Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cleaning up loose ends at Kootenai Point

On good snow years like this one, Kootenai Point is one of my favorite venues in the Bitterroot.  It recieves little to no ski traffic despite the amazing terrain, relatively short approch, and short drive.  The exit can be a bit arduous, but so it goes in the Bitterroot.  I returned on 3/11/2012 with two ropes to ski a pair of lines which require rappells to link up snowfields.
I skied the Manger and Shepherd couloirs
and exited via the lower portion of the Exit bowl.
The Tour
I approached via the normal east ridge route, and was gearing up on top of the Shepherd couloir within 3 hours of leaving the parking lot.  This is the first scary/difficult ski objective of the year, and I was surprisingly nervous dropping in.  The skiing was no-fall but moderate aside from a sideslip around an ice bulge and thin sugar snow traverse to the rappel (32 m).  I rappelled from a large tree on the skier's left edge of the couloir.  In retrospect, the rappel is possible with one 60 meter rope, but caution is advised.  There is a small cliff band about 200 feet below the rappel, and I decided to jump it.  I stuck the landing and was able to relax for the remainder of the run. 
A braver skier would have made turns around the ice bulge.
The rap.  Downclimbing is not an option.
From the base, stash one rope and skin back to the ridge via the Gold couloir.  Ski crampons made the ascent quick and efficient.  Once on top, I scouted the entrance to the Manger couloir.  I ended up deciding to make a 30' rappel into the South fork, but in retrospect it would have been better simply to downclimb into the east fork of the couloir.  The skiing was moderate and quite aesthetic.  The couloir terminates in cliffs, and a simple 25 m rappel from a large tree deposited me about half way down the Gold couloir.  I skied the Gold couloir out to the base, then made the normal climb to the Exit bowl.  The Exit bowl skied fairly well.  It avalanched FULL track during the last avalanche cycle, and I spent some time at the bottom carrying skis down unskiable yet impressive avalanche debris.  I spent the hike out to the trailhead in a powerfull squall which threw down everything from snow to sleet and rain.  Unfortunately the trail has melted out in the past month, so Kootenai Point is pretty much done for the year.  As expected, the Shepherd and Manger couloirs are not as good as other ski lines in the cirque, but do provide interesting and high quality skiing intermixed with straight forward rope shenanigans.  All rappels were from big trees.  Both couloirs were probably first descents.  About 7,900 vertical feet and done in 9 hr 5 min.  Would have been faster if I was better at rappelling quickly.
Looking down into the Manger couloir.  Getting in was a bit scrappy.
Avalanche debris at the bottom of the Exit bowl.
Steve Romeo
I am still trying to reconcile the tragic death of Jackson-based skier Steve Romeo, who was killed in an avalanche 3 days prior.  I met Steve briefly in Jackson last summer, and was immediatly struck by his unwavering passion for all things skiing.  The circumstances of his death are truly unnerving.  Rest in peace Steve.  Your unwavering love of the mountains will inspire me for years to come.  LIVE TO SKI.

1 comment:

  1. Nice write-up, Brian--looks like fun skiing as usual up there. Your words about Steve Romeo struck a chord with me--thanks for that as well.