Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Como Peaks link up

Middle and West Como from East Como, with El Capitan lurking
in the background. I skied the sunlight south faces.
I have wanted to ski all of the Como peaks in a day for a long time. Scrambling across their summit ridges in sumer, and skiing the South face of east and North ramp of Middle a few years back has only increased the draw. I succumbed to the draw and drove out Friday evening to the trailhead with dreams of effortlessly linking all three peaks and tacking on the 4,000 vertical foot Tin Cup chute at the end of the day because, why not?

Unfortunately, the execution phase was not as lucrative as I had hoped. The comedy of errors got rolling early when I got lost. On the wrong side of the creek. In the dark. Fortunately only 15 minutes and a few expletives were all it took to find the trail, but I was promptly dealt another low blow in the form of falling off a slippery log and into the creek. In the dark. Completely soaking my boots. Soldering on, I still made it to the base of the peaks in reasonable time. The approach from the trail to the mid-slope bench is complex, and I went about  half mile too far on the trail before giving up and attacking 1,500 vertical feet of steep brushy/rocky/icy terrain. I made it to the bench surprisingly tired and took a long break to wring out my socks and boot liners, re fuel, and reevaluate the day.

From the bench I skinned, then booted firm ice up the Southwest face of West Como before skiing the face, which was icy but otherwise spectacular. This was my first time skiing the west peak, and it is possible that this was also a first ski descent of the peak.  About an hour behind schedule, I stopped on the first bench about 1,000 vertical feet below the summit. This is where I noticed a faint trickle along the base of my spine and down the back of my pants. After further investigation, it became clear that a can of Pepsi had exploded in my pack, soaking my clothes and leaving sticky residue all over my back and legs.  Nice. So I took another short break to wring things out and rest my already fatigued quads.
Looking down an icy but otherwise perfect West Como peak.
Looking back at the fine Southeast face of West Como.
Refreshed, I booted then skinned up to the summit of Middle Como, and had an absolutely perfect 2,800 vertical foot corn run down the moderate Southeast face. Energized by the perfect conditions, I transitioned quickly and skinned easily all the way up the summit of East Como. From the craggy summit, I skied the south gully and south face, which served up another 3,000 feet of perfect corn. The remainder of the decent down to Tin Cup creek trended more toward the survival side of things, with tricky route finding, isothermal muck, brush, and dirt walking for a few hundred vertical feet. Fortunately, I enjoy the adventure associated with adverse conditions.
Skis harvesting corn in front of the Tin Cup chutes.
Looking back down from the summit of East Como peak at my stashed skis
and the 4,500 vertical foot South face.
Brush on the return to Tin Cup creek. I love this stuff.
After a water stop at the creek, I started up the Tin Cup chutes. The entire slide path had massively avalanched in the past few weeks, so I worked my way around debris and eventually up endless icy bed surfaces to a point about half way up the chute. For some reason, my legs were just not in it today, the snow was rapidly re-freezing, and I still had well over an hour of technical skinning to go before topping out. My older and wiser side won out over my motivated side, and I pulled the plug. Reaping the benefits of an early reatreat, I was able to catch the bottom half of the chute while it was still reasonably soft, so the skiing was enjoyable. The exit was also enjoyable, and since my boots were already completely water logged, I just waded the stream crossings with a big satisfied grin on my face, having enjoyed a beautiful, challinging day of skiing in the wild Bitterroot mountains.
The Tin Cup chutes in poor condition.
Aliens out for a swim in the creek.
By the numbers, this was an 11,700 vertical feet tour, and done in 13.5 hours. The peaks themselves are spectacular, and link up logically, and this would be an all time classic Bitterroot tour if it were not for the long drive from Missoula and the problematic approach and egress from the bench below the peaks. As it stands, a single Como peak tour is a fantastic outing as long as coverage is adequate, and the full link up it is still very much worth doing for a strong party. Adding on the Tin Cup chutes is not at all necessary, but if you still have energy to burn at the end of the day, why not?

I was unable to determine the best approach to the bench below the peaks, but if I go back, I will probably head up the drainage just past the Tin Cup chutes, as John Lehrman recommends, or head up the talus opening another 2,000 feet up the trail.

On a gear related note, this is the first day I have used the Plum 165 race heel pieces. I want to add some rise to the heel elevators, but they otherwise appear to be exceptionally sold and functional bindings.

And in other news, I want to give a quick shout out to Blake, who recently made the fifth descent of the East face of El Capitan. Nice job Blake! He patiently waited for good conditions, and his execution was flawless, both of which speak well to his emerging status as an accomplished backcountry skier well beyond his years. So if you see him around town, give him a big congrats. And tell him to stay safe!
El Capitan's East face, the day before Blake's ski descent.

1 comment:

  1. Got. 'Er. Done. Way to tell adversity to go screw itself and persevere. Sweet TR!