MORE MAY POWDER – Spalding Peak North Snowfield – GTNP, WY (05.14.23)

The North Snowfield of Spalding Peak is yet another “steeper than it looks” and overlooked line in the South Fork of Garnet Canyon, complete with a unique summit, and on May 14th was the bearer of rarefied May powder. Skiing from just below 12,240 feet, this line could possibly be the mellowest descent from 12,000 feet in Grand Teton National Park.

Welp, I was the only skier in Garnet Canyon Sunday. Two days after skiing the Northeast Snowfields on Mount Owen I remained drunk on May powder, void of partners and Sunday morning plans, and figured there just might be some soft snow left high in the Tetons. Usually I am quick to embrace corn season, but this year’s motto has been eternal pow. Access to Garnet Canyon has become quite taxing, with the switchbacks half melted requiring lots of ski-walk-ski transitions. However, brave the mushy lowers and one will be rewarded with a deep alpine snowpack ready for primetime skiing.

North Snowfields of Spalding Peak. Gilkey Tower rises high right and this year cannot be descended on skis.

After finding my super-duper secret intended objective out of condition, and no sun to warm my back-up-plan Chouinard Couloir, I decided to poke around the upper South Fork and salvage some scenic pow. I had never climbed Spalding Peak, a relatively benign hump along the Cloudveil/South Teton Ridge with a mere 47 feet of prominence, and thought today might as well be the day. Diving due north from Spalding is an 1,100 foot couloir-ish snowfield that usually terminates in impassible windblown talus, but held enough snow between the polka dots for a ski through descent. The view from the summit ridge was stunning, tainted only the slightest smidge by the fact I was unable to gain the true summit because of an icy body-height fifth class chimney with poor footholds and 2,000 feet of exposure. Had I chosen the climber’s right fork of the Y-shaped ascent snowfield that cups the apartment sized summit pyramid I think I could’ve walked up the West Ridge, but the East Ridge held more snow and after all, I came here to ski. I begrudgingly high-fived the 12,240 foot summit from the lip of the chimney (literally), down-climbed to my skis and began my descent beneath bluebird skies.

Looking down the North Snowfield with the Middle Teton, Grand Teton and Teewinot Mountain across the way (left to right)
View east down the Cloudveil Ridge
Direct exposure on the final summit chimney
Spalding Peak summit selfie!

Welp, once again I SCORED! 1,100 feet of chalky variable pow – in May – am I dreaming? I was surprised by the steepness and exposure of the first few turns, flirting 50 degrees and perched above some spicy rocks, but the ski quickly relented to what I signed up for – a consistent 40 degree fall-line with sprawling views of Teton Valley to the west, the Middle and Grand Tetons dead center and the flatlands of Grand Teton National Park to the east. Though far from a destination line, this little beauty provides access to a unique nook of the park with marvelous views, and if skied from the col between Spalding and Gilkey Tower could be the most moderate ski descent from 12,000 feet in Grand Teton National Park. As it turns out, summer in the high alpine might be a little behind schedule this year.

The Chouinard and Ellingwood Couloirs on the Middle Teton

(and yes, the ski out from below 10,000 feet was horrendous)

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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