Thursday, August 29, 2013

Bitterroot - High Five traverse

5 am and excited for the high five.
I was able squeeze in a fabulous pre-wedding scramble on August 17, and made a beeline for my second favorite traverse in the Bitterroot - the high five.  This highly recommended adventure links El Capitan, the Lonesome Bachelor, and all three Como peaks.  With some routefinding wizzardry, the total elevation gain checks in around 8,000 vertical feet, the difficulty never exceeds stout 4th class, and once above treeline, it's pretty much all boulder hopping interspersed with easy rock scrambling.  This was my third time on the traverse, and I had one overriding goal:  SHOW UP TO THE WEDDING ON TIME.  A secondary goal was to beat Ben Vandenbos' fast time of 10 hours (probably the FKT).  This would require shaving over an hour off my previous time, but with a much deeper running skill set, it seemed possible.  In any case, I started running from the trailhead in the dark, excited for a challenging day in the mountains.

Sunrise above Little Rock Creek Lake.
The trail up to Little Rock Creek lake was full of downfall and encroaching brush, but it still went quickly, and I was soon following the intermittent climber's trail to the upper lakes.  There are several routes with cairns, but I generally stayed low, and was able to bypass all the lakes on the south side, which I think is the best way.  After a quick water stop, I finally stepped onto scree at the base of El Capitan and quickly scrambled up to the ridge crest, using ledges just right of the twin gullies.  From the crest, a little boulder hopping had me on the summit, well ahead of schedule.  The morning had been smoky, but a west wind gradually cleared things out as I traversed to the Lonesome Bachelor and worked up the Southwest ridge (stout class 4).  From the Lonesome Bachelor summit, a bit of boulder hopping down, then a long climb put me on West Como.  T'he traverse to East Como was continuously challenging and engaging, but even with some sub-par routefinding, I made it to East Como well ahead of schedule and in good spirits. 
At the base of El Capitan, transitioning from bushwacking to talus hopping.
A High five on the High five.
Looking west to the Lonesome Bachelor and El Capitan from West Como.
Looking East from West Como to Middle and East Como.
Miles of boulder hopping.
Normally, the upper north face of East Como can be glissaded, but it was snow free this time, so I endured an oversized helping of loose scree down to the basin and the first water in several hours.  The only major glitch of the day came when I missed the crucial gully which allows easy access through the final cliff band at the bottom of the basin.  Nevertheless, I found it after 30 minutes of unpleasant bushwacking, and I was soon on my way down to the trail.  The run out was pure joy - 2 miles of technical but eminantly runnable trail, with a short uphill stinger back to the car. 
On East Como, ready to head home.
Thoughts
This is a good traverse, but treat it with caution since descending from East Como peak is tricky.  I think it could go much faster, certainly under 9 hours, especially with a little more snow for glissading.  Here are a few routefinding tidbits:

Lonesome Bachelor:  From the base of the southwest ridge, ascend the ridge crest, climbing several short class 4 steps, until a 20-foot tall vertical step is encountered about 200 vertical feet before this summit.  This step can be climbed directly (5.6), but it is easier to walk 100 feet to the right on a broad ledge until a chimney/left facing dihedral is encountered.  Climb up a short chimney (10 feet) until you can walk back left on ledges with no handholds.  From here, a vertical but easy chimney leads to easier terrain.  A second step will be encountered, but it can be surmounted with 4th climbing up and right of the crest.
This is the first step than can be passed on the right.
The crux of the Lonesome Bachelor.  Climb the right dihedral
for 10 feet and traverse left to the chimney on a narrow ledge. 
Descent from East Como:  Descend the east ridge, then loose scree on the eastern edge of the north face (several options here).  From the base of the north face, descend boulders, rock slabs, and open timber on the western edge of the drainage.  As you get nearer to the bottom of the drainage, stay skier's left on scree, and follow the main gully/swale down to a broad, mossy cliff band.  Pass this cliff band just skier's left of the gully.  From here, traverse skier's left to the final cliff band.  You will be about 100 feet above a large boulder field.  Traverse skier's left, climbing slightly above the edge of the cliff band until the valley slope turns from east facing to north facing, and find a small gully between the cliffs, more or less on the eastern edge of the north facing portion of the cliff band.  This gully is not obvious.  Scramble down this gully (dirty class 3) and emerge on the lower boulder field.  Descend straight north aross the boulder field, and follow your nose through mossy cliffs, boulders, and brush to the trail.

Splits
Lake: 1.15. base of peak; 2ish; El Capitan summit: 3.40.  lonesome bachelor: 4.50.  west como: 6.15ish. east como: 7.30. trail: 8:40ish car: 9.28.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Tetons - Jim's Big Day climb, Middle Teton run

I travelled to the Tetons in late August for a semi-spontaneous climbing and peak scrambling trip with Leah and Ben.  Our main objective was Jim's Big Day (III, 10a) on the Enclosure, and anything else was just a bonus.  The trip started off with an enjoyable romp up Irene's Arete.  It was my first time on the route, and the climb was excellent.

Leah and Ben on Irene's arete.
Enclosure - Jim's Big Day
From a camp in the Meadows, we were able to sleep until a civilized hour and brew up a good breakfast before heading out at dawn.  We started climbing around 9 am, just as the first parties started parading down between the Upper and Lower saddles from the Grand.  I had some trouble locating the second and third pitches, and we spent the first half of the route climbing mediocre rock interspersed with good sections, wondering if we were lost.  Fortunately, Leah took the lead and got us back on route at the base of the spectacular crux pitch.  I took my time jamming and underclinging for 100 feet of enjoyable Teton climbing before belaying on a beautiful exposed ledge.  From there, we climbed one long easy pitch and simul climbed to the summit of the Enclosure.  The descent went smoothly, but we still didn't arrive back at the trailhead until well after dark.

Getting psyched for the spectacular crux pitch of Jim's Big day.
Middle Teton - North Ridge run
We slept in on our last day and cooked up a huge pasta breakfast at the climber's ranch before heading our respective ways.  Having bailed on Middle Teton's North ridge with skis just three month's prior, I was excited to make a return trip.  The old legs didn't have much pep, so I jogged and walked to the meadows (1 hr 2 min) and lower saddle (1 hr 58 min) before scrambling to the base of the Pinnochio pillar and the start of the route.  The traverse around Pinnochio and around to the Northwest couloir was fairly complex but safe and easy, and I was soon scrambling 4th class rock to the dike gash.  After some scree slogging in the gash, I climbed out on a 5.4ish step well below the top of the gully.  I tried to climb directly up to the North ridge, but got cliffed out and had to downclimb quite a ways before gaining the northwest shoulder of the peak and scrambling easily to the summit (2.55).  With thunderstorms brewing and friends waiting down in the valley, I scrambled quickly down the Southwest gully before enduring endless boulder hopping down the South fork.  From the meadows (4.10) I ran hard down the trail through the switchbacks before taking the faint trail directly back to the climber's ranch (5.05).  The climbing portion of the day should go faster with fresher legs.  I fully enjoyed the opportunity to unlock the trickeries of the North ridge route.  The routefinding is fairly complex, but with patience, the way is fairly obvious, and the climbing is more moderate than the consensus 5.6 rating (in my opinion).  Hopefully the knowledge will come in handy during a ski traverse some day.
The North ridge of Middle Teton last April from the Lower saddle.
It was nice to returrn and finally climb the thing.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lolo in the summer, and other Missoula-based endevors

I have burned a few early mornings and evenings over the past few weeks exploring the trails leading up to Missoula's backyard Lolo peak including an exploratory run to the base of Lantern ridge from Mill creek, a fun early morning beat-the-heat bike loop up the Mormon peak road and down the Mill creek trail, and an evening bike ride up the Mormon peak road and up the trail to Carlton ridge, then all the way down to the valley via the Carlton and Mill creek trails (3.15).  I am quick to throw superlatives around when describing bike rides, but this may be my new favorite full length ride around Missoula.  The Mill creek trail is usually in good shape for biking since it is cleared annually by a local mountain biking group (buy Alan Swanson a beer next time you see him).
Waiting for the heart rate to drop on the summit of Lolo peak
after running up from the valley.
The most rewarding outing by far, however, was running Lolo peak from the valley, using the Mill and Carlton trails to approach Carton lake, climbing Lolo peak via the north ridge, then traversing over Carlton ridge proper on the way back to the Carlton/Mill exit trails.  I was tired at the end, but ended up running the 6,000 vertical foot loop in just under 4 hours.  It is worth noting that the Mill creek trailhead is on private land, and one of the landowners has posted No Trespassing signs.  After checking with the Forest Service and consulting with an adjacent private landowner, here is what I know:  Public trail access IS allowed on the Mill creek trail.  Please stay on the route marked with grey diamonds for the first 1.5 miles.  Anyone can park along the highway at the Mill creek road junction, but parking is also allowed at the trailhead directly across the road from the No Tresspassing trailhead gate.  Do not block the gate.
No Trespassing signs at the Mill Creek trailhead.  Public access is legal,
and parking is allowed off to the right of the photo
I have also been running as much as possible, loosely in preparation for the Rut 50k.  Aside from Lolo, the one recent standout run was a major variation to the Double Dip loop: Up Kim Williams and Hellgate canyon to University, down to saddle and up to Sentinal north, out connector trail to Sentinal south, down Pengelly ridge, across fire road and down M (1.45).  I was also able to squeeze in a perfect run on the immaculate Pearl/Heart lake loop near Superior in (1.50).

Another recent Missoula misadventure was climbing the Dihedrals West route in Mill creek.  The route went at about 10c, with a full helping of dirt and choss.  Beta here.
Steep dihedral climbing in Mill creek.