Monday, May 16, 2011

North Face of Buck Mountain

On Saturday, Brother Sam and I, backed up by Sister Anne, joined Brian Harder for a climb up Buck Mountain via the Newc Couloir and the summit ridge, and then a "ski" down via the Bubble Fun Couloir.

Buck Mountain .Newc Couloir on right side.  Bubble Fun Couloir on the left.   Photo Credit: SummitPost
Buck Mountain stands about 12,000 ft tall in the southern Tetons.  There are three prominent lines off "Bucky's" north face--the Bubble Fun Couloir, the Newc Couloir, and the North Couloir.  Brian wanted to ski all of them, and that's what we set out to do.  As usual, and in accordance with my M.O. of this spring, we tried to bite off a bit more than we could chew.  Still, we had a fun adventure, one that I'll not forget.

A Newc

L to R: Brian, me, Rod Newcomb,
Bob McLaurin, Sam
The Newc Couloir is named after Mark Newcomb who, I guess, made the first ski descent.  After running over a deer, puncturing a tire, and making a tire pit stop in Evanston at 10 p.m., Sam, Anne, and I rolled into the Taggart trailhead at 1:30 a.m.  Sam and Anne put up a tent in the parking lot, and I crashed in the front seat of the car.  I awoke to Brian's voice and the smell of singed deer guts at 3:00 a.m.  Shortly after that, an older model brown Mazda truck rolled into the parking lot.  It was Rod Newcomb, father of Mark Newcomb, and an icon in Teton mountaineering.  Like us, he was going skiing at 3 a.m. in the morning. Unlike us, he was 78 years old.  All the years of experience in that one man is quite astounding.  I'm sure he thought I was a doofus when I asked him if I could have my picture with him.  But he obliged, reluctantly.  "Guess I don't have a choice," he said.

Teton Sunrise
A Bear Booter
Going without sleep, stumbling around in the mountains in isothermic snow, crossing over a lake like Bradley Lake on thin ice, and coming across fresh bear tracks aren't on my list of reasons to get up early to ski.  Seeing the sun come up, however, is.  Seeing the sun light up the objective--Bucky's north face--also is.

Skinning up Avalanche Canyon at first light.  Photo: Sam Inouye

Bubble Fun on the left, Newc on the right.
To the Top
Man Booter up the Newc
Going into our project, we knew that the snow conditions would be a big factor in our success, or failure.  This year, the Tetons have had over 600 inches of snow.  April came and went without a period of high pressure.  Last week, a new foot or so fell.  On our approach, we crossed multiple wet debris piles.  What would it be like up higher, we wondered?  

At about 10,000 ft., we encountered winter-ish conditions.  Bucky's sheltered north face had protected the snow, and booting conditions became firmer.  We appreciated this since we set up a 3,000+ vertical foot booter up the Newc.  With crampons, we kicked steps, and traded pulls.  As we did, fog and clouds rolled in and out.  

As we went higher, the Tetons to the north came into view, including the South and the Grand.  

Endless options!
As we climbed to the top of the Newc, the slope became less sheltered, and we climbed into the sun and onto some steep wet snow.  Each of us brought 1 ice tool.  We plunged them deep as we tentatively made our way over the wet steepness, finally gaining the summit ridge.

Sam topping out on the Newc.
 The expression on Brian's face says a lot.

As Brian crested, I pointed at the foreboding west ridge and said, "Brian, the ridge is full-on; I think we might be hosed."  Sam simply said, "I'm not climbing that."  Brian reasoned that our stance portrayed our desired route in the worst light possible, and urged us forward, and so forward we went, up the ridge.  As I worked up the ridge, I gave myself a pep talk: the guidebook says that this in only 5.7 . . . Because the snow was rotten, and in no way afforded any measure of security on the exposed ridge, I chiseled away ice and snow to find good holds.  Luckily, the holds revealed themselves.  And soon, we were standing on top of Buck Mountain.

Good hands?  Brian and Sam traversing to the summit of Buck Mountain.
Bubble What?
So, who named the "Bubble Fun Couloir"?  Seriously.  Perhaps the name-giver was demented.  Or perhaps the name-giver employed the same strategy we employed in calling Buck Mountain "Bucky."  Using a more endearing or comical label somehow made the otherwise scary mountain a little more palatable, more friendly.  I have to admit though, as I dropped into the Bubble Fun Couloir, I wasn't feeling the love.  At the top, there was a thin layer of slop over a firmer layer.  Luckily, it got better as we descended.  And it was steep!  Added to the "fun" was the fact that the chute terminates at the precipice of a 200+ foot drop.  Completely undeserving of the name "Bubble Fun," completely.

Brian Harder descends the Bubble Fun.
Our Crude Anchor
Me and Brian downclimbing to a rap station. 
I was scratching around, looking for a crack.  We were a bit nervous because the sun was starting to heat up the Bubble Fun headwall.  Small chunks were zinging past.  "Hey Brian, where are the pins?"

Brian was scratching around, looking for a crack.  "You have them."

"No, I don't."

We both looked at each other.  And then Brian said some things that I cannot repeat on my blog.

I had a rack of pins, but I left them in the car, thinking for some reason that Brian had a rack.  As it turned out, he didn't.  Fortunately, he had a rack of nuts and I had two Pecker Pitons.  And fortunately, after significant foraging in the snow, we found some placements.  We put in two nuts, and drove a Pecker in sideways.  And then we rapped off two nuts and a Pecker.  Sorry, very crude--in a number of ways.

I take the blame for the questionable rigging.  In hindsight, I should have used a double fisherman's to join to cordelette ends, and we should have put a figure 8 in the cordelette to prevent shock loading if a placement failed.  But, it had been a stressful few moments, and we were anxious to get out of there.  Brian committed first, and informed us that cliff was exactly 200 ft. and that our cords reached, just barely.

Time to Go.
Our adventure in the Bubble Fun took too much time.  While we ascended the Newc in less than 1 hr 30 min., the climb up the summit ridge and setting up our rap took more time than anticipated. By the time we were at the bottom of the Bubble Fun, it was 11:00 or so.  Temperatures were climbing, and we reluctantly skied past our booter up the Newc, descended to the bottom of Avalanche Canyon, and skied out.

Bradley Lake with the Grand barely visible through the clouds.


Adam said...

'And then Brian said some things that I cannot repeat on my blog.' - I think we've all been there before!

Nice work getting Bubble Fun done. It is a man's ski, although as soon as I hear about a woman doing it (off two nuts and a Pecker?), I'll be sure to update my thinking to: It is a unisex ski.

brian p. harder said...

Yeah, I wasn't sure if my "equipment" was up to the task as I approached the precipice with skis on. Very unnerving.

The anchor is there now for those to follow. Get it while you can. The skiing in the middle is actually pretty chill, if not a bit steep. Just don't fall!

Thanks, Jared and Sam, for signing up for the madness.