be an ugly one. Most of it was bumpy and firm wind-affected snow, littered with rocks. Crampons were essential for the first two or three hundred feet, at which point we found a half-decent bootpack to follow up the rest of the way.
Mike coming up the lower section of the coolie
Top-out was around 11,500′, and the views of the Middle Teton were unreal….I really want to get on top of that thing sometime soon. Nasty skiing awaited us, but the stunning views made the climb well worth it! As we enjoyed the scenery, a group of three climbers passed us on their way down from the summit of Nez Perce….one of which had a hula hoop attached to his back! He reported that the low winds up top made for fine hooping conditions, and told us to check out his website, tetonhoopingcontingency.org. Bet you never would have imagined THAT existed….
Ridiculous cirque that suddenly came into view at the top of the couloir
The Middle on the left, and the (smaller looking) Grand on the right
It was about 3:00 by now, which meant it was time to get down. After maybe 1500′ of crappy crusty bumps with scraps of rockfall debris on top and other rocks poking up from the bottom, the final pitch of the couloir actually provided us with some soft, sprayable snow. From then on out, it was nothing but heavy powder all the way back to the valley floor. Powder and pillows.
Mike at the very end of the couloir
Looking back up Garnett Canyon on our way back to the car
Pillow field probably around a half mile wide on the way out, one of many exceptional spots I want to return to and session one of these days
All in all, the trip was awesome (as time spent in the park tends to be), and Mike and I were both happy with how easy it all felt. While we’re obviously not ready to say goodbye to the powder, I’m curious to see what we’ll be finding ourselves on top of come spring! The park sure does have an incredible wealth of options worthy of a ski….