Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Trapper peaks, Anitolli and Cowboy ridge FKT

In the summer, North Trapper peak is my favorite peak in the Bitterroot range, so I was excited to seek out it's craggy summit for a 7th time.  I chose to solo the Anitolli North ridge (IV 5.7) to North Trapper peak and continue on the Cowboy ridge (II easy 5th) to main Trapper peak.  I did this same traverse in the Fall of 2010, and consider it to be the best alpine rock adventure in the Bitterroot.
Excited on the smokey summit of North Trapper peak.
The day began with the mandatory long bike shuttle from Baker lake trailhead to the Trapper creek trailhead, and I didn't start jogging from the trailhead until after 10 am.  I was gunning for time, so ran as hard as I could on the trail in about an hour, with one stop at the last stream crossing for water.   The trail had about 40 down trees on it, which slowed progress somewhat.  With a hard push, the bushwack into the upper basin went quickly, and I was gearing up at the base of the route just past the 2 hour mark.

I mentally shifted from speedy ascending to safe climbing before slowly ascending 1,200 foot Anitolli route in almost exactly 2 hours from the base.  The climbing is all moderate on good rock, but the exposure and occasional lichenous patch kept me on my toes.  I spent some time signing the summit register before embarking on the Cowboy traverse.  I kept climbing shoes on for the first half of the traverse before switching to running shoes for the ledgy ascent on the west side of the ridge to Trapper peak.  I moved as quickly as possible all the way to the summit of Trapper, summiting at 5 hours, 40 minutes.  I drank the last of my water before beginning the long run down to the car.  I lost the trail again high on the mountain, but managed to keep running until regaining it shortly before the user trail diverges to Baker lake.  The run down the user trail to Baker lake and out to the car was really fun.  In fact, the entire day was a blast.  After passing a few folks, I arrived at the trailhead in a surprise light drizzle, at 6 hours, 37 minutes.  I think this is a fastest known time.  Anyone know otherwise?
At the base of the 1,200-foot Anitolli ridge.
Great exposure on the piton pitch (approximately
pitch 5) of the Anitolli Ridge.
A smokey glance back at the Cowboy Traverse from
the summit of Trapper peak.

Total elevation gain (based on topo map): 6,100 vertical feet
Pitches climbed:  About 20
Normal trip length: 12-20 hours
Trip length: 6 hours, 42 minutes from the Trapper creek trailhead to the Baker lake trailhead
Accomplices: None 
Sustenance:  Big breakfast (including a donuts).  3 L of water with electrolyte tabs and about 1,500 calories of Gu, Heed, and one Pro bar.
Fatigue factor (1-10): 6
Cramp severity index (1-10): 3
Stoke factor: (1-10): 10
Memories to suppress:  Downfalls on the trail, SMOKE!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Nez Perce, Southwest Buttress

8/12/2012  Leah, Natalie and I approached the route and made it to the base of the upper buttress before the wheels came off in the form of a dropped approach shoe.  We spent the remainder of the day exploring unknown terrain on the west side of the buttress on rappel, in search of shoes and conveniently found them at the base of the climb.  We vowed to return...
The offending shoe.
 8/25/2012  Leah, Natalie and I approached the route, excited for a shoe-dropping-free ascent.  We once again soloed the easy first pitch, and I led the 5.9R pitch without incident.  Natalie styled the long third pitch, and Leah led the first pitch on the upper Buttress.  I lead the crux pitch through the roofs and chimneys, shaking my head at the loose chockstone that still resides in the chimney.  I also lead the final pitch, fully enjoying the excellent climbing in the final dihedral.  Great route, beautiful day, amazing partners, just another perfect day in Montana. The descent was easier than I remembered, and we were soon swimming in the creek.
Natalie on the 3rd pitch.
Natalie and Leah climbing above the Noble Gas chimney
on the crux  5th pitch.
Descending below the Upper Kootenai Buttress.
Approach shoes blocked out to protect the innocent from the 8/12 incident.
The Southwest buttress of Nez Perce has the reputation of being a scary adventure climb.  I think that the reputation stems primarily from the poor route description in the Climbing Montana guidebook.  The "correct" route takes a logical line of sustained, medium quality climbing with excellent position and good gear (except for pitch 2).  Here is how I climb the route.  Note pitch ratings and lengths are different from the guidebook:

Nez Perce
Southwest Buttress
IV 5.10b
FA:  Lee/Shreve 1970

A Bitterroot classic with good climbing and amazing position.  By following the normal route, this “adventure climb” should be fairly safe and straight forward.

Approach via the normal climbers trail to Blackfoot and the Cornlier, or ascend talus below and east of the buttress before traversing west along the toe of the buttress.  The climb begins at the southwest toe of the buttress.

Pitch 1 - 5.4 Climb easy, low angle terrain on the Southwest corner of the buttress.  Scramble up easy, broken dirt and scree to the base of the buttress proper (60 feet).

Pitch 2 - 5.9R Climb up to a tree, then further up and slightly left to a small roof.  From the left side of the roof, climb up and slightly left on thin cracks and shallow dihedrals, placing protection wherever possible (micro TCUs usefull).  Step up and left around a shallow bulge (no gear) to steep cracks.  Climb these for 20 feet to a belay ledge with an old bolt just west of the southwest buttress (100 feet). Note:  This pitch can be safely climbed with small TCUs for protection, but be prepared for some difficult and flaring gear placements and moderate length runouts.

Pitch 3 - 5.10a  Climb straight up the the thin cracks on the west face for 30 feet (crux) to gain the southwest buttress.  Continue up low angle, flared cracks to a small ledge.  Trend up and left, back onto the west face, eventually passing some platey, loose blocks on the west face, then up easy terrain to a tree belay on a large ledge at the base of the upper buttress (170 feet).

Pitch 4 - 5.8  Climb up cracks on the west side of the buttress, eventually climbing up and left to a small belay ledge on the southwest buttress.  Belay at a piton and a rock spike (120 feet).   

Pitch 5 - 5.10b  Climb straight up steep rock (crux) to the base of an L-shaped roof.  Pull the roof, and continue up into a long squeeze chimney with a loose chockstone (slightly runout).  From the top of the chimney, climb the right of the two dihedrals to a sloping belay ledge below a small roof on the west side of the buttress (150 feet).

Pitch 6 - 5.9+  Pull the roof directly up and right of the belay (don’t fall!).  Continue easily up and right, then straight up past two pitons to a large dihedral on the west side of the buttress.  Climb this high quality dihedral to its terminus (crux).  Continue up easy terrain to a belay near the top of the buttress.

Pitch 7 4th class:  Easy terrain leads to the summit. 

Gear: Standard double rack plus doubles or triples of micro TCUs (purple or grey) for the 5.9R pitch.  One #3 camalot should suffice.       

Descent: From the summit, either descend straight east down slabs (very exposed), or traverse back and north to gain the talus gully between Nez Perce and Blackfoot dome.  Descend the gully to your packs and reverse the ascent route to Blodgett Creek.    
Looking up from Pitch 3.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Southern Swan traverse

Driving home from the Swans last weekend, I gazed fondly at the southern portion of the range.  Little did I know that my subconcious was already formulating plans for another traverse.  A week later, Leah and I traversed from Matt mountain to Holland lake, summiting Matt, Fisher, Ptarmigan point, Ptarmigan, Wolverine, and Carmine peaks.

Another late night bike shuttle allowed for a comfortable start at 6:40 am from the Rice ridge trailhead.  We hiked the old roadbed to the toe of the range, up the steep trail to the crest of the range, then up the ridge for a little bit to Matt mountain and a quick break.  The traverse to Fisher was surprisingly quick, and we summited about 3 hours into the trip.  Downclimbing the class 4 north ridge was a little time conuming, and the ridge traverse was long, so we didn't arrive at Ptarmigan point until early afternoon.  After working through some tricky downclimbing on the north ridge, we traversed easily to Ptarmigan peak, then with surprising animosity to Wolverine peak.  Ready to be done, we continued to Carmine peak by early evening, then donwnclimbed the knife edged northeast ridge to treeline.  We decided to bushwack straight down to the grail, bypassing Gordon pass and Upper Holland lake.  This turned out to be a mistake, I think, and we ended up with a good portion of cliffy, thick bushwacking.  We avoided consumption by bear, and were soon back on the trail, alternating between jogging and hiking.  The egress was surprisingly long, but soon enough we found ourselves fixing a surprise flat tire back at the car.

Morning.  Matt Mountain, Montana.  Marvelous.
Leah coming up some 4th class on the bumps south of Fisher peak.
Classy walking north of Wolverine peak.
The southern traverse can't quite match the sheer elegance of the northern traverse, but don't be fooled, the route is high quality and memorable.  Throw in the added commitment of no easy bail options along the ridge, and the opportunity to summit 5 of the 10 highest peaks in the range, and the traverse should be on the list of every ambitious Missoula-based hiker/peak scrambler and/or runner.  I haven't looked too hard at the map, but for stats, I'm thinking just under 6,000 vertical feet, roughly 15 miles, and done in a little under 14 hours car to car at a casual pace.

So the question remains, how about linking the southern and northern traverses into a logical 30+ mile, 15,000+ vertical foot mega traverse?  I'm curious.  And intimidated.  Hmmm... 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Northern Swan traverse

Looking north to Holland peak after about an hour on the ridge.

I spent a hot Saturday traversing the crest of the Swan range from the lookout above Holland lake to Smith Creek pass.  I had done this trip as an overnight in the summer of 2004, and it was fun to return almost a decade later with a light and fast approach.  I jogged out of the Holland lake trailhead before first light.  My legs felt sluggish, so I kept the pace relaxed, and enjoyed a spectacular sunrise on the Mission mountains.  I left the trail at the lookout, traversing north before dropping almost 1,000 feet to upper Necklace lake for 3 liters of water.  From the lake, I regained the ridge and continued over Buck mountain to the normal south ridge route on Holland peak.  I continued down the class 4 north ridge of Holland peak as the first cramping sensations began to creep into my thighs.  Having no desire to sieze up into a cramped ball of pain this far from the car, I slowed to brisk hiking pace through the immaculate, extended knife-edge ridge walking north of Holland.  Eventually the knife edge ridge broadened out, and I scrambled quickly across the head of Albino basin and up the south ridge of the peak south of Coney.  Hurrying down the north ridge, I spied Leah and Natalie making their way to Coney peak.  I eventually caught them, and we summited the final peak within minutes of one another.  The run out was enjoyable, if not a bit longer than anticipated.  We all rendezvoused back at the car, swapping stories from another amazing day in western Montana.
Looking out at Holland lake and the Missions.
Looking back south along the clean ridge to Holland peak.

General thoughts:
This traverse is very high quality, especially the portion from Holland peak to Smith creek pass.  I would heartily recommend it as one of the finest long hikes/scrambles in the Missoula area.

Total elevation gain (based on topo map):  10,200 feet
Trip length: 9 hours, 42 minutes trailhead to trailhead
Partial Accomplices: Leah and Natalie 
Sustenance:  Big breakfast (too big).  6L of water with electrolyte tabs and about 2,500 calories of Gu, Honey, Heed, and energy bars.
Fatigue factor (1-10): 7
Cramp severity index (1-10): 7.5 (merely threatening)
Stoke factor: (1-10): 9
Memories to suppress:  Late night bike shuttle, frustrating threat of cramps for much of the time, descending to the wrong lake for water.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Bridger ridge run (backwards)

The Bridger ridge run is a daunting undertaking for an underskilled runner such as myself.  The high quality, 18ish mile run follows the Bridgers from the highest peak to the southern terminus of the range.  I completed the run for the first time last fall in 6.30ish, during which I battled cramps and got way off route on the final climb to Sacajawea.  I ran the course for the second time in late July, once again backwards to minimize the downhill pounding of the normal direction.  Starting at 6am helped reduce the hotness, but I still sweated a lot and was forced to stop a couple dozen times to stretch and prevent cramping.  I finished the run in 5.51, which is pretty fast for me, but not for a fast runner.  I am excited to keep repeating the run, since I think there is still room for a substantial cut in time at my current fitness level.  A big thanks to my dad for running the car shuttle and bailing me out with water on the final climb to Sacajawea.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Washington Pass Alpine Cragging

Leah and I travelled to the North Cascades for an extended 4th of July climbing trip.  I had hoped to ski more, but lost the negotiations, and we ended up climbing every day except the last one.  The North Cascades were a completely new venue, so we were able to set some strict criteria:

1) Classic routes only
2) No loose/scary/dirty/confusing pitches
3) No long approaches or descents
4) Camping must be comfortable
5) No alpine starts

We stuck to our plan and had a blast.

North Early Winter spire, Northwest corner (III, 5.9)
After a late night drive, we established ourselves in the white pine campground and headed up to the pass.  Parking at snow, we wandered around a bit on the approach.  The route itself was sustained at the grade, and high quality - a perfect way to warm up for the remainder of the week.  I have lost my offwidth skills, so the crux wide crack was more of a battle than it should have been.  We made a hasty descent, returning to the car for a long drive down to Brewster for 4th of July fireworks.
On NEWS, excited to be climbing at Washington Pass!
South Early Winter spire, Direct East buttress (III, 5.10 A0)
Despite a late night of fireworks and general 4th of July celebration, we rallied respectably early for the striking Direct East Buttress of South Early Winter spire.  Snow on the approach forced us to belay a pitch or so of steep snow before simul climbing easy rock to the beginning of the harder climbing.  We swapped leads to the base of the bolt ladders, and I lead through the bolt ladders, yarding liberally on bolts.  The climbing in between the bolts was good, and the position was spectacular.  A couple of easier pitches put us on the summit ridge.  What a spectacular and enjoyable climb.  The scramble to the summit was a little more involved than anticipated, but it went ok, and we were soon enjoying early evening light on the summit.  I ran ahead on the descent and jogged the 2-mile shuttle from the Blue lake trailhead to the highway bend.  After two late nights, I fully enjoyed a relaxed evening of dinner, hanging out with rad Canadians, and heading to bed early.
Moving thought the lower pitches on South Early Winter spire.
High on South Early Winter spire.
North Early Winter spire, West face (III, 5.11a)
We repeated the now-familiar approach, and swapped leads up to the crux finger crack pitch.  I freed the crux pitch, but not without a fight.  The next 5.10 thin crack was also superb, and we found ourselves once again on the summit of NEWS.  I really enjoyed this route.  Another Fred Becky classic!  While on the summit, were pleasantly surprised to watch our new-found Canadian friends top out on the south spire.  The descent went smoothly again, and we were soon relaxing in car camping comfort.
Leah on the third pitch of the West face of NEWS.
Leah following the crux pitch.
Lexington Tower, East face (III, 5.9)
We briefly considered making the legitimately long approach to Chanti Spire, but opted instead for Lexington.  With another reasonable morning start, we were starting up through the easier opening pitches by mid-morning.  Leah lead a high quality 5.8 crack pitch before handing the lead over to me for the crux pitches.  I lead through the crux traverse and layback pitch without incident.  We caught another party at this belay, which gave Leah a chance to lead difficult upper chimney pitches.  We topped out in early evening, and enjoyed yet another deproach down to the Blue lake trailhead.  I was able to snag a ride back to the big bend to round out yet another amazing day of alpine cragging.
Wandering below Liberty Bell on the approach to Lexington tower.  
Leah approaching the roof system on Lexington Tower.
Skiing! (~5,000 v.f.)
Leah was content after four consecutive days of climbing, but was nice enough to let me sneak away for a morning of skiing.  With a limited time budget, I decided to just ski as much of terrain around the pass as possible.   I ended up jogging the shuttle from the big bend to the Blue lake trailhead, where I ran into a party of climbers we had met the day before heading to the West face route on NEWS.  After chatting for a few minutes, I headed out to link a couloir above Blue lake to an unnamed summit west of the Liberty Bell group to the long final descent of the normal Birthday tour.  The approach and ski of the Blue lake couloir went quickly, so I decided to tack on another west facing couloir above Blue lake.  All of the runs were excellent, and with fast conditions I was at the top of the final 2,000' run by late morning.  The final run was enjoyable, with snow all the way back to the car.  ~5,000 v.f. and done in just under 3h ctc.  I didn't know it at the time, but these were the last turns of the season.

Looking down the east couloir above Blue lake.
Re-climbing the west couloir above Blue lake.
About to make the last turns of the year.
The drive back home was long but uneventful.