A Teton First Decent

Posted: 03.27.2024
Posted: 03.27.2024
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Written by Tanner Flanagan:

"One day while skiing Grand Teton National Park, my friend Fred Marmsater not long into our skin noticed a really cool feature in the cliffs..... a complete arch with what looked like a great ski through it. We decided to divert our track and check it out. We made quick work of the skin and were soon boot packing up into and through the arch, we came to a large cliff wall just on the other side where the snow field terminated into a large rock wall. Instantly we were both drawn to the possibility of rappelling down the wall from the top in true ski mountaineering fashion, where you could ski the entirety of the line from top to bottom rather than just hiking up and skiing down the last little bit of it. Taking as many beta photos as possible and dropping GPS pins for reference before we headed home for the day. That evening was a flurry of texts and sharing of maps and photos. Gaining confidence that it was not only possible but most likely probable that we could accomplish a top-down descent of this line. Being late in the season, time was not on our side. If we wanted to give it an attempt, it would have to be very soon. Our next weather window would be in a few days, so we decided to make a plan together for if it did open up."

April 26, 2023 / Day of Descent:

"Starting out at 5 am we unloaded the sleds at the trailhead and started off for the mission of a lifetime. Reaching the wilderness boundary at a little after sunrise we then proceeded on skins to the top of the ridge, about 3 miles away. It helped to have a slight track to follow from the other day but it was mostly filled in and difficult to follow at times. Reaching the drop in spot at the top a little after 8am, it was looking bleak. Totally covered in thick clouds with little to no wind to blow them out. We waited for nearly 2 hours before seeing a favorable trend and decided to start prepping the entrance for the main event. Choosing a bucket seat for a belay, I provided backup for Fred as he made his way to the edge of the cornice with shovel and probe in hand. Locating a manageable entrance was the first of many unknown factors in this adventure. Like some sort of Swedish blood hound, he located the exact part where we thought it would be the most manageable, he was digging before I knew it and had totally nailed it."

"Weather-clearing. Temps-cool. Excitement-high! It's SHOWTIME! About 11am Fred dropped in first and gave a good holler confirming that we were on top of our objective. I joined him and we discussed very briefly a plan for our descent including our first safe zone and how to capture a few moments on camera. The skiing was incredible! Smooth, steep, stable powder skiing! Practicing good sluff management was a must, as we knew what was at the bottom of this thing. Fred set out next as we leap frogged from safe zone to safe zone down to our intended anchor spot. The slope angle started increasing as we descended, a lot! As we came to the anchor spot there was some ice forming underneath, heightening our senses and making the adrenaline flow. Anchor time! Taking some time to find proper rock and equalize everything was what we thought to be the final piece of this descent. Anchor was looking solid and Fred set out to the edge of the cliff..... Turns out we had underestimated the height of our cliff from the bottom where we were able to look at it. We were going to have to rappel down a single strand of our rope instead of it being doubled up. Meaning Fred would have to go off rope while I re-rigged an escaper to the rope and anchor. The pressure was on and the stress was palpable as Fred stood freely on an icy edge of the cliff entrance to the arch finale."

All rigged up and back on the safety of the rope was a huge relief for both of us! To the edge, over and out of sight Fred went as a deafening silence came over the couloir. No more sounds of edging skis on ice, nothing at all until the radio opened with his sounds of excitement confirming he was down and clear of the rope. Now to rig the escaper (or as I like to call it: The Chinese Finger Trap), so we would be able to pull the rope down after I joined Fred to finish out the line. “Steady now! Skinny, static rope.” This was my inner monolog as I crested the cliff edge and over into a complete overhanging rappel. My most memorable journey down a rope for sure! Sliding down past icicles right in my face and rotating slowly to reveal the arch in its full glory! Off rope and shaking from excitement, we threw numerous high fives, took selfies, and gave some hugs before we pulled the rope and prepared for our “victory lap” through the arch. I mean, we had already been here a few days ago but now it was an undisturbed powder ski through the arch after a morning of uncertainty, just making it all that much more gratifying. Not many words were exchanged on the skin and snowmobile back to the trailhead, just processing the entire morning. Celebration broke out as we took boots off at Freds van, cracking open a few cold ones for a well-deserved cheers!

Not thinking much of it at the time, it started to dawn on me later that evening that we may have been the first ones to connect this line from the top in such fashion, especially after a text came from Fred stating that he connected with a few of the usual suspects, and nobody can place a group or time in recent memory where it has. Could this be true? Without giving too much away about the location of it has kept it relatively hush-hush on our end, not to mention the fact that being humble and having fun is more important than boosting one's ego with claims to have had a first descent in this area, at this time. It may forever remain a mystery as we both like to “let our skis do the talking”. One thing is for sure, we will be back and we will be having fun while doing it. After all, isn’t that what skiing is about?! FUN? We think so.


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