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Here’s the latest report from Arc’athlete Forrest Coots, preparing for 7,000-foot climb and ski descent of Alaska’s University Peak.
With less then week before leaving for an upcoming expedition to Alaska and University Peak in Wrangle Elias Ranges, phone calls were made, and plans set in place. The decision was made to meet in Grand Teton National Park for a training camp of sorts. I would leave from California and Jason Thompson, my climbing partner and expedition photographer, would come down from Bozeman for the crash course. With California in my rear view mirror, I pointed my truck towards the northeast and the mountains of Wyoming.
We chose the Tetons because they offer some of the best ski mountaineering and climbing in North America. The terrain and vertical relief was the perfect school for whipping us into shape, this was the place we could work on rope skills and get our minds thinking about the upcoming trip in Alaska. It also is rich in North American mountaineering history. It's more or less the birthplace of ski mountaineering in the states. Where Bill Briggs skied off the Grand in 1971, and with any luck, Jason and I hope to as well.
The University is a physically demanding climb, a 7000 foot swath of forty- to fifty- degree slope on the snow plastered Alaskan peak. It must be climbed all in one big push all at night, to be able to drop into the line as first light hits, before the face comes alive with rock and ice fall, where sluff off soon become avalanches. This isn't a place for anyone to be later in the day. And it has slowly haunted my dreams and thoughts, slowly building anxiety within, like a fire.
According to Chris Davenports Fifty Classic Ski Descents "This peak is super badass, University, is probably the most burley peak in the whole book. It has only been skied twice. 7,000 vert." If you have the book, check it out page 169. I've stared at the page for what feels like days.
Two a.m. came to early, as the alarm clock cut the night's silence. Arriving at the parking lot, the moon is full but hidden behind a bank of high clouds. The top of the Grand is still visible, and our hopes are still high. Skinning through the darkness up to the meadows, we were four little lights lost in a sea of mountains and darkness, as we pushed onward and upward, toward the top. As darkness becoming the early morning dawn we move onto the lower Teepee glacier and enter into what feels like a miniature child's snow globe of blowing snow. The headlamp isn't needed but we still are in the darkness due to the storm. So much for a 20% chance of snow
We climb almost 5000 feet from the car; and we still have 2000 to go. It doesn't look promising, as we continue skinning into the middle of the snow globe of blowing snow. We stop and watch as a large spindrift of snow flushes out of a coulior above us. Taking that as a sign, we choose to pull the plug on topping out on the Grand today. Instead, we decide to ski a coulior off the lower Teepee glacier. Dropping into the coulior, we make a quick ski cut, proving that the snow pack is stable, then we take turns, skiing boot top powder to almost the valley floor.
Once again back in the safety of my truck, I put the Tetons in the rear view mirror and point my truck back home to California. As I drive home I continue to dream about and plan our upcoming adventure to University Peak.