The Skywalk Couloir is a seldom skied and deceptively steep 500 foot technical couloir on the west side of Peak 25 Short, just left of the popular Moonwalk Couloir. Chuter Buck is a striking 800 foot technical couloir diving north from the bench beneath Buck Mountain and Peak 10,696. After scoring the MoonWALK in great conditions the day before, I was stoked to pack up the ropes and link up with old 10K2Far friend John Walker for a descent of these two quirky, lesser sought lines.
After two years without a trip up 25 Short, I’ve now climbed the 9975′ buttress four times in the past ten days. Despite it’s low elevation and easterly gladed appearance, 25 Short holds a diverse amount of steep and easily accessible couloirs, great for days when venturing above 10,000 feet makes little sense. Brian Ladd calls the rugged backside of 25 Short the “edge of the alpine”, a place he frequents as as a mini snapshot barometer of true alpine conditions. Following two weeks of unseasonably heavy snowfall – well over four feet – I’ve been motivated to tick off lower hanging fruit while allowing the big lines to settle. I’ve looked at both the Skywalk and Moondrop Couloirs for years, but neither line met the gumption threshold to command my full attention. While repeating the Moonwalk Couloir with Reed Finlay and Brian Ladd the day before, I got a great look at the upper Skywalk and was struck with inspiration. Despite being a mere 500 vertical feet, the upper couloir sports a rappel entrance and sustained 50-55 degree jump turns through a 10 foot wide slot, making for a sneakily stimulating descent. From the apron of the Skywalk, an easy ski traverse leads to Chuter Buck (also known as the Moondrop Couloir), a far more popular and slightly less steep close-out chute with epic scenery, techy skiing above terminal cliffs and one or two mandatory rappels. Linking the two together makes for an excellent micro-ski mountaineering experience, a great way to refine one’s steep skiing and winter rope work without an eight-plus hour excursion.
Lucky for me, John Walker was available and willing to join my obscure 25 Short soulquest. It had been a while since I’d skied with John – at least two years – and I was excited to reconnect. A well seasoned Teton ski mountaineer, John was the first mentor who taught me how to play with ropes, ski steep lines and return alive. In many ways, he was the fuel that ignited my Teton alpinism infatuation. Over the years we drifted apart, but today we united for an awesome linkup despite suspiciously warm conditions.
With a laissez-faire pace we reached the summit of 25 Short at 11:00 AM. I hoped the protected west and north facing lines would hold cold snow regardless of warming, but un-forecasted 40 degree ridgetop temps cooked even the shadiest of aspects – turns out we were late to the party. Instead of using a tattered fixed anchor from god knows when (skier’s right), we made use of our two 40M skinnies and rappelled from a small tree Carl Osterburg probably wouldn’t approve of, reaching the snow-line with five meters to spare. From the lower rock anchor, a 60M rope would likely suffice. A down-climb wouldn’t be too difficult, but the chossy chimney seemed very loose and far more amicable on a rope. For those who don’t know, the Skywalk Couloir is the first very prominent gully north of the Moonwalk, funneling into the same apron. You can’t miss it.
My first ski observation was one of skepticism, for the steep upper confines of the Skywalk was loaded with a fresh whale-tail of damp wind deposited snow – maybe three feet – yikes, and since we zinged in, retreat wasn’t much of an option. We mitigated the hazard with a roped ski cut, and despite a few fragile blocks the snow appeared secure. I unclipped from the fixed line and made a few of the wilder turns of my season – deep, DEEP and heavy ninja antics amidst rather narrow and threatening rock walls. After 50 feet the alley widened for looser Pacific Northwest style arcs – wide swoops through whipped cream cheese. John followed in his quintessential smooth and flowy style, and together we enjoyed a pleasant descent to the Peak 10,696/Buck Mountain shelf.
Chuter Buck Couloir
From the bottom of the Skywalk we traversed hard skier’s left, side stepping over a moraine to the southwest side of a very prominent rock prow splitting the Peak 10,696/Buck Mountain shelf. By now the snow was really starting to get soggy, and wet slab avalanches were heavy on the mind. Had Chuter Buck been as loaded as the Skywalk we almost certainly would have balked. That said, both fortunately and unfortunately Chuter Buck was wind massacred, desecrated with several alarmingly large wind lips and dozens of exposed rocks. My first thought? Screw this. My second thought? Why the heck not. Even if the snow was trash, Chuter Buck was by far the most aesthetic way into Avalanche Canyon, and a modest 40-45 degree slope is far more forgiving of grizzly conditions.
Much to our surprise, Chuter Buck actually skied very well. The snow was heavy, but the tight north facing aspect preserved the slope from rollerball mush. The wind-lips rode like a terrain park, providing interesting slashes and featured skiing. Converging on the cliff we pumped the brakes, and John provided a resourceful body belay as I side stepped towards the anchor and cliff’s edge in unconsolidated snow. From the four-piece and very nicely maintained anchor on skier’s left, we made a full 40M rappel past a series of two cliffs with an intermediate anchor between. The snow below the crux was the best of the day, shaded, heavily loaded and steep, gifting a very fun dozen turns before opening to a disgusting apron of glue-sticky mashed potatoes. John scored major style points with a signature wizard slash on the left wall – the picture doesn’t do it justice – where’s Jimmy Chin when you need him?
I guess the title is a touch misleading, because it never actually rained while we were in either couloir. However, it sure as $%*& rained on the way out Avalanche Canyon. By the time we reached Taggart Lake at 1:00PM, air temperatures had surpassed 50 degrees and a light drizzle reminded that spring is actually, believe it or not, coming. I’d like to say I’ll catch another couloir in powder this year, but not unless the Tetons pick up another significant storm and cold snap, because any aspect below 12,000 feet was surely soaked and is currently awaiting freezing. Both the Skywalk and Chuter Buck Couloirs register as “novelty lines” in my book – hardly destination descents, but worthy of exploration by the motivated obscure enthusiast. Connecting with John was the real trophy of the day, and I’m looking forward to catching more turns with him this spring.
ROPES: As of April 2022, the fixed anchor in the Skywalk Couloir is dangerously tattered and the two fixed anchors in Chuter Buck are in excellent condition. We installed an anchor on a small tree above the Skywalk, use at your discretion. For the Skywalk, a rappel from the tree is 35-40M. From the fixed anchor (assuming it is replaced) – likely 30M. We used two 40M ropes. For Chuter Buck, a 40M rappel from the first anchor will bypass both crux cliffs with little room to spare. A second anchor is located on the snowfield separating the two cliffs on skier’s left. Many websites suggest bringing a 30M rope and down-climbing the snow between cliffs. Each cliff individually is quite small.
OTHER: Crampons and a light axe could help down-climbing in Chuter Buck, as the first anchor is located within inches of the first cliff’s edge. Same goes for the fixed anchor in the Skywalk Couloir. Both lines have significant overhead rockfall danger – helmets!!
I hope you enjoyed this article. As always, I would like to give a huge thank you to my supporters, Icelantic Skis and Chasing Paradise. Need some new sticks capable of climbing and skiing anything your wild little mind can imagine? Head on over to icelanticskis.com and check out the Natural 101, my tried and true ski mountaineering katana.
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Mountains are dangerous. Skiing them is more dangerous. Can’t we just admire those beautiful peaks from the parking lot? With binoculars and a lime Lacroix? Hmm… Nevertheless, mountain conditions change regularly, and the information in this article is only accurate as it pertains to the titled date. This article is written strictly for informational purposes only. Should you decide to attempt anything you read about in this article, you are doing so at your own risk!