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Nez Perce Trifecta - Part Deux

The Sliver - Nez Perce, Grand Teton National ParkNormally, when one travels to altitude after living at sea level, it’s best to ease into high-level physical activity. The physiologic adaptations, which allow us to tolerate exercising up high, take the better part of a week to get rolling. Certainly, several weeks are needed to feel strong. But with short vacations, it’s hard to be patient. On my recent trip to the Tetons, I demonstrated a complete disregard for what needs to happen.

During the lead up to my trip I’d consulted with partners about various objectives. Matt had his eye on the Nez Perce Trifecta, a link-up of three classic couloirs on that peak - The Sliver, East Hourglass and West Hourglass. The Sliver is easily viewed from the Bradley-Taggart parking lot and is quite compelling. The East and West Hourglass lines are hidden from view on the North side of the mountain. The East forms the opposite side of the Sliver and it’s straightforward to access the skiing from a short rappel at the top of the Sliver. After skiing the East, then, it’s a 45-minute boot up the West to complete the link-up.

Taking on such an objective is ill advised after only 24 hours at altitude. But conditions were such that waiting for another window might prove fruitless. Besides, I had two partners nearly half my age to do all the schlepping and trail breaking. I’d done the Trifecta solo several years ago so I knew exactly what I was getting into.

I could tell right out of the parking lot it was going to an aerobic challenge. Fortunately, my two partners had flogged themselves at the ski area the day before so were not feeling too energetic. In fact, Matt was already making noises about bailing after The Sliver. We’d see about that.

The track was beat in all the way to the top of Shadow Peak, one of the approaches to the cirque below the Sliver. It’s also a popular powder skiing destination for the less ambitious. Not to understate the approach, Shadow is still 3,500 feet of climbing. From the top, a short downhill boot to a col to the south leads to a quick ski down to the base of the first objective – The Sliver.

Not optimal conditionsThe only other time I skied the route was during my previous link-up. I had wind-buffed powder the whole way. Booting was a little tedious but the skiing was wonderful. This time, the couloir was scraped clean by several sideslipping suitors in the days prior. This created an intimidating slide-for-life scenario. Clearly, there was very little turning going on by those before us and I understood why. But the firm conditions and intermittent boot pack made the climbing straightforward. At the bottom near some rocks the snow seems to get extra sun and on this day it was quite icy. I was 50 meters in the lead when Matt yelled up asking if it was softer where I was. Clearly, the seeds of doubt were sprouting. I yelled down encouragement trying to snuff such thoughts before they took root.

Earlier, at the col, we caught a group of young women intent on skiing the Sliver. I pointed out that they’d have a nice track to follow as we were all going the same place. As we regrouped at the top of first couloir, they indicated similar plans for the East Hourglass. However, given the slide-for-life conditions of the Sliver, they opted to head straight to the East and forego any tedious and, frankly, dangerous side slipping/skiing of the Sliver. Not to be deterred, we opted for the latter to start off.

Make no mistake, the pitch of the Sliver ranges somewhere between 38° and 45°. With the firm chalk scraped clean by previous side slippers, there was no room for a fall or slip onto a hip. Still, I couldn’t resist the mental challenge of skiing the line in these conditions. Down we went. The skiing was actually okay and as we hit piles of scrapings down low the surface softened considerably. The last bit at the bottom was mostly ice but consequences had lessened considerably at that point.

Are your edges sharp??

At the transition, Charlie reminded us of his need to get back home to Lander and I began my prodding of Matt to get him to realize his goal of skiing all three lines in a day. I was going regardless so he might as well make it so. He submitted and up we went.

Once back on top I spied down the narrow entrance to the East expecting only to see evidence of the ladies’ passing but there they were still rappelling. Previously, I’d simply down climbed the 60 meters of steep snow to the final drop into the main couloir. However, there were two additional anchors on the way down and the girls decided they felt better testing the unknown stability of the snow on a rope. Fair enough. By the time we got down to them at the final anchor, Morgan was already on her way down.

The anchor at this spot is a single Bugaboo-style piton driven vertically in a seam. It looks welded but it’s the only piece there. I spied some smaller cracks and added a small nut as back up. I didn’t have quite enough cord to fully equalize it, as it was a ways above the pin. But it’s now backed up, nonetheless. Perhaps the next party can string them together properly.

The girls let us use their rap line and we were soon all down and clicking into skis on the steep slope. The East had not been skied lately and was smooth wall to wall. The last time I was there I stomped one turn and the whole couloir ripped and flushed wall to wall. As I was pondering how to suss out the slope, the first skier of the other party simply pushed off and ripped it without hesitation. Well, alrighty then. I guess I’m just an old, timid mountaineer. The other two followed and soon Matt and I were following suit. The conditions were a touch variable but consolidated and soft.

Could be much worse

Ready, steady, go!The girls waited for us and I was soon handing off their rope to them and steeling myself for one more trudge uphill. The West had been skied plenty so it was a simple formality getting it done. Matt took the lead and before long we were ready to finish it off. 

Matt leading us up the final slog in the West Hourglass

Clicking in for the final descent

And we're off!

The skiing was forgettable until the apron where we found some recycled powder to put a little icing on the cake. The out down Garnet Canyon was soft and tracked but relatively simple. We caught up with the girls one more time at the lake and exchanged our final pleasantries before the skin up to the moraine. We stopped the watch at 8:10 after 11 miles and 7,100 feet of climbing.

I was pretty happy with the style of our effort. We were an hour slower than my previous solo effort but considering I was fitter, younger and lighter on that outing and some traffic delays on this one, our push was just fine. Matt was happy, too, getting to tick it off his list.


Gear for this outing included:

Volkl BMT 94 skis 176cm

Hybrid binding set up, Dynafit Speed toe with Plum Race 165 heel

Dynafit TLT 6 Perfomance boots

Black Crows Furtis poles

Patagonia Ascensionist 35L pack

Grivel Haute Route crampons

GU Energy gels and chews

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Reader Comments (5)

How is the pack for carrying avy gear? I have the 25L and it's a mess for sorting. Seems great for a day of single pitch climbing at the crag, but wondering how you're finding it for skiing.

January 12, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterTrentl

Hi Trent,

The Patagonia Ascensionist 35L is a good size for my touring needs. I don't have to work too hard getting everything in, including a helmet. I had to do a little mod for carrying skis diagonally and I'll do a brief review soon with details. I'm on vacation right now and will wait until I return so I can get the scale out and do things properly.

Anyway, as for sorting, well, it's a single compartment sack. But, honestly, I've never found this to be a problem when touring. The truth of the matter is that, although we bring a bunch of stuff into the BC like repair kit, extra clothes, avy gear, etc., most of it never sees the light of day. The little stuff goes to the bottom and the avy gear is held in place by wedging it around my large puffy jacket which almost never comes out of my pack.

I would agree that separate compartments keep things tidy but are mostly unnecessary and do nothing for me but add weight. I just don't need the added convenience.

The upside is that the pack is light with sturdy material. The tool carry system is sweet and my ski carry mod doesn't get in the way of any of it.

January 12, 2016 | Registered CommenterBrian

Awesome day!
Matt (with 2 T's)

January 14, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterChorney


Matt showed me this! Awesome write-up. Thanks for letting me tag along for 1/3 of the trip. A memorable day for sure! Safe travels back to AK if you haven't headed that way already.

Congrats on the second link-up!


January 15, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCharlie Manganiello

It was a pleasure hanging with you for part of the day, Charlie. Sad not to have you for the whole thing. You'd have loved it. Cheers.

January 16, 2016 | Registered CommenterBrian

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