Chasing Winter in the Black Hole Couloir – Eagles Rest Peak – GTNP, WY (04.08.23)

The Black Hole Couloir is a 2,500 foot snake-like, and quite narrow, couloir on the north aspect of Eagles Rest Peak in Waterfalls Canyon. A long approach is rewarded with a truly unique Teton descent. Bonus recon shots of Darkness Falls.

I woke up unnecessarily early for this mission, 2:31AM to be exact, and payed in sleepless fatigue on the approach. My original plan involved multiple peaks in Garnet Canyon and a heavy pack filled with ropes and sharps, but something about 27 degree valley temperatures, wind and light snow put me off. I’ve been trying to trust my gut more lately, and something just wasn’t right. I made quick audible and blasted north to Colter Bay, figuring this could be one of my last chances to cross Jackson Lake for the season. I halved the load on my back, dropping most technical gear, and set out at 5:30AM for Waterfalls Canyon, Eagles Rest Peak and a unique line I’ve fancied for some time, the Black Hole Couloir.

Looking back across Jackson Lake at dawn

Rolling solo has been the modus operandi of late. Schedules with partners haven’t aligned and quite frankly, I’m still looking for consistent and motivated people. The three mile lake crossing to Waterfalls Canyon actually passed in a relative whisp, and by 6:30AM I was on the opposite shore of Jackson Lake stashing some gear. I contoured the north wall of Waterfalls Canyon to avoid the tremendous thicket in the drainage bottom and was pleasantly surprised to see south facing aspects receiving the first true freeze-thaw treatment of 2023. With sluggish legs I reached the first headwall of Waterfalls home to Darkness Falls, one of the Teton’s finest and steepest waterfall ice climbs, as well as the Darkness Couloir (ice climb) and the Black Hole Couloir.

Darkness Falls and Peak 10,696 from the Black Hole apron

I began climbing the apron of the Black Hole around 8:00AM, and switched to boots at the first constriction. The lower couloir had avalanched the day before leaving a bed surface of breakable crust and debris, with a few strips of fresh snow on the sheltered eastern wall. I felt every step of the lengthy approach and sleep deprivation while busting a staircase through knee deep snow, and traversed all over the line to find the most supportable patches of debris. Above the main constriction of the couloir, approximately 9,500 feet, the rubble finally subsided and light, sheltered powder was found. Although the sun cut through pockets of clouds with ferocity, the entire 1,000 feet of upper couloir was preserved by ridge-top winds in excess of 20mph – a welcomed reprieve from the heat of the day, and reward for climbing some 2,000 feet of junk to get there.

Looking down the crux constriction of the couloir, rife with debris.

I topped out the Black Hole around 11:00AM, stashed skis and scrambled some easy rock to a highpoint of Peak 10,492 above, a north subset of Eagles Rest Peak. By now a new storm system was pushing in from the west, and warming snow was the least of my concerns. I enjoyed a brief meditation on the ridge, reflecting on my late father’s birthday, and my six year sobriety date, both of which fell on this day – April 8th. In somewhat of a fitting manner a light fog drew in, obscuring this moment from the lens and preserving it for I and I alone.

I chose to ski from the top of the couloir rather than the highpoint above to save my bases from a slope of lightly covered scree. The first pull was difficult punch crust with a reactive two inch wind skin on top, but quickly relented to consolidated boot deep powder. High speed turns reminiscent of February were enjoyed on the right side of the couloir until large cliffs forced me back towards the crux constriction. From here, 2,000 feet of drudgery, with few moments of brilliance, led to the canyon floor. 45 degree jump turns on re-frozen debris is a skill I’ve still yet to master, but the pure scenic beauty of the winding, snake-like, almost tunnel-esque lower couloir was enough to keep me satiated – bonus corn on the lower apron as the sundae cherry – a true mixed bag. Originally I’d toyed with the idea of a link-up with Peak 10,696 or 10,880, but by the time I reached the canyon floor conditions were getting dangerously warm – time to head home for nourishment, reflection and regeneration.

Looking down from the top of the Black Hole
Panoramic views of 10,880 (left), Eagles Rest Peak (center) and the Black Hole Couloir (right) from the road.
A close up of the Black Hole Couloir from the road.

A Few Notes

All in all the Black Hole Couloir provided a worthy adventure ski in a wild setting. Though the line itself is generally north facing, there is plenty of east facing terrain hanging above to cause problems on warm days, and the crux constriction is narrow enough, and long enough, to be taken seriously. Both lucky and unlucky for me, the lower half of the line had flushed the day before – lucky because I had little concern over avalanches, unlucky because the majority of my descent got desecrated. Perhaps the best time to ski the Black Hole is in stable, cold, mid-winter conditions. A full powder descent would be a special experience. I am continually impressed by the variety of terrain north of Mount Moran, and how geologically different it is than the core range. My mind currently swirls with thoughts of one more late season north-end venture. Powder in the Sickle? Corn on 10,880? Thor West Gully?Inspirations abound. Happy skiing.

Ten Thousand Too Far is generously supported by Icelantic Skis from Golden Colorado, Barrels & Bins Natural Market in Driggs Idaho, Range Meal Bars from Bozeman Montana and Black Diamond Equipment. Give these guys some business – who doesn’t need great skis, gear and wholesome food?

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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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