Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Holland Peak ski descent

Kicking the last few steps to the summit of Holland peak.
Leah and I have a storied past trying to ski Holland Peak. On our first attempt, we bailed on what would have been a harrowing climb of the North ridge in favor of a fine run on limestone ledges below the North Face. Terrible visibility and poor routefinding lead to our demise during a second attempt with Don and Kyle Scharfe.                                                                                         
Bailing in 2010.
Bailing in 2012.
So, on a day with a 70% chance of precipitation, it felt like a stab in the dark to give Holland another attempt, but the weather forecast was even worse elsewhere, so why not? Joshua and Leah were both game, so we rolled out of town at 4 am, ready for anything. Fortunately, the storms never materialized, and we were treated to a fantastic day of mountain adventuring. Aside from a fresh set of grizzly tracks, the normal approach to lower Rumble lake went smoothly, and a long bootpack had us on the crest of the range.  After almost an hour of hemming and hawing over the sketchy ridgeline traverse to the summit snowfield, we ended up just skiing east off the ridge and ascending the southeast face directly. This strategy worked well, and we were able scamper to the summit of the highest peak the Swan range without difficulities.  It was my sixth lifetime summit, and first summit with skis. Everyone was excited.  
Leah working through runnels above lower Rumble lake.
The crew nearing the crest of the Swans.
We skied the skier’s left edge of the face to the lower bench, then took a long break as Joshua regaled us with tales of land surveying, Denali, and other interesting topics. The mandatory climb out of the Bob Marshall Wilderness went easily, and we spilt up to ski separate routes to the lower lake before making the grizzly bear infested return to the car.  We even found our shoes without resorting to  the techy GPS, harkening back to the days when men were men.  Back at the car, I couldn’t help but smile at how we were able to cheat the weather and pull off another fine mountaineering adventure in Western Montana.
Skiing Holland Peak.
Joshua exhibiting his characteristic bravado.

    Leah skiing below the exit couloir to lower Rumble lake.
Stream of consciousness thoughts on Holland peak: In summer, Holland peak is one of the finest moderate day scrambles around Missoula.  Skiing is another story.  The 3rd class south ridge approach is much more exposed with ice and snow, and hanging glide cracks make the summer route an engaging proposition at best. In addition, all of the ski lines face east, so one has to make a second climb to the crest of the range, making Holland a 6,000 vertical foot day, at a minimum.  The terrain around Rumble lakes is fairly extensive, with many interesting couloirs, bowls, and steep faces in three distinct cirques, and it would take several long days to explore everything.  I will be back for sure, hopefully soon...

The climber's trail: There is a good climber's trail which provides access to Rumble lakes. From the trailhead, take the Forest Service trail up to the foothills trail, and follow the foothills trail south for about half a mile.  The climber's trail takes off approximately 100 yards south of (after) a series of trail bridges. It climbs a ridge north of Rumble creek before traversing into the drainage about 500 vertical feet below the lake.  Of note, there is a major game trail that ascends an old clearcut north (before) the trail bridges that has derailed more than one Holland peak attempt. This is the wrong trail - don't be fooled. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Rattlesnake powder extravaganza

With Snowbowl closed, and stormy weather precluding larger objectives, Leah, Jeff and I headed up to Snowbowl on a rainy Sunday with a loose objective to just ski what looked good. Heavy snowfall during the initial climb had us soaked and deeply unmotivated at the top of Point 6. Fortunately, the snowfall abated, leaving the mountains coated shallow, fun powder. We ended up staying out all day, following our noses around the Rattlesnake Wilderness. Every run was moderate and top notch, and I was reminded once again of the amazing little playground we have have right in our backyard. It was one of the best days of the season.

I would love to know the names of some of the runs we skied, so Missoulians, drop me a line if you know and would like to indulge the information.
Dumping on the first climb.
Jeff skiing the southwest shoulder of Murphy peak.
Jeff flying down the southeast shoulder of Murphy peak.
Deep in Finley creek, looking back up at the moderate gully we skied.
Starting the long climb out of Finley Creek.
Leah skiing Burgundy.
Gearing up to head home at the top of East Bowl in the first patch of sun all day.
The Tour and stats:

The tour flowed together magically. Up Snowbowl to Pt. 6. Down the Taint, Up Murphy shoulder West, down southwest couloir (do not know name), up Murphy shoulder East, down East shoulder, up Murphy/Sanders saddle, down moderate gully to Finley lakes (best run of the day), up Murphy via north ridge, down standard Southeast couloir, up Mohagany, down Burgundy, up and around Pt. 6, down East Bowl to car. Whew. Approximately 9,100 vertical feet, done in about 11 hours.
The tour.  It looks we were running around like a chicken with
its head cut off, but it was a logical  link-up of long moderates.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Flathead couloir, Bass Creek

The Flathead couloir in winter.
With snow vanishing quickly in the low country, I was able to squeeze in one last Bitterroot canyon adventure, skiing the Flathead couloir from the top. The Flathead couloir (my own informal name) is the striking, short snow ramp just west of the west Lappi cirque.

The Bass Creek trail has melted out to the second stream crossing, so the first hour was in approach shoes, dodging puddles and a entire troop of boy scouts. Moving at a moderate pace, I arrived at the base in 2.5 hours. In order to bypass the upper rock step, I climbed an alternate snow ramp west of the Flathead couloir. The final few hundred vertical feet of climbing were firm and surprisingly engaging.  I joined the main couloir at the top, stomped a little transition platform, and prepared for the descent. 
I made a handful of turns before reaching the upper step. I briefly contemplated downclimbing or hopping over the rock step, but my wiser side won out, and I set a rappel (tree anchor) and rode the ropes to safety.  Once the rope work was done, I proceeded to ski the rest of the line. Three inches of heavy fresh snow sluffed powerfully, but otherwise the entire run skied quite well, and it was fun to make some steep turns.  The exit was kind of a slog, with intermittent snow and miles of jogging with an overloaded pack.  Fortunately, the trail is clear, and I actually enjoyed the jog out, arriving back at the car dehydrated, and with a chaffed back, but otherwise no worse for the wear.
Skiing from the top.
Setting up the rap.
Glad I didn't try to downclimb.
Sketchy stream crossing.
·         Blake Votilla and Ben Brunsvold skied this run from below the rock step in late January, 2014.  I am crediting them with the first descent, but would be excited to hear of anyone else has skied this craggy little test piece.  Nice work Blake on getting after it.

·         There were only a handful of turns above the choke, and with the rappel and discontinuous skiing, I would argue that my extension was not a stylistic improvement over Blake’s descent.  I will certainly be more inclined to ski from below the rock choke in the future.

·         Bass Creek is pretty melted out.  It is probably  time to move the more typical higher elevation springtime objectives. Until running season.  I am very excited for Bitterroot adventure running this summer.

·         Without snow, the exit was fairly slow.  By the numbers, 4,000 vertical feet and 6 hours.

·         This was the first time I have been alone in the mountains for several weeks. It was rewarding to spend hours alone with my thoughts.