North with New Friends – Unexpected Powder on Leeks Peak (USGS 10,333′) – Grand Teton N.P. (02.04.22)

Leeks Peak (USGS Peak 10,333′) is the first highpoint on the south side of Colter Canyon in Grand Teton National Park. A long approach across Jackson Lake and a lack of prominent striking terrain steers most day trippers away, but when the snow in the core range is tracked to hell, peaks like Leeks begin to make more sense. In exchange for eiht hours of time, our crew of three scored a phenomenal 3,500 foot powder run I look forward to skiing again, and valuable insight to a new area of GTNP with infinite steep descent potential.


Intro

When someone like Reed Finlay invites you on a ski tour, you don’t bother questioning the plan. Reed is a household name in the Jackson Hole ski mountaineering community, the primary partner of the late and legendary Steve Romeo, who was the founder of TetonAT.com, the most recognized and widely used source for information on steep Teton skiing. As such, Reed has hundreds of internet articles linking him to many cutting edge descents across the range, lines I aspire to ski in my wildest imaginations. After over thirty years in the game Reed continues to seek big Teton descents, and serves as a role model to the incoming generation of local ski mountaineers like myself. I met Reed rock climbing in Teton Canyon last summer, and this was our first ski tour together. Of course his mission involved a line I’d never heard of, on a peak I’d never heard of, in an area I’d never heard of and began from a parking area I never even knew existed. After six Teton winters I was beginning to think I knew the place, but this tour brought me back to the early wonderment of crane-necking at every moment, soaking in new views and dreaming up missions upon missions to come. If variety is the spice of life, this trip was a delicious Thai Green Curry, four stars, with soft tofu and brown rice. Matt Paul would round out our three man crew, another talented and well reputed skier I’d never made turns with.

Matt Paul and Reed Finlay on the banks of the Snake River.

Leeks Peak (USGS Peak 10,333′)

Like most North Teton tours, reaching the base of the climb was the crux of the day. Because Jackson Lake is actually a reservoir, and “lake” levels dropped so extremely low this summer, an actively flowing Snake River was left behind, still exposed on this brutally cold February morning. Conquering the river involved a half hour of traversing along the bank, probing at ice underfoot and guessing whether or not we’d be in for a swim should we dare to cross. I volunteered my neck and skirted across with a brisk jog, followed by Reed and Matt. We reached the shoreline around the two hour mark and wasted the next hour bushwhacking through dense forest, attempting to approach Leeks with impulsive and barbaric line-of-sight tactics. In hindsight, the more practical approach (and path we used for egress) would stay on the frozen Jackson Lake surface until the outlet of Ranger Creek (drainage from Ranger Peak, Peak 10,686 and upper lakes). From here, the gentle easterly aspect of Leeks is just north, accessed by a peaceful climb through a lightly forested drainage.

When the thicket parted ways and the clock struck hour three, we found ourselves below a marvelous and gentle powder field leading up Leeks’s easterly flanks. Many ribs separated moderate and lightly treed avalanche paths with potential for amazing fall line powder skiing, much like the ever popular Mavericks and 25 Short to the south, but more open and continuous. Matt and I swung leads, punching a track through a generous foot of sugar, about 1,600 vertical feet to the ridge-top. Having expected dust on crust I was overjoyed at the idea of skiing quality snow, and given the lack of storms over the last month, I frankly couldn’t believe my eyes. At about 8,200 feet the terrain flattened to a long ridge-walk through an old burn, a picturesque scene that yearned for my Fuji XT-2 camera still holed up in the shop. I shot as best I could on my smartphone – she’ll be home soon.

Matt leading the push to the Leeks Peak ridge.
Views south of the old burn and Jackson Lake from the Leeks Peak ridge.

Leeks Peak reminds me of Table Mountain for it’s both generous and sinister way of just never, ever ending. Despite being only a hair above 10,000 feet, steep climbing segmented by long pitches of low angle snow make the summit push deceptively long. We never reached the true summit due to low snow and new 2022 voluntary big-horn sheep closures, calling our adventure at the severely windswept upper plateau, maybe 10,100 feet, just east of the USGS summit. Reed was eyeing a long and spicy north facing chute/couloir into Colter Canyon, but upon further investigation found the line wind hammered to bulletproof styrofoam and scree. Our choice was unanimous and obvious, retreat the way we came and enjoy 3,500 feet of miraculously pristine powder skiing along the way.

Reed topping out Leeks Peak

As expected, our descent to Jackson Lake was filled with nothing but stellar snow. The first 500 feet had a few sections of intermittent breakable crust, but by 9,500 feet the team was making GS turns through hero sugar, hooting and hollering to our hearts’ content. We snapped a few pictures but mostly chose to relish the day’s care-free energy. After a month of high-intensity missions fraught with peril and exhaustive decision making, I allowed my mind, soul and body to wander on Leeks Peak. Avalanches and route finding weren’t the faintest concern, and the snow was predictable as could be. On the steeper eastern knoll we all skied untracked lines on different ridges, parlaying in the drainage below. For an overnight party in need of a down day, this face from 8,200 feet to the lakeshore would provide an excellent lap-able objective on it’s own. Re-tracing our approach track we hit the car around hour eight, with a rough estimate of 14-16 round-trip miles .

Reed styling the variable on Leeks’s upper pitch.
Who’s that? Who knows! I think it’s Matt? To the lake!

Reflection

Leeks Peak brought a much needed new dimension to my 2022 ski season. I got to know and ski with two new partners who have far more experience than I, both of whom I look forward further adventures with. I also got to explore a new zone that left me teeming with inspiration for the months and years to come. The Colter Canyon and Ranger Peak area holds infinite potential for steep skiing, possibly even first descents. With a tent, a rope and an open mind the ceiling for this zone is endless. The Grand Teton and it’s core range accomplices are incredibly seductive, and can easily lure people like me into a full season of narrow minded adventures. Now, enlightened to the boundless and fruitful possibilities of the North Tetons, my goals and likewise excitement for 2022 have expanded. Renowned rock climber and speaker Eric Horst famously said, “the best training program for you is the one you’re not currently doing.” Perhaps this idea applies to a lot more than just training for climbing.

Sunset over Leeks Peak from Jackson Lake (flat top, right) – Viewed from the northeast

As always, I would like to give a huge thank you to my supporters, Icelantic Skis and Chasing Paradise.

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DISCLAIMER
MOUNTAINS ARE DANGEROUS. SKIING IS DANGEROUS. ANY INFORMATION PRESENTED IN THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL AND STORY TELLING PURPOSES ONLY. IF YOU DECIDE TO ATTEMPT ANYTHING YOU READ ABOUT IN THIS ARTICLE, YOU ARE DOING SO AT YOUR OWN RISK.

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