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.
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!