Leading up to closing weekend at Jackson Hole, some friends from my Samsara community let me know they were planning a big mission in the Tetons and invited me to join.
George was the one who pulled me in and the crew would be me, George, Liam, Noah. Our objective was The Skillet, one of the 50 Classic Descents in North America. It’s a pretty big line that requires a 6 mile walk across a frozen lake before starting to gain any elevation at all. Once you cross the lake and make the summit, you have a beautiful and uninterrupted 6k ft ski back down to the lake. I had originally heard about The Skillet from my friend Amy and soon later watched Cody Townsend’s video on it. As soon I heard of The Skillet, I knew it was a line I wanted to ski and I could not believe it was going to happen. Another sick mission, are you kidding me?!
As the texts started coming in and I learned exactly what the plan was, I started to get super nervous. The idea of The Skillet sounded amazing, but this crew is pretty gnarly and the plan was to start around midnight and climb the thing in the night. Fear started to kick in. I had never skied with these guys. I had never climbed a mountain in the dark, etc. As the trip got closer, the fear grew and I really had to make a go/no go decision. Going back/forth, I had to make a decision not based on fear, but based on real information about the snow pack, the plan, my body, etc. I wanted to make the right decision, and not make the decision entirely on fear. I was really struggling with it. I had stories of the Tetons and I was just affraid. I called my friend Amy who I met in the Samsara course and asked if we could talk through it. Of course, she said yes. Amy had taken me under her wing over the last few weeks and I really trusted her. We looked at the weather and talked about the plan and she reminded how I had been verbalizing all winter my desire for “quests”. After looking at the weather and getting her approval on our trip plan, Amy gave me the confidence to commit. In this moment, I decided to change the story and stop listening to the voice of fear. I could still hold fear, feel it, even listen to, but it can’t be the only voice in the room. Fuck that.
And so, it was game on. It was a Friday and we spent the day preparing food and staging our gear at Liam’s house, or shall I say, Liam’s Mom’s house as he’s 17 years old! Our plan was to load up two sleds with gear (tent, stoves, food, etc) and make it an overnight mission. Below are the two sleds (they did not look as small in person!).
Once our gear was ready, we grabbed an early dinner and slept from 5-9pm or so. I got hardly a wink of sleep, then it was game on at 9pm. We jumped into Noah’s truck and drove out to the trailhead. It was cold, dark, and very quiet in the truck as we headed out there.
We pulled up to the trailhead, booted up, and started our long trek 6 miles across Jackson Lake with our packs and also dragging two sleds filled with gear, tent, food, and other stuff to support our overnight. It was a beautfiul night. The stars were out, lighting our way. We didn’t need headlamps or anything and we could see our objective, the massive Mount Moran, glistening under the moonlight.
Heading across the lake I felt strong and psyched. My pack didn’t feel heavy and my feet felt good (which was a major worry). At 2am, we got to the other side of the lake. The temperature had not been on my radar but as soon as we stopped moving and stood still, we all got freezing cold. Like really fucking cold. We threw on our ultra puffys and took a 10-15 minute break, cracked open the breakfast burritos and drank some water.
We left the sleds with all of our gear at the lake as this would be where we would spend the night when we got back down from the summit. After dropping the sleds and crushing some breakfast burritos, we started the next part of the mission, the actual climbing of the mountain.
At 2am, it was so quiet, dark and beautiful. Once we got through the trees, saw some lights up ahead so we knew there was at least a group out there. We saw them stop and we were a bit confused. We could tell that something was going on so George broke out a spotlight he brought. We brought the spotlight at the advice of Z so that we could see if the slopes we were on had wind loading from a few inches of snow that feel the day before. Fortunately, we never saw any wind loading but with the spotlight we were able to see that there was a massive avalanche debris field and that’s what this other group was checking out. I thought for a moment that our mission might over, but we decided to investigate a bit further. WHAT slope slid? And WHEN did the slide occur? Upon further investigation it was clear that the ridgeline slid and that the slide occurred a few days ago due to warming temps (the Tetons were known to be shedding with the warm temps in the days leading up). In addition, we knew this because there was a few inches of snow on top of the debris so it had to occur BEFORE the snow fell. With this information, we (and the other group) decided to continue onward.
It was so cool to be climbing this mountain in the dark, to look down at my watch and see 3am, then 4am, be like, wow, we’ve already gone so far. The sun is still not up, and we still have so far to go. It was surreal. I could see these tiny little dots (headlamps) trekking back and forth, back and forth on the skin track ahead of me. I was loving it.
As I continued up the mountain, some guys started to catch up to me and they commented on my pretty unique long brim hat that says “Poole’s Fish” which is a small chandlery in Martha’s Vineyard. It’s my signature hat and never has anyone been familiar with it, until these guys who are all from Martha’s Vineyard. It was so random to be halfway up a Teton at sunrise and run into folks from Marha’s Vineyard. So random and awesome. Below is a pic of me in my hat.
As the sun continued to rise, it was clear that we still had a lot of bootpacking to go. My energy was starting to fade and because my pack was so heavy and the slope was so steep, taking my pack off to get water or food was not really happening. Needless to say, I was going slow and was well behind my group at this point. And with warming temps being the main concern at this point, I really had to pick up the pace for if I did not hurry up, I would miss my window to summit. Below is a visual of our line. You can see the skin track zig zagging up, and then the boot pack which was the narrower straight shot to the summit.
As I got in closer proximity to the top, there were some folks who had been on the summit for quite a while and they were eager to get down. At this point, I was right in the barrel of the gun when the first person dropped, he kicked off some sluff and a bit of snow started racing down the hill. It was pretty small at first, but got bigger as it gained momentum and I ended up hauling ass to my left to get out of the way. I was only able to take maybe three steps before sluff blew past me. Honestly, it felt like a a close call so I stayed much further out of the way going forward. And, after that moment, everyone started communicating much more closely from the summit and between the different groups so that it didn’t happen again. Basically, folks would climb, then get to a safe place out of the way, radio up, then a few more folks would drop.
Here are some more pics of the way up.
My crew had been up on the summit for over an hour and finally by 9:45am, I too stood on top of Mount Moran. I was hot as hell from the bootpack and everyone the summit was super bundled up. As soon as I got up there, I realized that it was actually freezing cold. This meant it was really challenging to transition from uphill to downhill. Normally it’s no big deal to transition, but my crampons were frozen closed and I couldn’t get them off my boots. Eventually I got them off but my hands were completely frozen numb because my thin uphill gloves were soaking wet from punching my fist into the snowpack with every step I took into the bootlick. After the crampons, I still had to rip off my skins, fold them up, put them in my pack, pull out my helmet, goggles, and dry gloves, etc. My transition was not pretty, nor enjoyable, but I got it done. I was so cold and it was so crowded up there that I hardly had a moment to appreciate the summit. Once I was ready, I introduced myself to professional skier, Madison Rose, and made the drop. My legs were so tired that I could only make 4 turns at a time before I needed a break. My turns were not pretty, especially compared to Madison who skied the whole steep/top section with ease and grace.
We finished the ski down at about 11:45am. When we got down, we set up our tents, ate food, and just enjoyed our afternoon. We had been out there for 12hrs through the night, so it was really nice to have to not walk 6 miles across the lake. Posting up and camping was surely the right call. We chilled out, snacked, and boiled water to drink. At sunset, we just stared up at what we just climbed.
The next morning we headed out across the lake back to the car. Mission complete!