Monday, January 9, 2012

Multiple days at Heart Lake

I spent a few days skiing around Heart Lake in early December, taking advantage of the good, stable, early season snowpack.  Heart Lake lies just south of Hoodoo pass, and provides much better ski touring than the terrain closer to the pass, in my opinion.

December 11 - Dalton Chutes to Hidden Lake

I parked at the Freezout pass turnoff on the Trout Creek road, and took advantage of a surprise snowmobile tow to the Heart Lake trailhead from friendly skiers (thanks!).  From the trailhead, I toured on fast snow to Heart Lake, then Pearl Lake, then the pass between Pearl and Dalton Lakes.  Snow stability was good, so I set a track up the Central chute and skied four of the classic Dalton chutes.  Then, I climbed and skied two runs above Heart Lake before making a long climb to the top of the Hidden Lake basin.  I sniffed around for the entrance to the Hidden couloir, but ran out of daylight trying to locate the entrance.  I instead skied good powder down to Hidden Lake, then descended to the trail and skied out to the car by headlamp.  All in all about 8,800 vertical feet and done in 9 hours car to car.

At the Pearl/Dalton divide, looking forward to a fun day.
Skier's Left Dalton chute.
Dalton Lake chute.
Chute above Heart Lake.
December 18 - Dalton Chutes with friends

I convinced Josh, James and Kyle to make the drive out from Missoula.  We got our community service out of the way early in the day by pushing a small 2WD car out of the ditch (seemed like a good idea last night at the bar...)  We quickly approached Dalton Lake and skied two of the Dalton chutes before climbing and skiing good snow down to Heart Lake. Everyone was excited about the good conditions after enduring thin snow elsewhere around Missoula.  Ice on the road had softened considerably during the day, and the Subaru barely made it out.  
Approaching the Heart Lake trailhead.
Making a sneaky passing move while Kyle scopes out the Dalton chutes.
The crew coming up the Central chute, Dalton chutes
James skiing the skier's left Dalton chute.
December 19 - Trio Lakes to Hoodoo attempt

I returned to Heart Lake solo, this time parking at the main snowmobile trailer turn around about 2.5 miles from the trailhead.  I tested out the new Broad Peak skis, and kicked all the way in on my skinny mohair race skins.  A long run to Trio Lakes was followed by a climb to the Central chute.  I had hoped to ski an alternate fork of the access chute, but it looked pretty terrible on closer inspection.  So, ski the access chute, then climb and ski good snow down to Heart Lake.  From there, I bowl bounced toward Hoodoo pass.  The first objective was to return and find the Hidden couloir.  I was successful after some poking around, and was rewarded with excellent snow and interesting skiing.  From Hidden Lake, bowl bounce farther north.  I had hoped to end the day by skiing down Lake Creek, or touring all the way to Hoodoo pass, but it got dark well before I made it.  I instead skied the big meadow down to the trail by headlamp before schussing out to the car.  All in all about 8,000 vertical feet and a bunch of miles in about 8.5 hours car to car.  Also, gear report:  The Broad Peak skis with race bindings did well.  The skis strike a good balance between durable, light, and fun.  They edge like a pair of ice skates (in a good way) and seem just wide enough to handle variable conditions.  Still want to play around with adding a higher climbing post for steeper skin tracks, but otherwise I'm sold.
Dropping into Trio Lakes.
Soupy visibility but excellent skiing in the Hidden couloir.
General thoughts
There is a lot of stable snow around Hoodoo pass this year, and it was great to be able to explore some of the tour options around Heart Lake before the road shuts in for the winter.  Once they fill in, the two steep couloirs at the inlet of Heart Lake are worth a return trip.  The terrain around Heart Lake deserves more ski traffic that it receives, especially in early season before the road shuts in.  Here are a few photos of terrain south of the lake.  

North facing chutes above Dalton Lake.  The bowl to looker's right is also good.
A pair of ski lines worthy of a return trip with more snow.
North facing terrain at the inlet of Heart Lake.  Note the short but fun couloir on the upper left.


  1. Brian,
    Cool site! Thanks for the beta on great skiing around Missoula. How early does Trout Creek Road tend to open up in the spring? And how long do these lines stick around in a normal year?

    1. Thanks. Trout Creek usually opens to Heart Lake by Late May. Hoodoo is later, sometimes not until July.

      For spring skiing, by far the best place to go near Superior is Cliff Lake. Look at a map - it is up Dry Creek. The approach is much shorter and the skiing is better (IMO). The road typically opens up to within a few miles of the trailhead by late May. Near Hoodoo pass, the north face of Illinois Peak from Freezout Pass is usually reasonably accessible from Cedar Creek by mid June and holds snow until early July.

  2. Also, Heart Lake lines kind of melt out as the road access improves, so maybe they will be good until late May on an average year?

  3. Solid.
    Thanks for the tips!

  4. Brain, Been checking out your blog for a year now, Super impressed and inspired with all your skiing adventures!!!!. Especially benefited from your Cliff Lake Posts this June. Met you up at the Memorial up Morman this summer briefly. Anyways, Im not sure if you would every head out with a splitboarder, but if so I would love to try to get back to those Dalton Lines or somewhere else with ya sometime if your looking for people to ride with. Got a sled if your ever looking to eliminate the road aproaches. Let me know. Keep on Skiing Hard!