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.

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.
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.
(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.


  1. Looks like fun terrain over there!

    Keep up the good work Brian.

  2. Thanks. It's no Russia, but we had fun.