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...


  1. How high up can you drive there now -- in either of the canyons?

  2. Dry Creek/Cliff lake is to the last switchback. I'd guess Trout Creek is just past the Heart Lake trailhead.

  3. The Diamond Lake road, which accesses Cliff lake will probably be drivable to the trailhead by this weekend (6/16).

  4. First, off love reading your adventures this Spring! Thanks for sharing the TR and photos.

    How long do you figure the Cliff lake cirque will be good for - 2 weeks?

  5. Thanks. Yes, I would think that snow will be pretty thin by the end of June. Unfortunately, the going home chute is pretty much melted out, so no skiing all the way back to Diamond lake. But the hike back from Cliff lake on the summer trail is short, so no big deal.

  6. I went to Heart Lake last week and the road is snowed in just past the trailhead. But the trail itself is so flat that you really walk a mile at least before hitting good snow. That was on Saturday, but doubt it has changed all that much since then. I've never been to Diamond Lake, so might try that this weekend.

  7. Nice work Jeff. Diamond/Cliff lake should have better access and probably better skiing. In addition to the obvious skiing off Eagle cliff directly above the lake, the next basin to the south is easily accessed and has good skiing off the south side of Eagle cliff and the next bowl south of there.

  8. No. A small passenger car should suffice for all the roads.

  9. Skied the slope above Cliff Lake yesterday. Suncupped and lots of debris but otherwise delightful. Snow nearly continuous from about halfway between the two lakes. Party scene at the trailhead -- gobs of trash, unattended fire, etc. Luckily none of those folks make it more than 50 yards from the toilet before turning back.

  10. Jeff, I was up on the 16th and ran into the same. We were the 2nd vehicle to make it up to the trailhead after the snow melted out and the word must of spread, because afterwards on the way down we passed 4 trucks with coolers going up.

    Skied the slopes above Cliff Lake also.. but I think next time I'd head directly for the "pass" and ski around there.

    Other than that, awesome place, beautiful views and good skiing. Thanks for sharing the TR and tips Brian.

  11. Brian - which are the named chutes above Cliff Lake (Eagle, S)? Can you point out on a map or picture?

    1. Mike - i will try to get route descriptions up, but probably not until later in the summer. The Eagle chute is the main, obvious chute from the lake. The S ramp is lookers left, in between the Eagle chute and the low pass east of Eagle cliff.

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