Skillet Glacier - First Tracks
I was pleased to have been invited to join Bill Briggs, Peter Koedt, and Dick Persons to record a climb and first ski descent from the top of 12,594 foot Mount Moran in Teton National Park.
The date was June 1 & 2, 1967.
Our planned ascent route became evident as we crossed Jackson Lake. Skillet Glacier was clearly identified on the face of Mt. Moran, with it's "pan handle" pointing straight to the top. That was our destination.
We secured the boat at Spaulding Bay Landing and made our way through the trees and over decaying Spring snow. Ascending the lower section of the glacier, we climbed for an hour or so to a suitable camping site on a plateau area about a fourth of the way up.
Spring was well advanced with the days becoming quite warm, yet changing weather at that time of season could still produce anything, so our plan was for an early start in order to be off the summit before noon. As we climbed, the warming sun softened the snow, releasing frequent small slides, adding to our apprehensions about something larger.
New snow had fallen two days prior to our start, making each step increasingly laborious in the softening snow. The small avalanches removed the fresh snow down to a firmer base, creating narrow chutes in the glacier not unlike a children's playground slide. Ascending in these cleared paths made boot steps much easier but meant climbing straight up rather than making a more classic zig-zag traversing route.
Fortunately, the slide was not large and we soon shook ourselves off. We were nearing the top so we continued on cautiously, but with a renewed sense of urgency to finish the climb and start down.
I was behind Bill when we both heard the swishing sound of a wave of snow coming down the path directly ahead of us. Instinctively, we both jumped out of the chute just as it passed like a relentless freight train. But before we could shout "jump" the slide caught Dick and Peter and drove them about fifty yards back down the mountain. Dick was buried up to his waist and all we could see of Peter was the top of his head and the skis on his back.
Bill kicks off a small cornice at the top of the pan handle before starting our descent.
Bill Briggs has the honor of setting the first ski tracks on Skillet Glacier.
Not unexpectedly, weather moved in on the upper part of the mountain, limiting visibility and adding to the difficulty of picking a line down the debris laden snow field.
Weather and snow conditions improved as we approached our camp site, making for some enjoyable skiing.
After refreshing cups of tea and a short rest we packed our equipment for the final descent back to the boat landing.
Our tracks in the snow are but brief testimony to vanishing achievements.
All photographs were taken with a Leica M-3 camera and lenses. Black and white negatives were scanned on a Nikon Super Coolscan 4000.
When I bicycled through Jackson Hole in the summer of 2006 I enjoyed a brief rendezvous with Bill Briggs at the Cowboy Bar in Wilson, where he was still playing his banjo, as he had been doing for the past thirty-five years. I haven't seen Dick Person since the early 1970's. This past summer I learned that Peter Koedt had passed away.