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. 

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