Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Grey Wolf 3.3

Nick responded favorably to an invitation to "ski something big on Saturday", and arrived in Missoula late on Friday evening with his brother Ben in tow.  We rolled out of bed at 3 am, and were soon driving through town, watching partiers at the end of their day as ours was just beginning.  We cast off from the trailhead at first light.  The goal was to try to ski all four aspects of Grey Wolf peak before the day warmed up too much.
Dropping into a challenging East couloir on Grey Wolf.
The trail to Riddell lakes was cleared last fall, but fairly heavy downfall over the winter slowed progress somewhat.  Still, we arrived at Riddell lakes in the early morning, and climbed the South couloir well before it saw any sun.  The skiing in the South couloir was icy but manageable, and we all chattered down through the ice before finding a little bit of corn on the apron above upper Riddell lake.
Approaching Riddell lake.  Photo: Nick Vandenbos.
Nick and Ben coming up the South couloir.
Nick at the bottom of the South couloir.
In good spirits, we transitioned at Riddell lake and climbed over to the Scenic lake basin and an intimidating first look at the East couloir.  It was severely runneled and already pretty warm, but it looked skiable so we headed up.  We pushed hard up the couloir, and were soon scrambling a little mixed step to the notch.  Small wet slides were already coming down the runnel, and we briefly discussed conditions, deciding to stick with the original plan to ski and re-climb the East couloir.  So down we went, navigating a little mandatory air at the top of the couloir, and working steep snow above the jaws of the runnell.  Down at Scenic lake, we stopped just long enough to re-fill water before pushing hard once again up the East couloir.
Looking up an almost-out-of-condition East couloir.
Botting a steep East couloir.  Photo: Nick Vandenbos.
Soon enough we were back at the notch, sweaty and extremely glad to be out of the oven.  Next up was the west couloir, which looked great from the top.  I was worried that it may have runnelled too severely for easy skiing, and sure enough it had.  We skied the upper 700 vertical feet before regrouping and talking through options.  The lower couloir was icy and severely runnelled, with gaping moats, and we would have had to downclimb most of the rest of the couloir.  None of us wanted it bad enough, so we put spikes back on and started climbing back out, headed to the main summit.

Ben starting down the West couloir.  It skied well at the top...
Retreating upward in the West couloir.
 We climbed to the summit via the West couloir and upper West face, navigating lots of steep snow intermixed with ice and rock steps.  On top, with one straightforward descent to go, we were finally able to relax.  After a long break on the summit, we downclimbed a short chimney and began our descent of the North face.  Nick and I had skied the North face almost exactly 5 years prior, and had rappelled the final cliff band.  It was great to return with him to explore another new line.  The run was moderate but engaging and slightly complex, with good snow, and I had a blast.  This may have been a first descent.  With a little time to spare, we simul skied all the way to Grey Wolf lake for another long and relaxing break.
Boys will be boys
Nick and Ben downclimbing to skiable snow on the North face on Grey Wolf.
Ben on the exit ramp on the North face of Grey Wolf.
The return to the car involves a long climb to the Greywolf/Sunset crags pass, a surprisingly complex ski to Scenic lakes, then a short climb to the Riddell lake basin.  We move quickly through this, and with some beargrass skiing beta from Ben, we skied all the way to the end of the snow before changing to running shoes.  The trail back to the car was quick.

Nick has an excellent account on his highly recommended blog.

I am excited to go back and finish this someday.  The link up is logical, technical, and committing.  It has a lot of good skiing, and is long but still doable.  Finding good conditions with stable snow would be tricky, but once again, doable.  I have no regrets on bailing on the lower West couloir.  I was excited to ski with Nick and Ben.  They are solid skiers and climbers, as well as great friends.  They also have an eye for new and challenging ski lines, and recently skied the highest peak in Montana from the exact summit, probably for the first time.  Nice work guys.

Total elevation gain (based on Google Earth):  10,200 feet
Trip length: 12 hours
Put in:  New Riddell lake trailhead
Take out: Same
Ski equipment:  G3 Soulfly skis, La Sportiva RT tech bindings, Scarpa Alien boots, One whippet, OR Ferossi pants, Camp Nanotech crampons,  25L Arcteryx pack, helmet.
Sustinance:  GU, Bars, sesame sticks, 1 L water refilled twice, electrolyte tabs.
Trailbreaking effort:  Low
Avalanche conditions:  Low to Moderate with a lot of hanging rollerballs and ice.
Fatigue factor (1-10): 8
Stoke factor (1-10): 8
Memories to suppress:  Runnells! Not completing the link up.

In other news:
I skied St. Mary peak in the Bitterroot peak with a bunch of rad Missoulians for my birthday the following day.  Spandex was well represented.  Thanks to all who braved the wet weather.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I was hoping to get some beta on accessing the trailhead to Riddell Lakes as I haven't been back up there in 15+ years.


    -Kristopher, St Ignatius