Teewinot Quest

Activity Type: Ski Mountaineering —  Date of trip: May 6, 2012 —  Level of Difficulty: D17, (skiing from the summit), based on Lou Dawson’s rating system.
Mountain Range or Region: Tetons —  State: WY —  Country: USA
Skier: Cody Feuz —  Guide: Aaron Dahill —  Total vertical gain (this climb): 4,430 ft. —  Total skiing vertical: 2,900 ft.
Teewinot summit: 12,325 ft.
Equipment Used: Rossignol Scratch BC’s 185cm with G3 Onyx bindings, Dynafit Areo boots, Grivel Air Tech Light, Camp Ice Axe, and Osprey pack.
GPS Data (Includes 2011 & 2012 attempts):

An elusive summit — Awesome! That is how I would rate my recent ski mountaineering adventure on Teewinot Mountain in the Teton Range. However, for the second year in a row, the mountain wins the battle of the elusive summit. OK, I don’t know how “elusive” Tewinot’s summit really is – how many people get turned back versus the number of climbers that reach it. I do know that trying to do so with full ski gear and safety equipment and at my age, (53), adds a significantly increased element of difficulty and complexity as opposed to simply making a climb/scramble to the top in mid-summer.

We all have our Teewinot Mountains in life; those goals that we strive for that just don’t come easy.

This post isn’t so much a trip report as it is a commentary on some of my learning’s so far as I seek the Teewinot Quest.
First of all, I want to give an unsolicited shout-out to Exum Mountain Guides and their team of professional employees. I’m one of their newest clients, but I’m already a believer in their strategy and tactics. When you put me on a grading curve of mountain expertise, I am far from a being a newbie with little, or no experience. That being said, I know that I am not a professional and have a lot to learn when it comes to ski mountaineering knowledge and expertise.

In my opinion, there are a few basic keys to hone your knowledge and skills when it comes to almost anything that one attempts in life. Things like researching the subject matter, developing relationships and working with mentors, practice, increasing the challenge level, and working with professionals.

When it comes to big mountain ascents and ski descents, if you place a premium on protecting your life and minimizing your risk, then you really should consider using professional guides. Some may argue that they know the mountains well enough, or they are good enough, or that they have done it enough. But unless you are one of those individuals who belong to a fairly elite group of alpinists, you are increasing your risk of death and personal injury far more by choosing to not go with a professional. Now, I’m not naïve enough to believe that being with a guide totally eliminates my risk, (the waiver I have to sign reminds me of that), but it certainly reduces the chances that I go home in a body bag.

Being with a professional guide truly enhances the experience. In my two trips that I have made to Teewinot I have had a great times with the two different guides that I have had. My first attempt in 2011 was with Patrick Ormond and he focused heavily on climbing technique. I had climbed other mountains before, and had made it part way up Mount Moran, but my technique was poor and was a limiting factor in achieving success. In addition, we discussed equipment choices and the importance of gear that is targeted to ski mountaineering. I’ve mentioned before on this website that I was using the wrong boots and ski setup, (regular alpine boots and bindings). Shortly after that trip, I began to acquire the proper bindings, boots, crampons and ice axe. This paid off in a successful climb of the Middle Teton glacier route later last summer.

This year, I thought would be much easier because I had been practicing my technique, training hard and of course, upgrading my equipment. The thing I didn’t count on, but should have was the weather. The late spring storms that were bringing intermittent rain to the valleys were adding to the snowpack in the high peaks. The first attempt on the 5th, we were turned back before we even left the vehicles due to heavy rain and poor visibility.

We decided to go up again the next morning and hit the trail at 2:00 AM to the bright light of the “super moon”. The temps had set the snow up nice and firm, up to about the Apex at about the 9,700 foot level and there was only a couple of inches of fresh. But, from there up it became a much different story. We had 10 to 15 inches of fresh snow the rest of the way. This was a “good news, bad news” development. The good news was that we would be skiing powder for the descent; the bad news was that it slowed what had been a great pace literally to a crawl for me. We were at the transition point from skins to bootpack just below the Worshiper & Idol at 5:30. Our climbing pace to that point was just over 1,400 ft/hour. From there up to the high point of the climb, it had slowed to a less than half that, and was getting worse with each step.

The positive from all of this was that as the sun was coming up, we were seeing the snow dynamics begin to change. Aaron was constantly monitoring the snowpack and the key factor for turning around was that we were approaching very exposed terrain and I was moving to slow to get us up and back down before avalanche conditions may have developed. Why was this a positive thing? For starters, I received some excellent education on snow science. Secondly, I learned that you simply can’t take these climbs for granted, especially at my age. (It is important to note that a younger, stronger climber could have powered through the deep snow and probably made the summit and skied back down before conditions deteriorated). Finally, we had some fantastic powder skiing in May!

Key learning points:

• It sometimes takes multiple “failures” before we get it right and get to the top of the mountain.
• It is still much better and far more rewarding to experience life by “living it”.
• I am always truly amazed and humbled by the magnitude and majesty of big mountain peaks.
• Just like in life, the more you immerse yourself in a subject and become familiar with it, the more that you realize how little you really do know.
• I have a lot to accomplish this next year in the way of preparation; increasing my fitness level, honing my climbing skills, start to complete formal avalanche training, and finally, recruit some more individuals to get into the backcountry with me. Volunteers, anyone???
• A top-notch guide not only gets you up the mountain and back. They teach and inspire you along the way. I have found this to be true of both of the Exum guides that I have worked with. Both Patrick and Aaron have not only provided me with fun experiences, but they have focused on teaching different phases of mountaineering disciplines along the way.

So, as I write this post a couple of days after my second attempt on Teewinot, I am invigorated, energized and inspired to work harder and make it happen next year!

For more details about Exum Mountain Guides and their high difficulty peak skiing options, click here.

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