Today I triggered an avalanche, traversed around a moose stampeding down the Alpine Town Couloir, ended up on the wrong side of the Grey’s River, and almost got ran over by a snowmobiler. Also, the snow pretty much sucked. Adventures aren’t always as fun (or safe) as we’d like them to be.
It has been unseasonably warm lately in NW Wyoming with valley lows rarely dropping below freezing. Friday February 6th was ridiculously warm and Saturday the 7th dawned partly cloudy and balmy. The high hazes characteristic of geoengineering programs had disappeared, and the deep blue sky above summery looking clouds had me hoping to soak up some unfiltered sun. The ladies and I went XC skiing down by the airport in the morning, but I was jonesing to actually explore so in the early afternoon Maestra and I headed up the Grey’s River to see how the snow was holding up.
I’ve really wanted to check out Brad Peak between the Snake and Grey’s but conditions weren’t right: the river is frozen over in spots but probably isn’t safe and the lower flanks of Brad Peak are partly melted out and probably deep slush atop dirt everywhere there is coverage.
We opted to check out Dry Creek Mountain instead in hopes that NW aspects were holding up better. The snow was very variable bottom to top and extremely unstable on the upper mountain’s shady slopes. This was my first trip up Dry Creek Mountain and a great learning experience.
We followed snowmobile tracks up the drainage towards Little Jenny Lake and then blazed our own trail up the NW Ridge that borders the Town Couloir. On sunny aspects at lower elevations the snow was rotten and unsupporting. In shady spots it was still sloppy but much more supporting. Higher up the ridge the snow was rotten on the SW aspect, firm on the ridge, and surprisingly powdery and soft on the NW aspect.
We tried to stick to the firm snow on the ridge, but it eventually got too steep and sharp to safely continue so we stopped and switched over ~200′ below Point 8400+. We followed our skin track back down and triggered a slide with a 2′ crown on the NW aspect ~60′ below our high mark while stomping around to test slope stability. That slide triggered another slide further down the ridge where a bench allowed the opportunity to check out the crown.
At this point dropping down the recently stabilized slide path seemed like the most interesting, supporting option. We found remnants of depth hoar atop a firm crust for ~200′ vertical until the slide petered out in lower angle trees. We traversed right towards the Town Couloir where we spotted a spooked moose charging down the gut. In hopes of avoiding further upsetting this beautiful beast we traversed back left and descended benchy trees which eventually funneled back into the gut. The snow was good in spots but mostly breakable crust. Down low it was slushy and occasionally unsupporting.
Taking the gut all the way to the river was a mistake: we should have traversed hard left a few hundred feet above the riverbed. Instead we bottomed out to a small island near the bridge gauging station. We were only a few hundred yards E of the bridge but had to bootpack back up a few hundred feet to traverse a bench back to the bridge.
By this point it was approaching dusk, so a lot of snowmobilers were heading back downriver after a day of motoring around the Grey’s. Most of them considerately slowed down while passing us, but one decided he had to pass his buddy on one of the last blind corners in the road. He must have been doing 50-60 mph when he came blasting by us uncomfortably close. That was probably the scariest part of the day. Fortunately there wasn’t another sled coming the other way.
I don’t think I’ll be approaching peaks up the Grey’s on foot — and especially on weekends — because there is a lot of sled traffic up there. Fortunately there are plenty of other areas to explore down here.
There was a lot of moose track and poop on the wrong side of the Grey’s River, so I probably won’t be skiing the Town Couloir too much in hopes of avoiding stressing them out or risking myself or the dog getting stomped on. I’ll also be watching out for those persistent weak layers in the shade. Hopefully things cool down and we get enough new snow to bury or break off the weak layers.
I’m happily heading into another work week because it doesn’t look like things will be skiing well top to bottom in the foreseeable future. Have fun out there and be safe.