After years of scheeming over maps, I finally made it out behind St. Mary peak in the Bitterroot for a grand day of exploration. The day started off well, with a simple drive to 5,500 feet and a 30-minute skin to the summer trailhead. From the trailhead, I followed a skin track on the summer trail, cutting switchbacks, roughly to treeline below the peak, then made an akward, skins-on descending traverse into the unnamed lake at the head of McCalla Creek. A quick skin up St. Mary's south bowl me in new ski territory less than three hours into the day. First up was a good 2,000 vertical foot run into the head of Kootenai creek, transitioning from scrappy west-facing glades to a moderate and enjoyable wide open gully system down toward Kootenai.
|About half way down the first run, with good views out to|
Bass and Stormy Joe peaks in Bass Creek.
From the lake, I climbed further west, with hopes of returning to the basin via a low angle hanging snowfield and couloir system that looked appealing on the map. The hanging snowfield skied well, but the lower couloir was too slabby for my liking, so I bailed upward, and traversed to the skin track and a retreat-style ski back to the. From there, I made a pair of interesting but shorter ski runs at the head of the cirque, the first of which was an excellent little couloir that was relatively wind buffed and stable - certainly the best run of the day. From the south shoulder of St. Mary's, I skied the south bowl, then forged a low route directly to the last switchback on the St. Mary's road. I'm not sure if the low route is worth doing again - it took a lot of akward traversing and a little log hopping, rock bashing, rock slab skimming, and thick forest survival skiing to piece it all together, but it was a good adventure, and the entire retreat only took 90 minutes.
|Looking down the upper half of the second run, once again with views out to Bass Creek.|
|Looking back at St. Mary peak and potential ski lines.|
|Nice little couloir on the third run.|
|Looking back up at the third run, another random little Bitterroot gem.|
|The fourth run.|
|The photo doesn't do it justice, but the wind was absolutely howling |
as I skied the south bowl of St. Mary peak.
|One doesn't have to stay out very late to see the sunset this time of year.|