Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Gash and the Mystery chutes in Sweathouse Creek

James skiing into Sweathouse creek.
Leah, James and I were treated to perfect ski conditions during an exploratory ski tour into Sweathouse creek.  We parked at the end of the snowplowing, and cruised the mile or so to the lower trailhead before making the normal climb to the northeast shoulder of Gash point proper.  After digging a quick pit to check out stability, we decided to ski the upper half of the north face off the exact summit.  I have never skied this avalanche exposed slope before, and with 8" of perfect, stable powder, we knew we were in for a good day.
Keeping a watchful eye on the scenery during the approach.
Closing in on Gash (photo: James Pyke).
James skiing the summit pitch of Gash point.
From a bench about half way down the face, we climbed west up a short chute, then continued up to top of the middle Mystery chute, which drops 2,000 vertical feet down the north ridge of Gash point into Sweathouse creek.  The chute was excellent, with an open larch bowl funneling into a long, clean gully which we took all the way to the creek.
What a day.  Hidden lake peak in the background.
Leah skiing in Sweathouse creek.
Powder, blue skies, open Larch stands, and 2,000' ski lines.  Good stuff.
(photo: James Pyke)
James at the bottom of the middle Mystery chute.
We took a quick break at the base of the chute, exchanging high fives, and eating some lunch in the warm sun. James headed out to civilization, and Leah and I re-climbed the chute.  From the top, we skied the upper bowl again before making two difficult westward traverses into the west Mystery chute, which we took for 2,000' to Sweathouse creek.  After a long snack break, we followed James' track up the regular north face of Gash point.  I pegged it up the track, and managed to take a quick lap in the short chutelet at the top of the North face before rendezvousing with Leah at the top of the final ski run.  The egress was chilly, and we stopped many times to revive cold fingers.  We were back at the car around dusk, just in time for fish and chips at the Hamilton House in Victor.
Leah heads back up for more with the Sweathouse spires behind.
Near the bottom of the west Mystery chute (photo: Leah Samberg).
What great exploratory "Gash plus" tour.   About 9,500 vertical feet, and done in just over 12 hours car-to-car.  It is worth noting that we were inspired by Blake's probable first descent of the middle Sweathouse chute earlier this year.
The route according to Google maps.  The South and North
bowls of Gash are visible in the background.
mmmm....

Friday, March 22, 2013

North Fork of Lost Horse Creek

I was fortunate to tag along with a great group of friends for some powder skiing in the North Fork of Lost Horse creek.  We had more ambitious plans, but they were buried at 6 am by heavy overnight snow and wind.  With a shallow snowpack, we easily drove to within a mile of the trailhead, then walked sans skis into the upper hanging valley on the faint established trail.  From there, about 20 minutes of awkward talus traversing put us at the base of the big south facing peak to creek runs.  We skied two runs just west of the back side of Camas peak, stopping below the ridgeline when avalanche danger got spicy.  After a week of mucking about in rain saturated snow, everyone was excited to get back into the powder.  One nice feature of the North fork is that the approach is reasonable - at a casual pace, the approach took just over 2 hours to the base of our line, and 1.5 hours from the top of the last run to the car.
Blake was excited to ski.
Joshua in the powder.
The ladies, hard at work on the skin track.
Blake in the powder.
Natalie in the powder.
Leah in the powder.
Leah discussing grassland ecology during the hike out.
On the drive home, I fell into a deep sleep, recharging for impending St. Patrick's day festivities in Missoula.
Two full days of skiing + beer = sleepy world.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Greywolf West couloir speed run

Greywolf's west couloir  on a sunny day (Jess Douglas photo)
It has been warm here lately.  Like raining up to 8,000 feet for the first time this winter warm.  Wary of subjecting any of my friends to what was likely to be a stormy day of wallowing in isothermal snow, I headed up to Greywolf peak to ski the west couloir as fast as possible.  The west couloir is normally skied car to car from the outlet of St. Mary's reservoir, but I think the fastest point-to-point route is to approach via Riddell lakes and exit to St. Mary's reservoir.  The road is plowed this year, but it still had a lot of slush, so I left the bike in the car and skied the 2-mile shuttle with kicker skins.  I started the stopwatch in the rain at the boulders which block the road to the old Riddell lake trailhead.  Fortunately, a snowmobile track brought me to the old trailhead, and a skin track from last weekend helped keep the isothermal wallowing to a minimum.  Higher up, wet fresh snow caused some spectacular glomming, but otherwise it was a quick voyage to treeline.  Of note, most of the down logs on the Riddell lake trail were cleared last fall, and travel is once again fast and enjoyable.  I had somehow convinced myself that the weather would be OK above treeline, but my optimism vanished as I crested the approach ridge and promptly skied in a complete circle in the whiteout.  Unintentionally doubling back on one's ski tracks is a bit unnerving, but I was able to re-gain my bearings and traverse to a stormy upper Riddell lake.

I skinned up through shallow new slabs, and with ski crampons, was able to skin most of the South couloir.  From the top of the couloir, I made the 4th class traverse in a blinding whiteout, arriving at the East/West notch in well under 3 hours from the car.  The west couloir skied quite well, except that the 2 inches of fresh snow had formed touchy slabs up to 8" in depth.  As a result, I ended up ski cutting my way down most of the chute, trying to minimize the time spent under the hanging west face.  From the base, I made the normal climb out of the hole with zero visibility.  Fortuntatly, I was able to rely on knowledge of the terrain to navigate back to the St. Mary's ridge.  Once on the ridge, I spotted a ski track and followed it as best I could through down through storm.  Soon enough, the wind abated, and I enjoyed a bit of good skiing before isothermal snow bashing down to snow line (not too bad), and jogging the final quarter mile or so to the car.

The point-to-point time was 4 hours, 51 minutes.  This is probably the fastest time for the West couloir, but with better weather and conditions, it should go faster.  I found the route itself elegant and enjoyable, with some good technical scrambling on the South/west traverse to keep things engaging.

Gear: Scarpa Aliens, Dynafit Broad peaks with race bindings, ski crampons, a race pack with 0.75 L of water and a bunch of Perpetum and GU, a helmet, and one whippet and one race pole.  No crampons or ice axe today, but they might be mandatory later in the year.
Cell phone self portrait back at the car.

Splits:  Old trailhead 12 minutes; saddle 35 minutes; begin traverse to Riddell 1h 20; leave Riddell 1h 40; top of South couloir 2h 25 (this section was slow); top of west 2h 45 minutes; start up out of hole 3 hr; ridge 4 hr; car 4.51.  

Sorry about the lack of pictures - my camera died about an hour into the trip.  

Monday, March 4, 2013

Jenny Bowl for time

Today I finally bested last year's Jenny Bowl time, and broke a long standing goal of completing circuit in under 1 hour 20 minutes.  As per normal, I accessed the Paradise run at Snowbowl legally from National Forest Land.  I stopped the stopwatch for about five minutes to chat with Blake, then added about a minute back to actual stopwatch times to account for the break.  Conditions were fast, and it was warm enough I didn't have to stop to don a coat on top of Point 6.  Skiing down in the daylight was nice, and certainly helped speed things up a bit.  The only slow quirk was when I skied into a tree well.  The fast shuffle back up from the lake was a joy as always - with race gear the rolling uptrack is almost as fun as the skiing!  It will be hard for me to go much faster by this route, but I can't help but wonder how much faster it would go via the fastest (illegal during the operating season) route.  The skiing was great, with boot top powder in Jenny Bowl, and screaming fast ice on Paradise.  The splits were: top of first steep pitch 19.5 min; exit resort 41.5  min; summit Point Six 51 min 30 sec; leave Jenny lake 57 min; parking lot 1 hr 13  min 30 seconds.  The tour checks in around 3,300 vertical feet.