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A Great Day

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
It's nearing the end of July and I hadn't skied yet this month, so today was the day. Ruth is away visiting family, and after several weeks of very hot weather in Jackson none of my occasional summer-ski partners were interested at all. So, I went alone.

I was on the first tram of the morning after a wonderful rain last night. The high parts of the Tetons are absolutely awash in wildflowers and the air just smelled fresh and new.

I wanted to ski Cardiac Bowl, which is just west of the ski area boundary, because I had an additional objective in mind for the day. For years, I've heard vague refereneces to the "Great Limestone Arch". It's a natural bridge in Teton National Park, about seven miles (seven very up-and-down miles) from the top of the ski area. The bottom of Cardiac Bowl comes down to the trail that leads in the general direction of the arch.

So, I found a little remnant gully in Cardiac that still had enough snow for 39 turns. It was fairly low-angle and the snow was nice and the skiing was delightful. If I hadn't had another destination in mind, I would have skied it a couple more times.

I ditched my skis and boots under a tree about fifty yards from the trail and headed off in search of the Arch. About two hours later, I was working up the north fork of the Granite Creek trail, scanning the ridgeline and cliffs above me to the south.

I'd heard that you could see the arch from the trail but only for a very short distance, so I was slowly making my way up the trail watching the mountain on my left. This would have looked pretty comical to anyone else because most of the time I was tripping over rocks and roots because I wasn't looking where I was going.

Suddenly, I came to an opening in the trees and there it was. Big as life, not as far up the cliff band as I would have expected, spacious enough to fly the space shuttle through. The opening was almost perfectly round and the top bridge portion was probably twenty feet thick.

It looked so impressive I decided I *had* to hike up there and see it up close. That turned out to be a bit more of an ordeal than it looked like from down in the valley. I hiked up the ever-steepening apron below the arch through gorgeous bluebells that came up to my thighs. As I neared the arch, the going got steep enough that every step required a search for a good foothold.

Finally, though, I was at the mouth of the arch. There was a small stream seeping through and the surface was loose and slick and getting steeper all the time. But because *up* was the general direction I would have to go eventually to get back to the tram, I decided to keep climbing. I made it through the arch and finally came to a spot slightly above it where the wet rock was just too slippery to keep going.

At that point, I was reminding myself that no one really knew where I was (other than "looking for the Arch") and it would take a long time for anyone to find me if I went tumbling back down through the arch. But I also didn't relish the idea of trying to go *down* what I had just come up.

As I looked around, I spotted a kind of stair-steppy section of the wall above my right shoulder and decided I could make it up that. My rock-climbing lessons helped a lot and so did a lone, scraggly evergreen that was clinging to the wall. Without that tree, I might have had to try to retreat back down under the arch.

Muddy and scratched up, I finally made my way to the top, took a couple of pictures from above, and familiarized myself enough with the geography that I'm now confident that I can find the arch next winter and ski down through it. It's very cool.

After the arch, I started bushwhacking my way back to the Teton Crest Trail. Somewhere in around the shoulder of the mountain, I nearly collided with a bull moose. He was bedded down in a clump of pines and I came up a little rise (hiking into the wind, of course) and walked to within five feet of him before either of us knew the other was there. Luckily, he jumped the other direction and ran off.

By the time I made it back to where I'd left my skis, the weather was starting to look a little nasty. I loaded the skis and boots on my pack and started up the last switchbacks that lead to the main Rendezvous Bowl ridgeline west of the tram.

Just as I was reaching the ridge (and the end of the trees), a lightning bolt hit Cody Peak, which is about a mile away. Since I'm a major wuss when it comes to lightning, I decided to take off the pack with the double lightning rods on top and hide in some of the scrubby pines. In a couple of minutes, it started to rain - hard - and more lightning was going off all around. I felt pretty safe where I was, so I put on my jacket and pants and hid under some pine boughs to wait it out.

A couple of minutes after *that*, a man and a boy came hiking up the trail past me. They didn't see me and were about to start up the exposed ridge just above us. Well, normally I kind of let people do whatever they want to do, but this seemed like a recipe for disaster. I yelled at them "Um, excuse me, but you might want to hang out for a bit while this thunderstorm goes by."

He stopped and said something that indicated that he may not have spent a lot of time in the mountains. He asked if lightning was really a problem around here. After all, we were only four tenths of a mile from the tram.

I said well, suit yourself, but people get killed regularly by lightning in the mountains, particularly on high, open ridges like the one above us.

At that point, God decided to lend a hand. There was a very bright flash just above us, followed almost instantly by a boom that rattled our eardrums. He said "Jesus!" and they both crammed into my little hole under the pines.

We talked while it rained (and thundered). He was from San Francisco and had never spent any time in the mountains. His son was really nice and I think the kid was very happy to be hiding in the bushes instead of out in the lightning.

After about thirty minutes, the rain stopped and the thunder moved off to the east and we all walked on up to the tram.

All in all, it was a really fun day.

post #2 of 10
Hey Bob,
Great account of your day! Would you willing to share some of the pictures that you took?
post #3 of 10

That arch is very cool. Buy the ski movie, "Mind the addiction". There's a segment with Micah Black where he skis through the arch. Very cool shot.
post #4 of 10
Bob, thanks for making my late night with that story and making me watch Mind the Addiction again this afternoon to see the arch( and all the rest of the great footage in that movie) in video format. Some pix would be a great addition to the story cause I've only seen it in a few winter shots in movies and stills. Thanks again.

post #5 of 10

Now I'm really sorry we didn't make it to JH this summer! Thanks for the story.
post #6 of 10
Bob, great story! Glad you made your July turns, looks like mine are going to slip by.

Your experience in the Arch area sound very similar to one that I had in Coalpit Gulch, LCC.

See you later!
post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the comments, guys. I'll have to find a copy of "Mind the Addiction" and take a look. If I can figure out a way, I'll post a couple of my photos of the arch. They aren't anything great, but they might give a sense of what the thing looks like.

I learned last night that there's a very sad followup to my little story. That same thunderstorm that I sat through caused a tragedy for a climbing party on the Grand Teton.

Apparently, a pretty large group of people were climing the Grand and were on the Friction Pitch section (maybe 45 minutes below the summit) on the Exum Ridge route when they were hit by lightning at almost exactly the same time I was hiding in the bushes on Rendezvous Mountain.

I haven't heard all the details yet, but one young woman was killed and several others were injured. I guess the rescue was really hairy and there's a report that one of the injured climbers was hanging upside down on his rope for four hours before the rescuers could get to him.

I think it pays to be a big chicken when it comes to lightning in the mountains.

post #8 of 10
[img]graemlins/thumbsup.gif[/img] Sounds like an epic day out ... having spent the winter in Whistler & now being in the flat SE of England (and being Scottish used to having hills on the doorstep) I'm really missing the mountains. Would be keen to see some pics too.
post #9 of 10
Great TR, Bob! You gotta start taking more pics on your excursions for the rest of us, mang... [img]smile.gif[/img]
post #10 of 10
Great post! Sounds like an awesome day. Would love to see some pics as well if you have any.
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