Apocalyptic Guides, LLC (loving life in couloirs)


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | December 29, 2014      
Anton lets loose in the Grand Tetons.

Anton lets loose in the Grand Tetons.

With a 50+ inch base and snowpack almost void of persistent weak layers, this December the Tetons seemed to be one of the few backcountry skiing destinations that were off to a descent start for the season. With a few days of high pressure on the horizon I invited fellow Ski Arpa LLC guides Anton Sponar and Derek Lennon to Jackson Hole for some early season ski mountaineering in Grand Teton National Park. We considered a few lines but Anton had his mind set on the Apocalypse Couloir, a 3000’ couloir that snakes its way down the north side of Prospectors Mountain.

Anton Sponar breaks trail in spring-like snow.

Anton Sponar breaks trail in spring-like snow.

The temperatures had been quite warm in Jackson during the previous week and when we left the trailhead at 7 am it was no different. We skirted around Phelps Lake on the summer trail and began skinning up the eastern shoulder of Prospectors in spring-like conditions. Firm crusts down low and wet, gloppy snow up higher made the skinning difficult as we broke trail towards the top of the Apocalypse.

Once we had reached the top of the couloir I set to rigging the first of the three rappels into the couloir. We rappelled in and spruced up a few of the old anchors with some new gear and cord before finally finding ourselves in the cave under the chockstone at the top of the couloir. The Apocalypse was laid out in front of us covered in perfect chalk. Anton dropped first and confirmed our suspicions; we had nailed the conditions in the upper couloir.

Derek and I followed suit as we leapfrogged down the couloir towards the rollover above the dogleg. Derek and I watched as Anton skied over the rollover and out of sight.

“Man! It’s pretty tight down here!” Anton shouted back up.

With that Derek turned to me and said, “I hate it when Anton says that. That means it’s measured in centimeters instead of feet.”

Anton gave another shout to signal that he was off slope and Derek skied off and out of sight. A minute or two later another shout signaled that it was my turn to ski. I jump turned down the narrowing couloir until the pinch. The pinch was as tight as I’ve ever seen it and choked down to 300cms at its narrowest.

We turned the dogleg and headed towards the icefall the makes up the lower choke of the couloir. The lower choke is the crux of the Apocalypse. Sometimes the ice that flows into the couloir is covered in snow and allows skiers to jump turn through the hallway of rock and ice. Unfortunately, today was not that day and a bulge of blue ice necessitated another rappel–this one with skis on.

I rigged a V-thread in the ice on the wall and backed it up with an long screw before tossing the rope down the couloir. Derek rappelled first and once off the rope sidestepped/sideslipped down the 200cm wide choke. Anton rappelled second and I went last leaving me to coil the rope while sitting in the shooting gallery.

We regrouped below an outcropping in the lower couloir and skied Canadian style onto the apron that was covered in old slide debris. With our tired legs, we were forced to take a few stops before reaching the creek at the bottom of the canyon. We found a good creek crossing and followed the summer trail out of the canyon and back to the Phelps Lake overlook. From the overlook a quick glide out across the flats on our refrozen skintrack brought us back to our car and the normal après beers and food. See you out there!

Anton on the final rappel in the Apocalypse.

Anton on the final rappel in the Apocalypse.

Anton opens up the Apocalypse Couloir.

Anton opens up the Apocalypse Couloir.

Anton gets loose.

Anton gets loose.

Derek heads into the rollover.

Derek heads into the rollover.

Derek rappels through the icy lower crux.

Derek rappels through the icy lower crux.

Derek jump turns his way down the upper crux.

Derek jump turns his way down the upper crux.

Aaron in the Upper Crux.

Aaron in the Upper Crux.

The Apocalypse Couloir on Prospectors Mountain.

The Apocalypse Couloir on Prospectors Mountain.

Derek Lennon and Aaron Diamond skinning on Prospectors.

Derek Lennon and Aaron Diamond skinning on Prospectors.

Aaron Diamond snowboarding the Upper Apocalypse.

Aaron Diamond snowboarding the Upper Apocalypse.

Aaron rigging the final rappel in the ice covered choke.

Aaron rigging the final rappel in the ice covered choke.



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Comments

9 Responses to “Apocalyptic Guides, LLC (loving life in couloirs)”

  1. jw7 December 29th, 2014 8:20 am

    🙂

  2. Scott December 29th, 2014 10:03 am

    Great photos…love that 70’s film look to your tint.
    Web-side stoke!
    Now I return to suburban 9″ to Ski Martin Acres.
    Happy New Year all…

  3. Joe John December 29th, 2014 5:17 pm

    Nice pictorial. Happy New Year Wildsnow!

  4. Ken December 29th, 2014 10:18 pm

    Canadian style?

  5. style December 30th, 2014 4:52 am

    Ken, “Canadian Style” is a term that uncertified American ‘guides’ use to refer to the the manner in which world-class Canadian UIAGM Mountain Guides ski their groups when conditions and terrain are appropriate: spaced out on the same slope rather than one at a time.

  6. Lou Dawson 2 December 30th, 2014 5:49 am

    Hmmm, suggest avoiding a shouting match on this one… I can think of a few guided group examples that are not pretty. On the other side, gang skiing is very efficient and sometimes even safer due to it moving people quickly out of a situation… If the shoe fits, wear it, “Canadian Style” could be a compliment, or not. Lou

  7. Ken December 30th, 2014 7:26 am

    Hmm, just never heard that term before. Like most complex activities, it seems like knowing when to apply the various techniques in one’s toolbox is the real crux of the biscuit.

  8. Lou Dawson 2 December 30th, 2014 7:36 am

    Ken, I’ve sometimes called it “heli skiing style” based on all those old photos of Canadian Mountain Holidays gang skiing 26 degree pow fields, wearing onesies with no backpacks. Always thought it looked like fun if you had the money… Lou

  9. Aaron December 30th, 2014 9:50 am

    Style- “Canadian Style” was not meant as a dig on Canadian guides. I gang ski both with clients and in my personal skiing when it is appropriate. If “Canadian style” is offensive to the world class Canadian guides than Im sorry, Nobody ever told this guy.

    Anyone know the difference between god and a mountain guide?

    God doesn’t think he’s a mountain guide. 🙂

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