Monday, February 13, 2012

MIddle Teton Speed Ascent - From snowshoes to race gear

"Neener Neener!"
Last week after getting out late from work I was dreading a cold run in the dark when I got a picture text from Nate and Brian that read “Neener Neener.”  They had just skied the Middle Teton in 4 hours and 38 minutes. Button pushers.  Every time I've been in the South West Couloir on the Middle it's been a good time so I was psyched to give it a try.

 My first run in with the SW was a handful of years ago when Andy and I were still using snowshoes for winter travel (horrible idea).  We left Indiana at noon, drove 24 hours through the night and found ourselves at the Bradley Taggart trailhead bleary eyed and ready to start making our way towards the Ford-Stettner.  Since we were starting in the afternoon we planned to bivy in the meadows.  After about 8 hours of snowshoeing in waist deep powder we were only 1000 feet off the valley floor, not even close to the meadows,  exhausted, and angry for having lost an ice tool and a down jacket (dropped them off a cliff in the dark).  Punters.  We bivied frustrated.  The next day we, miraculously, were able to recover our lost gear and then decided to bail on our Ford-Stettner plans and head towards the easier SW on the Middle.  Although the effort was there, we turned around well before the summit with massive cramps and hurt egos. Chalk that one up as a learning experience.

Fast forward a few years and we decided to head back. This time armed with better tools.  We had AT gear! I was on Fritchi Freerides, BD Killowatts and some 1980’s Dynafit boots.  Tanner had his classic rear entries, Fritchis and some equally heavy skis.  Andy was pushing the light end of the spectrum with Scarpa NTN boots, Killowatts and FT 12’s.  We had a true alpine start and summited many hours later under perfect blue skies. The descent was icy, kind of scary, amazing.  Although speed was nowhere in the equation this little adventure was a blast.  It was the first peak any of us had skied in the Park and thepossibilities seemed endless. Sticky mashed potato snow and poor skiing led to a great series of shots coming out of South Fork.

Nate starting the day

Last Thursday I was able to get back on the Middle again, luckily Nate could come too.  This time we were both in race boots/skis/bindings and the ever fashionable lycra.  The idea was to go fast, under 4 hours.  35 minutes into the morning we were skinning by Andy’s and my bivy site from years before.  35 mins!  It took us 8 exhausting hours the first time, the right tools make a   difference.

Despite an icy skinner we kept rolling pretty well to the meadows and hit Lunch Table Rock in 1:14.  From here the going started getting slower.  The few inches of new snow had drifted forcing us to break relatively deep trail most of the way up into South Fork.  Once in South Fork, “cold and windy (30-40mph temps in the teens)” was the name of the game and we were both glad we brought hand warmers along.  Firm snow broken up with talus led us to the base of the SW which was BONEY. We ended up booting the top 300 feet or so as it was small patches of snow interrupted with easy rock steps.  We fell short of the 3 hour summit goal by 5 minutes but still were hopeful for a sub 4 hours car to car effort so we turned it around in a hurry.

Heading towards South Fork
Nate on the summit ridge
Obligatory summit shot

Defective DyNA Evos
The first few turns felt squirrelly in my brand new, never used Dynafit DyNA EVOs but it wasn’t until I was out of the SW that problems started.  I felt my right boot pop and all of a sudden I was lurching forward out of control.  Any forward pressure and the lock mechanism would come undone.  Thinking we could fix the problem Nate and I took a bit of time to have a look.  No ice in the mechanism, no snow in the boot cuff, everything looked good so we kept going.  The problem continued.  There was nothing to be done but keep falling back to the car.  What would have been an enjoyable ski out turning into a frustrating series of falls. I went from saying, “I love these boots!” to “These pieces of shit!” all in a matter of a few minutes. Turns out the boot came missing an important piece (more here).

Once down to the Lake the skate/skin out was tiring but uneventful.  Nate stopped the watch at 4:14.  Not quite what we wanted but we were both tired and happy with the effort.  It always feels good to have gunned it for that long.  The time will certainly go faster given quicker travel conditions and functioning boots. Maybe close to 3 hours? 

iPhone video by Nate

Three different trips up the SW of the Middle in three very different styles.  All memorable, all enjoyable.  I've heard people say a "race" effort in the mountains takes the fun out of it.  I would have to disagree and argue that there's something to be said about efficiency.  It's certainly more fun than snowshoeing.


  1. Ah, the most fun is reading your posts, enjoying your suffering without experiencing it. Keep up the good fun/work/entertainment!

  2. That aerial shot of Nate on the summit ridge gave me vertigo....I think I'm going to barf....