The Payoff


Finding the wherewithal to crush a daunting mission in the Tetons.

Randy Shacket prepares for his rebirth. Photo: Ryan Halverson/Full Room Productions

Randy Shacket prepares for his rebirth. Photo: Ryan Halverson/Full Room Productions

I set my pack down and looked through the dense forest out at the liquid orange sunrise. At about 5 a.m. we stopped to rest. The air was warm and I was concerned our eight-mile bike ride and slog through wet punchy snow would all be a waste. As soon as the sun hit this already warm snowpack, the danger of wet slides and rock fall could have us on our way home before most people had even begun curing their hangovers.

The group shared similar concerns, but because there were no imminent dangers, we marched on. In my mind the mission was over. I figured we would just keep hiking toward Mt. Woodring just to get the lay of the land for next time.

Next thing I knew, however, we were putting on our crampons at the bottom of the south-facing slope that would lead us up to the prize: The Fallopian Tube. This 3,000-foot couloir is some of the most sustained north-facing vertical you can get in the entire Teton Range.

As we climbed, so did the sun. The snow was so warm and rotten in spots that even though it was thigh-deep, I punched to the ground with every step. As our nice little gully morphed into a steeper gully donning a huge face of warm hanging snow directly above us, I thought it was time to turn around.

Making like an egg in the Fallopian Tube. Photo: Ryan Halverson/Full Room Productions

Making like an egg in the Fallopian Tube. Photo: Ryan Halverson/Full Room Productions

This is when I saw Andrew Wheeler Hildebrand turn into a Nepalese polar bear-Incredible Hulk type character. Every so often when we regrouped, I would turn to him and say, “Hmm, I don’t know.” But he would look back while still hiking and say, “We got this guys.” His level of comfort, and his intense motivation kept the whole group moving, even as we swam in deep wet snow the entire time.

As we got higher the struggle continued. At one point I punched into the snow up to my chest; I had stepped into a hole where even though there was deep snow, it had separated from the cliff it had clung to all winter and left a hollow spot. Wheeler refused to give up and kept moving ahead, his boot pack helped, but the snow was so rotten you’d punch through anyway.

As we crested the ridge, Mt. Moran came into view from across the canyon. Above us was the summit of Mt. Woodring, and below a striking, aesthetic couloir surrounded by huge rock walls in beautiful, smooth powder conditions. The prized line had finally presented itself.

In the mountains, a group of people must work together to achieve a mission for the day. That day, Wheeler grabbed our group by the balls and pretty much forced us to shred the line of a lifetime in incredible conditions. It was a moment that helped me reflect on multiple situations in my life where another person’s motivation and energy helped facilitate my ability to reach a new place.

Randy Shacket is always armed with an iPod full of Wu Tang, a pack full of Cliff bars and a pocket full of safety supplies. @mountainrandy