Monday, December 31, 2012

Mount Blackmore for time

2015  Edit:  John Curry skied the circuit in a self reported 1.52 on 2/27/15. 

4/1/2013  Edit:  Nick Vandenbos kindofsortof recently re-claimed the Blackmore FKT.  His time was 2 hr, 1 min, mine was 2 hr, 1 min, 18 sec.  I think that qualifies as a tie, but it probably doesn't matter because I'm sure it will go faster soon.  Strong work, Nick!

During Christmas break, I was able to sneak away to Mount Blackmore for a speedy couple of hours.  I put in a similar effort last year, but got lost in the dark.  This year, I set off well before sunrise at a brisk pace from the correct trailhead, gunning for the top.  Conditions were fast, and I made it to the summit in good time despite getting off the skin track several times near the base of the peak.  I summited before sunrise, fully enjoying the alpenglow and the twinkling lights of town far below in the valley.  The peak skied well, and I had a blast flying down the steep windy trail all the way back to the comforts of a warm car.  The round trip time was 2 hr 2 min.  I didn't have my racing gear on hand, and I'm confident it could go in under 2 hours with good conditions and lighter gear.  There are plenty of fast folks in Bozeman who should give 'er a go and report back when they beat the 2 hour mark on this iconic Bozeman ski outing!

A little frosty on top of Mount Blackmore.

Splits:  Blackmore Lake - 23 min; arrive at upper meadows ~45 min; base of the peak - 1 hr 13 min; summit 1 hr 31 min; running up the trail below Blackmore lake - 1 hr 48 min; Car 2 hr 1 min 18 sec.

My brother and I were also able to sneak a way for a cold and blustery day to climb the classic California Ice.  The rest of Christmas was spent enjoying some very quality family time.
Leading the final pitch of California Ice.
Ready to do battle with some Hyalite Ice!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The proper Gash tour

 John, Blake and I ventured out into the storm on Sunday with plans to head to Gash point proper and "see what happens".  We ended up doing what I call the proper Gash tour which is: up to Gash point proper, down the North facing avalanche path until the skiing peters out, back up to the east shoulder of Gash proper, down to upper Gash creek, then up the North ridge to Gash knob, down the North bowl or ridge, back up to the knob, and out the South bowl to the car.  The wind, low visibility, and sensitive shallow wind slabs added some spice to an otherwise safe and straight forward tour.  The skiing was excellent with 6 to 10 inches of light powder over a firm, stable base.  The exit is still quite rocky, and even John took his skis off twice on the exit.  We took a vote back at the car and the results were:  Brian:  best tour of the year.  John: best tour of the year.  Blake:  claimed it was his best tour ever, but I don't believe him.  8,700 v.f. and done in a little under 8 hours car to car.

As a side note, I finally got the basic Gash route descriptions up on the Bitterroot Route descriptions page.

Rimed trees on the climb to Gash knob.  Photo by John Leherman
John and Blake rallying back up Gash point properbafter skiing the North face.
Climbing to Gash knob.
John diving into the South Bowl at Gash Point.
I also skied at Heart lake with Leah and Blake on Saturday.  We parked about 3 miles from the Heart Lake trailhead and toured back to Heart, Pearl, then Dalton Lake.  We ended up getting a snowmobile tow from two locals - thanks guys!  New wind slabs and a weird deep sandwiched ice crust layer kept us from skiing the Dalton chutes, but we had a great time bowl bouncing around Heart and Dalton lakes.
The Dalton chutes are quite filled in.
Bird's eye view of Leah ripping through the powder above Hear Lake.
I'm the little dot skiing down to Heart lake, visible on the left edge of the photo.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Bozeman ice and snow

I spent the weekend in Bozeman, flirting around the edges of the ice festival.  On Saturday, I went out with Hilary, Ben and Leah in search of ice, which is scarce this year.  We ended up climbing the classic Champagne Sherbet (WI 4) in the Flanders sub-drainage of Hyalite.  Fortunately we got an early start, because over the course of the day 14 people showed up hoping to climb the route.  Hilary and Leah climbed first and left their ice screws in, so I was able to lead it as a sport climb, which was great fun.  After re-grouping at the base, we succumbed to the cold and lack of ice and decided to call it a day.  It was snowing all day, and try as I might, I couldn't help wishing I was out on skis busting powder.
Hilary styling Champagne Sherbet
Ben low on Champagne Sherbet.

On Sunday, Leah and I went powder skiing in the southern Bridgers.  We were only out for a couple of hours, but it was enough time to sample the 20" of new snow.  Unfortunately, the characteristic mid-slope winds raked the slopes all day, and fresh wind slabs relegated us to meadow skipping.  Nevertheless, it was another successful re-introduction to the world of skiing.
As some would say, "in case you want to go there".
Winter is slowly materializing in Montana, but I'm still itching for an exciting day in the mountains.  I'm sure it will happen soon, so stay posted!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Fall running, 2012

I know, I know, it's time to start writing about snow, and I've been out a few times on skis, but up until last weekend, ski conditions around Missoula were decidedly thin.  In any case, it took 5 years of living near Missoula to discover the amazing network of running trails on the edge of town.  Inspired, I spent a fair bit of time in running shoes this fall, without a care in the world that conditions were often too wet for biking.  In addition to many perfect evenings and memorable moments, the running volume should provide a good base for randonee racing, and ski season in general.

Here's a brief summary:

Overlook trail:  This 900 vertical foot trail run at the edge of town in Superior is my go-to short run.  I have probably run the overlook over 10 times since the fall equinox.  I have done all sorts of crazy variations to keep things interesting, including repeats, intervals, and running with a pack, and the all-time favorite, repeats with a pack in the dark.  My fastest time will fall every month or so.  It wouldn't take a very strong runner to shave a bunch of time off, but Superior residents tend to eat frozen pizza and watch TV for recreation, so I'm claiming a FKT.  Recent progress is:  12.52, set in July;  12.47, set November 29th; 12.45, set March 12th by starting slower and hammering for the last 4 minutes.

10/1  3,000ish v.f., 1.52.  Run the Heart/Pearl loop in celebration of fall.  A beautiful voyage into a relatively wild corner of Montana, and possible to squeeze in after work.  Take a day next summer to do it on foot or on a bike.

10/8  About 18 miles of flat running on pavement in Chicago put the serious hurt on me.

10/16  3,000 v.f. 1.36.  Run up the Hellgate Canyon trail to the radio towers, where I was greeted by an extremely brisk wind.  Run down to the Sentinel saddle, then up and over Sentinel and down to town via the ridge trail.  The smile was immediately swept from my face by Obama's no-show in the first presidential debate.

10/19 3,000+ v.f., 1.28.  Back to Sentinel.  Run up to Sentinel via the M trail, then the ridge trail in 26.30.  Continue over the top and on to the radio towers.  Descend via the Hellgate Canyon trail and the river trail back to town.  I think this is my favorite run around Missoula.

10/27 2,000 v.f., 1.28.  Run up Hellgate Canyon to Sentinel in the snow with Leah.  Descend via the normal trail to the M, then down the M trail to town.  Weave in and out of football fans walking home during the run back to the car.

11/1 about 18 miles, 4.40.  Run a long loop in the Needles district of Canyonlands on a rest day.  I ended up doing a grand tour, visiting Chessler park, the Joint trail, Druid Arch, and Elephant, Squaw, and Lost canyons.  Slot canyons, open slickrock shelfs, open parks, arches, wild red rock, and no water.  I love the desert.

11/7 2,000 v.f., 1.15.  Run up and down the Boyd Mountain trail near St. Regis on the way back from work.  Not a terribly inspired run.  Ended in the dark - still pretty grumpy about the loss of daylight saving time.

11/10 4,000 v.f and a bunch of miles, 2.45.  Run up Jumbo via the L trail, down to Jumbo saddle, then down to Marshall canyon.  Run down canyon through East Missoula and back to town, then up Sentinel in a dismal 35 minutes via the M trail and down and out to the car.  Kind of long, but an interesting round-about tour.

11/12 3,500 v.f., 2.49.  Ran the Blue Mountain 30K course with Leah.  I had to stop many times to check directions.  The folks at the Runner's Edge picked a good route, and by eliminating a few contrived additions, the result would be a superb ~25K course.

11/14 2,500 v.f., 1.25.  Run the last portion of the Blue Mountain 30K course, heading straight to Hayes point from the parking lot, then continuing with the course.  I ended at dark, and the headlamp went on for the first time to put on warm clothes at the car.  Perfect timing on a perfect fall run.

11/15 1,800 v.f., 1 hour.  I made a hard push up Sentinel for time.  I brought ski poles and ascended via the M trail, then the ridge trail.  I topped out in 24.14, which is by far my best time.  Scuttle back down to town in the dark.

11/18 2,500 v.f, 2 hours.  Run from the house to the L trail, up Jumbo, down to Jumbo saddle, then down Lincoln Hills to the house.  I ran hard to the summit in about 26.5, then doubled back to rendezvous with Leah before proceeding with the rest of the run.  I stashed a bottle of GU on the Jumbo summit, which was stolen in the 10 minutes I left it unattended.  Hopefully the someone had a super turbo-charged descent.  We timed the run perfectly, watching the sun slowly slip behind the bitterroot as we jogged back into town.

11/20 ~400 v.f. 35 minutes.  Run the standard waterworks/Duncan loop backwards before hopping on a plane headed to New York for Thanksgiving.

11/24 3,000 v.f., 2 hours.  Recover from a long plane voyage by running the loop from Jumbo saddle to the Jumbo summit, down the trail above the highway, then back over Jumbo via the L trail with Leah.  Went skiing for the first time at Gash the following day.  Coverage was ok, and the snow quality was good.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

October in Indian Creek

Leah and I escaped a scrappy fall in Missoula for a week of climbing on warm sandstone at Indian Creek.  After several years away, it was great to be back in wild, stark desert of southern Utah.
Red rocks, golden cottonwoods, and more gear
than you know what to do with.  Must be fall in Indian Creek.

Days 1-3
After a long day of driving, we successfully rendezvoused with Joshua and spent the first day warming up at the Supercrack buttress.  I warmed up on the classic Super Crack of the Desert (10) and Amaratto corner (9), before heading over Anasazi (11a), a long layback corner, which I redpointed.  We spent the remainder of the day on the Incredible Handcrack and a new favorite, 3AM Crack.  I had a huge smile all day, which would be trend for the remainder of the week.  The evening was spent cooking and settling into desert life.

After sorting gear and saying good by to Joshua, we headed to the Pistol Whipped wall.  We warmed up on the excellent and long wide hand splitter, Jolly Rancher (10).  After following Leah on Wounded Knee (10+), I geared up for Spaghetti Western (11).  The climb went well, with a layback crux at the beginning, and an endurance crux at the top of the overhanging dihedral, and I was glad to pull of the onsight.  Leah rounded out the day by leading Coyne Crack Simulator (11-), which provided a great chance to crank away at ring locks.
Rappelling Spaghetti Western.
Leah on the thin hands start to Wounded Knee.

We spent our third day climbing at the Technicolor wall.  I warmed up on the excellent Whales Back (11-) which would more accurately be graded 5.10.  Leah threw down her proudest lead of the trip, onsighting On the Up and Up (10), which included pulling out of a pod on fist jams and hanging on through the wide hands splitter above.  Feeling the heat, we took a long lunch break before walking down and over to the long an varied dihedral Golden Eye (10+), which I onsighted without incident.  There are a lot of new routes at this wall, and I would be curious to know more about them.  The remainder of the evening was spent in Moab, cleaning up and checking out the Halloween festivities.
Leah at the top of Whale's Back.
Leah onsighting On the Up and Up.
Sprinting to the chains on Golden Eye.

Rest Day
After a long, relaxed morning in Moab, we returned to Indian Creek, and I ended up running a 20 mile loop in the Needles district of Canyonlands.  The route was a rough circumnavigation of the popular hiking trails (Squaw flats to Elephant canyon to Chessler park to the Joint trail to Druid arch and down Elepant to Big Springs and Squaw canyon and back home).  Having backpacked extensively in the Needles, it felt like watching a movie in fast forward as the miles of memorable trail ticked by.  And I enjoyed every minute of it.
The Needles during a "rest day" run.

Days 4-5
With some skin recovery and high expectations, we headed to the Reservoir wall.  After finding and climbing the Warm Up Handcrack (10), Leah climbed the long, varied, and beautiful Pente (11-).  As we were eating lunch at the base of Pente, another party mentioned that the pillar on Slot Machine is slowly moving, and the upper portion of the climb now accepts perfect hand jams.  Inspired by striking line, I decided to investigate.  It took all the face climbing, stemming, and knee barring skills I had to get to the hand crack in the upper dihedral, but I prevailed for an onsight of perhaps my favorite pitch of the trip (in it's current condition, I would downgrade the route from 12- to 11).  We ended the day at dusk on Dr. Carl (10-).
Leah on Pente.
Resorting to blue collar tactics on Slot Machine.

The original plan was to climb a tower in Castle valley the last day, but it was too hard to leave the creek.  We spent the morning at Broken Tooth, where Leah got an impromptu lesson in ring locks while leading Rock Lobster (11), and I onsighted the fantastic unnamed 11- corner with roofs, thin hands, fist jams,and offwidth.  We took a long lunch break and moved to the Reservoir wall, where Leah took a shot at Excuse Station (11).  We were both satisfied and tired after battling one of the longest continuous thin hands splitters at the creek.
Leah on Rock Lobster.
It was with great reluctance that we headed back north...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Fall play time

I've been camera-less for a couple of weeks now, but the adventures continue.

In late September, I was excited to finally check out the stellar limestone climbing at Blackleaf Canyon.  We spent the first day aquanting ourselves with the wall, climbing the quality first four pitches of Bodhisattva (10+) before pulling on chert knobs at the Blow-hard wall to round out to the day.  The following day, after a sunrise run along the front, Leah and I climbed Home Boys on Soy (6 pitches, 11a) and onsighted the challenging, sustained 2-pitch The Deep End (11b),  The grades are quite soft, I think by an average of one or two letter grades.  It's too bad the drive is so long, because the climbing is excellent, interesting, and safe.  And the canyon is spectacular, with a lot of options for hikes and trail runs on the edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
A portion of the main wall at Blackleaf.
Starting up the crux pitch of Bodhisattva.
I celebrated the confluence of the end of wildfire smoke and the beginning of October and fall weather by running the Heart/Pearl lake loop after work.  This 12+-mile, 3,000 vertical foot trail run is one of the best evening outings around Superior, one I like to do in early fall to catch the alpine shrubs in full color.  The most logical trail run is: up to Heart lake, then up to the Stateline trail and out to the Pearl lake juction.  Down to Pearl, then Heart lakes, then down the trail to the car.  A variation of the loop is a fairly popular bike ride as well, starting at Hoodoo pass and traversing the Stateline trail to the Pearl lake junction.    I think the loop goes faster on foot, since the trail is fairly technical.  1h 53 min.
The Heart/Pearl lake loop.  The approximate trail location is in white.
The last few weeks have been pretty laid back.  Lots of family time, including a 3-day visit to check out  Kyle's grad student life in Chicago.  Also, Missoula received its first dusting of snow, and my new powder skis arrived, so it's officially time to start getting psyched for ski season!  Meanwhile, the crisp fall weather has allowed for evening after evening of perfect post-work bike rides and trail runs around Superior.
Trying to get back into the boat during a Flathead river trip with my parents.
Working on the St. Mary's trail in the Missions.

Meredith climbing some fine Montana limestone.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Swan Traverse in a day

After traversing both the northern and southern portions of the Swan range earlier this summer, I returned to link the two into a marathon of ridge scrambling interspersed with alpine basin hiking and elegant trail running.  The result was probably my favorite non-ski day this summer, an outing which should appeal to trail runners, climbers, and fit wilderness enthusiasts alike.

I spent the previous evening running the 30-mile bike shuttle at a casual pace, arriving at the Smith Creek pass trailhead just in time to get an early jump on sleeping.  I was up early, hiking and jogging out of the parking lot at 3:30 am at a sustainable pace.  I hit the pass well before first light, and scrambled the north ridge of Cooney peak with the light of the Cooney fire twinkling below.  The traverse to South Cooney went smoothly, aside from a couple of darkness-induced routefinding errors.  Sunrise bosted morale as it always does, and I was soon on the clean, slabby ridge walk to Holland peak.  A quick jog down the south face of Holland and class 4 scramble put me on the summit of Buck Mountain right at the 6 hour mark.  I descended the southeast face of the peak and traversed alpine basins to Rubble lake for water, then continued through more high alpine terrain to the Sapphire Lake Trail.  The trail took longer than expected, but the route is spectacular, winding around alpine lakes before switchbacking down to Upper Holland Lake.  I saw a black bear on the trail, which added some excitement to the day.  I also managed to loose my camera in this stretch, must have fallen out of a pocket..  I made it to the lake in 8.45, almost an hour behind schedule.

After a full water refill at Holland lake, I jogged up the heavily used trail to Gordon Pass.  The bushwack back up to treeline was reasonable, and I was grateful to be below treeline as a rogue thunderstorm blew through.  Soon enough I was back above treeline, this time scrapping up the clean slabs on the north ridge of Carmine peak.  The climb to Carmine went quickly, as did the traverse to Wolverine peak.  I had opted to traverse from north to south, which allowed for quick scrambling up the north ridges of Ptarmigan and Fisher peaks, and a surprising amount of runnable terrain on the south side descents.  A constant, brisk wind and haze from smoke kept temps down.  With adequate food and water, I was able to maintain a bright pace, and I was on top of Fisher peak at a little under 14 hours, ready to start heading down.  The bumps on the ridge south of Fisher were slower than I remembered, but it wasn't too long before I picked up the trail.  40 minutes later, I was back at the car, with tender feet, and tired legs, ready to eat cookies and drink beer.

While my time is brisk, I have no doubts that it would go in well under 10 hours in the hands of a strong trail runner, especially someone who can maintain a running gate over talus.

The route
From Smith Creek pass trailhead, up trail to the pass.  Traverse along the ridge crest, summiting Cooney, south Cooney, Holland, and Buck (peak south of Holland). Traverse alpine basins to Sapphire lake trail, and take the trial down to Holland lake, then up to Gordon pass.  Bushwack back up to the Swan crest at Carmine mountain, and continue to Sunday mountain, summiting Wolverine, Ptarmigan peak, Ptarmigan point, and Fisher peaks along the way.  Down trail to Rice ridge trailhead.

Cooney Pass: 1.45
South Cooney: 2.45
Holland: 5
Buck: 6
Trail: 7.40
Holland Lake: 8.45
Carmine: 10.10
Wolverine: 11
Ptarmigan point: 12.40
Fisher: 13.45
Trail: 14.50
Car: 15.32

Total elevation gain (based on topo map):  13,400 vertical feet
Total distance (approximate):  30 miles
Trip length: 15 hours, 32 minutes trailhead to trailhead
Accomplices: None
Put in:  Smith Creek pass trailhead
Take out: Rice Ridge trailhead
Equipment of note:  Hiking poles, running shoes.
Sustinance:  Big breakfast.  About 8L of water (carried 3 bottles with refills) with electrolyte tabs and about 3,500 calories of Hammer Gel, Heed, energy bars, and cookies
Bears?: Yes 
Lightening? Yes
Fatigue factor (1-10): 9
Stoke factor:  9 (Note:  virtually impossible to exceed 9 if skis aren't involved)
Memories to suppress:  Losing my camera, smoke

No camera = no pictures, which is too bad because it was a beautiful day.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mount Slesse - Northeast Buttress

With smoke infesting most climbing areas near Missoula, Leah and I made a run for the border with plans to climb the Northeast Buttress of Mount Slesse.  The drive is long, and the entire first day was devoted to driving and approaching to the Memorial Plaque.  The hike in was about 5 km longer then normal due to severe waterbars on the Nesakwatch Creek road.  Our Subaru was not up to the task.
The great Northeast Buttress of Mount Slesse.
We got an alpine start, hiking from the Memorial plaque by 2:30 am.  The approach to the Pocket glacier went smoothly with the exception of a major, darkness-induced detour on the slabby cirque south of the glacier.  Arriving at sunrise, we were dismayed to find the Pocket glacier in poor condition.  We played it relatively safe, simul climbing steep slabs above the eastern edge of the glacier before committing to a sprint across the glacier at the safest point.  What would normally take less than an hour ate up almost half a day, but we were able to avoid the worst of the objective hazards. Still, the glacier was extremely active, especially saturday evening through sunday, and seracs were shedding impressive quantities of snow and ice several times an hour, day and night.
Tiptoeing around the Pocket glacier.
Coming up ramps to the buttress proper, showing the adverse state of the Pocket glacier.
We started up the route mid-day, hoping to make it to the giant bivy ledge before dark.  After an exposed ledge traverse to gain the buttress, the route opens with several hundred feet of dirt, tree, and rock climbing up to easy 5th class, which we simul climbed.  Once the "harder" climbing started, I was immediately struck by how severely overnight gear hampered my climbing.  So we stayed in slow and safe mode, pitching it out to the bivy ledge in six long pitches.  We stuck to the buttress crest, and the upper pitches were either splitter and fun or knobby and steep and fun.  We arrived at the bivy at 6 pm.  The evening was beautiful, and with warm sleeping bags and a shared bivy sack, we both slept fairly comfortably.
Clean cracks and heavy packs on the lower buttress.
Room with a view.  On the bivy ledge.
We awoke at sunrise, and prepared for a chilly morning of climbing on the upper buttress.  After about 600 feet of simul-climbing, five excellent pitches of steep knobby rock interspersed with clean cracks brought us to the summit.  We took a long break on top to enjoy the views and reflect on the climb.  The descent is quite long, with at least 5 rappels interspersed with downclimbing to get off the peak, followed by the involved Crossover descent which includes steep snow, tricky routefinding, and one rappel.  We were greatly aided by the newly improved Crossover descent trail.  Excellent directions can be found here.  We made it down to the climber's trail a little before dark, and easily followed this to our bivy site. After a break for a cold but deliciious dinner, we pounded out the last 5 miles of road and trail, returning to the car at midnight.  A surprise dead battery precluded any driving, so we pitched the tent and slept fitfully, having safely climbed one of the all time classic alpine routes in the Cascades.
Morning sunshine and a buttress to climb.
Not a bad way to start the day.
On the upper buttress.
Leah near the end of the ridge traverse of the Crossover descent.
 The rest of the trip was spent climbing warm granite at Index.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Trapper peaks, Anitolli and Cowboy ridge FKT

In the summer, North Trapper peak is my favorite peak in the Bitterroot range, so I was excited to seek out it's craggy summit for a 7th time.  I chose to solo the Anitolli North ridge (IV 5.7) to North Trapper peak and continue on the Cowboy ridge (II easy 5th) to main Trapper peak.  I did this same traverse in the Fall of 2010, and consider it to be the best alpine rock adventure in the Bitterroot.
Excited on the smokey summit of North Trapper peak.
The day began with the mandatory long bike shuttle from Baker lake trailhead to the Trapper creek trailhead, and I didn't start jogging from the trailhead until after 10 am.  I was gunning for time, so ran as hard as I could on the trail in about an hour, with one stop at the last stream crossing for water.   The trail had about 40 down trees on it, which slowed progress somewhat.  With a hard push, the bushwack into the upper basin went quickly, and I was gearing up at the base of the route just past the 2 hour mark.

I mentally shifted from speedy ascending to safe climbing before slowly ascending 1,200 foot Anitolli route in almost exactly 2 hours from the base.  The climbing is all moderate on good rock, but the exposure and occasional lichenous patch kept me on my toes.  I spent some time signing the summit register before embarking on the Cowboy traverse.  I kept climbing shoes on for the first half of the traverse before switching to running shoes for the ledgy ascent on the west side of the ridge to Trapper peak.  I moved as quickly as possible all the way to the summit of Trapper, summiting at 5 hours, 40 minutes.  I drank the last of my water before beginning the long run down to the car.  I lost the trail again high on the mountain, but managed to keep running until regaining it shortly before the user trail diverges to Baker lake.  The run down the user trail to Baker lake and out to the car was really fun.  In fact, the entire day was a blast.  After passing a few folks, I arrived at the trailhead in a surprise light drizzle, at 6 hours, 37 minutes.  I think this is a fastest known time.  Anyone know otherwise?
At the base of the 1,200-foot Anitolli ridge.
Great exposure on the piton pitch (approximately
pitch 5) of the Anitolli Ridge.
A smokey glance back at the Cowboy Traverse from
the summit of Trapper peak.

Total elevation gain (based on topo map): 6,100 vertical feet
Pitches climbed:  About 20
Normal trip length: 12-20 hours
Trip length: 6 hours, 42 minutes from the Trapper creek trailhead to the Baker lake trailhead
Accomplices: None 
Sustenance:  Big breakfast (including a donuts).  3 L of water with electrolyte tabs and about 1,500 calories of Gu, Heed, and one Pro bar.
Fatigue factor (1-10): 6
Cramp severity index (1-10): 3
Stoke factor: (1-10): 10
Memories to suppress:  Downfalls on the trail, SMOKE!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Nez Perce, Southwest Buttress

8/12/2012  Leah, Natalie and I approached the route and made it to the base of the upper buttress before the wheels came off in the form of a dropped approach shoe.  We spent the remainder of the day exploring unknown terrain on the west side of the buttress on rappel, in search of shoes and conveniently found them at the base of the climb.  We vowed to return...
The offending shoe.
 8/25/2012  Leah, Natalie and I approached the route, excited for a shoe-dropping-free ascent.  We once again soloed the easy first pitch, and I led the 5.9R pitch without incident.  Natalie styled the long third pitch, and Leah led the first pitch on the upper Buttress.  I lead the crux pitch through the roofs and chimneys, shaking my head at the loose chockstone that still resides in the chimney.  I also lead the final pitch, fully enjoying the excellent climbing in the final dihedral.  Great route, beautiful day, amazing partners, just another perfect day in Montana. The descent was easier than I remembered, and we were soon swimming in the creek.
Natalie on the 3rd pitch.
Natalie and Leah climbing above the Noble Gas chimney
on the crux  5th pitch.
Descending below the Upper Kootenai Buttress.
Approach shoes blocked out to protect the innocent from the 8/12 incident.
The Southwest buttress of Nez Perce has the reputation of being a scary adventure climb.  I think that the reputation stems primarily from the poor route description in the Climbing Montana guidebook.  The "correct" route takes a logical line of sustained, medium quality climbing with excellent position and good gear (except for pitch 2).  Here is how I climb the route.  Note pitch ratings and lengths are different from the guidebook:

Nez Perce
Southwest Buttress
IV 5.10b
FA:  Lee/Shreve 1970

A Bitterroot classic with good climbing and amazing position.  By following the normal route, this “adventure climb” should be fairly safe and straight forward.

Approach via the normal climbers trail to Blackfoot and the Cornlier, or ascend talus below and east of the buttress before traversing west along the toe of the buttress.  The climb begins at the southwest toe of the buttress.

Pitch 1 - 5.4 Climb easy, low angle terrain on the Southwest corner of the buttress.  Scramble up easy, broken dirt and scree to the base of the buttress proper (60 feet).

Pitch 2 - 5.9R Climb up to a tree, then further up and slightly left to a small roof.  From the left side of the roof, climb up and slightly left on thin cracks and shallow dihedrals, placing protection wherever possible (micro TCUs usefull).  Step up and left around a shallow bulge (no gear) to steep cracks.  Climb these for 20 feet to a belay ledge with an old bolt just west of the southwest buttress (100 feet). Note:  This pitch can be safely climbed with small TCUs for protection, but be prepared for some difficult and flaring gear placements and moderate length runouts.

Pitch 3 - 5.10a  Climb straight up the the thin cracks on the west face for 30 feet (crux) to gain the southwest buttress.  Continue up low angle, flared cracks to a small ledge.  Trend up and left, back onto the west face, eventually passing some platey, loose blocks on the west face, then up easy terrain to a tree belay on a large ledge at the base of the upper buttress (170 feet).

Pitch 4 - 5.8  Climb up cracks on the west side of the buttress, eventually climbing up and left to a small belay ledge on the southwest buttress.  Belay at a piton and a rock spike (120 feet).   

Pitch 5 - 5.10b  Climb straight up steep rock (crux) to the base of an L-shaped roof.  Pull the roof, and continue up into a long squeeze chimney with a loose chockstone (slightly runout).  From the top of the chimney, climb the right of the two dihedrals to a sloping belay ledge below a small roof on the west side of the buttress (150 feet).

Pitch 6 - 5.9+  Pull the roof directly up and right of the belay (don’t fall!).  Continue easily up and right, then straight up past two pitons to a large dihedral on the west side of the buttress.  Climb this high quality dihedral to its terminus (crux).  Continue up easy terrain to a belay near the top of the buttress.

Pitch 7 4th class:  Easy terrain leads to the summit. 

Gear: Standard double rack plus doubles or triples of micro TCUs (purple or grey) for the 5.9R pitch.  One #3 camalot should suffice.       

Descent: From the summit, either descend straight east down slabs (very exposed), or traverse back and north to gain the talus gully between Nez Perce and Blackfoot dome.  Descend the gully to your packs and reverse the ascent route to Blodgett Creek.    
Looking up from Pitch 3.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Southern Swan traverse

Driving home from the Swans last weekend, I gazed fondly at the southern portion of the range.  Little did I know that my subconcious was already formulating plans for another traverse.  A week later, Leah and I traversed from Matt mountain to Holland lake, summiting Matt, Fisher, Ptarmigan point, Ptarmigan, Wolverine, and Carmine peaks.

Another late night bike shuttle allowed for a comfortable start at 6:40 am from the Rice ridge trailhead.  We hiked the old roadbed to the toe of the range, up the steep trail to the crest of the range, then up the ridge for a little bit to Matt mountain and a quick break.  The traverse to Fisher was surprisingly quick, and we summited about 3 hours into the trip.  Downclimbing the class 4 north ridge was a little time conuming, and the ridge traverse was long, so we didn't arrive at Ptarmigan point until early afternoon.  After working through some tricky downclimbing on the north ridge, we traversed easily to Ptarmigan peak, then with surprising animosity to Wolverine peak.  Ready to be done, we continued to Carmine peak by early evening, then donwnclimbed the knife edged northeast ridge to treeline.  We decided to bushwack straight down to the grail, bypassing Gordon pass and Upper Holland lake.  This turned out to be a mistake, I think, and we ended up with a good portion of cliffy, thick bushwacking.  We avoided consumption by bear, and were soon back on the trail, alternating between jogging and hiking.  The egress was surprisingly long, but soon enough we found ourselves fixing a surprise flat tire back at the car.

Morning.  Matt Mountain, Montana.  Marvelous.
Leah coming up some 4th class on the bumps south of Fisher peak.
Classy walking north of Wolverine peak.
The southern traverse can't quite match the sheer elegance of the northern traverse, but don't be fooled, the route is high quality and memorable.  Throw in the added commitment of no easy bail options along the ridge, and the opportunity to summit 5 of the 10 highest peaks in the range, and the traverse should be on the list of every ambitious Missoula-based hiker/peak scrambler and/or runner.  I haven't looked too hard at the map, but for stats, I'm thinking just under 6,000 vertical feet, roughly 15 miles, and done in a little under 14 hours car to car at a casual pace.

So the question remains, how about linking the southern and northern traverses into a logical 30+ mile, 15,000+ vertical foot mega traverse?  I'm curious.  And intimidated.  Hmmm...