Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Jaw, Mt. Woodring

Grand Teton National Park   May 15-21, 2011

The Jaw 11,400
As the daylight continues to get longer each day I remind myself that the longest day of the year is a month away. With that in mind and the snow still in the mountains, I made two trips this week into GTNP for ski tours. Though the days are getting longer, clouds have been dominating the skies for much of the week diluting the ‘long days’ by filtering out the sun.
I set out for The Jaw. The Jaw tops out at 11,400 feet at the head of hanging canyon. The ascent is just over 4,500 feet. I had been to the summit once before, also a ski descent, on May 5, 2002. I know Hanging Canyon well from summer hikes, climbs, and visits to the Lake of the Crags. The lake sits near 9,600 feet and is surrounded by spires, peaks, crags, and pinnacles hidden in the Hanging canyon.

Skin track above Jenny Lake headed into Hanging Canyon
Driving from home, I noticed blotches of wet road the further north I traveled. The temperature outside was 28 degrees. Arriving, I was surprised and happy to find myself the only patron there. I geared up and the weather was cooperating nicely and showing signs of sun. I turned and jumped up on the snow bank and skinned over to the bridge. The bridge showed a trace of new snow and confirmed no one had been across yet. With good snow coverage, I quickly traversed up and into Hanging Canyon. A trace of new snow nicely outlined the skin track and views of Jenny Lake were amazing. Jenny Lake’s ice was breaking up and it looked like the surface had craters or a glass pane shot full of bullet holes. I skinned uphill at a steady rate so I could be skiing before any weather or warm-up may occur. The forecast was for a 30-40% chance of precipitation. I took my La Sportiva race skis anticipating fast travel conditions. The skis were fast on the approach. I took a break at the entrance to the hanging canyon to eat and hydrate a bit more. The weather was holding and I had a great view of The Jaw, Lake of the Crags, and Jenny Lake.

Final steps to summit of The Jaw
Turning for the summit, the next section was great as I skied across the smooth frozen lakes. Striding, poling, and gliding, I was eyeballing the summit and the final 1,800 feet to the top. After another 1,000 vertical feet of skinning I transitioned to a boot pack. The route took you straight up the east face through some small cliffs and rock features. As I approached the steepest section the clouds came in quickly and enveloped me.
The Grand Teton

I slowed assuming they would move on or out and eventually they did. The clouds soon became the show to watch as they displayed magical properties. I arrived at the summit amongst floating and hanging clouds back lit by the sun. I soaked up the views of the clouds in motion, the Grand Teton, and the interior range. I stood on the summit, watching the clouds dance above and below. I clicked in my skis ready for my own dance down the mountain.
Skiing down
Hanging canyon


Lake of the Crags


                               Mt. Woodring 11,590

Mt. Woodring's South face, on right, as seen from the top of The Jaw

I spotted the summit of Mt.Woodring from The Jaw and it looked to have good coverage and a nice ski decent. I have been to the summit of Mt. Woodring twice, and skied the south face once. Paintbrush Canyon has many options for ski lines, peaks, and couloirs with Mt. Woodring at the head. I sipped the last bit of coffee in the car and set out under almost complete gray skies. The initial few miles of the approach is low elevation and heavily forested. I skinned undulating snow along String Lake to the bridge crossing. I made haste to get out of the woods and into Paintbrush Canyon where the vistas would improve if the weather held. The trees started to spread out and I entered the canyon. Ski lines were now visible with more options up canyon and the gray skies held their ground. However, ski conditions improved as I gained elevation. The snow was firm and smooth and travel was easy.  I, again, had chosen to use a light race set up – the La Sportiva race skis. Further up canyon, old avalanche debris had run from all aspects.

I turned the corner and attained the south face of Mt. Woodring. I was 2,200 feet directly below the summit. The weather was holding up well and glimpses of sunlight on distant peaks were promising.
However, I had begun to enjoy the black and white landscape and couldn’t help but think of Ansel Adams and his photographs of Yosemite and the High Sierra. Ansel Adams’ first solo museum exhibition was at the Smithsonian Institution and featured pictures of the High Sierra. A review from the Washington Post stated, “His photographs are like portraits of the giant peaks, which seem to be inhabited by mythical gods.”
I skinned up the south face for another 1,200 feet before transitioning to crampons and an ice axe for the summit climb. The views from the top were spectacular, highlighting the black and white contrasts of the mountains, snow, shadow, and sun.

Looking down fron the summit of Mt. Woodring across Paintbrush Canyon and the Tetons
There were a few options for ski descents from the summit. I quickly decided to go with the south face, the way I ascended. I took in the sights, slipped into my bindings, and skied off the summit towards Paintbrush canyon. The ski descent was approximately 4,700 feet of firm smooth conditions at the higher elevations, good corn skiing mid canyon, and heavier snow heading out.

Steep section near top
String Lake

Monday, May 16, 2011

Test Ski

Spring Skiing – La Sportiva Race Ski 717 grams !

May, is the fifth month of the year on the Gregorian calendar. May is also known as ‘the springtime of life”. In some countries, it is the month ‘to honor labor.’ Well, it sure sounds like a good month for ski mountaineering – Springtime of Life and Labor. Long days and shadows coupled with warm temperatures have changed the look of the landscape. The once all white landscape of winter has transformed to a deep snow pack in the high alpine and the green of spring reigns in the valley below and the alpine trees soak in the sun.
               Early starts are required for ski touring now if the sun is forecasted for ski day. One can occasionally get away with a later start if cooler weather or wind hold temps down. Animals are migrating and breaking out into the warm sunny meadows. Moose and Elk post hole around the lower elevations in the melting snow and tributaries are gushing water.
If this sounds like spring, it has arrived here in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. The storm track remained pointed at Wyoming in April and we continued to add to our already solid snow pack. With the ski mountaineering racing season coming to a close at the end of April in Colorado ( a great year it was..), my eyes now look to the mountains for long days of ski touring and ski mountaineering.
I received a pair of La Sportiva race skis in April and was asked to test the strength of the ski. The prototype ski weighs in at 717 grams. The ski has structure mechanics including carbon, wood, and a new technology from the factory. I was super psyched to be on the new race ski by La Sportiva.
The ski arrived with a top sheet cosmetically ‘white’. No graphics. So, it creates a lot of attention, double takes, and questions. They look stealthy. I put a pair of race bindings on them and was off to the mountains. I have used them in the backcountry and let them fly at 2 skimo races since April. After nine days of testing the skis I have found no major weakness. I have intentionally skied them hard, but not trying to break them. The skis have predominantly been taking in the spring snow conditions which include: firm snow, unforgiving undulations, some lower elevation bush whacking, breakable crust, wet snow and other surprises. Sounds bad, but the skiing has been really good. The skis have performed well and I will continue to test the La Sportiva skis. I have been using these skis regularly in the backcountry the last month. A few pictures capture the various terrain and the joy of spring skiing.

However, nine days of skiing in the last month is a major drop from the every day skiing of winter. But, I am well aware the ski season if far from over. The ski mountaineering season begins for this racer and I look forward to ski touring, peak bagging, corn, couloirs, sunrises in the alpine, and big open descents for many weeks to come. 

The couloir we skied was from the summit and goes from L-R behind the ridge
The La Sportiva prototype skis dropping in the shady side of things...