Friday, January 25, 2013

Tobacco Roots Branham Peak couloir extravaganza

A lean North face of Branham peak.  The Good One is the big chute  just right of the foreground tree.  We climbed the Contender couloir (back of the "4"), and skied the Scope, which is the couloir that forms the arm of the "4".  The Backdoor is the clean couloir all the way on the right, and I also skied D+D, which is the couloir just left of the Backdoor.  Not shown in the photo are a couple of lines on the east face, another tree lined couloir out of view to the left, the Green Room above Bell lake, which can be used to access the Back Door, and terrain on the south face.  The windswept face in the upper left also fills in most years.  What a playground!
Nick V. and I made a foray into the Tobacco Roots with an informal goal to ski all of the named couloirs on Branham peak's North face.  The road has not been plowed this year, and we needed a 4WD truck to get turned around at the Potosi campground (a Subaru would probably make it with a couple of pushers).  We didn't have a snowmobile, but the road only took an hour with kicker skins.  We took our time on the approach, and were still booting up to the base of the first chute less than 3 hours after leaving the car.
Nick sprinting across the monster avalanche below Mine peak, with Branham peak clearly visible.
The snow was wind hammered, and the booting was fast.  We booted up the central chute, then traversed the ridgeline east to the Good One.  The skiing was good, as the name implies - chalky, moderate, and aesthetic.  Down in the trees, we took a nice little break to eat some food and stash a bunch of excess gear.  We had both skied the Contender in the past, and it isn't really filled in yet, so we skipped it and instead skied the Scope, ignoring the fact that traverse didn't have any snow.  I am excited to ski it again with more snow, because I think it is the best line on the face - aesthetic, committing, and interesting, and not too scary.
Nick climbing the Contender.
Skiing the Good One.  Photo: Nick Vandenbos.
Nick was a happy boy.
I was also a happy boy.  Photo: Nick Vandenbos.
Scrambling out to the Scope on run number two.  Photo: Nick Vandenbos.
Nick topping out on Scope.
Nick is still recovering from some form of ungodly sickness, so he took his time as I sprinted ahead up the Backdoor couloir and skied down D&D couloir to the east before re-climbing the Backdoor and rendezvousing with him near the top.  The Backdoor skied well.  The ski out was fast, and we were back at the car less than an hour after slipping in the Backdoor.  A stop at the Pony bar rounded out a perfect day in the mountains for team Black Lung (we are both recovering from sickness). 7,800 vertical feet and done in just over 9.5 hours car to car.

Up yet again!
Photo: Nick Vandenbos.
D&D couloir solo.
Note:  Calling all Bozeman skiers - it is normally possible to drive to Potosi hot springs (4 miles from the summer trailhead) year-round, even with high clearance 2WD vehicles.  4WD vehicles can drive another mile or so to the Potosi campground.  As a result, Branham peak is quite accessible to strong parties all winter long without the need for a snowmobile.  Of course if you stay at the highly recommended Bell Lake yurt, you can hit these lines before breakfast.

The face sees a lot of cross wind, does not wind load severely, and the couloirs are often surprisingly safe.  To my knowledge, there are six named runs on the face, and at least two other distinct couloirs, as well as runs on the Northwest, south, and east aspects.  As a result, link up possibilities are pretty much endless.  I can't wait to go back!


  1. Hi,
    Will you please post a link to your Blog at The Skiing Community? Our members will love it.
    It's free and easy to do, just cut and paste the link and it automatically links back to your website. You can also add Photos, Videos, Classifieds and News Articles if you like.
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  2. I used this past TR for intel, for a 2 day camp at the lake this week. These lines are REALLY filled in this year!! (I still have a couple left to tick off)
    THX Brian!

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