Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hyalite/Elephant traverse aka Hyalite/Blackmore, Version 4

Eric near the summit of the unnamed peak between Bolle and Blackmore.
This is the peak which juts up behind the Blackmore/Elephant saddle when viewed from town.
With high pressure in the forecast again, I was somehow able to convince Eric to tag along on an attempted traverse around the rim of the Hyalite drainage near Bozeman.  We tried to approach Overlook Mountain from the avalanche path above Silken Skein falls.  This turned out to be a mistake for two reasons.  First, it is an inhospitable place no human should ever have to experience and second, we were unable to find a safe way up through the steep, complicated low elevation terrain.  One good whoomph was all it took for us to head back down to the Hyalite Lake trail with out tails between our legs.
This is where we turned around.  It looks pretty tame, but just
imagine a big whoomph coming out of the darkness.
We had an entire day plus an hour or so of pre-dawn darkness ahead of us, so we headed up the trail for another version of the classic Hyalite/Blackmore traverse.  We ended up having a great day - there are so many options along the traverse and with a little creativity and blue collar skiing, every run ended up being new for at least one of us.

Sunrise illuminated the peaks as we neared the base of Hyalite peak, and we were greeted to early morning light and brisk winds on the summit.  We skied the north ridge of Hyalite and booted up to the next bump in the ridge north of the peak for a look down the North evil twin couloir (unofficial name - I'd be curious to hear if there is a conventional name for this couloir), to see if it had enough snow.  As it turned out, it didn't, but we skied it anyway, traversing hard left at the bottom to bypass a snowless cliff band.
Approaching Hyalite peak at sunrise.
Eric smiling for the camera at the top of the north Evil twin couloir.
We had failed on this line 3 times between the two of us, so it was good to finally ski it.
From there, we traversed around the head of the Divide peak basin and climbed to near the summit before spilling over into the head of Storm Castle creek.  A long traversing climb put us at the top of the Skinny Maid couloir, which we decided not to ski due to time and energy, and another long traverse put us on top of what I think is called the Pinner couloir.  I managed to drop all my valuables (keys, headlamp, glasses, cell phone) along this traverse, so we were treated to a short retrieval mission.  Fortunately we found everything without expending too much effort.  Sorry Eric.

The Pinner was awesome.  I think it is one of the prettiest little couloirs I've skied around Bozeman. From the base of the Pinner, we made the long traverse through the beautiful Twin falls basin, and climbed up to a prominent unnamed peak just north of Mount Bolle.  We skied it's hanging snowfield, then descended the peak's north couloir into the head of Cottonwood creek.  There was a rock choke in the middle that Eric managed to sidestep in a display of sheer edge-dulling, rock scraping awesomeness.  Of course, I had to do the same, albeit with a little less rock scraping due to shorter skis.  From the Cottonwood basin, we skinned to the Blackmore/Elephant saddle and traversed windswept alpine grass to the summit of Elephant peak.  We skied the Northeast face, which was marginal at best, with  breakable crust on the mountain, and facets and downfall on the exit.  We were back at the car 11.5 hours after leaving, tired and satisfied from another fun day in the hills.  Not bad for plan B.  8,500 vertical feet according to the topo map.
Eric downcliming into the Pinner couloir.
Alien invasion in the Pinner couloir.
Onward across the Twin Falls basin.
Eric's mantra for the day: "I think it goes."
It did, but it wasn't pretty.
Eric starting down the Northeast face of Elephant.
Descending through the thick forest back to the car.

I think we made the "right" decision turning around due to avalanche danger.  The full traverse is still alluring, but probably with a different approach route.  The standard Hyalite/Blackmore traverse is highly recommended, and should be done as often as possible.  It requires Moderate avalanche danger, but most of the descents can be arranged to avoid steep windloaded terrain, so it doesn't require absolutely bomber stability.  Exiting via Elephanthead is a viable alternative to Blackmore, but it is a nasty avalanche path, so be careful.

For those who want to go there, our tour was:  From Grotto falls, up Hyalite roughly following the summer trial the whole way; down north ridge; up to next bump north on ridgeline; down north Evil Twin couloir; up to west shoulder of Divide peak; traverse down and east to head of Storm Castle creek; up to ridgeline, traverse around the back of an unnamed 10,000' peak at the head of Maid of the Mist creek; drop valuables; retrieve valuables; down Pinner into Twin falls basin; across head of basin, up unnamed 10,000' peak; down north couloir to head of Cottonwood creek; up to Blackmore/Elephant saddle, walk windswept tundra to Elephant mountain; down Northeast face and out to car.

On a gear related note, I was skiing on Scarpa Aliens and Dynafit Broad peak skis with race bindings.  There was a lot of faceted snow, and I think this is the first day ever that the Broad peak skis felt too small to be an effective tool.  The boots, on the other hand, were amazing.  They do have limitations, however.  They are fairly soft in forward flex, and would feel a little undersized for driving skis wider than 100 mm or so at the waist.  Also, I didn't use the supplied gaiters, and with all the gaps around the shell, the liners were quite wet by the end of the day.  


  1. Ah... the first time the Pinner's approach has been described in detail. A dangerous precedent :).

  2. Ha. I'm thinking that approaching via Hyalite peak is not going to become a trade route any time soon, nor is exiting via Elephant! I would be excited if folks start stepping up to the Hyalite/Blackmore traverse more often though, since I think it is one of the best tours around, and is short enough to be feasible for moderately fit parties.

  3. You're right. I was just kidding around. Though in your photo the Pinner's so hammered it looked like a trade route off the Ridge @ BB or something!
    Rad photos and TR, thanks for sharing.