Sunday, December 9, 2018

Early Season Grey Wolf West couloir

Grey Wolf Peak, West face.
I was able to take advantage of a surprise day off to honor the death of our 41st president and ski.  The early season has been kind of weird, so I headed to the Missions with enough gear for steep skiing, but without a real agenda.  The trail is a lot of work right now, and it took about 30 minutes longer than normal to top out on the the south shoulder of ESM.  To my delight, the West couloir of Grey Wolf looked good, so I headed that way.  I embarrassingly got cliffed out on the ski down to No Fish lake, and had to skin back up and find a better passage.  But I persevered. I was at the base of the West in time for a cold lunch stop.  The couloir looked great, so I headed up.
Excited to have a peak.
Great skiing off the shoulder of ESM.
The climb was about average.  Booting was pretty wallowey, but the snow was forgiving enough that I was also able to put skis on and skin for short bits.  There were a few shallow slabs and one easy little rock/ice step at 2/3 height, but nothing too concerning.  After about an hour and a half dozen booting to skiing transitions, I was at the top.  The ski down was predictably great.  In fact, conditions were some of the best I have seen in the couloir.  I was soon back at the lake, giddy and ready for a short second lunch break.
Grey Wolf West couloir in good condition.
I spent the rest of the day just cruising around on mellower terrain.  I skinned back out to the South shoulder and took a good run south into the bowl adjacent to the approach ridge, yo-yoed a short lap on the climb back out, then climbed to the South shoulder one last time before the egress.  The South shoulder runs were a lot of fun, with surprisingly good snow.  The egress was slower than normal since skiing stops pretty high, but the trail is snowy and slippery most of the way back to the valley bottom.  Running shoes and micro spikes were helpful.
At the bottom of the South shoulder bowl run.
About 10,300 vertical feet, done in 9 hours, 15 minutes at a reasonable pace with stops to giggle in sheer delight at how much I enjoy skiing.

10k day #2  

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

... and so it begins, 2019

I have been out a whopping three days this year, mainly just working the cobwebs out at Snowbowl.  From social media, it appears that the normal early season haunts are just starting to fill in, and I can't wait for some real coverage.  So far, the best day was a sunny Sunday afternoon where I eked out the first 10,000 foot day of the year by skiing eight Lavelle laps.  As a test, I pushed at a pretty bright pace and did it in just under 5 hours, which is the fastest I have ever amassed that kind of vertical.
Ned and Jeffrey pretending there is enough snow to ski on the lower flanks of Lolo peak.
Nearing sunset with two Lavelle climbs to go to meet my 10k elevation goal.
Building a fitness base for longer days to come.
I haven't outlined my goals for the season quite yet, but it is about time to dust off the list of local areas to explore, kick some speedyish projects around, and start scheming bigger tours.  It is feels good to be going into ski season fit and ready. Here's to a safe winter of skiing.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Northern Bitterroot, Big old day of biking and running

St. Mary peak view at sunrise.
I tend to get a little lazy in the fall.  Today was not one of those days.  With a cooperative knee for biking, I concocted a plan to bike and run St. Mary, Little Saint Joseph, and Sweeney from the forest boundary.  With 16,000 feet of climbing, I was honestly a little too intimidated to try, but Jeffrey's confident enthusiasm provided much needed motivation to give it a go.  Sure enough, less than 48 hours later, we started biking up the St. Mary road by headlamp.

Jeffrey was burning it a little too hot for me right out of the gate, so I settled in to my reasonable full day biking pace as his headlamp faded into the dark.  We made it to the trailhead after a little over ninety minutes of biking.  I hope I didn't make him wait too long.  The walk up to St. Mary was fun, and sunrise was predictably inspiring.  There was a lot less snow up high than we had feared, which bode well for actually completing the daunting link up.  The run and bike back to the car went quickly, and we were able to easily dodge the road hunters looking for elk on opening day.  I had some semi-cramping twinges on the descent, which made me nervous, but just ignored them and hoped things would get better later in the day.  St. Mary peak done!
Jeffrey, closing in on St. Mary peak.
We were walking up the steep off trail pitch to Little St. Joe from the summer trailhead before 10:30.  We made good time on the long walk directly up the Southeast ridge to the Little St. Joe trailhead, then up the summer trail.  Jeffrey was still setting a pretty aggressive pace, but we were moving well, so I just continued to try to keep up.  We finally climbed into deep snow above the upper small saddle, and the last long push to the summit was slow.  But we perservered.  We took it slow enough to not hammer our legs too much on the 5,000 vertical foot run down to the valley.  Little St. Joe and over 10k of climbing done!  Back at the car, we took a much needed break to refuel and psyche up for the last peak of the day.
Jeffrey closing in on Little St. Joe, with St. Mary in the background.
The forest boundary for Sweeney is a few miles up the road, and we took full advantage of driving a few hundred vertical feet above the valley floor.  I didn't realize just how steep this road is, and most of the biking to the trailhead was a grind, especially for the member of our party on a gravel bike without a suitable granny gear for steep grades.  We eventually gave up on biking one switchback from the top and transitioned to running shoes.  It felt a little cavalier to head out from the trailhead already quite fatigued as the sun began to dip toward the horizon, but I tried not to think about it too much.  Sweeney actually went pretty smoothly.  I was too tired to do much running on the trail, and I also found routefinding much trickier than it used to be before the fire.  But we were still moving well, and summited a few minutes before sunset.  After snapping a few photos, we immediately got to work on getting through the tricky off trail routefinding before dark.  Once again, things went smoothly, and we were soon running recklessly fast, chasing dark on the trail.  We made it to the bikes right at dark and coasted it back to the car by headlamp.  For stats, right around 16,000 vertical feet done in a hair under fourteen hours.
Jeffrey closing in on Sweeney, with Little St. Joe in the background.
On Sweeney, relieved to have the days climbing in the bag.
Thoughts  What a way to spend a perfect fall day.  I had a lot more fun than anticipated.  The day was broken up enough that it was not too monotonous, and by pacing reasonably, I made it through tired but not demoralized.  I have always enjoyed mixing biking and running, and today was certainly no exception.  A huge thanks to Jeffrey for lighting a fire under me to finally get this one done.  And for executing a flawless day.

If I do something like this again, I think I will just do two peaks, parking once and doing everything under human power.  Two peaks would still be a long and challenging 10,000 plus vertical foot day of valley bottom to peak top awesomeness.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Rattlesnake, Lake fork/Wrangell fork loop

Glacier lake and Mosquito's north couloirs with a fresh slathering of white.
I spent a frantic fall day between day care drop off and pick up doing as much as possible in the Rattlesnake.  Given by 8.5 hour time window, I launched by bike up the corridor, and ground out the bumpy road to the wilderness boundary.  From there, I ran up the Lake fork, marveling at the fall colors, subalpine lakes, and snow on a new-to-me trail.  From the crest, I slunk past Mosquito peak on the trail, and marveled at a whole new set of fall colors, subalpine lakes, and snow on the run down the Wrangell fork back to the bike.  A hasty running to bike shoe transition was all it took to be cruising back down the corridor.  I had an extra two hours, and I literally used every minute to walk/run up to the Mineral mountain lookout from the East Fork.  I climbed as hard tired legs would allow to Mineral, and sprinted back to the bike for a hasty, bumpy ride out to the car.
Fall colors and runnable single track in the Lake fork.
Closing in on Mineral.  Too tired to properly compose a photo.
It was great to explore more Rattlesnake country so close to home.  I have never been up the Lake fork, or to Mineral peak before, and both trails are excellent if not a little remote.  After a year off of substantial biking due to a knee injury, words can't really describe how grateful I am to be able to reliably bike.  For effort, I pushed a little too hard all day (above aerobic threshold), and returned to the car pretty whooped.  But happy.  For stats, a little under 50 miles, I think, and about 7k vert, done in just under 8 hours car to car.  

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Great Burn, Heart Lake to Clearwater Crossing run

I finally was able to find willing cohorts to pull off a Great Burn traverse run.  After too much logistics planning, Leah pounded out an almost 30-mile day in the reverse direction and met us all at the Heart lake trailhead for an enjoyable night of family camping.
Heart lake.
Jeffrey and I rolled out of the Heart lake trailhead at a remarkably civil 8:30 am.  I was still recovering from sickness, but felt OK to engage a long day as long as we went slowly.  The run up to Heart and Pearl lakes went quickly, and we were soon in new-to-us country on the Stateline.  After a long descent to Goose lake, we promptly lost the trail (in retrospect, we went around the wrong side of the lake).  Instead of backtracking, I forced an obstinate bushwack, but it ended up working out just fine.  The ridge section from Goose lake to the West fork trail was by far the highlight of the run.  It is a beautiful few miles, with fun runnable trail perched above Straight lake, Siamese lake, and countless striking small tarns that are so characteristic of the Burn.  Plus, as I had hoped, the fall colors were beautiful.  We arrived at Fish lake, our halfway point, tired but sufficiently motivated to continue on to Indian creek.
Nearing Pearl lake. 
In the fun stuff.  This photo does not come close
to displaying the striking character of the Stateline between Goose and Fish lakes.
The Stateline trail over Admiral peak to Mud lake was not as spectacular as the previous section, but it was worth wile and fast.  We were both tired by the time we dropped into Indian creek, and it was an easy call to not continue out to Schley peak.  The trail down from Mud lake was overgrown and slow for the first few miles, but we were soon on more runnable trail.  I was quite tired by this point, but it was actually kind of fun to spend a few hours grinding out miles in a magnificent state of fatigue.  The run out was uneventful, and we returned to the car happy after a long and beautiful day in new country close to home.  We had something close to an epic with a flat tire on the drive home, but that is a story for another day.  For stats, 35 miles, a dad under 7k vert, and done in 9 hours, 15 minutes at an all day running pace.
Admiral peak section.
Last few running steps before fording Fish creek and taking shoes off at the car.
It is marvelous to be healthy enough to be able to confidently do long running days like this.  I need to go back and to what appears to be the most logical 30-mile North Fork/Stateline/West Fork Fish loop from Clearwater crossing.

I hope to get a few more days in the mountains, but fall colors are pretty darn nice.