Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Granite Peak skied, from the top

I wanted to give a quick shout out to the brothers Nick and Ben Vandenbos, who skied Granite Peak from the exact summit in late May this year.  To my knowledge, this is the first ski descent from summit of the highest point in Montana.  The line is full value - steep, intricate, exposed, remote, and very condition dependent.  Nice work fellas!

I grew up skiing with Nick and Ben in high school, and remember we used to feel like badasses because we could crush as many as five ridge hikes in a single day at Bridger Bowl.  Both Nick and Ben have progressed their backcountry skills considerably since then, especially in the past few years.  I can't wait to see where they take it from here.  

Nick's full trip report is finally available on his highly recommended blog.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Swan Range - Pyramid pass ridge scrambling

On Leota peak, looking out to Crescent, Marshall, and Pyramid peaks (from right to left).
These are the prominent peaks visible from downtown Seeley Lake.
Having spent several days last summer running ridgelines in the central Swan, I returned this summer to explore the southern end of the range.  Instead of committing to a traverse, I concocted a somewhat contrived loop of sorts.  It was supposed to be hot, so I drove to the trailhead the night before, and set my alarm with intentions of starting at first light.

Or maybe a little before first light.  Heading out.
I bumbled around a bit without a headlamp on the 4-mile trail up to Pyramid pass.  It is hard to give a full effort before the sun rises, so I putted along, enjoying the dawn.  From the pass, I dropped over to Pyramid lake, then ran down the trail another mile or so before heading up through bear grass and downfall toward Crimson peak.  This south facing hillside is a scorcher later in the day, and I was glad to climb it while it was still in the shade.  I spooked a herd of 20 elk on the climb, and ended up chasing them for quite a while until they eventually ambled off to the east.  Gaining the ridge at Leota peak, I realized that I had left the trail too early, and Crimson peak was still way off to the east.  Not wanting to burn two hours going out and back, I cut my losses and continued with the traverse.  This was new country for me, and without a map I had a great adventure figuring out the route by intuition on the fly.  I also fully enjoyed the grand views east to the peaks of the vast Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Bob Marshall sunrise.
Good view of the southern half of the Southern Swan traverse.
 I decided to go over Marshall mountain on the way to Crescent, which was great going up and horrid going down (lots of scrub brush and difficult downclimbing).  Soon enough I was back on track, and summited Crescent five hours into the day.  The traverse from Crescent to Pyramid was quite enjoyable, with nice ridgeline scrambling to Point 8,276, then a devious west side bypass before the standard ridgeline affair to Pyramid.  The descent from Pyramid was fast, and I was soon back at Pyramid lake.

On Pyramid, ready to head home.
I had some extra time, so I decided to scramble Devine peak from little Pyramid lake.  What looked like a quick jaunt up scree fields end up being a full loose-scree battle, but I fought valiantly on all fours all the way to the ridge.  The descent off the West face wasn't much better.  As a consolation prize, I went for a quick swim in little Pyramid lake before pushing hard on the 4-mile egress, returning to the car right at the 10-hour mark.
The west face/torture chamber of Divine peak.
It was a great day, but this route is a little contrived.  It would go more logically as an out and back from Pyramid to Crescent (and back), or as a traverse from Pyramid to Crescent, descending to the Morrell falls trailhead, or backtracking to Marshall and descending straight to the Pyramid Pass road.  Also, a traverse from Pyramid to Crescent, then around the head of upper Morrell creek to the Sunday Mountain trail looks engaging and reasonably high quality.  Speaking of quality, the ridgeline traversing was fun today, but it was nothing like the clean, spectacular knife edge ridges of the central Swan.  Also, the Bob is big and wild.
The route, according to Google maps.
The Pyramid lake hike itself was quite enjoyable, and it may be one of the most underrated short hikes or backpack trips in the Missoula area.

I walked past quite a bit of good looking ski terrain, especially the big obvious southwest facing avalanche paths.  Unfortunately, road access is poor in the winter, but nothing that couldn't be overcome with kicker skins or (gasp) a snowmobile.

In terms or strategy and performance, everything worked out well.  There is a lot of water along the way, and I drank somewhere around 7L, and consumed about 1,500 calories of GU and Perpetum.  Between the early start, soaking the shirt, and multiple stops to ice my legs with snow, the heat was a non-issue, and I was able to maintain a 2,000 vertical foot per hour climbing pace throughout the day.  By forgoing a few essentials like a jacket, map, sunscreen and bear spray, I was able to go sans pack, which makes running much more enjoyable.  For stats, the day was about 9,500 vertical feet, roughly 22 miles, and done in 10 hours 3 minutes car to car. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Gallatin Peak loop run

After a great day of wedding festivities, I spent Sunday running/scrambling a long loop in the Spanish peaks.  The inspiration for the route came from summer 2011, when I did the exact same route in reverse with my father and brother as an overnight backpack trip.
All smiles on Gallatin peak.
I left the car mid-morning, jogging at a casual pace up Spanish Creek.  I'm not sure if it was a longish run the previous morning, the midnight french fries, or lack of sleep the previous night, but all systems were feeling extremely sluggish, so I kept the pace reasonable.  Mirror lake came soon enough, and I was soon jogging up into the striking alpine of the Spanish peaks.  Keeping with the moderate pace mantra, I walked all the steep sections to the unique and striking Summit lake before dropping into Hellroaring creek.  After another fuel stop at the base of the peak, I cached the water bottles and food and scrambled the northwest face of Gallatin peak.  I kept the pace reasonable and steady, and made the climb in about 40 minutes.

Prologue:  Twice during the approach to Gallatin peak, I had to make wide deviations to pass unattended horses blocking the trail.  Not a big deal for me, but I think horse packers forget how their actions affect hikers, especially kids or folks who don't know the basic safety protocols around horses.    
Cruising around Mirror lake.
Summit lake, precariously perched on the divide between Spanish and Hellroaring creeks.
The classic view of Beehive and Lone mountains from Gallatin peak.
 The descent from Gallatin was fairly slow, and I had trouble finding my cached water bottle.  Soon enough, I was re-united with my gear and running down Hellroaring creek.  Anticipating a long dry slog out to the trailhead, I stopped and drank as much water as possible before heading up the dusty switchbacks to Beacon point.  Feeling the effort of the day, I walked about 2/3 of the climb to Beacon point, enjoying the upper ridgeline section of trail and shooing a pair of goats off the summit.  From Beacon point, I begain the long, elegant descent of Indian ridge.  I thought this section would pass quickly, but it turns out it is quite long - about 6 miles.  Without a map, I convinced myself that I had missed the Hellroaring trail junction, and almost struck out off trail back to the trailhead.  Fortunately, my wiser side won out, and I continued down the ridge, eventually arriving at the Indian ridge/Spanish creek junction in relief.  With 1/2 cup of water, 50 calories of GU and adequate energy reserves in the legs, I relaxed and just enjoyed the final 5-mile descent to the car.  Back at the car, water, banannas, and a cold soak in the creek rounded out the day.

Thoughts:  This is one of the best non-skiing days I have had in quite a while.  Although a slow place surely contributed, this was one of the few long runs I've gotten away with where my legs were not painfully hammered at the end.  I spent a lot of time keeping the comfort level high, soaking my shirt at least four times, and drinking and re-filling water frequently.  After running primarily for speed, it was a joy to simply be out in the mountains, moving at a reasonable pace and taking it all in.
Below Gallatin peak, ready to start the long grind up to Beacon point.
Following the faint trail off Beacon point.
Relieved to finally see the trail junction back to the car.
This is a great route, and would be doable for a strong hiking party in a 10-12 hour day.  Gallatin peak could be easily cut out for a long but beautiful 23-ish mile trail loop.  Gallatin peak is one of my all time favorite mountains, and my second favorite ski mountain in Montana (after Grey Wolf).  To my memory, this was my ninth Gallatin peak summit, and I can't wait to go back.  The summit register on Gallatin is gone - someone should pack a PVC summit register in sometime.  The Spanish peaks are a compact range, but they are rugged and striking, especially the Spanish/Mirror/Bear Basin/Thompson lake cirques.  The opportunities for high quailty loops like this are close to endless - I have quite a few in mind.

Mirror lake: 1.30
Base of Gallatin: 2.30
Gallatin summit: 3.05
Start Beacon point climb: 4.40
Leaving Beacon point: 5.30
Indian trail junction: 6.20
Car: 7.20

Total elevation gain (based on topo map):   7,800 vertical feet, not counting trail undulations
Total distance (approximate):  25 miles
Trip length: 7 hours, 20 minutes car to car
Accomplices: None
Put in/Take out:  Spanish Creek
Route: Up Spanish Creek to Mirror and Summit lakes, down into Hellroaring, up and down NW face of Gallatin, down Hellroaring creek, then up trail to Beacon point, down trail along Indian Ridge and out to Spanish creek trailhead.
Equipment of note:  No pack, so just shoes, an emergency shell, a camera, one 0.5L water bottle and lots of calories.
Sustinance:  About 8L of water (many refills) with 3 electrolyte tabs and about 1,500 calories of Hammer Gel and Perpetum.  One Pro Bar
Hazards:  Unattended horses
Booty?:  Yes, skin clip on the summit of Gallatin.
Fatigue factor (1-10): 8
Stoke factor:  9 (Note:  virtually impossible to exceed 9 if skis aren't involved)
Memories to suppress:  Inability to maintain a bright pace.  

Monday, July 1, 2013

Mountain to Meadows half marathon 2013

I participated the Mountain to Meadows half marathon, which takes a logical loop south of Lolo pass on the Montana, Idaho border.  This is only the second foot race I have ever run, but with some training runs at race pace, I was able to run an even race.  Fortunately, my fears of ending up curled in a cramped ball of pain, and dropping off pace due to the length of the run were unfounded, and I ended up with a time of 1.28.15, which was good enough for second place.  Race results can be found here.  Leah also had a good race, and it was fun to toe the line with her.

The blow-by-blow was pretty simple.  From the starting gun, the pack quickly sorted out with J Rogers, Nick Hamilton and me opening a sizeable gap on a pack of about 10 high school age runners, who we did not see for the rest of the race.  We ran as a group of three to the start of the first hill, where I slowly dropped off the back.  Nick eventually dropped back and ran with me for about a mile, then dropped hard behind me.  I didn't think I would see him for the rest of the race, but he must have caught a second wind somewhere, because he was just out of reach of breathing down my neck for the rest of the race.  I spent the rest of the race in no-man's land, running at a conservative pace to the top of the first hill, then at full speed down to the base of cardiac hill.  With Nick slowly closing the gap at the aid station at the base of cardiac hill, I pushed hard to the top of the hill, then just hung on for the final 3 miles or so to the finish line.  Fortunately, Nick was never able to close the gap.  The second pack of predominantly high school kids came through shortly after I finished, and it was cool to see them charge across the line.  The first place woman cruised in at 1.36, and Leah cruised in well ahead of her target pace at 1.51.

After all the logistics of randonee racing, the simplicity and low cost of running races is appealing.  Just show up on race day with a pair of shoes and try to run fast.  I am excited to get out for some more foot races (soon?).  It would be especially fun to battle with a larger pack of similar speed racers, and to race a more technical course.