On April 24th Reed and I got denied in Mount Wister’s Chockstone Couloir, more commonly known as the Northwest Couloir, attempting a top-down ski descent. Useful for the next descentionist?
I prefer Chockstone Couloir over Northwest Couloir, as the line really faces due north, and features a massive chockstone feature at the bottom requiring a short rappel, downclimb or ambitious huck. I’ve skied below the couloir many times and to be perfectly honest, it’s never called to me as a ski descent. The twisting and narrow nature of the couloir makes scouting from below difficult, and the northerly aspect, with a large west face above, makes for a perfect wind slab petri dish with typical southwesterly Teton winds. There are two established tactics for skiing the couloir. Ground up is perhaps most common, though because the initial chockstone is notoriously difficult to surmount, ascending parties might get stoned at the stone. Top down descents require mandatory rope work but a more guaranteed entry – at least we thought – and was our modus operandi du jour. Because this elusive line rarely comes into skiable shape, few descents have been made and public information is few and far between, so we prepared for the worst with extra anchoring material and a positive mindset.
After climbing 25 Short and skiing the Turkey Chute, we made our way up the North Fork of Avalanche Canyon to Lake Taminah and eventually the North Vieled-Wister cirque. From below the route looked questionable at best, but today we leaned towards optimism. A cool breeze despite sunny skies kept the alpine cold, and there was no rush as we climbed Wister’s west snowfields to the top of the couloir. Faced with a loose rocky entry and an unknown amount of cliffs below, we busted out the cord and began digging for anchors to no avail. Perplexed but equally determined, we built a pair of anchors for two 30M rappels, one into the top of the couloir and the second through a steep 30 foot chimney we hoped to be the final obstacle barring continuous snow. Luckily Reed had the presence of mind to leave the rope rigged after our second rappel, as we found punchy wind loaded snow below the second rappel, and two additional short cliffs that probably warranted rope-work. Faced with dwindling daylight and anchor material our descent began looking a little more like canyoneering than skiing, more survivalistic than fun, and the correct choice shone clear – time to reascend.
Utilizing our fixed line we top roped the chimney at 5.7 A0, knee smears, rope tugs and all, and scrambled the first rappel pitch cordless. We retraced our approach and enjoyed 1,000 feet of boot-deep chalky powder accompanied by sunset alpenglow on Veiled Peak, The Wall and the South Teton – likely the last powder of the season. 4,000 more feet of refrozen punch crust followed in the north fork, but we won’t waste time talking about that. As for the Chockstone Couloir… I don’t know. Perhaps on an uber year this could be a desirable top-down ski descent, when the several small rock bands below the chimney are filled in – and I guess ground-up could be cool, if walking six miles for a 600 foot descent is your cup of tea. For me, I’m moving into the corn hunting zone, trying to prioritize the last few ski adventures before rock season – fortunately, there’s still plenty of snow to be had.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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 photography at @brandon.wanthal.photography
enter your email to subscribe
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.
It sounds like you had quite the adventure climbing and skiing in Avalanche Canyon! Your description of the climb up Wister’s west snowfields and the challenges you faced, including the loose rocky entry and the unknown amount of cliffs below, is both exciting and terrifying.
It’s great that you and your team were able to remain optimistic despite the questionable route and challenges ahead. Your resourcefulness in building anchors for two 30M rappels is impressive, and it’s fortunate that Reed had the presence of mind to leave the rope rigged after the second rappel.
It’s understandable that your descent began to look more like canyoneering than skiing as you faced dwindling daylight and anchor material. Making the correct choice to reascend was a wise decision, and safety should always come first in these situations.
Overall, it sounds like you had an incredible adventure filled with challenges and triumphs.
Thank you for sharing your experience with us and greetings from Greece!
It was quite the adventure! Thanks for the kind words – I’m happy you enjoy 😊
LikeLiked by 1 person