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.

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