GET OUT: Holiday bounty

By on December 31, 2014
A perfectly framed Middle Teton from the top of the couloir. PHOTO: Elizabeth Koutrelakos

A perfectly framed Middle Teton from the top of the couloir. PHOTO: Elizabeth Koutrelakos

Jackson Hole, Wyoming – Through the dark depths of winter, when I am spending the holidays away from my family, I know of one thing that always brings me happiness: getting out for a sunrise ski in the park. On Christmas Eve, I went into Grand Teton National Park for a venture into happiness.

Of course, it wasn’t just me. I had a great ski date planned. Dana, my smiling, redheaded friend, was all about a sunrise tour somewhere on Christmas Eve. The timing was perfect. It was our first day off in a week and both of us were in need of some mountain solace and profuse snacking.

We left Bradley and Taggart as the sky brightened to light blue. Within the first hour of skinning, the happiness abounded behind every rock and tree that we passed. The sun blinked into the depths of Avalanche Canyon, coating everything in a glowing pink blanket of fresh snow.

We meandered up the moraine between Bradley and Taggart Lake. We filled our time chatting, snacking on elk salami and drinking water and cocoa. Light snow fell silently upon our backpacks as we broke trail up the ridge through the fluff. The pleasant company made the skin pass quickly and soon we neared the top of the knoll that ski historian Tom Turiano calls “Point 10,160 plus.” Others know it as Shadow Peak, although the true summit of this peak entails an additional climb of more than 500 vertical feet.

We looked around and admired the beauty of the day as we put warm clothes on in the shelter of a patch of whitebark pines. After some hot tea, we meandered down the knoll and dropped off the backside into Shadow Cirque.

This uniquely beautiful area can hold many joys throughout the year, from pleasant springs to bountiful boulder fields to beautiful winter snow. The possibilities within this district are endless, from mountaineering to extreme relaxation. We skied down and debated continuing up the cirque, but felt slightly distracted by a long, skinny strip of snow in front of us.

Climbing legend Dana Larkin smiles as she nears the top of The Sliver. PHOTO: Elizabeth Koutrelakos

Climbing legend Dana Larkin smiles as she nears the top of The Sliver. PHOTO: Elizabeth Koutrelakos

“Let’s check conditions out up there. It looks pretty good,” Dana said. I agreed. It did look good. It looked like about 1,500 feet of honest to goodness good.

We decided we would head up there and turn around if we didn’t like the conditions. Within minutes of beginning our walk, we were happy with our decision. The snow felt solid, a perfect mix of powder and heaven. Looking back, I vaguely remember some wallowing as we inched our way up, but what I remember most were the pink rocks with green lichen nestled within the grandiose walls on either side of us.

We arrived at the top of the notch, strapped in, and made our way down. Although both of us had ridden this line before, it felt like the first time. The snow was angelic – soft, solid, unwavering. We took turns skiing down and made our way back into the cirque.

We debated booting back up Shadow Peak, but it was Christmas Eve. There were lobster dinners and lasagnas to be eaten. Due to our intrinsic motivation to avoid an extended period of swimming uphill in copious fluff, we traversed the bowl and descended into Garnet via door number two. It was a perfect out. No creek incidents, consistent fluffy snow, and lots of delicious snacking on the way down.

The Sliver peeks through trees from Shadow Peak. PHOTO: Elizabeth Koutrelakos

The Sliver peeks through trees from Shadow Peak. PHOTO: Elizabeth Koutrelakos

As we made it down to Bradley Lake, Christmas decided to come early. The wind picked up and the snow began to fall with fury. As we scurried across the lake, I felt energized and excited for the days to come. It seemed like a prolific winter storm was heading our way but here we were, finishing up a great jaunt in the mountains and getting ready to head to our cozy homes and make a fire.

When I arrived at my house, the pumpkin pies and cheesecake awaited me. I put the elk lasagna in the oven, took a shower, and happily awaited the arrival of friends. Perhaps it would be a very white Christmas tomorrow. Perhaps the snow is not falling as hard as I think it is. Whatever the case, I was able to experience the beauty of good company and perfect powder in the Tetons today. We shall see what tomorrow brings, but I think that gift will be hard to top.

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