Inversions are always tough because the weather is the harshest when you feel the roughest: at the start of the day. And that is how it was when AJ and I shoved off from Taggart Lake trailhead in Grand Teton National Park at 4.30am. It hadn’t snowed in some time, in fact it hadn’t really snowed enough to a warrant going skiing up high yet, but that’s just where we want to be – so we went. We had no real plan for the day, we had kicked around a few ideas – North ridge of the Middle (not that fun when its high winds as forecasted), Ford Couloir on the Grand (clearly a bad idea, that one was mine), or maybe East ridge of the South (would be thin snowpack).
Either way we were headed into Garnet canyon. We made good time and felt the rhythm that comes from moving efficiently on cold days in the mountains, and by a little after daybreak we were in the meadows at 9,300’. Common sense prevailed and we headed for the South Teton. As forecasted, the inversion kicked into effect and we took our first break just before entering the South fork of Garnet – a special place for sure as all the beautiful high peaks of the tetons loom overhead. We pushed on and by the time we crested 10k in the heart of the south fork, the layer of warm air was gone, replaced by fierce arctic winds. The heavy snows of November were gone – probably in the Sahara by now with winds like these. We transitioned back and forth from skins to booting, before reaching the saddle between the South Teton and the ice cream cone. By now it was nuking and walking required four limbs not two – to avoid getting blown over. Skis were like windsails on our backs, and with the thin snowpack – skiing wasn’t feasible anyway. Still, the summit beckoned and with a few small bands of rock between us on the hi point it looked like enjoyable climbing. Winds were strong enough to be a concern, but we would kick steps and descend if needed. The old adage “you don’t know, if you don’t go” held true that day and after stemming through some rock steps, and punching up through loose and steep snow we found ourselves on the summit with a relatively benign breeze at our backs.
I love days like that, because they are simple – its just about being, breathing and living. And the mountains are just the place where you come alive – you go out, connect with the world, and come home. There was no great skiing to speak of, and we didn’t accomplish anything special, but to share the mountains, even in their hostile moods with a good friend – that’s living.