Sunday, April 22, 2012

Missions shut down - sort of

The southwest face of Sheepshead peak in mid winter conditions.
I skied the crooked line on the left.
With unseasonably warm temperatures in the forecast, I decided to make an early morning push from the Ashley lakes trailhead.  It was raining when my alarm sounded at 4 am, so I kept sleeping.  The rain eventually abated, so i decided to have a look.  Starting from the valley, it took almost an hour of hiking and strategic switchback cutting to reach the upper trailhead.  I stashed approach shoes there, and proceeded up the normal southwest ridge route to Sheepshead peak.  Rain/freezing line was disturbingly high - around 8,000 feet.  Adding to the delights of the day, a freezing mist storm blew in around 9 am, and I hunkered down for a few minutes.  Things were not adding up like I had hoped.  The freezing mist persisted, and I eventually gave up and returned to skinning blindly up into the mist.  I slowly made my way onto the upper face, and gained the summit ridge in a whiteout.  I turned around approximately 300 vertical feet below the summit, unwilling to navigate the heavily corniced summit ridge.
On the summit ridge.  Visibility was poor.

I was relived to find enough snow in the exit chute.
I reversed my ascent route through the upper cliff bands, then skied the remainder of the southwest face.  I dropped out of the clouds about half way down, which was great for morale.  The lower 2,500 vertical feet of the face was terrible unfrozen slush.  I skied carefully, and was soon standing on the banks of Ashley lake, admiring a lone set of ski tracks on one of the biggest and best ski faces in the Missoula area.  Both lakes have melted out enough to be untrustworthy, so I was treated to a healthy serving of old fashioned Mission mountain bushwacking before gaining the summer trail.  The hike out was slow, with some skiing, some hiking, and an hour long nap thrown in for good measure.  6,000 vertical feet and done in 8 hours 4/21.

Note:  The canal bridge has finally been replaced.  The road is as gnarly as ever however, so bring a high clearance 4wd rig and go for it, or add about an hour to the day and hike from near the canal. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Snowbowl for time

Snowbowl is now closed, and I usually try to rally friends for evening skiing once a week until the snow melts out.  I shaved a few minutes off my snowbowl ascent time, so now my bar is set at 43 minutes, 20 seconds from the ski lodge to the top of the LaVelle lift (2,600 vertical feet).  It was a pretty good effort, followed by a relaxing LaVelle run, a good East bowl/Angel face corn run with Ryan and Nate, and an amazing venison roast back in town.  Thanks Nate!  I'll be tentatively doing similar excursions for the next 2 weeks or so on Wednesday evenings, weather permitting.  Missoula area skiers, please join...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Mary Cirque link up

The day.  Run names are informal.  I did not ski the Goddess.
I have been a little obsessed with the skiing in Boulder creek this year and couldn't resist one more trip.  The drive to Boulder is long, but the skiing is amazing.  I started the day by bike shuttling from the trailhead to the normal east ridge approach in the dark.  Starting at 6 am, I hiked for a little over an hour before exchanging running shoes and a headlamp for ski boots and sunscreen.  The morning was beautiful, and I summited a windless East Boulder point just over 3 hours after leaving the road.  The first order of business was to ski the couloir that Leah and I bailed on two weeks prior, and after about 10 turns I was back into the unknown.  There was a bit of technical skiing around a rock step, but the run was fairly moderate overall.  At the bottom, I set a 20 m rappel from trees and lowered to safety.  The bowl below was firm corn, and I skied to an arbitrary point about 400 feet below the rappel and ditched a bunch of weight.  April Fools couloir done.

Starting down into the April Fools couloir, with our
exit boot tracks still visible from two weeks prior.
The small rock step in the April Fools couloir
I am usually not in favor of yo-yo laps, but was this yo-yo skiing on a grand scale.  And it was great.  A steep skin track, short bootpack, and short rock scramble had me back on East Boulder Point.  I was already tired and made an oath to spend the rest of the day loping along at a moderate pace.  I skied the next ramp/gully to skier's right of April Fools.  The snow had softened adequately, and the run skied quite well.  I used the same rappel.  Monkey on a rope couloir done.  The ascent couloir was warming up more than any of the other lines in the cirque, so I climbed and skied it.  The snow was marginal, but the line is quite good, and would make a logical second run for ropeless skiers looking for more after skiing the Mary couloir.  I loped back up to East Boulder peak and linked a series of chutes and snowfields near the center of the Mary cirque.  Once again, I was pleased to find an interesting route which skied quite well.  At the bottom, I took one last ride on the rope and pulled it.  Tarzan couloir done.
Starting down Monkey on a rope.
Starting down Jane.
Starting down Tarzan.
I was tired at this point, but Mary is one of my favorite ski runs in the Bitterroot, and I couldn't pass it up in good conscience.  So, eat some food, drink the last of my water, and lope up the skin track once more.  Mary's entrance is guarded by a large cornice this year, but I was able to sneak in via a steep leftward traverse, ice axe in hand.  The upper couloir was excellent.  The lower couloir was terrible, alternating between slippery bed surface ice and grippy roller ball ice.  I checked my ego at the door (easy to do when skiing solo), and sideslipped all of the scary ice.  Soon enough I was cruising corn down to the creek.  As expected, the trail out was terrible.  It was good to see the trailhead.  I did  notice two nice looking ski tracks in the Goddess.  Strong work Stephen and Jerod!
Starting down the aesthetic upper Mary couloir.
Tired, but still rocking the mullet/mohawk combo.
Stats:  13,200 vertical feet according to the topo map, and done in 14 h 10 min bike to car.

Gear:  Standard Broad peak/race binding/TLT 5 ski setup, 2 whippet poles, 1 Petzl Aztarex ice axe, 7mm x 60m accessory cord and tat for setting an anchor, light CAMP harness, one CAMP aluminum crampon (did not use), helmet.

Gear note: The skinny Broad Peak skis held an edge like crazy ice, so another big thumbs up for a great pair of skis.

Food note:  I brought 2 L of water, which is about 4 times as much as normal.  The extra water was crucial to staying happy throughout the day.

Conditions note:  I think most of the Bitterroot trails are pretty well melted out, which is too bad given the excellent snow coverage up high.  

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bozeman powder

My brother and I were in Bozeman last weekend, and I had the opportunity to get him out for his only two days of skiing this winter.  Avalanche danger was considerable, so we stuck to the known, safe terrain of middle basin in the Spanish peaks and the playground in the Bridgers.  We had great snow, with up to 14" of powder.
Kyle breaking trail in the Bridgers.
By loaning out my TLT5 boots and light skis with race bindings, Kyle morphed instantly from an unconditioned physics grad student to a speedy backcountry skier, biting at my heels on the skin track.  Thanks for the fun turns Kyle!  ~8,000 v.f. in about 11 hours over the course of two days  4/6 and 4/7.

DISCLAIMER:  Kyle is the strongest off-the-couch skier and climber I have ever met.

Kyle looking sharp in spandex on the climb out of Middle basin.
Kyle busting powder in the Bridgers.
Also, as a side note, snowline has receded enough for some high quality low elevation mountain biking, so I've been back on the bike a bit after work.  Set a personal best time on Thompson peak from town at 57 min 47 sec today (4/11/2012).  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Lookout Pass training circuit for time

I do most of my concerted ski training at Lookout Pass.  My normal training circuit is to simulate a mid-length randonee race by climbing and skiing two runs on each side of Runt mountain on race gear.  The circuit adds up to a little under 5,500 vertical feet of high quality training/pain/fun (the appropriate noun varies from day to day).  After a long hiatus, I returned and completed the circuit in 1 hr, 53 min, 51 sec, which is my fastest time to date by about a minute.  Hilights included skiing in shorts and completing the circuit in the daylight.  The main low point was tumbling head over heels in a sticky snow patch and having to dig around in the snow for a few minutes to retrieve my glasses.  4/03/2012.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April Fools day wins in Boulder creek

Leah near the summit of east Boulder peak.
I returned to east Boulder peak with Leah to attempt a new couloir in the Mary cirque.  Unfortunately, mother nature threw a trifecta of April Fool's day tricks on our way:

1)  Snow on the northerly aspect had crusted just enough to be treacherous.  Any more would have produced nice firm conditions, any less would have left dense settled powder.  Any other aspect would have either been skiable firm snow or corn.  Ah well...
2)  New wind slabs were just deep enough to be scary.
3)  Rain line from Friday and Saturday was high, around 8,000 feet.

After the normal, enjoyable climb to east Boulder peak, we suited up in harnesses and dropped in.  It soon became obvious that safe skiing conditions were just not happening, so we packed it in and booted up and out.  We ended up skiing the Blue Ice bowl as a consolation prize.  The snow quality was fair, and it was cool to check out another 3,500+ foot peak to creek fall line.  The Boulder creek trail is melting out quickly, and we spent about a third of the deproach clomping out on bare ground.  Our decision to turn around was a good one, and I found this article on risk from Will Gadd to be spot on.
Leah skiing the Blue Ice bowl.
Negotiating avalanche debris.  This debris was all from natural avalanches in the
past few days.  Beware of Moderate avalanche danger! 
The warm temperatures and rain of last week went a long way toward ending the normal Bitterroot ski touring season.  I will likely spend a few more days exploring new terrain and/or skiing the normal spring classics, but it is pretty much time to branch out to the normal spring skiing locales.  As a result, I'm formally sending a shout out to all the amazing mountain ranges within striking distance:  Swans?  Missions?  Tobacco Roots/Pioneers/Big Hole/Pintlars?  Idaho?  Tetons?  Canada?  Get your spring corn cycle thing going, and I'll be there.  Should be a great spring season!