Sunday, March 25, 2012

Boulder Peak, northeast face

Boulder Peak, Northeast face.  The ski route takes a line near
the upper right skyline of  the peak.
Another great view of the northeast face of Boulder peak.
Steep east faces compose a distinct genre of ski descent in the Bitterroot range.  Many of the monarchs of the range have a commanding east face that doubles as a high quality ski line.  Think Bass Creek crags, St. Mary's Peak, Mill 2, and my personal favorite, the wild east face of El Capitan (which incidentally looks to be in excellent shape right now).  Boulder Peak's compact northeast face is aesthetic, challenging, and provides 4,100 vertical feet of high quality skiing all the way to Boulder Creek. To my knowledge, it has not been previously skied from the summit, so I decided to take advantage of the above average snowpack to explore the face from the top.
Leaving the trailhead at first light, I walked about half way to School Point on dry ground before putting on skis.  Climbing up through the inversion, I was greeted by dramatic morning light on the high peaks of the Southern Bitterroot - Jerusalem, Trapper, East Trapper, and the Shard.  It was going to be a good day.  A solid refreeze made for fast travel conditions, and I summited the peak in well under 4 hours at a moderate pace.
The Saphire and Annaconda Pintler range above the clouds during the approach.
The first crux of the northeast face lies about 50 feet below the summit, so I was immediately and fully engaged in technical skiing (aka - meticulous sidestepping).  Short skis were much appreciated, and an ice axe would have been useful.  Once below the fluted upper crux, several hundred feet of steep skiing with excellent snow put me on top of the lower cliff band.  I skied to the edge of the cliffs, and was shocked to find a sneaky little escape ramp which provided rappel free access to the lower face.  I was already having a great day, but this was over the top!  The lower face is a high quality run in its own right, and the skiing was good all the way to Boulder Creek.  I think the northeast face of Boulder Peak is similar in difficulty to the east face of El Capitan.  The crux is more difficult than anything on El Cap, but the routefinding, exposure, and overall level of commitment are not as severe.  In any case, it is a high quality and challenging steep skiing adventure.
From the top.  With feeling.

On ya from the top with a cornice on the left and steep technical snow flutes on the right

I was shocked to find a sneak passage to the lower face.

The lower face in fine condition.
About half way down.
I spent the remainder of the day climbing and skiing a south facing gully directly across the drainage from Boulder Peak.  The views were spectacular, and the corn skiing was pretty good.  At 2 hours, the exit was fairly long, but enjoyable with snow all the way to the trailhead.  A lone set of wolf tracks graced the trail for several miles.  I was surprised to find my ski tracks on the trail from an earlier Boulder to Trapper link up.  I was also a little dissapointed that NO-ONE has skied the Mary or Goddess couloir this year.  There are only a few weeks left before the trail melts out, so come on Missoula/Bitterroot area skiers - get out and ski these lines, they are plastered with snow totally classic!  8,600 vertical feet and done in 8h 35min car to car at a casual pace.  See Route Descriptions page for more information on Boulder Creek.
Run #2 - 3,000 feet of corn under the
watchfull eye of East Boulder point.

The couloirs of East Boulder point are in excellent shape.

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