Transcendence – Northeast Snowfields – Mount Owen – GTNP, WY (05.12.23)

Mount Owen’s Northeast Snowfields are a coveted and seminal tick for Teton ski mountaineers – a serious, exposed and committing 2,500 foot descent requiring at least one rappel – a line I’ve chased for years, and finally had the chance to bag with Vinny Gwinn on May 12th, 2023.

Our line on the Northeast Snowfields of Mount Owen. Other variations exist.

It would be hard not to ramble ad libitum about the Northeast Snowfields. Viewed from South Jenny Lake, the striking northeast face of Mount Owen stands as one of the most visually impressive and equally intimidating ski descents in the range. Beginning from just below the summit block, a ski descent involves connecting a myriad of snow patches while weaving between and above cliffs galore – a puzzle of sorts. The optimal descent via the traditional route will require only one double rope rappel, through a 200 foot cliff reached after skiing 1,000 feet of 40 to 50+ degree “no-fall” terrain. More rappels have been needed on the lower snowfields in low snow yeas, but are commonly “ski through” as they were for us. As a rising Teton ski mountaineer accustomed to steep couloir skiing, the Northeast Snowfields represented a quantum leap into technical big mountain face skiing that requires far more than the ability to stick a jump turn above exposure. Route finding, terrain awareness, anchor building proficiency and team efficiency were tested on May 12th, 2023, when Vinny Gwinn and I made our respective first descents on a line I’ve been building towards, and chasing, for many years.

After a wacky weathered May which brought a major week-long thaw and subsequent super freeze, followed by a pulse of mini-spring storms, we weren’t really sure what to expect on the Northeast Snowfields. Given the route’s aspect and high elevation we were hoping for preserved and well adhered May powder, but were equally prepared for everything from “dust on crust” to corn. Northeast aspects receive first light this time of year, and with a partial sun forecast and alpine high temperatures in excess of 30 degrees an early start was imperative. We departed from the Jenny Lake boat dock turnout at 2:50AM and gained Glacial Gulch via the Garnet Canyon summer trail and traditional traverse from Surprise Pinnacle. Following old GPX tracks our travel was efficient, and by sunrise we were breaking trail up the always impressive Teton Glacier. On this warm spring morning wildlife was abundant, reminding us that ski season is indeed coming to a close. Mammalian sightings included a pre-dawn family of three black bears – two cubs in a tree and mother at the base, a weasel faffing around the boulders at Delta Lake and the songs of ample birds awaking for another beautiful May Day… wait, birds are avians.

By 7:15AM we were front pointing up a bullet-hard Koven Couloir, enjoying an expedient climb to Owen’s east ridge. At the Koven Col the snow turned slightly less consolidated, and the sun, which had been hiding behind a thin veil of clouds all morning, decided to poke through. We followed the tracks of a solo climber through the tight notch on the east ridge, conversed with the man briefly as he descended past us on the Briggs-Boomer Route towards the Diagonal Couloir, and made our way to the top of the Northeast Snowfields by 9:30AM. Sadly, there is no efficient winter route to the 12,927 foot summit of Owen from the northeast, and traditional ski descents of the Northeast Snowfields simply begin where snow meets rock, about 12,550 feet.

Half a Range Meal Bar will get you up the Koven Couloir
The first turn of many

The northeast aspect of Mount Owen is complex, providing a lot more variables then your typical plug-and-chug Teton couloir ski descent. Though the face in general faces northeast, skier’s right faces nearly due north, and skier’s left pure east, if not slightly southeast. In this gargantuan amphitheater of cliffs and spires, nearly 800 feet wide, hang-fire potential is abundant, though the fall-line is relatively well defined, funneling through the crux 200 foot cliff and a 30 foot wide ski-through constriction just beneath. With faces just beginning to receive unfiltered sun we stuck well skier’s right, avoiding the debris in the central face and enjoying 10-14 inches of supportable medium-density May powder. Vinny took the first pitch off the top, which provides the steepest turns, eventually cutting left through the first major cliff band and hooking back right. I leapfrogged through for the second pitch, dancing far right into vigilante terrain, some of the most magical and airy jump turns of my life, arcing back left into the main face and eventually back right onto a well defined rib with a good island of safety. We regrouped here, 150 feet above the crux, and briefly discussed anchor location before I, as the piton bearer, crept my way towards the edge.

Vinny commits to the Northeast Snowfields
Vinny eyes the meat of the upper snowfield

The jump turns above the crux were tactical and precise, as the powder had receded to a few damp inches on a rough crust. I skied to within 30 feet of the cliff edge and began poking around the exposed rock looking for fixed anchors. The sun near the rocks was particularly warm and fearing the dreaded summer glide avalanche I resisted creeping any lower for further investigation. After extensive ice and moss excavation I cleaned an anemic horizontal crack system worthy of one stellar knife blade, one half-hilt knife blade, a dicy BD #1 aid nut and a directionally dependent but well-placed medium stopper. All together the four piece anchor gave me something resemblant of comfort but took nearly 45 minutes to manifest, valuable time on a face prone to warming. On rappel a slow D1.5 natural wet avalanche released from the Great Yellow Tower area, pouring through the fall line crux with ferocity and though plenty far away, was a sobering sign that we were past our welcome, and it was time to go home.

When two pieces are marginal, better place four
The author rappelling the main crux of Mount Owen’s Northeast Snowfields

After coiling ropes we dispatched the lower two snowfields Targhee style, leapfrogging dynamically and skiing faster than I ever have on a face so large. We bypassed the second crux between the second and third snowfields via a narrow traverse skier’s left, and enjoyed stellar corn into the glacier underpinning the Owen-Teewinot Cirque. Many hoots and hollers were enjoyed as we arced wide turns on a beautifully smooth snow surface to a lovely rock island at 9,800 feet – a brilliant place to pop off the packs and skis, eat a sandwich and revel in one the finest experiences I have ever had in the Teton Range, in one of the coolest places in the Teton Range.

Enjoying the view and remembering a Northeast Snowfields well skied from Cascade Canyon
Our tracks on the upper snowfield, leading to the rappel.

In typical late-spring Teton fashion our day deteriorated quickly upon canyon bottom. Cascade Creek was fully melted, requiring shin deep fording which Vinny dispatched barefooted and I attempted in ski boots wrapped with dry bags – leaving me with wet toes. Several ski-hike-ski changeovers brought us to Jenny Lake, where we walked 2.5 miles through overambitious tourist postholes and puddly summer trail to our rig at the boat dock. All said, the day wrapped up in the vicinity of 14 miles and 7,000 feet of vertical gain, dehydration headaches included.

Ski a little, walk a little

Final Thoughts

Skiing the Northeast Snowfields was a transcendent experience. For five years I’ve had the iconic descent on a pedestal, something I longed so deeply for yet needed to respect, and build towards. I attempted the beast nearly one month earlier, retreating from the top of the line as foul weather moved in. That day I remember questioning whether we could’ve skied, whether we really needed to bail because of low visibility and a little wind. With 20/20 hindsight I can now say for certain the Northeast Snowfields demand optimal conditions, and a first descent amidst a whiteout would be ill-advised. Weaving the cliffs might look simple on paper, but in person the puzzle becomes more convoluted, a pinch harder to decipher. Our inability to find a fixed anchor makes me assume it was lower and covered in snow, highlighting the necessity of self sufficiency. If someone is to stumble upon our anchor it’s worth noting that some of the gear placements are marginal and could benefit from reinforcement or replacement, though that could be said about many of the popular anchors across the Teton Range. All in all, the Northeast Snowfields was a tremendous benchmark experience for this young ski-mountaineer. Making rhythmic jump turns while weaving the terraced cliffs on one of the most commanding north faces of North America is an experience I am not soon to forget, and one I feel especially grateful to have experienced with a partner as grateful, and talented, as Vinny.

The Cathedral Group, and Northeast Snowfields of Mount Owen from South Jenny Lake

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 photography 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.

3 thoughts on “Transcendence – Northeast Snowfields – Mount Owen – GTNP, WY (05.12.23)

Add yours

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: