Friday, May 31, 2013

Northern Tobacco Root Memorial day skiing

Steep skinning in the Brannan lake cirque.
Leah and I spent an extended Memorial day skiing above Sailor lake in the Northern Tobacco Roots.  The weather was a little worse than forecast, and the trip included plentiful reading time, hours of listening to rain and sleet pitter pattering away on the tent, and a few dramatic claps of lightening.  The skiing was fantastic, however, and we were treated to an oversized helping of moderate couloirs in a new (for us) and relatively unexplored corner of the range.  I have been planning this trip for nine years, so it was good to finally see the terrain instead of endlessly drooling over maps.

With a casual start from Missoula, we spent the first day approaching Sailor lake with heavy packs and establishing a fantastic camp just below the lake.  We had time to make an evening ski of the south twin couloir in the central cirque and get a general look at the available terrain.  Setting a non-bootpacking trend for the weekend, we skinned the entire north twin couloir, and danced along the ridge to the south couloir.  The ensuing run was moderate and aesthetic.  We established a comfortable existence back at camp, with fresh veggies for dinner, dry shoes, and a campfire.

The central cirque above Sailor lake.  We skinned the obvious couloir in the center and skied the looker's left couloir.  On Memorial day,  Leah skied the right couloir, and I skied then hanging snowfield through the not-quite visible gash on the left side of the photo.
Leah working the switchbacks near the top of the north twin couloir.
Starting down a hanging ramp into the south twin couloir.
Skiing the south twin couloir.
Sunday dawned clear, and we spent the morning exploring the basin north of Brannan lakes.  From Brannan, we climbed north and skied a moderate north facing face before climbing back out and ridge scrambling the summit of the unnamed 10,560 peak, which is the highest in the area.  We spent the remainder of the afternoon cherry picking the highest quality lines in the Brannan lake cirque, skiing five great runs in interesting, moderate terrain with great snow.  At 7 pm, a powerful thunderstorm sent us scurrying back to camp.

The looker's left half of the Brannan lake cirque, our playground on Sunday and Tuesday morning.
The looker's right half of the Brannan lake cirque, showing peak 10,560 and it's southeast couloir.
Leah climbing to the shoulder of peak 10,560.
Working through some rocks in the basin north of Brannan lakes.
Leah skiing back into the Brannan lake cirque.
Dropping yet again into the Brannan lake cirque.

Ski tracks in the Brannan lake cirque.
Steep kick turns with the west face of Hollowtop visible in the background.
Memorial day dawned cold and wet.  We stayed in the tent until noon before heading out in the mist.  We returned to the central cirque, and re-climbed the couloir from the first day.  Leah skied the north twin couloir, and I skied a narrower couloir on the south margin of the face.  By dividing and conquering, we ticked off all the main obvious lines in the cirque.  Fortunately, the mist broke, and we skinned to the south ridge of Lakeshore Mountain, and skied an excellent, moderate gully into the Jackson peak cirque.  The weather held, and we were able to ski the north couloir of Jackson peak with good snow and crisp early evening light.  A quick jaunt up the northwest snowfields of Jackson peak rounded out another great day.
About to ski into the challenging gash couloir.
Leah skiing the excellent gully off Lakeshore mountain to the base of Jackson peak.
Climbing to Jackson peak's north couloir.
Snacking on a knoll below Jackson peak's north couloir in preparation for an evening run on the northwest shoulder.
 It rained and sleeted all night, and it was with some reluctance that we headed back up to the Branham lake cirque on Tuesday to try to ski something before heading home.  We ended up skiing another line off the northeast shoulder of the southwest peak, in the mist,  as well as a fun little mini-couloir back to Sailor lake before packing up and heading out.  It rained hard for most of the ski out, and we returned to the car soaked but happy.
Misty turns in the Brannan lake cirque before heading home.
Skiing the return gully to Sailor lake on the way home.
By the numbers,  we skied 11 new (for us) runs, 10 of them with good snow, explored four new cirques, read about 200 pages, cleaned out one bottle of Seagram's whiskey, slept for about 32 hours, and weathered about an inch of precip in the form of rain, hail, graupel, sleet, and snow. It was awesome.  A big thanks to Leah for joining me on this thoroughly enjoyable ski outing.

I also want to pass along a recommendation to Missoula skiers to give Matt Radlowski a call for ski tuning.  He spent some time overhauling my powder skis last week, and really brought them to life.  With some edge sharpening and detuning/flattening in the tips, the hookiness is gone, and I am finally happy with how Dynafit Huascarans ski.  Since I have a shameless preference for small skis (and tight clothing), at 112 mm underfoot, the Dynafit Huascarans are too wide to be a good technical mountaineering tool, and at and 1910 grams for skis and bindings, they are too heavy for super long or fast days.  However, they are now the fun/nimble/predictable powder ski I was hoping for, and coupled with Dynafit Speed superlight bindings (also recommended), and TLT5 performance boots, they are light enough for real backcountry skiing.  Viva la Dynafit!

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