The West Hourglass Couloir begins at 11,400 feet on the West Ridge of Nez Perce, averaging about 1,000 feet of 40 degree fall-line couloir skiing with a 50 degree crux, and an even longer runout. In full, the line is quite simply 2,200 feet of Teton bliss, an absolute classic Teton powder descent.
The snow on GTNP North faces has been encouraging of late – right side up – so before the incoming mega-wet-gnar-storm I was encouraged to break out of work early and investigate Garnet Canyon rando-style. This winter has been one for the ice tools and less the skis, but tides are changing. My sights were set to the West Hourglass Couloir, last of the major Nez Perce couloirs I had yet to ski in full. I’d attempted the line twice in later season conditions, and turned away both times in the face of significant wind scouring and exposed rock. Perhaps the crux of the West Glass has little to do with skiing, but rather, finding the wind exposed chute in good condition. Garnet is a wind tunnel like few others, and the West Glass is the forefront of the pounding.
I left Bradley-Taggart trailhead just shy of 11:00AM. Good reggae vibrations from Kabaka Pyramid and company kept me flowing to the Meadows without a stop – total elapsed time: 1 hour, 59 minutes. I wasn’t trying to race per se’, but I am building spring fitness, and actually had to return to work in Teton Valley that evening. The lonely skin track I followed to the Meadows forked right for the Red Sentinel, so after a quick Range Bar nibble I began cutting a track up the apron of the West Hourglass. Though the couloir itself is only about 1,000 feet, a monster runout maintains a slope angle of 35-ish degrees and when added to it’s counterpart above, forms a 2,200 foot line of inspiring proportions, and tiring climbing.
I bisected an atypical skin track coming in from the west a few hundred feet into my journey, and caught a party of two at the convergence of the West and East Hourglass Couloirs. They had just skied the East Glass in “pretty good” conditions. Though I was eager for a full solo day I quickly adapted and embraced collaboration on the 1,000 foot boot-pack above. The snow in the couloir itself morphed from boot-deep to wallowing, with the occasional wind buff, absent of slab formation. We moved quickly as a team of three, topping out at 2:30PM – total elapsed time: 3 hours, 30 minutes.
From the top of the couloir I tried to scout a reasonable summit line – not for this day, but with future missions in mind. Nothing made too much sense on the towering 500 foot granite castle above, but I took plenty of photos for back-end research. The snow in the couloir was stellar, and remarkably absent of wind affect, even on the uppermost exposed ramp. Watching these two gentlemen rip aggressively, while I hung out on the western flank shooting pictures, inspired yet another expedient steep descent – a style foreign to me. Typically you can find my skis peacefully jump-turning no matter the conditions, but recently, encouraged by confident friends, I’ve been leaning into my power straps a little more. In three fluid pulls we enjoyed picturesque powder all the way to the meadows, hoots and hollers abound. Popping over the 50 degree crux ramp with a neck-swallowing face shot will go down as one of my finest Teton couloir memories, and serve as inspiration for further mid-winter days to come – total elapsed time: 4 hours, 30 minutes, “car to car”.
I suspect the only reason we don’t hear more about the West Hourglass is it’s close proximity to other classics in the range. It’s timeless – steep and consistent, aesthetic from close and far, with an interesting summit that once again boasts world class Teton views. Combined with the Sliver, East Glass and West Glass it forms one-third of the Nez Perce trifecta, a link-up I aspire to one day, yet serves as a worthy objective in it’s own with a relatively short approach and 5,200 feet of vertical relief.
For myself, I think I’m finally starting to catch my ski legs, though I still feel a smidge behind previous years’ mid-March fitness. Hopefully the snow continues to fall right-side-up and bigger alpine days can continue, lest I return to endless Teton Pass laps for cardio maintenance.
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Ski mountaineering, rock climbing, ice climbing and all other forms of mountain recreation are inherently dangerous. Should you decide to attempt anything you read about in this article, you are doing so at your own risk! This article is written to the best possible level of accuracy and detail, but I am only human – information could be presented wrong. Furthermore, conditions in the mountains are subject to change at any time. Ten Thousand Too Far and Brandon Wanthal are not liable for any actions or repercussions acted upon or suffered from the result of this article’s reading
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