Sunday, October 27, 2013

Mission Traverse, V.4

A beautiful view out to Greywolf peak and the No Fish Lake basin from Lowary.
On Saturday, I returned to the Missions for my fourth full Mission traverse.  Typically, fall produces just enough snow to make traverses like this too tedious, but this year is different, with deep and consolidated snow making for quick snow travel and efficient easy mixed climbing.  Since McDonald peak is closed from July 15 to October 1, the stars seemed aligned for a rare window of good conditions for the traverse.  Doug and I failed on a short Mission traverse last weekend, so it was great to return and complete it.  I was happy with the route this time, as it was direct enough to hit all the hilights, but bypassed the most difficult climbing.

I set up the bike shuttle on Friday night, which was foggy and generally unplesant, but it also meant that I was able to get plenty of sleep and still be running by 5 am.  I was not feeling any pep whatsoever in the legs, and walked most of the way up to the upper trailhead from the canal.  I followed the old, grown in user trail up from the summit all the way to the peak, hiking moderately and waiting for daylight.  I forgot how much downfall is on this trail, but what is a Mission adventure without an oversized helping of bushwacking? Daylight arrived just in time to illuminate the way on the Northwest ridge of Sheepshead, which was snow-free enough to scramble without crampons.  Donning crampons on the summit, I scrambled down the East ridge, then slogged out to McDonald and climbed the Northwest face.  This was my 5th McDonald summit for the year.  I can't get enough of that mountain.
Checking out the shadow of the Missions out in the valley from Sheepshead.
The McDonald summit view, with East St. Mary's lurking in the background.
 I had not previously decided how I was going to tackle North Glacier peak, but since I was already moving slowly, I opted out of unknown difficulites on the north face, and instead descended the East face of McDonald all the way to Icefloe lakes before bypasing North Glacier alltogether via the sneak ramp up to Lake of the Clouds.  The climb up to South Glacier was long and difficult.  The snow slogging was slow, my legs still had no pep, and I was about an hour behind schedule.  I arrived on South Glacier at 2:30 pm, a little overwhelmed but still feeing good.  Underprepared, Doug and I were stymied on this climb last week.  This time, it was an easy romp up with crampons and an axe.

Glissading low on the East face of McDonald.
Easy mixed climbing and snow slogging in running shoes and crampons.
The traverse to Mountaineer peak over the Garden wall is probably the hilight of the traverse, and this time was no different.  I even found a sneak ramp exit alternative to the Northwest couloir of Mountaineer peak, which means that with diligent care to routefinding, the entire traverse technically goes at a very stout class 3.  From the summit of Mountaineer, the terrain moderates, and it was nice to move quickly for a change.  I used the normal bypass around the gendarmes south of Mountaineer, and just east of Lowary, which adds as much as an hour, but makes the climbing much more reasonable.  I decided to go for Lowary, which is an unnecessary addition to the logical route, but it is a beautiful peak, so why not?  Also, I shared the summit of Lowary with Chris on a remarkable ski day several years ago, so it was good to return and think about Chris' wild spirit for a few minutes.
Looking back at Glacier peak and the Garden wall.
Beta:  this is where I left the Garden wall and traversed onto the west face of Mountaineer.
It is where the ridge steepens significantly.
Note, this is south of the prominent gendarme in the foreground.
Beta:  Looking across the traverse ledge on the West face of Mountaineer.
I exited via the ramp on the right, but it is also possible
to climb up the couloir to the upper West face of Mountaineer.

Looking back at the easy but exposed sneak ramp on Mountaineer peak.
Looking south from Mountaineer peak toward the moderate south half of the traverse.
Back on the ridge.  I bypassed gendarmes on the foreground on looker's right.
 From Lowary, 40 minutes of effort had me on East St. Mary's, tired but content.  The evening run down from East St. Mary's went smoothly, even with a tempremental left quad, and I was back at the car just before dark.
On East St. Mary's peak, ready to head home.
I know it might be too long to ever become popular, but I still think that the full Mission traverse is the finest long outing around Missoula.  The line is definitive, logical, challenging but not technically difficult, committing, and aesthetic.  It is also wild, and is always an adventure.  I can't wait to go back, although after our failed outing last week, I am pretty excited to return next summer for a North Glacier - East St. Mary's traverse, which is about 3 hours shorter, and stays just outside of the Grizzly Bear Conservation Zone, meaning that it is open all summer.

Total elevation gain (based on topo map): 12,400 vertical feet
Time out:  15 hours, 40 minutes
Accomplices: None
Put in:  Canal on the Ashley Lakes road
Take out:  East St. Mary's Reservoir
Route: Up Ashley lakes road to trailhead, up old user trail to Sheepshead, up Sheepshead via Northwest ridge (Class 3/4).  Down East ridge of Sheepshead, up Northwest face of Mcdonald peak.  Down East face of McDonald to Icefloe lakes, up ramp to Lake of the Clouds and up West face to South Glacier peak.  Down ridge to Garden Wall, across Garden Wall and up to Mountaineer.  South along ridge/pleateau toward Lowary, down to Fissure glacier, up to saddle between Lowary and East St. Mary's.  Up and back to Lowary, up East St. Mary's via northeast face/ridge.  Down east ridge and down climber's trail to St. Mary's reservoir.
Equipment of note:  Running shoes, crampons and an ice axe, no helmet, winter gloves, winter hat, or map to save weight.  Also no bear spray - I yelled a lot.
Sustinance:  About 3L of water (critical snowmelt refill halfway) and 3,000 calories of gels, nut mix, Snicker's and bars.  One  Hammer fizz tablet.
Fatigue factor (1-10): 9
Stoke factor:  9 (Note:  virtually impossible to exceed 9 if skis aren't involved)
Memories to suppress:  Dark, foggy bike shuttle on Friday night.  Re-aggrevating a persistent strain in my left quad.  Plastic crampon attachments digging into my ankle balls.   Actually, I should take care of that, so it probably isn't a memory to suppress. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Furlough Diaries

Aside from completing a bunch of errands around the house and being dismayed with Republicans on a daily basis, I was able to get out for several enjoyable outings during the government shutdown.

Day 1: Doug and I ran the Post Creek/Eagle Pass loop in the Missions.  After a remarkably beautiful jaunt up Post Creek, fresh snow and encroaching brush had us soaked and cold.  We made a short push toward Calowacan, but were thwarted by fresh snow and slippery conditions.  The run out was great, except someone has thrown a bunch of slash on the Eagle Pass trail.  It would be easy to re-clear the trail.  Public service day, anyone?
Doug, running down from Eagle Pass.
Doug:  "I think this looks like prime Grizzly habitat"
Brian:  "Yeah, I've seen bear tracks every time I've been up here"
Doug:  "HEY BEAR!"
Day 2: Ran the Double Dip course in 1.49.  Feeling great, even with the longish run yesterday.  I strained my lower quads running hard downhill, which would plague me for almost two weeks.

Day 3: AM - biked the Snowbowl Overlook loop.  I have been trying to go under an hour on this loop for a while, but missed it by about 5 minutes.  Next time!
Bundled up for a frosty downhill on the Overlook trail.
PM - Easy 2- hour run around Blue Mountain with Leah on a gorgeous fall afternoon.  Running with Leah is really fun.

Day 4: Cider Press in Kalispell

Day 5: Jewel Basin Hike with Leah.  We did a fairly long loop, ending with Mount Aeneas, and didn't run a single step.  It was great.  We saw several parties whose Glacier National Park plans were derailed by the government shutdown.

Day 6: The Furlough Memorial tour.  Blue Mountain, Point Six, Sheep Mountain, and University Mountain in a day.  Fantastic day.  See blog post.  The only downside was that I re-strained my left quad, and set the stage for a cold.
Not even noon and looking haggard during the Furlough Memoroal tour.
Day 7-10:  Off due to sickness.  Did a bunch of errands, cooked squash minnestroni soup, and drank endless cups of tea.  Ran a short and gorgeous North Hills loop on Friday.

Day 11:  Bike Woody Mountain from the house.  I rode up from Bonner, which, in retrospect, is impossible without trespassing for about 100 feet.  I also rode up through the West Riverside fire, which was fascinating.  The ride down to Marshall Canyon was enjoyable, and it would be worth returning sometime to run Woody Mountain from Marshall Canyon.  I re-strained my left quad, which was demoralizing.

Leah and I drove to Leavenworth.  On the way, we stopped at Lookout Pass and ran a short loop in the St. Regis Basin.  Spectacular fall colors, and did I mention, running with Leah is really fun?

Days 12-14: Leavenworth climbing with Leah.  Neither of us have been climbing much, so we just climbed a bunch of moderates.  The best day of the trip was a jaunt up the standard route on Careno Crag (10 b), followed by a trio of quality easy 5.10 pitches in the vicinity of the upper buttress.  The weather was stellar, and it was nice to get out of town.

Day 15: Not wanting to re-aggravate my strained left quad, and still feeling the after effects of the cold, I went for a moderate, gorgeous fall run in the Rattlesnake.  I ended up running Wallman/Spring/Curry/Turn and burn/Ewok in a casual 2 hours.

Bonus round:  On Saturday, Doug and I attempted a Glacier peak to East Saint Mary's Mission traverse.  We were thwarted by ice and snow on the ridgeline, which was too bad, because with a light axe and crampons, it would have been a long, engaging, and rewarding outing.  We ended up trying to bypass north Glacier and Mountaineer peaks on the east side, but were thwarted by deep snow slogging and exposure.  We ended up retracing our steps, arriving back at the trailhead over 9 hours after leaving.  I kid you not, the run down from Lucifer lake was a blast, and I would recommend Lucifer lake as a 2-5 hour run for those who enjoy steep trails and adventure.  Fortunately, we were able to hitch a ride back to our car, which saved us over 10 miles of road running.
Doug bailing in the Missions.  Lake of the Clouds and McDonald peak in the background.

Also, I am doing time trials on Sentinal, in preparation for the hill climb, if I sign up.  I went out on Thursday and tied my record of 23.45, using poles, before continuing out to University and Hellgate.  While not competitive for the podium, it would be a great challenge to try to push it under 23 minutes on Sunday.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Furlough Memorial tour

Looking back to the valley from Point Six at high noon, about half way into the day.
I'm sure most ambitious Missoulians have schemed about logical linkups on the expansive trail network close to town.  For example, check out Bill Martin's audacious RMVQ efforts which are all major extensions of my route.  I attempted a shorter link up two years ago, but was thwarted by fatigue and total brake failure coming down Sheep Mountain.  With a faster bike and a more comprehensive knowledge of the local trails, I picked a logical link up of peaks around Missoula that could be completed in a long day.  I did as much running as possible to minimize the strain of lugging a bike uphill, and added a few additions to the shortest possible route to keep things fun, mainly climbing Butler creek, descending the Beargrass highway trail, and going over Ravine instead of returning to the valley after Point Six.  Since I am on the furlough plan, there wasn't really any good excuse not to give it a try, so I headed out at 5:08 am, headed for Blue Mountain.

The climb up Blue Mountain was fun.  As per normal, I rode up the 3.04 trail, then up the Blue Mountain road to the gate.  I kept the pace slow and just enjoyed the dark.  From the gate, I donned running shoes and ran the last few hundred vertical feet, following the old horse trail.  The sun cast a fiery red pre-dawn light on the eastern horizon as I topped out (7:20 am).  It was going to be a good day!
First light on Blue Mountain.  My appologies for all of the self portraits.
Photographic subject matter was limited.
I ran, then rode down the Blue Mountain road and took trails down through the recreation area.  A strong inversion kept temps reasonable for most of the descent, which was key since I didn't bring many warm clothes.  By crossing the McClay bridge, I was able to keep limit the Reserve street riding to about two miles during the long slog through town.  Also, I stopped at Albertsons for donuts, coke, yogurt and a banana.

I rode out to Butler creek, which takes longer, but is a more enjoyable climb than the Snowbowl road.  Even with the impeccable morning weather, the climb up Butler to the top of the Griz chair was the psychological low point of the day.  It is just a super long and steep grind, and I was experiencing a weird shooting pain in my left knee and calf.  But I made it, and was happy to switch to running shoes for a jaunt out to the summit of Point Six (11:50).  I rode the awesome Beargrass highway trail, then cruised down the Snowbowl road before refilling water in Grant creek.  Maybe it was the GU, or maybe it was just the beautiful day, but something switched during the climb up the Ravine trail, and I had nothing but a good time cranking away on the moderate switchbacks, and I had a huge grin on my face riding effortlessly down into Sawmill gulch.
A shadow closing in on the top of Point Six.
Quick break on top of Ravine.
I refilled water again at the base of the Woods gulch trail and started up Sheep Mountain (2:28).  I had hoped to start up about an hour earlier, but the day was proceeding flawlessly otherwise, so I was in good spirits.  This was my eighth excursion up Sheep Mountain, and I resorted to maximum efficiency tactics, biking to within about 1,000 vertical of the top of Blue point, and running from there.  Once again, I felt great on the climb, and was able to go round trip in just over four hours.  It was fun to run into Blake on his bike high on Sheep Mountain, cruising around in the snow.  He gave me some food, which saved me from bonking.  Thanks Blake!.
On Sheep Mountain!
It was clearly going to be a dark voyage up University mountain, so I stopped in at Rattlesnake Gardens for a few bars and some warm water before riding out to the Hellgate canyon trail.  The sun was setting as I started up the trail (6:50), and I just settled in for a steady, dark climb to the top.  Topping out, I was greeted by a stiff east wind and the beacon casting an eerie rotating beam of light on the trees.  It was time to head home.  Not wanting to risk cramping, I took it easy coming off University, and was soon back at the bike.  A two-mile jaunt through town had me back at home (9:05), excited for beer, warm soup, and bed.
Hazy fatigue celebration on University mountain.
I like my route, and everything worked out well.  As of this morning, I have no desire to do it again, but maybe some day?  Another fine link up would be to add Mount Dean Stone and eliminate Blue Mountain and/or Point six, which would necessitate more biking, but would take about 20 miles off the slog through town.

On a different note, being furloughed is kind of fun, but I would much prefer to be working.  I really enjoy my work.  Also, I like to keep this blog focused on outdoor pursuits, but I must admit that I am sickened by the misguided, deceptive, immature, cowardly, terrifying, and cruel (I could go on) tactics of the conservative media and members of the Republican House.

Total elevation gain (based on topo map): 17,900 vertical feet
Total distance (best estimate):  104 miles
Trip length: 15 hours, 57 minutes, door to door
Accomplices: None
Put in/Take out:  My house
Route: Out to Blue Mountain, up and down Blue, out to Butler creek, up Butler to Point Six road, up to Point Six, down Beargrass highway and Snowbowl road, up Ravine, down Sawmill gulch, up and down Sheep Mountain via Woods gulch, up and down University mountain on foot via the Hellgate Canyon trail.
Equipment of note:  Running and biking shoes, winter gloves, running shorts instead of biking shorts (my butt is sore), light wind gear top and bottom, no puffy jacket.
Sustinance:  About 5L of water (many refills) and about 4,000 calories.  Lots of gels, and Perpetum, three granola bars, salami, three donuts, two king size Snickers bars, yogurt, a banana, one bottle of coke, Hammer fizz.  Also, I treated all my water, so ended up consuming about five iodine tablets
Fatigue factor (1-10): 9.5
Stoke factor:  8 (Note:  virtually impossible to exceed 9 if skis aren't involved)
Memories to suppress:  forgetting my cell phone, weird shooting pain in my left knee and calf while biking, ending in the dark.