Thursday, May 31, 2012

Return to the majestic Phasimeroi

Leah skiing on Mount Idaho with Borah peak in the background.

Leah and I spent an enjoyable extended weekend skiing high above the majestic Phasimeroi valley in the Lost River range of Idaho.  The drive was rough, and it wasn't until midnight that we bounced our way into the East fork trailhead.

We overslept our alarm by an hour, but were still on the trail early enough to enjoy the crisp clear morning.  With limited knowlege of the area, we stumbled around a bit before dropping overnight packs at the fork of the Pass lake basin and the next unnamed basin to the north.  In retrospect, a camp in the meadows below Leatherman pass would have been much easier to access with full packs and still adequate for good ski access.  A quick skin into the unnamed basin between Pass and Marion lakes revealed a plethora of interesting, albeit short ski lines.  I got very excited.  We had our sights on the iconic north face of Mount Idaho, so we climbed to a high pass and skied into the upper Marion lake basin.  During the transition to skins, we saw another party of skiers coming down from mount Idaho.  Excited and surprised to find like-minded individuals in this wild corner of the world, we chatted with them before following their uptrack to the summit.  We topped out a little before 5 pm, and enjoyed good snow and dramatic early evening light on the descent from the seventh highest peak in Idaho.  Leah returned directly to camp while I skied steep little couloir before shussing back to snowline and the comforts of camp.
Leah out in front on the north face of Mount Idaho.
Some steep and interesting skiing to round out the day.
With another good refreeze and cold temperatures in the forecast, we treated ourselves to a full night of sleep and a relaxing morning before skinning out of camp, headed for Pass lake.  I had scoped out an improbable line off the northeast shoulder of Whitecap peak during the initial approach, and we headed straight for it. With the aid if ski crampons, I was able to make the ascent entirely on skis.  From the highest point of continuous snow, we linked a series of snowfields and couloirs, all with excellent snow.  After a short nap at the base, we continued up to Pass lake, then up to the bowels of a steep nouloir on the west edge of the north face of Whitecap peak.  The booting in the couloir was steep and difficult, and it took a long time to grind to a steep perch at the top of the couloir.  Leah was apprehensive about the pitch (sustained 50-55 degrees), but after about 100 feet of sideslipping with an ice axe, she linked turns down the remainder of the run to complete her steepest ski descent to date.  We once again celebrated our success with a nap at the base.  From there, we rounded out the day by  bopping north to the unnamed basin and climbing a perfect splitter couloir on an unnamed 11,000 foot peak.  The couloir provided a great warm down from the previous run, and we both enjoyed perfect tuns on the descent.  Once again, I tacked on a short and interesting final run before returning to camp.

Leah navigating the maze on the northeast shoulder of Whitecap peak.

That was fun.

Leah steep skiing above Pass lake.
The last run we skied on Sunday - striking.
Trying to shred on tired legs.

Full belly, tired legs, comfortable camp, majestic sunset.  Life is good.
Seeing no good reason to break our streak of relaxing mornings, we slept until a civilized hour before packing up camp and making our way to the base of Leatherman peak.  Once again, ski crampons allowed an easy skin all the way to the summit.  We took a long break on top before skiing 3,000 feet of good corn.  The hike out was quick, and we were soon back at the truck, prepping for the long, bouncy drive back to civilization.

The striking snow ramps of Bad Rock peak and Mount Church.  
Leah skiing off the second highest peak in Idaho.
What a beautiful trip.  I didn't want to leave.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rattlesnake Traverse

John and I did the Rattlesnake traverse on a warm spring sunday.  We took our time, chugging along at a moderate pace and taking long breaks to enjoy the day.  Unfortunately, most of the north facing terrain was desperately icy, so the skiing was marginal.  In any case,  there was plenty of snow, and it was good to get back to one of Missoula's finest ski outings.  approx. 8,500 vertical feet and done in about 11 hours car to bike.

Read John's account here,

Heading up to Stewart peak (Photo: John Lehrman).
John de-swelling his feet on the summit of Mosquito peak
John climbing to Sanders peak with the north face of Mosquito behind.
Climbing above Sanders lake (Photo: John Lehrman).
Ready to walk out a snow-free runout at Snowbowl (Photo: John Lehrman).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Heart of the Missions Traverse

I spent Friday morning completing the Heart of the Missions traverse from East St Marys peak to McDonald peak.  It was a perfect day, and was one of my proudest ski tours ever.  The tour was dedicated to Chris Spurgeon - I can't go into the Missions without feeling Chris' presence.

Inspired by a Ron Johnson article in Backcountry Magazine, I originally did the Heart of the Missions traverse in May of 2008.  My original route included the west couloir of Greywolf peak and a complete traverse of the crest of the Garden wall.  It was a bold route, and took over 17 hours to complete car to car.  What an epic!  I modified the route this time into a tour which flows logically and hits the major high points of East St Mary's, Mountaineer, south Glacier, and McDonald peaks.

The dramatic Garden wall and Mountaineer peak.

Thursday evening was spent running the 18-mile bike shuttle from McDonald to St Marys reservoirs.  The shuttle took a bit longer than anticipated, and I wasn't in my sleeping bag until well after dark.  I awoke to a strong refreeze and started hiking up the normal St Mary's climbers trail at 4:30 am.  Snowline was quite high, but I eventually transitioned to skis and moved steadily to the summit of East St Marys peak, following an old skin track.  It was cool to see the southeast face adorned with a pair of ski tracks - nice work James and Matt.  From the summit (2h 49 min), I skied the broad northeast ridge, wrapping below Lowary peak to the head of the Fissure Glacier.  The route to Mountaineer peak was long as always, and I employed the full bag of tricks including booting, skinning, skiing, and ski cramponing (is cramponing a verb?).
Looking back at the west face of Greywolf peak from St Marys peak.
It was a good morning.
Below the east couloir of Lowary peak, ready to climb to Mountaineer peak.
Mountaineer peak's unfamiliar east face served up good, straighforward skiing on ice and corn before breaking down and allowing a high traverse below the Garden Wall.  I took a break below the Garden Wall to refuel and enjoy the day.  A long skin put me below Mount Shoemaker, which I bypassed on the southwest side.  From there, a fairly technical climb up the southeast ridge of south Glacier peak put me on the summit a little after 11am.  I had hoped for some morning softening on the 55 degree northeast face, but it was still frozen solid, and I sideslipped a good portion of the face, made a few icy turns, then exited stage left to a sneak snow ramp which drops down to Icefloe lake.

Looking back at Greywolf peak from Mountaineer peak.
On the Garden wall looking to the tricky southeast ridge of Glacier peak south.
A steep and icy northeast face of Glacier peak south.

From the lake, I made a very hard push to the summit of McDonald peak via the south face.  I took another break on the summit of McDonald, enjoying the day, and psychologically preparing for the mandatory bushwack out to the car.  McDonald's classic northwest face was icy and smooth, and I was soon working my way down the exit gully.  The gully was a little melted out but still passable, and I was soon skiing in and around willows to snowline.  It felt good to swap out sweaty ski boots for dryish socks and approach shoes.  I did my best following the faint climber's trail to Post creek, and was soon on the Post creek trail, jogging out to the car.  The run/hike out went quickly, and my thoughts alternated between the fear of getting eaten by a grizzly bear and the satisfaction of an inspiring day in the Mission mountains.
Looking down the northwest face of McDonald peak.
Sheepshead  peak and Mission reservoir visible.

The exit gully is pretty melted out.
Total elevation gain (based on topo map):  11,260 feet
Trip length: 10 hours, 30 minutes bike to car (includes 2.5 hours for the bushwacky exit).
Accomplices: None
Put in:  St Marys reservoir
Take out: McDonald reservoir
Ski equipment:  Dynafit Broad peak skis, TLT speed race bindings, Dynafit TLT 5 boots, lycra pants, 35L pack which carried boots on the inside (helpful for bushwacking).
Safety gear:  One whippet pole, skis with sharp edges, bear spray, cell phone.
Sustinance:  Big breakfast.  2L of water with electrolyte tabs and about 2,000 calories of Gu, Heed, and energy bars.
Bear tracks?: Yes - one set above Icefloe lake.
Trailbreaking effort:  No 
Avalanche conditions:  Ice = stable 
Fatigue factor (1-10): 9.5
Stoke factor:  10+
Memories to suppress:  Late night bike shuttle, sideslipping Glacier peak, poor bushwacking execution, big toe bliseters from the jog out.

Southern half from St Marys to Mountaineer.
Northern half from Mountaineer to McDonald.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bugaboos to Rogers Pass attempt

I made an attempt at the Bugaboos to Rogers traverse with Kyle and Brad.  We only made it to the halfway point but had an excellent adventure.  Frest snow and low visibility on the first day did not allow for enough progress to commit to the complete traverse with our limited supplies and commitment level.  The second day was amazing.  I am excited to go back and complete the traverse in the same fast and light style.
About to fly in (Photo: Brad Lamson).

Skinning below Snowpatch Spire.
On the Vowell glacier below Bugaboo spire.
Kyle and Brad dozing without sleeping bags (Photo: Brad Lamson)..
Powder off Hume Pass (Photo: Brad Lamson)..
Kyle coming up Syphax.
Traversing the Carbonate glacier.
Skiing off the Carbonate glacier at sunset.  Memorable.