Solo in Quartzite Canyon – North Face Couloir, Peak 10,686 – GTNP, WY (04.22.23)

The North Face of Peak 10,686 is home to one of the most striking ski mountaineering lines north of Mount Moran. A beautiful, meditative, solo day in the north end.

After a week of intermittent storms I was eager to venture north while Jackson Lake remained frozen. With partners sucked into core range objectives I decided to go rogue – solo – as I often do. High winds with Friday’s precipitation tilted my sights down from the high-country and towards an adventurous day on a new-to-me peak. Peak 10,686, also known as Barechester Mountain, is the furthest east peak sandwiched between Waterfalls and Quartzite Canyons. With a variety of skiable terrain on every aspect, I figured it was a safe and versatile objective amidst an uncertain snowpack, and weather forecast that promised everything from sun to light snow. 3:00AM alarm, 3:30AM out the door, 5:30AM Colter Bay arrival, 16 ounces of dark coffee, peanut butter banana toast and two fried eggs – on skis by 6:00AM.

Dawn on Peak 10686 from the near shore of Jackson Lake

Jackson Lake was still a frozen brick, and with a light surface dusting of snow the three mile trans-lake traverse was trivial. Without any information on 10,686, let alone a skin track, I chose the looker’s right NE ridge to climb. Line of sight tactics saw me up 3,200 feet of relatively steep dust on crust, for which I was especially grateful to ski crampons. At the first apex of the NE ridge the snow became deeper, more wind affected, and relented to a narrower fin feature, so I switched to boots. A pleasant flat walk along a corniced ridge brought me to the confluence of the upper East Face and Lower North Couloir, where I was greeted by a blazing sun for the first time that day. In an instant the solar faces heated to dangerous temperatures, and I quickly rage booted the final 500 feet before entraining a complimentary snow shuttle to the lake shore. Summit – 9:30AM.

The East Face and summit of Peak 10,686 from the NE ridge

Wispy clouds rolled in and cut the heat, buying me time as I paced circles on the summit block pondering a path of descent. The snow on east and south aspects had gotten too warm. To the west was a third class ridge with a definite, yet uneventful escape to lower angle north facing terrain – I wanted more. The only other viable option was the shaded north face, on which I knew of one ski-through line and at least three doppelgänger chutes that ended in serious cliffs. I couldn’t spot the spot the route from above, so I pulled a trick from Who Want’s To Be A Millionaire and phoned a friend. Reed Finlay, the only other person I know that has skied this line, sent me a few photos and assured he was “almost positive” that the crux, a 50+ degree rollover into a narrow slot, would be in. Armed with new confidence I clicked in and sampled the goods.

Peak 10,880 and Eagles Rest Peak from the south, with the upper half of the Black Hole Couloir on the right
Looking into the North Face from the summit of 10,686

I managed a difficult rocky entry to the North Face, circumnavigating a mild cornice and ski-cutting the hell out of a patch of textured snow I believed could’ve been a windslab. New slab formation was minimal, and any loaded pockets seemed to be stiff, un-reactive and from the heavier snowfall earlier in the week. Unpredictable density changes between layers old and new kept things slow and controlled on the face, but generally enjoyable skiing was savored, tainted only slightly by fear that the lower crux would be scraped bare. Sure enough, after 500 some feet I was able to confirm my exit – all snow, good to go. The scenery in this choke was reminiscent of the Black Hole Couloir on Eagles Rest Peak, just jacked up another 10 degrees. I cautiously sloughed out the new snow before enjoying a brilliant sequence of technical 50 degree jump turns towards the lower apron. Soft and fluffy relented to wind smacked and manky as soon as the couloir receded, and by the time I hit Quartzite Creek my legs were 5.13 pumped and eager for a snack. Another second tier wish-list tick in the bag, and I must say the tracks looked beautiful.

The crux rollover – It’s in!
My tracks in the North Face Couloir of Peak 10,686

Typically I would end the trip report here, except the exit from Quartzite Canyon was anything but uneventful. The belly topography in this canyon might be more dramatic than any I’ve seen in the Tetons. I was forced skier’s left to avoid many rungs of serious cliffs, and still got sucked into wet-slidey, rocky, open-waterfall territory from not diving south earlier. The creek bottom was a tumultuous billy-goat session through the heinous jungle brush that characterizes the northern range, and looking back on my tracks it seems the safest exit would be even further skier’s left on the far north wall, with a potential traverse to the east slopes of Peak 10,333. An exit on the shady south wall might be possible, but from my angle looked quite dicy. Last but not least, I spotted quite a few proud smears of sun baked ice on the north wall of 10,333. There might be some early season mixed climbs awaiting a first ascent – who’s tryna make plans for November?


Six miles of flat lake skinning, 4000 feet of vert, plenty of additional climbing and descent miles. For me, 6.5 hours car to car at a modest pace, with a slight loss of bearings upon lake return. The North Face Couloir is a line best attempted in only the most stable conditions, after a season of generous snowfall, with a firm understanding of the exact exit location. Many doppelgänger lines are waiting to devour a mistake, however, this is perhaps the finest steep ski mountaineering line north of Mount Moran and therefor, worthy of more attention.

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?

Errors? Typos? Leave a comment below or send an email to

If you would like to support Ten Thousand Too Far, consider subscribing below and/or leaving a donation here. The hours spent writing these blogs is fueled solely and happily by passion, but if you use this site to plan or inspire your own epic adventure, consider kicking in. A couple bucks goes a long way in the cold world of adventure blogging. I also love to hear your thoughts, so don’t leave without dropping a comment! Thanks for the love. 

Follow my work at

enter your email to subscribe

Join 39 other followers

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: