Veiled Peak is the most remote and least traveled 11,000 foot peak in the core Teton Range. Tucked far behind Mount Wister and standing at 11,315 feet, Veiled offers a rugged adventure to skiers and alpinists with an apt for big miles. The North Ridge is a technical scrambling alternative to the intricate and intimidating Southeast Face.
All photos shot on a Samsung S20 – my beloved fujifilm camera is still in the shop.
Only two days removed from a solo descent of Teewinot Mountain’s Crooked Thumb Couloir, I was back in Grand Teton National Park eating homemade almond-pumpkin cookies, sipping lukewarm coffee and watching first light hit the mountains while cowering from single digit temperatures and cranking my car heater ad libitum. Today I planned to meet with three friends, Carl Osterburg, Sam Johnson and John Modlish, for a long walk in Avalanche Canyon. A long walk? Quite literally that was the plan. After hours of disorganized banter and debate over which line to ski, which peak to climb, which aspect is safe, yada-yada-yada, we settled on ice axes, crampons and an open mind, coupled with a wandering saunter into the upper confines of Avalanche Canyon’s couloir studded north fork. To be honest, this is why I usually shy away from large groups, especially when ski mountaineering. There’s a certain streamlined magic to the simplicity of climbing and skiing alone or in pairs. With too many cooks in the kitchen it becomes difficult to settle on one entree’ that suits everyone’s preferences. That said, I love all these guys, so despite my inclination to jet off on a self propelled and over caffeinated super-trip, I hung around the lot for an extra 30 minutes while the entourage assembled. By eight o’clock we were armed and ready – to the heart of Avalanche Canyon we roll.
Ironically, despite tossing around a dozen different Avalanche Canyon ideas for the better part of three days, Veiled never even skirted the radar – probably because it’s just so “out there.” No online information exists about the remote 11,315 foot peak, summer or winter. Two years ago on my first winter ascent of Mount Wister, my partner and I gawked at the burly Southeast Face, wondering if anyone had ever attempted to ski it. Subsequently my aspirations to climb and ski Veiled got pushed to the back burner, too far a walk, too much uncertainty – maybe someday. But when our crew of four got stumped on our first potential objective, the North(east?) “Chockstone” Couloir of Mount Wister, my mind immediately flipped to Veiled. We were already three hours deep and had little to lose. Staying true to our “open mind” motto we switched to crampons, booted the short couloir leading to Snowdrift Lake and hooked south following the path of least resistance to the Wister-Veiled divide.
Stumped on the Southeast Face
Without any iota of beta, we were shooting blind from the hip. Carl and I suggested there may be a summit ski route on the Southeast Face, and despite Sam questioning the contrary, nobody held a definite answer. Following our best senses we moved efficiently over wind buffed hard-pack to the base of the northeast face. Staring at the summit less than 1,000 feet above, we opted to ascend the Wister-Veiled divide and poke at the Southeast Face. Following a freeze-glued ramp of rotten choss we gained the saddle and were greeted with my exact fear. The face was brutally steep, baking in the afternoon sun and had no obvious route to the summit. The east ridge was technical, steep and exposed, possibly fifth class and covered in snow. Looking north from our vantage point Sam noticed a large natural avalanche on the southeast shoulder of Table Mountain, further adding to our anxieties about stepping onto any warming aspects. We poked around for almost an hour assessing snow conditions, for there was a viable ski route via our East Ridge highpoint into the South Fork of Avalanche Canyon below, but the presence of an obvious wind slab with moderate sheer power ushered us away. We decided to down-climb the northeast bowl, climb to the highest skiable point on Veiled’s shaded north ridge and descend the way we came, a disappointing consolation given our six hours of uphill trudgery.
A Summit Push – North Ridge (Cl.4)
From the skier high-point on the North Ridge, an obvious summit route caught my eye. One section of steep climbing separated our current position from a rambling third class ridge. Even though we’d been questing uphill for eternity, the crew rallied for one final spontaneous surge. The crux of the scramble was a fourth class, three-move chockstone with short but life-threatening exposure. I lead this section with one tool and steel crampons, groping the awkward refrigerator sized block and pulling into mellower terrain above. We scrambled upward for 200 feet following the line of least resistance, eventually skirting north and east of the summit pyramid and finishing on an easy hand-traverse boulder to the small 11,315 foot perch. Carefully positioned, four climbers fit on the precarious point like a can of well packed sardines. I’m not sure I’ve ever worked so hard for an 11,000 foot peak. I’m also not sure I’ve ever been so awestruck on an 11,000 foot peak. The views were spectacular, the skies splitter and the sunshine so direct, warming and comforting. Veiled has a certain mystique, a gem hidden from the valley dweller’s eye – a treasure trove buried in deep in the Teton sea.
Descent – Marginal at Best
After reveling in spectacular views of the entire Teton range on a bluebird January afternoon, a cold wind and fleeting clock ushered an expedited retreat to the valley floor. Reversing the chockstone move was the crux of the day, but with such good hand holds was largely inconsequential. In proper alpine style we skied from the highest possible point on the northeast bowl, removing skis only once to traverse north across a scree gully. The bowl itself was a shaded mixture of dust on rocks, dust on crust or simply… crust. A few sections of wind deposited sugar made for intermittent soft turns, but ultimately our descent was made in classic ski mountaineering fashion. The vertical relief and moderate grade of the bowl alone wouldn’t justify its’ own mission, but makes an excellent tack-on to a summit bid or traverse.
The couloir leading from Snowdrift Lake to the shores of Lake Taminah held the finest snow, and a picturesque southerly wall made for tremendous scenery. Another steep headwall from Lake Taminah to Avalanche Canyon offered 1,000 more feet of decent skiing, so despite never getting more than fifty consecutive turns at a time, we enjoyed a rewarding piecewise descent for our efforts. Realistically, approaching Veiled from the south fork makes ten times more sense, but the north fork exit takes the crown for skiing.
A Quick Reflection
Skiing Veiled Peak was a marvelous and highly unique adventure. A lengthy approach and relatively mellow skiing leaves this quest to the passionate peak bagger or enthusiast of the obscure. Snowdrift Lake would make an excellent overnight camp, as thrilling skiing abounds on the South Teton’s South Face and Veiled Peak’s NW Bowls (pictured above). One day I look forward to attempting a climb and ski descent of Veiled’s Southeast Face, but first I’ll have to conjure my Euli Steck spirit – holy exposure! Lastly, a loop traverse between the two forks of Avalanche Canyon, by way of the Wister-Veiled divide, would be an ultra-scenic endurance day. Both forks of Avalanche Canyon never cease to inspire me. I will (hopefully) be returning here a few times in the months to come!
- Round Trip Distance: 14-16 miles
- Vertical Gain: 4,600 feet
- Time: 6-8 hours
- Approach: North Fork Avalanche Canyon, Lake Taminah, Snowdrift Lake
- Recommended Gear: Mountaineering Crampons, Light Axe, Ski Crampons