Thursday, March 8, 2018

Big Creek is for Big Tours. Glen to Heavenly

Heavenly Twins and my second run gully on the looker's left side of the bowl.
Looking glorious.
It was all but impossible not to scheme a few big link ups during our fabulous Glen lake tour last week, so with a mint weather day in the forecast, I went back mid week with the goal of ticking off a few more safe must-ski runs in the area.  I left the car, parked at the Big/Glen road intersection, at first light.  It was pretty nice to have a skin track for the first half of the approach, and I enjoyed watching the sunrise and getting caught up on a podcasts.  Fresh snow had covered our old track up high, but it was still able to top out on my intended variation into the peak to creek avalanche path behind Glen lake in about three and a half hours at my happy pace.
Pretty sunrise during the approach.
Snowmoblie tracks in the Wilderness.  Not acceptable.
I skied a northwest facing gully into the main path.  It is hard to see the whole line from the top, but I guessed correctly, and the ice choke in the bottom went without issues, so I was psyched.  Aside from a big water stop at the bottom of the run, the rest of the run was dreamy.  I also found a much improved stream crossing, so my emergency pair of socks spent the day happily stashed in my pack.
Through the choke on the first run and glad it went.
The first run.  Great skiing.
The goal for the rest of the day was to ski peak to creek runs, the bigger the better, so I headed up the open gully below the Heavenly Twins.  About mid-path, I struck out straight West and gained the top of my intended line,  There are two entrances, and I figured I'd try the direct one.  To my dismay, the pinch was not filled in well enough to ski, but a fairly straightforward 20 foot downclimb got me through the difficulties.  Unfortunately, the snow was quite poor, ranging from sun saturated slop to icy runnels so chunky debris.  Ah well, at least it is a spectacular line, done in good style from the top.
The second run, from the top, with feelings that it might not go.
A bit of schussing back down the summer trail had me back at the base of the Heavenly Twins avalanche path.  I was a bit mentally tired, but kept it together and started pushing up the 4,400 foot climb to the summit of the Heavenly Twins.  After a lot of grinding, I made my sixth lifetime summit of the Heavenly twins.  I downclimbed about thirty vertical feet of windblown talus before putting skis on and making the monster descent to the creek.  Snow was re-freezing, but everything was skiiable, and it would have taken something exquisitely terrible to wipe the huge grin off my face from such a physically challenging and beautiful day in the mountains.
Looking out at the upper half of the Heavenly Twins run.
The descent begins behind the summit cliffs and wraps into the visible bowl.
The upper part of the Heavenly Twins was a little sharky.  Still more skiable than it looks.
Turning the corner, excited to ski a lot of breakable crust.
Totally acceptable skiing near the bottom of the Heavenly Twins run.
The egress down Big Creek is kind of long, and I was quite tired, but a nut butter packet, half cup of water, lots of hollering to keep moose at bay, and a lot of double poling and sidestepping were all it took to get out to the car 2 hours and 20 minutes after summiting the Heavenly Twins.  Something a little over 12,000 vertical feet, done in 11 hours, 40 minutes.  It was a big day by my standards.
Bushwacking. Protect your eyes and face and get some.
The badness only lasted a hundred yards or so.
The Bitterroot peak to creek window is always narrow, and it was great to check a few more runs off the list.  At 4,400 vertical feet, the Upper Southwest to South face of the Heavenly Twins is one of the longest clean fall line runs in the Bitterroot range.  To my surprise, the bushwack was only about 15 minutes, and the entire lower gully was full of snow and fun to ski.  If it got skied more frequently, I might even go so far as to call it a Bitterroot classic!  A long but potentially rewarding day would be to climb the Heavenly Twins via the South face, ski any of the big Southwest gullies, then climb back up to the South ridge and ski the monster run out to Big Creek.  This tour would allow for a lot of high quality skiing, and would minimize the canyon slogging up Big Creek and Bad bushwacking in Beaver Creek.

On a technical note, I speculate that the Northwest couloir variation to the Glen lake peak to creek and complete Heavenly Twins Southwest to South face link up were both first descents.  I also believe the peak to creek west of the Twins was a first descent.  As always, I would love to hear of others skiing these lines, and am especially curious about the Heavenly Twins.  

Monday, March 5, 2018

Glen Lake Peak to creek

What had started out as a planned ski date with Leah quickly snowballed into a trip with a solid group of five friends.  We headed out to Glen lake with hopes to ski whatever avalanche conditions would allow.
All smiles on the approach with the Heavenly Twins and St. Mary peak behind.
Eben, styling improvised sunglasses.
I tried out a slightly different mid elevation route on the mandatory long approach to the lakes, and it was OK, but I am still not sure it is the optimal route.  In any case the morning was clear and beautiful, everyone moved well at an enjoyable conversational pace, and we were on top of the bowl above about 4.5 hours after leaving the car.  We did see snowmobilers riding in the Wilderness over on Gash.  Unfortunately, a 911 call was insufficient to raise law enforcement.  Bad form.
Leah and Natalie schussing through the burn toward Glenn lake.
We took two short runs in the bowls above the lake and dug a couple of pits before heading over the top to check out the big 4,000 foot peak to creek run which drops to Big Creek.  Pit results had a moderately well bonded layer of concern 40 cm down, so we bypassed the two cleanest gullies in favor of a less wind loaded entrance.  Dropping in blind, I managed to totally botch the line into the main bowl and actually had to skin up briefly to traverse to a suitable exit.  But I eventually found it and directed the group through safely.  The rest of the run was amazing.  We skied excellent powder to about 5,500 feet, then navigated fun stream bottom skiing and thick but doable alder and downfall bushwacking down to the creek.  It was a great run, and it was amazing to catch it in top to bottom powder. The creek crossing was tricky, but we only had one person fall in, so it could have been worse.
Looking down the ski run.  We entered about 100 yards down the ridge skier's left.

Jeffrey heading down to Big Creek.

Leah skiing as the descent began to get interesting.

Expect an adventure in Montana, even when conditions are as good as they get.
The entire egress took a full three hours, but we ground it out slow and steady, returning to the car at dark.  There are quite a few scrappy but potentially interesting couloirs in the same cirque which could merit a return trip.  This line has an unforgivingly exposed entrance and requires a lot of snow to be good, but when in condition it is a highly recommended adventure. The first descent party climbed this run from the bottom, but I think it is best done in this manner as a loop.  Thanks to everyone for such a fun day, and to our friends in town for watching our little one.  About 6,000 vertical feet, done in about 9.5 hours car to car.
Photo taken on a different outing.
We skied the biggest avalanche path, entering near the sun/shade line.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Morrell Mountain powder exploration

I finally made it out to Morrell mountain for a solid day of solo ski exploration.  Yurtski is situated high on the mountain, and tales of a mandatory snowmobile approach coupled with mixed reviews of the terrain kept me away for years.  As it turns out, I was woefully misinformed.  Foot access is reasonable enough, and the terrain is awesome!
Hard to see tracks, but my first and second runs are the first and second layers of the mountain.
All three faces shown can be skied to a convenient point where two gullies meet at 6,000 feet,
from which it is efficient to set one skin track and crank out powder skiing.
I rallied out of town at 5:30, started skinning from the Seeley trailhead at dawn, kicker skinned flat roads for a long hour and a half, made the long climb up one of the West ridges, dug two pits, and topped out four hours after leaving the car.  I started the day off by skiing two long west facing runs, which had the added benefit of recycling my skin track.  To my surprise, I saw a party of five on the summit ridge and decided to follow their tracks down an excellent powder run on the East face.  From the basin, I headed to the main summit of Morrell.
First run. Super fun steep burned tree skiing.
Second run.  A better than it looks moderate avalanche path.
Big air in the gully at the bottom of the first two runs. 
Climbing for more.
 The rest of the day was spent on the main peak, skiing the South face (perfect powder),  North face (surprisingly poor rimed snow with terrible visibility), and the West ridge to exit (OK, but I don't think this is the best exit).  The weather deteriorated at the end, and I bonked a little on the last climb, but the weather and snow were so much better than forecast that I was not in a position to lodge a credible complaint.  I was pleased that the exit only took 90 minutes from the summit of Morrell to the car.  10,200 vertical feet done in 10 hours, 54 minutes car to car.
Excellent powder skiing dropping east from the ridge.
Climbing for more after a good run on the South face of Morrell.
Weather deteriorating as I prepare to ski the North face.
That special feeling you get when the snow is blowing so hard you can't see and you just bonked.
 All in all it was a great day.  Although a snowmobile would save up to two hours of trudging, foot access is not too bad, the driving is straightforward, and there is a lot of terrain even if the avalanche danger is a reasonable Considerable.  I will be back.
The day.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

West Yellowstone powder get away

Leah skiing good powder.
Leah and I were able to get away for a few days of skiing on President's day weekend.  With all manner of storm, wind, avalanches, and cold in the forecast, we eventually settled on West Yellowstone.  Fortunately, the weather and snow gods treated us well, and we had a great time.  With the exception of a few hundred feet of skiing on the first day, every turn was powder!

Day 1
We finished the drive just in time for a two hour spin before dark on the South end of Lionhead.  It was a very windy day, but we had fun.
Dusk patrolling at Lionhead.
Day 2
We skied the normal terrain at Hebgen.  I expended more energy than expected trailbreaking, but got it done if not a little slowly.  We ended up taking five excellent runs for around 7,500 feet of powder skiing.  We had to dodge a few other skiers, but still ended up finding untouched snow for most of our runs.  We did get blasted by bitter cold wind on the egress across the lake, but it was not enough to damper our spirits after a great day.
Powder busting on the first run.
Powder on the second run.
Powder on the third run.
More powder on the fourth run.
Leah climbing for one more.
Day 3
We headed out on a cold but clear day to the Ernest Miller ridge from Bacon Rind.  Getting out of the car was bitter cold, but the sun came out as we ground our way over the top of Bacon Rind and continued west.  An easy climb put us on the Ernest Miller ridge.  We took a good powder run on the East face, skinned to the actual summit, and took an even better run down the Southeast ridge.  It was a long flat skin with some wandering, but we found my preferred exit gully, which served up one last immaculate powder run back to the highway.  It was a good day.
Getting things rolling on Bacon Rind.
Heading over the top of Bacon Rind.
First run on Ernest Miller Ridge.
Leah not afraid of the bitter cold and excited for another run off the summit of the Ernest Miller ridge.
Heading home from Bacon Rind.
The last few powder turns in the exit gully on Bacon Rind.
A big thanks to Sam's grandparents for watching our little one and allowing us to get away for such a special trip.
Good skiing off Ernest Miller ridge.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Fred Burr Creek, Burr point 8,469

Castle Crag from a high perch in Fred Burr Creek.
Ten years ago, the last time I was in Fred Burr, conditions were so I icy I barely used skins and ran around from sunrise to sunset exploring.  The skiing was actually pretty good, so with adequate low elevation snow coverage this year, it seemed fitting to return for a second round.  I struck out on partners, so headed out alone by headlamp, excited to explore.  I walked and jogged the first three miles before there was enough light to see and snow to skin.  From the reservoir inlet, I slowly made my way up the trail another mile, successfully navigating the stream crossings.  In retrospect, I wonder if one could just fight it on the North side of the creek.
Crossing #1: The Sketchy Log. What could possibly go wrong?
Crossing #2: The Sketchy Boulder Hop.  What could possibly go wrong?
Crossing #3: The Sketchy Ice, Bridged with Skis.  What could possibly go wrong?
Crossing #4: Not pictured. I walked through the creek and soaked my boots, but was on the way out so it was OK.

It is a little tricky to ascertain the correct place to leave the trail, and I overshot by a bit, but a minor course correction put me back on track.  Aside from a water stop, I put my head down and climbed straight to the summit of Burr Point (my informal name), Point 8,469.  The upper headwall of the peak looked like splendid skiing, so I spun a long low angle powder run down toward Bear creek.  The skiing was quite good.  Another good push put me back on top again.
First run off Burr point.
More of the first run.  Sky Pilot in view on the left skyline.
I had hoped to ski the excellent southeast bowl, but general stability was not as bomber as I had hoped for, and I was concerned about South facing snow warming up too much. So I headed for my main objective for the day, a steep couloir dropping peak to creek off the southeast shoulder of Burr point.  To my delight, it was easy to skirt slabs on the upper headwall, and the ensuing run was excellent, with good corn snow and much better coverage than I had feared.
Looking down the second run.
I skied the obvious sunlight couloir.  Burr point is directly behind it.  My ascent route was in the shaded bowl looker's right.  
I had originally planned to ski several steeper lines, but wasn't super excited to do another dance around wind slabs, so I bushwacked across the creek and made a 3,000 foot climb up low angle terrain in the Castle crag basin.  I had hoped the run would be mellow powder, but it was pretty wind hammered and unforgettable.  I also faded a lot on the climb. Not sure why.
The third run was down the rolling sunlit slopes looker's right of Castle crag.
I rounded out the day by climbing to the top of a series of North facing peak to creek gullies which drop back to Fred Burr creek just above the reservoir.  The skinning was trickier than I would have liked given my fatigued state, but I hammered away at it, eventually topping out.  The run took a great line, but the snow was again wind hammered, so the skiing was just OK.
The gully I skied on the last run.  Photo taken from Burr point.
At the bottom of the last run.  It was about as interesting as it looks. Classic Bitterroot boulder hopping.
From the trail, the exit took 90 minutes, and was full of great drama including wading through the creek, tricky high speed downhill skiing with kicker skins, a striking sunset, and about two miles of jogging in running shoes back to the car. 10,300 vertical feet, done in 11 hours, 38 minutes car to car. Kind of slow, but I took the pace nice and easy most of the day.

It was good to go back to Fred Burr/  On a gear related note, this was the first day using a new Black Diamond Cirque 30 pack, purchased at the gamlber sale at the Trailhead.  As long as it is durable, I am quite impressed with the pack.  So Fred Burr requires quite a bit of low elevation snow to make anything happen on skis, but once things fill in there is quite a bit of good skiing, and the drive to the trailhead is safe.  I think Burr point is the best place to start, since it is just high enough in the drainage to have good coverage, and there is a lot to ski as long as the avalanche danger is on the low end of Considerable or lower.

I would like to return with a lot of snow and ski some of the more accessible North facing terrain above the reservoir.  I would also like to return and ski more of the North facing terrain on the northwest shoulder of Castle Crag.  It is getting way up the drainage, but there are also a bunch of nice South facing runs below Totem peak in the upper corner of the drainage that look excellent.  On a bigger but doable note, it would be quite fun to do a mini traverse from Sheafman to Fredd Burr, skiing something out of the head of Sheafman, then skiing one of the North facing runs in to Fred Burr from the northwest shoulder of the Castle Crag massif.  On a little more out there note, It would be rad to do a traverse from Fred Burr to Bear or Gash creeks, skiing Totem and the striking unnamed peak at the head of Bear creek, and maybe Sky Pilot.  Hmmm....