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. 

1 comment:

  1. So in the summer, the SW ridge to N Glacier from Lucifer? While an aesthetic line, it looks kind of heinous. Well done on the traverse...a classic no dought.