Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pyramid Buttes via Little St. Joe

Conditions are stellar in the Bitterroot right now.  Unable to sit through an entire week perfect weather in the office, I took Wednesday off work for a long tour with local guru John.  We set our sites on Pyramid Buttes, a collection of three craggy high points in the headwaters of Sweeney Creek.
Pyramid Buttes taken from the Bass/Sweeney divide.  Photo taken March 2011.
The Tour
Lacking common sense, we chose to access the peak via Little St Joe, ignoring the fact that Little St. Joe is over 300 feet higher than our main objective.  John hadn't been up little St. Joe in years, so I played guide up the standard ascent route. We bypassed the final summit block at the 3-hour mark and weaved our way west along the tricky ridgeline to the top of the cirque below the Northeast face of St. Joseph peak. Next up was a surprisingly high quality ski and traverse down to Sweeney Creek.  A quick water break and jaunt up the creek bed put us at the base of Pyramid Buttes, and an hour plus of skinning had us on the summit around noon.  The peak is perfectly perched above Sweeney Creek's two spectacular headwater cirques, and we took some time on the summit to soak in the view.  We skied from the bottom of the craggy summit block, 10 vertical feet below the exact summit.  Snow in the southeast gully was generally firm and quite skiiable, even on John's K2 Sahale skis.  I was impressed with John's ability to ski and climb so well on the Sahales since the outdated design effectively combines the dual disadvantage of race ski performance (aka - terrible) with relatively heavy weight.
John de-tuning his skis on the traverse from Little St. Joe to the head of Sweeney Creek.
Surprisingly good skiing down to Sweeney Creek on the approach.  
John steep skinning on the South Face of Pyramid Buttes.
On the summit of Pyramid Buttes.
Good times at the base of Pyramid Buttes.
At the base, John started the egress back to the Sweeney/Bass divide, and I took a second run, this time in one of the rock lined chutes off the east end of the Pyramid Butte ridgeline.  After wandering all over the hillside trying to locate the correct gully, I finally found it and was once again able to skin most of the couloir.  The ensuing run was great.  After a water and fuel stop at the creek, I jammed up John's skin and bootpack, stopping once to pop a life saving GU packet.  I was slowing down at this point, and was extremely grateful for John's bootpack.  We convened at the Sweeney/Bass divide and made a tandem descent of the classic Pinball Wizard gully.  It is worth noting that the Pinball Wizard gully has already avalanched big this year, further reinforcing its reputation in my mind as a big avalanche performer.  The Bass Creek trail has seen a lot of ski traffic already this year, and we made quick time on the schuss out to the car.  Out well before dark, we had plenty of time at the trailhead for beer and a philosophical debate regarding the relative quality of the Pyramid Buttes via Little St. Joe tour and the mega-classic Sky Pilot via Gash tour.  In the end, John sided with Pyramid Buttes, and I sided with Sky Pilot.  But they are both good, so the only logical option is to do both and decide for yourself.  11,560 vertical feet according to Google Maps and done in 10h 33min car to car.
Photo break about half way down the second gully which I skied solo.
John heading home down the classic Pinball Wizard Gully.
Gear Notes:
I think all the bugs are worked out of the new Dynafit Broad Peak ski/Dynafit race binding setup, and I am still amazed at how well Dynafit has balanced light weight (1340 grams per ski with bindings), ski performance, and durability.  The only significant modifications I have made are adding the ski crampon attachment and heel lifters to the race bindings.  The additional 2 cm of heel lift makes steep skin tracks palatable, and seems well worth the sub-10 gram weight penalty.  Also, I spent the day in the speed suit, which continues to perform magnificently in the mountains. 

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