Thursday, February 16, 2012

Boulder Peak to North Trapper Peak/Psychological Warfare Tour

Good snow on the southeast face of Boulder Peak.
On February 11, I completed a long standing project, ski touring Boulder, East Boulder, Trapper and North Trapper Peaks.  A foggy and rainy day on Friday had me wondering if this was a good idea during the evening drive to the trailhead (psychological warfare episode #1).  An alpine start in the fog with gloppy, isothernal snow was less than ideal (psychological warfare episode #2), but soon enough I broke out of the clouds, and a spectacular sunrise improved morale drastically.  I summited Boulder Peak and took a few minutes to recon the northwest couloir before downclimbing and skiing good snow to an arbitrary point below the southeast face of the peak.  A quick snack and skin put me on top of the classic 3,900 vertical foot Goddess couloir.  I heard rumors at the bar the previous night that the Goddess was in terrible shape, so it was with apprehension that I dropped in.  Fortunately the bar rumors were unfounded, and the skiing was great all the way down to rain line.  Snow conditions below rain line were terrible but survivable, and I was soon sipping water on the banks of Boulder Creek.
Sunrise above a sea of clouds.
Near the summit of Boulder Peak.
About half way down the Goddess couloir, looking at Trapper peak across the valley.
On to Trapper Peak
Next up was psychological warfare episode #3, which included not finding the trail and wandering around the bottom of the drainage for almost an hour before giving up and climbing blindly into the mist.  Eventually I climbed above the clouds, and quickly found the correct route up Crow Creek.  A valiant battle against fatigue and gloppy snow was waged during the advance to the highest peak in the range (Psychological warfare episode #4).  Boot tracks on the summit of Trapper were the only sign of humans I saw all day.  Ski the northeast couloir from the summit, which was chalky and fun.  Even with a second wind of energy, it took allmost 2 hours of steep skinning, booting, and scratching up exposed 4th class rock to summit North Trapper Peak.  North Trapper is perhaps the finest mountaineering peak in the Bitterroot Range, and it was rewarding to summit it with perfect conditions in winter.  I brought a little notebook to replace the summit register, which previously consisted of two notebook pages and an unused coffee filter.  I skied the Olbu southeast face route from the highest point of continuous snow about 200 vertical feet below the summit.  Skiing down into Trapper Creek was surprisingly slow with undulating terrain and all manner of bushwacking adversity near the creek.  Nevertheless I was soon on the trail, kicking out to the trailhead, then gliding almost 2 miles out to stashed bike and a cash of water and cookies.  The 8+ mile bike shuttle in the dark wasn't too bad, and before I knew it I was back at the car reflecting on another amazing day in the hills.
The Goddess couloir is the second main gully from the left.
Looking down the northeast couloir on Trapper Peak with North Trapper Peak in the background.
A bunch of my old entries and the new notebook I installed on the summit of North Trapper Peak.
On North Trapper Peak, ready to head home.
Skiing the Olbu southeast face route on North Trapper Peak.
Back at the car.  Yes, it was very dark.
This tour has the potential to be a major classic of the southern Bitterroot range, but it needs refinement.  I don't think it's worth going all the way out to Boulder Peak.  A goddess/ Trapper/ North Trapper tour would be a more manageable length and would flow more logically.  Also, an exit stage right via Baker Lake would provide a slightly longer egress or a viable egress in low snow years.  The shuttle would be longer via Baker Lake.

Slow, gloppy conditions and low visibility added at least an hour to the day.

The Dynafit Low Tech race bindings came loose between the lower post and upper rotating section, and I had to stop several times to tighten the whole rig back up.  I have since removed the bindings and re-tightened the offending screw with lock tite.  I wasn't impressed, since a surprise binding failure in no fall terrain could be life ending.

Total elevation gain (based on topo map):  12,650 feet
Accomplices: None
Put in:  West Fork Bitterroot Highway at Boulder Creek
Take out: Bike stashed about 2 miles shy of the Trapper Creek trailhead
Trip length: 13 hours 5 minutes car to bike
Equipment:  Dynafit Broad Peak skis, TLT low tech bindings, TLT 5 Performance boots, aluminum crampons (not used) one whippet pole, lycra
Avalanche equipment: No
Number of people encountered: 0
Trailbreaking effort:  Difficult below freezing 6,500 feet, minimal above 
Ski conditions: Chalky snow above 6,500 feet, rain crust and mush below
Avalanche conditions:  Stable
Number of flat tires: 3 (2 car, one bike)
Fatigue factor (1-10): 9
Memories to suppress:  Rain, multiple flat tires on the drive, bushwacking down from North Trapper peak to the trail


  1. Quite the epic! Well done...the NW Coulior of Boulder from Nelson Lake has been on my list for to long. How did it look? This might be the motivation I needed...

  2. I was referring to the NW couloir which drops to an unnamed basin north and west of the peak. It is very steep and didn't look too promising. The south face to Nelson Lake looks like fun, but the upper face is pretty wind scoured, more so than usual, I think.

  3. Nice work, Brian...but it sounds like you didn't have the necessary off-color commentary a certain companion might have provided.

  4. Also, the coffee filter is courtesy of the bottom of Ben's backpack last August.

  5. Rest assured, there was plenty of off-color commentary (see Memories to suppress). And cool, nice community service move. I'm assuming that was after climbing the Antonilli North Ridge?

  6. That's the one...and the filter was all we had along. Better than TP though.

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