Pinnacle Butte, WY
January 11, 2015 (Happy Birthday Mom!)
Being a Sunday, we figured skiing in Grand Teton National Park might be a little crowded (how spoiled we are), and headed out of town toward Togwotee Pass and the Absaroka Range instead. As if we didn’t expect a shit ton of snowmobilers would be flocking to Togwotee Pass on a Sunday. We filled the truck’s gas tank by headlamp at Dornan’s, knowing well that our day would certainly end with beers at the very spot later in the afternoon.
I’ve driven over Togwotee Pass a lot over the last handful of years, and every time say something about wanting to ski the Radio Tower Couloir, and maybe even getting back to those improbably skinny looking lines on Pinnacle Butte.
Today was the day, perhaps. As Radio Tower Couloir is close to the road, and a quick 1,200’ vertical to the top, we thought we might tag that first, then head into Pinnacle Butte to check out the Diagonal Couloir, a more involved line that Rob had skied several years earlier.
It’s that cavalier “tag it first” attitude that gets us in trouble. Everything was socked in, and we couldn’t see the Radio Tower and weren’t exactly sure where to head, with no easy visual cues. We kept going down the road toward Pinnacle Butte, having a map, route description, and slightly better idea of where to go with decreased visibility.
We parked, and started skinning up the groomed snowmobile track. It’s easy to start off around Togwotee Pass with a bad attitude, as there are always a bunch of snowmobiles whining around. Surprisingly, we only saw three sleds on our tour, all within a quarter mile of the trailhead.
Up the road, we found a good enough spot to cut off toward Pinnacle Butte, which was just barely breaking from the clouds. Before too long, we were headed straight toward the Bottleneck Classic Couloir, which shares the same exit apron with the longer Diagonal Couloir. The Diagonal Couloir remained hidden as we approached it.
Soft snow on shaded aspects got us excited, indicating that this protected couloir might be holding some good skiing. Yeah, right. As we made our way to the mouth of the couloir and switched from skinning to bootpacking, we realized the snowpack was going to be pretty stiff. On one hand, it was well consolidated and avalanche conditions were quite low. On the other hand, we would be skiing a fairly steep, hardpacked chute. It’s an alright tradeoff.
Rob and I swapped leads through a decent ankle-deep bootpack up and past the lower choke, an icefall, and a narrower upper choke until we reached the flat ridgeline at the top. It wasn’t quite that quick and easy, but went smoothly enough.
Clicking in and heading down, the top pitch was really tight, perhaps only 200cm wide. Sideslipped that for sure. The couloir began to widen, giving us enough room to jump turn, then widened enough to open up our turns a little. As much “opening up turns” a couple of Joes like us are able to do on a still-narrow 45-degree chute of supportable crust, that is. We leapfrogged our way on down onto the apron, took a look up the Bottleneck Classic, and decided that our legs were spent for the day. Sissies.
We skied out our skin track, navigating the breakable crust of the lower elevation, making quick time back to the truck, and were on our way to Dornan’s for Guinness pints before the sun had set.
As a bonus, Eleanor had made chili back at the yurt, and we filled up on bowls of that before heading off to an early bed. A fun day exploring new and cool terrain that is a little off the beaten path. Will definitely have to get back up there and take a peek at Radio Tower Couloir, Bottleneck Classic, Chockstone Dogleg, and a couple other skinny looking endeavors. Until next time!
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