Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Beaverhead summer skiing 2012

Leah and Lucas joined me for an exploratory trip to the Beaverhead mountains of southwestern Montana.  I have wanted to do this trip for several years now, and it was good to finally see the terrain after countless hours of gazing at maps.
Skiing opportunities on the Sacajawea peaks.

Saturday
We hit the trial mid-morning, and were soon switching to skis at the inlet of upper Miner lake, glad to be done with the hot, mosquito-infested approach.  I had an eye on an intriguing curved couloir system on north Sacajawea peak, and we headed straight to it.  Unfortunately, the snow was too slushy, and we pulled the plug well before topping out.  Bailing went smoothly, and we skied most of the way back down to upper Miner lake.  Not ready to call it a day just yet, we climbed the large bowl between north and middle Sacajawea peaks.  We took a long break on top, enchanted with the views of the Lost River range in Idaho, and the Bitterroot, Annaconda Pintlar, and Pioneer ranges in Montana.  The run was OK - interesting terrain with poor quality snow in the upper half.  A very cold swim in upper Miner lake set the stage for a casual walk back to the car.  We spent a perfect summer evening relaxing at the campground before retiring early.
Leah ready to bail.
Lucas cruising down to upper Miner lake.
Sunday
We set off for Homer Youngs peak in pursuit of twin goals of summiting the highest peak in the range and finding more consolidated corn snow.  The hike in was mosquito-infested once again, but we were up above the hot morass soon enough.  I thoroughly enjoyed the easy skinning up the long southeast ridge.  We took a long break on top, which gave Lucas another chance to regale us with his extensive knowledge of western Montana history.  We skied the north face of the peak, and were delighted to find 1,800 vertical feet of corn with minimal isothermal mush.  A long climb to near the summit allowed for a second run down to Heart lake, and short climb over Heart pass put us back on the approach route.  The deproach went smoothly, and we were soon stuffing our gear in the car, excited for a swim in Miner lake.
Lucas starting up the long southeast ridge of Homer Youngs peak.
I ski the north face...
...and Leah skis the east face of Homer Youngs peak.
Lucas staying safe at Heart pass, ready to head home.
Thoughts
(In no particular order)
The Beaverhead range harbors many excellent and interesting ski lines and also seems to picks up much more snow than surrounding ranges, especially the perpetually emaciated Pioneer range.  A June trip to upper Miner lakes to ski on Monument, Freeman, and Sacajawea peaks should be on every Montana steep skier's list since the skiing is excellent and extensive.  There are also two couloirs in upper Freeman creek which merit a look-see.  

Homer Youngs is enjoyable, although the approach and post-ski return logistics are more complicated than what I had anticipated.  It may be worth exploring an alternate approach, directly up from the road to the toe of the long east ridge, which would reduce the mileage and meadow skipping significantly.

The drive from Missoula can be done in a casual 4 hours.  The road beyond the campground requires a high clearance vehicle or a very skilled driver in a Subaru.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

5th Annual Warren Wallowfest

Ben leading the charge.
After years of scrapping up just one or two other skiers, this year's Warren Wallowfest came together with a whopping 9 participants.  Kind of an unwieldy group, but I think everyone had fun. I certainly did.  The Missoula crew rallied at 6 am, and we met the Bozeman crew at the trailhead.  From there we busted out the standard hike to lower Carpp lake.  The group splintered during the approach to the upper lake, but regrouped at the base of the peak.  From there, we topped out by a combination of skinning, booting, and rock scrambling.

Marshall excited for his first ski run of the year!

Good times on the summit.
Half of the group skied the standard North face route, and the other half skied the direct summit route.  Nick coined the direct line the Warren Wiggler, which I fully endorse.  The downclimb was tedious, and it took us well over an hour to descend the Wiggler.

Dropping off the summit into the Warren Wiggler.
Ryan skiing the hanging summit snowfield.
Icy downclimbing in the Wiggler.
Looking good below the Wiggler.
We were soon re-united at lower Carpp lake, where a few brave members of the party swam before hiking out to the car.  In the end it was a perfect day and an enjoyable adventure in the Anaconda Pintlar range.  Thanks to everyone for participating.

The North face of Warren peak.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Greywolf - downfall, rain, and some skiing

I made the somewhat annual voyage to the south couloir of Greywolf peak with Leah, Ryan and Kyle.  It was the same weekend two years ago that I spent my last day with Chris Spurgeon, so the day was filled with thoughts of Chris.

Ryan and Leah coming up.

The morning dawned much clearer than anticipated, which made the approach more palatable.  The approach trail has seen an inordinate amount of downfall in the past two years, to the point that it is becoming effectively unusable.  We arrived at treeline and made the standard traverse to the Riddell lakes basin before swapping shoes for skis.  The weather came in as we climbed the couloir, but that was not enough to dissuade Kyle from scrambling to the actual summit.  Leah wisely opted out, but Ryan and I couldn't resist, and spent almost an hour scrambling around in a whiteout before topping out.  Back at the skis, we enjoyed good snow in the classic south couloir before heading home.  We were all glad to see the car after a long bout of rain and down tree hopping during the deproach.  It was a great day, but I can't help but wonder if the Riddell lake approach is not worth the trip until the trial is cleared of downfall.

Leah testing her steep skinning skills.
Ryan shimmying his way to the summit.
Whiteout party on the summit!

Leah skiing the South couloir of Greywolf peak.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Post work summer skiing 2012

-
As roads into the high country melt out, high quality easy-access skiing opens up near Superior.  The typical season is from mid-May until early July.  I highly recommend Heart lake, Cliff lake, and Illinois peaks as good alternatives to the normal spring skiing objectives around Missoula.  It looks like conditions around Cliff lake are waning quickly, but there will doubtless be a handful of enjoyable evenings for the taking this spring.  I'll try to updated this post as I get out.

Monday 6/4
I drove to the last creek crossing and scuttled up past Diamond falls to the trailhead, then hiked about half way to Cliff lake before donning skis.  I was trying to go fast, but was only semi-successful, topping out above the S chute about 50 min. after leaving the trailhead.  I skied the narrow chute just skier's left of the S, and it ended up being too steep and narrow for good skiing.  Lots of careful sidestepping was required to navigate the choke, then I made turns down to the tarn above Cliff lake.  I forced a skin track to the top of the going home chute with ski crampons, but in retrospect it would have been faster to just boot the steep section.  Although a few thunderclaps boomed off to the west, I beat the storm and skied an adequately filled in Going home chute un singed by lightening.  3,300 vf and done in 2 hr 2 min trailhead to trailhead.
On top of the Going home chute.

Monday 6/11 
I decided to check out early season conditions on Illinois peak.  I drove up Cedar Creek and parked at the Gildersleeve mine, about 2 miles from Freezout pass.  Having worked in the area, I linked up a series of old, grown in mining roads, bypassing Freezout pass.  The goal was to ski a couloir on the skier's right side of the north face, and I was gearing up at the top of the couloir about an hour after leaving the car.  I skied to the choke of the couloir last year and ended up having to hike back out after deeming the downclimb too dangerous.  The upper couloir skied quite well - steep and aesthetic with good corn.  I bypassed a gaping moat at the choke with a 20 m rappel from a large tree on the skier's right side of the couloir.  The remaining run was easy and fun.  Unfortunately, it was already time to head home, so I climbed back to the east ridge of the peak and reversed my ascent route back to the car.  Since it was certainly a first descent, I'm calling it the Air Jordan couloir in a backhanded reference to Illinois, and the potential for someone braver than me to huck over the moat.  3,000 vf and done in 2 hr 58 min car to car.
All geared up for exploration.
Ready to ride the ropes to safety in the Air Jordan couloir on Illinois peak.
Tuesday 6/12
I returned to Cliff lake, once again parking at the last creek crossing, and walking up to the trailhead adjacent to the creek.  I hiked and skinned to Cliff lake, then headed straight south over a low pass into the headwaters of the Hidden fork of Dry creek.  A long downward traverse put me at the base of the back bowl, and I booted to the top for a fun, short run.  Then, I booted all the way up the southeast face of Eagle Cliff and skied the entire moderate1,500' run down to the lower bench.  I haven't skied this run before, and it was good fun.  I skinned towards the Going home chute as a rain squall put down a pretty good shot of rain.  The Going home chute is on the verge of being too melted out, but I was able to ski the whole thing with only two patches of creative alder sideslipping.  The hike out in the rain was enjoyable. Cliff lake delivers again!  4,700 vf and done in 2 hr 43 minutes trailhead to trailhead.
Looking out to the Back bowl from the pass above Cliff lake.
Back at the car.  I did not escape the rain.
Wednesday 6/20
Leah joined me for another voyage to Illinois Peak.  We drove well past Gildersleeve Mine, parking at Snowshoe springs, about 1/2 mile below Freezout Pass.  I led us on a bit of a wild goose chase on the lower portion of the east ridge, but we still topped out in about 2 hours.  After some difficulty locating the correct line, we skied the central chute on the north face of the peak.  This is one of the finest ski lines in the area, and I was excited to finally ski it.  A late evening egress put us back at the car at dark, which seemed like an appropriate way to spend the summer solstice.  This may be a first descent, and we jokingly coined it the Rod Blagojevich memorial couloir.  A better name is pending.  2,500 vf and done in 4.5 hours car to car.
Starting down the upper half.

Dodging moats in the lower half.
Wednesday 6/27
Geraldine and Leah made the trip from Missoula, and we skied the remaining snow at Cliff lake.  The approach is melted out, so we hiked all the way in and out, including the fisher's trail around the south end of the lake.  We skied the Eagle chute from the bottom of the upper section, and an interesting ramp in between the Eagle chute and S ramp.  It was a beautiful evening.  2,400 vf in 3.5 hours.  
Geraldine skiing the Eagle chute.
Excited for our second run.
Monday 7/23  
I hiked my skis in to Illinois peak, but alas, there was not enough snow for skiing.  So I guess that's a wrap - 79 amazing days sliding up and down on snow.  I did manage to shave 2 minutes off my personal best time to the top, but couldn't quite reel in a sub-40 minute ascent - 40.32. 
I am very confused by the lack of snow.
Guess it's time to call it a season...