I had just finished the hardest college semester of my life in mid-December. My semester included 20 credit hours, with 17 of them being science classes. I like what I am learning but it was very challenging and when the semester ended, it was time to play. Andy and I had planned a week long trip starting on the first of January. We decided to leave the destination open until right before we left so that we could either go where avalanche danger was low or chase powder depending on what weather patterns Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado were going through. December 30th rolled around and after looking at avalanche and weather forecasts for Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming we settled on Wyoming for the trip. The WAIC rated avalanche danger low at all aspects and elevations within the forecast range so we opted for big lines instead of storm chasing.
here is a very important distinction to note between the way the Colorado Avalanche Information Center writes forecasts and how the Wyoming Avalanche Information Center writes forecasts. With the CAIC, a low forecast for high elevations means that the avalanche hazard is typically low all the way up to our high peaks (13,000' and 14,000' peaks). Whereas the "high" elevation avalanche forecast for the WAIC only applies to elevations up to 10,500'. Above that you are on your own to evaluate avalanche hazard forecasts.
The reason for this is that only the hardish to get to peaks in Teton National Park go above that elevation. These peaks are hard to access during the winter, and consequently, are challenging to forecast for as well. The snow pack above 10,500' is often quite different than the snowpack in the areas the WAIC typically forecasts for. Never the less, with high pressure, sunshine, and a pretty friendly avalanche forecast, we thought we could probably get in some big lines in Teton National Park.
10,552' Albright Peak
photo-Albright Peak. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013
-members of group-Andy Mention and Zach Taylor
-ascent/descent route-east face
photo-Sunrise over Jackson Hole, from Stewart Draw, in Teton National Park. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
Gabby, Andy's girlfriend decided to join us for the trip. She had some friends in Jackson and wanted to do some touring in the Jackson area as well. The three of us left Denver on the morning of the 1st and got into Jackson that evening. We stayed with a friend of Andy's, Paige for the next few days. Thanks for letting us crash at your place Paige!
Andy and I decided to go ahead and get after one of the bigger peaks in the Park, Buck Mountain, a peak I had my eyes on since my last trip out to Jackson in the spring. Buck tops out at 11,938', which is well above the avalanche forecast area. We got up well before dawn to a temperature of -20 degrees Fahrenheit. These extremely cold temperatures persisted through out the entire trip. We drove up to the Death Canyon winter closure and began the skin up towards Stewart Draw and Buck Mountain.
photo-Andy Mention skinning below Pt 10,696' on his way towards Buck Mountain. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
After 4,500' of elevation gain we got to the base of the couloir that gives access to Buck's steep, east face at 10,900'. We had gotten some minor cracking, a good sized whump, and had skinned across a pretty hollow, drum-like windslab so we decided to dig a pit and do some testing of the snowpack before committing to the steep east face.
photo-Zach Taylor nerding out on snow at the base of the east face of Buck Mountain. photo by Andy Mantion, 2013.
Our tests left something to be desired in snowpack stablity for our proposed line; 95cm deep pit, shovel shear sheared at insertion, Q2 shear (planar, no energy), our CCT scored 15, Q2(planar, no energy), and our ECT propagated 30cm at 21. All failed on a buried faceted layer 55cm above the ground. After getting these scores, coupled with the cracking and whumping, we decided to bail and enjoyed a 4,500' powder run back to the trailhead, instead of continuing towards the summit.
Back in the parking lot, we popped a couple beers and struck up a conversation with a couple guys that had just skied off the summit of Albright peak, a little bit lower in elevation summit just to the south of Buck. It looked like a real nice line, and probably one with more stable snow conditions at the time. We decided to give Albright a try the next day, and left the parking lot encouraged that we might actually get some good peak descents in on the trip.
photo- The lower slopes of Albright Peak, with Phelps lake pictured in the background. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
The next morning, Andy and I again got up well before sunrise and left Paige's house for the Death Canyon trailhead. Again, -20 degree temperatures greeted us as we charged up the Death Canyon trail, at a pace that would put most rando racers to shame, in an attempt to keep warm. The sun did rise eventually and the day warmed dramatically as we skinned up the southeast slopes of Albright. It got into the high 20s by late morning (a 40+ degree temperature change!) and snow became heavy and water saturated. We plodded up the skin track with snow sticking to our skins that was several inches deep. Wow, what a difference a few hours can make!
photo- Andy Mention skinning up Albright. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
The gobs of wet snow slowed us down a bit but we steadily gained elevation, and the sun and warm temps made for nice base layer/t-shirt skinning. Our skin track wound through trees to the looker's left of the east facing slide path until about 400 vertical feet below the summit. The east face steepens into the 40s at the top so we booted the last bit of vertical to a beautiful Teton summit.
photo-Andy Mentio booting up the east face of Albright. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Looking south towards Prospector Mountain and Jackson Hole ski area. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Zach Taylor on the summit of Albright peak, looking north. photo by Andy Mention, 2013.
photo- Andy "Danger" Mention on the summit of Albright with the north face of Prospector Mountain in the background.
It was a gorgeous day and we hung out on the summit for close to an hour, taking in the views and enjoying some crackers, cream cheese, and pepperoni. I have to imagine having weather this nice on a high summit in the Tetons during January is as rare as it is on a high peak in Colorado in January so we took advantage of the nice day and lack of wind.
Finally, three o'clock rolled around and we decided it was time to make some turns. I readied and dropped in first. The first hundred vertical feet or so was decently steep. If you skied one side of the face or the other you could probably keep pitch angles to 41 or 42 degrees but spring is a long way away and I was looking for some steeper turns. I aimed for a steep bulge in the center of the face that provided some nice mandatory jump turns that pitched in the high 40s. This was perfect at my current ability level. High 40 degree terrain is just steep enough to provide no mistakes type adrenaline riding and for me to still feel well within my abilities to handle as well.
I only descended a couple hundred vert before pulling off to the side and getting some good pics of Andy skiing down the east face...
photo- Andy Mention skiing the east face of Albright. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013,
photo- Andy Mention on the east face of Albright. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
The snow conditions up high were slightly wind hammered and choppy but nothing we could not lay edges into. We took turns leap-frogging each other and descended down below treeline where we found some great powder turns interspersed with funky re-frozen sun-crust/crud on the more solar aspects.
photo-Zach Taylor descending the east facing slide path on Albright peak. photo by Andy Mention, 2013.
photo-Zach Taylor descending Albright peak. photo by Andy Mention, 2013.
The scenery was beautiful as we descended the lower slopes of Albright just before sunset above the shores of Phelps lake.
photo-Andy Mention skiing off Albright peak with Phelps lake in the background.
It was a great day out in the Tetons. We celebrated with beer at Dornan's where we also learned that another party had just skied the Grand Teton! Wow! It is always great to be humbled and inspired by other mountaineers.
Taylor Mountain and Buck Mountain
photo- The Poop Chute off the false, southern summit of Taylor. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
The next day Andy and I joined four others; Gabby Voeller, Paige Byron, Emily Hoffer, and Dan Janjigian for a tour up the south ridge of Taylor Mountain, near Teton pass. We descended the east face. I climbed and rode this mountain last year and wrote a detailed trip report already on this website but it was a fun day out and just thought I would share a few photos from the day here. Andy and I also went back and tried to summit Buck and ended up turning around 400 vertical feet from the summit due to still sketchy avalanche conditions. I think we got some good pictures though.
photo-Paige Byron and Andy Mention skinning up the south ridge of Taylor Mountain. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Andy Mention and Paige Byron skinning up the south ridge of Taylor Mountain. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo- Gabby Voeller pretty happy about her turns on the east face of Taylor Mountain. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Dan Janjigian skinning up Taylor Mountain. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Emily Hoffer skiing the east face of Taylor. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-Andy skiing the east face of Taylor. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-The east face of Taylor Mountain. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo- Gabby Voeller on the edge of sun and shadow. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo- sun and shadow. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-scrambling up the northeast ridge of Buck. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo-scrambling up the northeast ridge of Buck. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013
photo- Bailing on Buck Mountain. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.
photo- Zach Taylor on the northeast ridge of Buck. photo by Andy Mention, 2013.
photo- Moose hanging out in -20 degrees Fahrenheit near death canyon. He did not mind. photo by Zach Taylor, 2013.