Effort: Climbing and skiing the Middle Teton’s glacier route in August

Comments by Brody Leven/

Photos by Lindsay Albrecht — helmet cam shot by Brody Leven

Unaware of how commonly backcountry skiers count their Aspen Extreme wiggle turns, “How many turns did ya git?” surprised me as the most frequent question while hiking to the Middle Teton. “Oh, ya gon’ skiin’?” was even more unexpected, considering I was hiking a trail, which lead to a glacier, with my skis and ski boots strapped to my pack. Even if it was 80 degrees and everyone else in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park was wearing shorts, I really thought skis were a giveaway that I was, indeed, planning to ski.

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We slept in the trunk of the car at the trailhead and awoke every half hour as climbers’ headlamps passed, starting at midnight. Our 4:38 a.m. wakeup didn’t beg for breakfast, and we watched the sun rise from 2,000 feet above the valley floor. Four hours and 5,000 vertical later, at the toe of the glacier, uncomfortable ski boots reminded my feet of the wintertime misery a skier’s foot endures, as I was swiftly forced to remember how to jump over bottomless crevasses without tripping on the points of my crampons.

The couloir steepened and I wished for waterproof gloves and something other than a tank top. In my car sat warm gloves and in my backpack was my jacket, but in this terrain it was more dangerous to retrieve than to forego. The top of the glacier neared, my breathing became heavier, “I’d rather be barbequing at a pool” repeated in my head, and suddenly there was no more snow to climb. Pulling my soaked gloves off, my frozen hands clumsily found their way into my trail socks and then between my squeezed legs as I bent at the waist and bounced at the ankles, screaming between clenched teeth. This style of discomfort isn’t supposed to happen in August.

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Stats in 11:

1 hiking buddy
2 hours climbing on glacier
3 ice axe implements
4 close encounters with falling rocks
5 bites of food
6 round-trip hours to run the Grand Teton the day before
7 crevasses crossed on skis
8 one-way miles to base of glacier
9 minutes of actual skiing
10 consecutive months of skiing
11 hours hiking

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The skiing was a blender of jump turns and splash turns, slough avoidance and crevasse avoidance, steep ice, deep slush and water runoffs. Slashing the water runnels and running into the rocky moraine at the bottom, I laughed at the thought that eight miles still separated me from the car.

Heinous skiing on the Middle Teton’s glacier route in August. From Brody Leven on Vimeo.