Join athlete/photographers Connor Burkesmith, Brigette Takeuchi, and their team as they experience the effects of a changing climate during a backcountry tour of Mt. Moran. Outdoor athletes are the frontline witnesses to environmental change and necessary stewards of the land.
Their chosen line, Skillet Glacier, is a classic backcountry ski descent on the native land of the Shoshone, also known as Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming.
We greeted spring by skiing the Skillet Glacier – an iconic backcountry line on Mount Moran. Though we began at 5am from Colter Bay, 6 miles northeast of Mt. Moran’s base, the air felt balmy and hovered above 40 degrees. As we crossed Jackson Lake on skis we saw signs of the uncharacteristically warm temperatures. A layer of water covered the melting ice and soaked our skins as we traversed the lake. After observing the ice underneath, we decided the ice was thick enough to proceed, but remained cautious. We spread out group members to minimize risk of multiple people falling through and avoided these weaker spots to the best of our abilities.
The beginning of April marked the lowest snowpack recorded in the Teton range in over 15 years. The infrequent and variable storms forecasted for the Tetons and surrounding ranges are not just the concern of powder-seeking enthusiasts. As of May 2021, Teton County officially entered a period of drought. The low precipitation experienced in this region from October through April of this snow year only adds to this problem. Though precipitation in the spring can help distribute much needed moisture across the mountains, the considerably dry winter should serve as a much-needed reminder of our warming planet and a call to action to take the necessary steps to protect it.
We reached the base of the mountain not long after sunrise and began our skin up towards the bottom of the glacier. The weather was forecasted to be partly cloudy in the morning and early afternoon with a storm blowing in from the west later in the day. Our goal was to summit and head down and back across the lake in time to avoid the whiteout conditions that would accompany the beginning of the storm. As we made our way up the glacier we were met almost instantly with debris from recent avalanches. Conditions during the morning posed little risk for any new avalanches; the debris – new and old – that littered the mountainside simply made for a not-so-pleasant descent.
Temperatures were warm for the first half of the ascent and we were diligent in our efforts to fuel and hydrate. During longer breaks we enjoyed MUIR Energy’s slow burning gels – alternating between the cacao almond mate (for a quick caffeine boost) and the cashew vanilla. We were able to fill up water supplies at the edge of the lake, and portioned the Strawberry Basil Hydration Mix into our bottles for the ascent. Both the electrolyte drink and the convenient, fast-burning energy gels fueled the 20 mile human powered adventures shared by our group.
Though oncoming storms left us 1000 feet short of the summit, we were all grateful to make it down the mountain before visibility dropped. We retraced our route back towards Colter Bay, and encountered a lesson in character building as the snow accumulated underneath our skins. As the wind picked up and the snow began to fall we trudged over the frozen lake. Though our bodies were worn and cold, there is no better feeling than coming home from an adventure.
As we reflect on the experience, it is paramount that we continue to express gratitude towards the wild spaces that enable these adventures. The best way to give back to these spaces is to take action, big and small. As we observe Earth Day this year, we hope to reflect on the ways in which we can minimize our footprint and we are grateful to be able to support brands such as MUIR Energy that do the same.