Monday, June 23, 2014

7th Annual Warren Wallow

Dropping in on Warren.  Photo: Nick Vandenbos
The 7th annual Warren Wallow was a great success. For this iteration, we had a motley crew of six of Missoula's finest.  We were able to ski the North face in good conditions before hunkering down through a massive electrical storm.  With thunder still rumbling, we made the short climb and skied the exit couloir before exiting swiftly to the trailhead.  It was a great day, and a perfect way to cleanse the system after a little too much bachelor partying the previous day. Although I will probably eke out a few more short days on skis, it is days like this at the end of the season where I am able to reflect on the past year's worth of powder, racing, adventuring, and sharing the mountains with friends. It isn't quite over yet, but what an amazing season on skis.

Larch budding on the approach to Warren.
Looking up the North face.
Doug and the rest of the crew on the North face.
Doug got to go first.  Go Doug, go! 
Leah at the bottom of the face, with storm clouds brewing behind.
Minutes later, the skies opened up, and we spent the next hour ducking
under a rock as hail and lightening rained down everywhere.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Scout Mountain 60K

After hearing positive reports, and wanting to support race director and all-around awesome person Luke Nelson, I signed up ran the Scout Mountain 60K.  I was able to put in a consistent two month block of training in advance of this early season race, consistently running 40 mile weeks on top of a steady diet of skiing on the weekends.

Climbing out of Mink Creek at 25K (photo: Gate City Sports)
Race day was decidedly average. I started off at the front of the pack, and even led the race for a few minutes in the meandering terrain of the first few miles.  I stuck to a moderate pace as the first climb steepened, and was decidedly passed by two guys (who would finish first and second). The racing itself was fairly uneventful, as I would not see anyone for the next 40K.  I pushed the first two dowhills a bit, rolling into the 20K aid at 2:30, just a few minutes before the 35K race started.  I settled into the long climb to Scout Mountain at a slow and sustainable pace, and was immediately passed by about twenty 35K racers. I held the pace all the way to the top. My left hamstrings had been tight on the climb up Scout, and I started having a few twinges coming off the top of Scout, and was forced to take it easy on the steep downhills.  I was able to pick it up as the grade steepened and maintain a steady pace to the Mink Creek Aid, but I suppose this was the low point in the race, since I also belly flopped on the trail and ran out of water.

The final 10K took about 10 minutes longer than I had hoped for. I was now in a large group of 35K runners, and fell into a predictable pattern of passing people on the uphills and watching them run away on the downhills.  I had a few twinges in my right quad on the climb out of Mink Creek, which kept me from pushing the uphills. I was also passed by the eventual 3rd place 60K runner, and absolutely smoked by the eventual 100K winner.  Soon enough I was grinding out the final downhill, crossing the finish line in 6:48, 13 minutes off the lead and course record.  This was a new course, however, and a strong runner could probably push the course time well under 5:30.  The rest of the day was spent sitting, eating, and sleeping.

results are here.

So how do I feel about the race? OK, I guess.  I was fairly successful meeting my goals for the race, but there is certainly room for improvement.  I could have started just a touch slower, and I think I should have held back a bit more on the first two downhills. Many things went well. I didn’t feel like I was on the verge of straining my calves or quads, didn’t have any digestion issues, never  felt like I was boiling over on the uphills, didn’t really have any low patches, and didn’t have any temperature regulation/chafing/blister/general surprise problems.
Similar to past races, I lost the most time by far on steep downhills, where impending cramps force me into a very conservative pace. Also, my closing speed was not great. Perhaps both of those weaknesses will improve with ongoing strength work, fiddling with the most efficient and sustainable stride, amassing running volume throughout the summer, and more conservative downhill running in the first half of the race. Also, I was relatively slow on the uphills compared to past races.  I am not sure if this is a result of consciously trying to keep the uphill pace in check, or if I am losing uphill speed.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Bass Creek to Lolo Peak traverse

Life has been busy over the past few weeks, allowing adequate time for outdoor adventures, but no extra time for documentation, hence the delay on getting this report out (the tour was completed on June 1st). The tour was magical on many levels, and should be repeated often by strong touring parties. It is among the best ski traverses I have done around Missoula, on-par with my beloved version of the Rattlesnake traverse. The skiing is not as good as the Rattlesnake traverse, but it is still high quality, and the route is more wild and committing.

If you are a strong backcountry skier near Missoula, you should do this traverse because:
  • The setting is fantastic. Upper Sweeney creek is wild and spectacular. Most of the day is spent way back in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, in truly wild country.
  • The line is logical, and the skiing is all moderate.
  • It is close to town – there is less car time than driving to Trapper, even with the car shuttle. 
  • Once you climb out of Bass creek, you are able to stay high the whole way. 
  • The tour is long, but at just under 10,000 vertical feet, it is still in the realm of possibility for most strong parties.  There is no easy exit from the middle of the traverse, so it is committing (in a good way).     
  • Countless extensions are possible. Just use your imagination.
Our line.  I think this is the path of lest resistance.
Upper Sweeney Creek in winter.  Our route descended
off the shaded high pass and traversed betwen the two visible lakes.
The day went about as well as we could have hoped for.  I drove up to the Carlton trailhead on Saturday night and biked back to my sleeping bag on the outskirts of Lolo. Jeffery and I rallied out of Lolo at 4:45 am, and were hiking up Bass creek by first light at 5:30. We hiked and jogged all the way up Bass creek, and climbed snow-free beargrass slopes for over a thousand vertical feet before switching to skis. Aside from some bone-chilling stream crossings, the dry land trek went about as smoothly as could be expected. Maintaining a steady pace, we hit the Big Saint Joe/Stormy Joe pass by mid-morning and made the long rolling descent into Sweeney creek.  We benefitted all day from consolidated spring snow, easily shussing through rolling terrain in upper Sweeney Creek.

Cold early morning Bass creek ford. (photo credit for all photos - Jeffrey)
At the Big/Stormy Joe divide. The high pass on Pyramid Buttes is visible in the background.
Another moderate climb had us at a high pass only a few hundred feet below the top of the Pyramid Buttes.  We ended up doing a lot of traversing on the second run to get around the south end of Holloway lake, which allowed us to move through the somewhat complicated terrain without any delays.  A thunder cell rolled through as we were climbing up to the Sweeney/Carlton Creek divide, and I pushed the pace a bit, which was detrimental to our energy reserves, but got us over the ridge before any electricity came out of the sky.  We had a nice rolling run down to One Horse Lake, where we had a long sit-down lunch break under a tree as a few light convective showers rolled through. The last long climb to the summit of Lolo peak was slow, but it was steady, and we were soon standing on the summit, back in familiar terrain.  The only snafoo of the day occurred when the cord on my Scarpa Aliens broke on the run to Carlton lake, but I had an extra cord in my pack and we ended up just taking a nice long break on the edge of the lake as I fiddled with gear.  
Climbing to the high pass on Pyramid Buttes.
Jeffrey traversing off Pyramid Buttes.  Duffey Lake and Lolo peak visible in the background.

Slow and steady near Reid lake on the last climb to Lolo peak.
On Lolo peak, nearing the end of the traverse.
The climb out to Carlton ridge was quick. The ski out from Lolo is confusing, and many parties have tales that go something like: “I got so lost coming out from Lolo. We ended up too far (LEFT or RIGHT – both are equally valid) and we spent hours (insert epic tale here.  It is best if it involves Search and Rescue, endless bushwacking, and/or hiking out to the valley).” I have certainly been confused more than once, so we skied close together and took our time, sticking right on the climber’s trail the whole way.  It was a quick 15 minute walk out from snow line, and we were soon back at the car, energized by a perfect day in the mountains.  9,800 vertical feet and a bunch of miles, and done in about 11 hours car to car.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Swan Range - Buck Mountain long tour

Buck's North ridge.  I climbed and skied the snow
immediately looker's left of the sun/shade ridge.
 I spotted a lot of terrain during my recent Holland peak ski tour that needed to be skied, so I headed back the following weekend to ski as much as possible.  By sleeping at the trailhead, I was able to knock off a full night's sleep and still be walking before 6 am.  I followed the familar route to the crest of the range, then struck off south along the crest.  The primary objective was to ski a direct line on the North face of Buck mountain.  Unfortunately, with a poor refreeze, snow conditions were either heavy mush (dangerous) on sunlit aspects or unsupportable ice crust (also dangerous for steep skiing) on shaded aspects. I was OK with the risk associated with pushing to the summit, but called off a direct ski line in favor of a more conservative series of ramps on the western edge of the face. Several large sluffs on the face later in the day would validate this decision. The descent went slowy, with many ski cuts and stops to manage wet sluffs.  Before long, I was back in moderate terrain, cruising down into the Bob Marsall Wilderness. I skied this run all the way to its logical conclusion 3,000 vertical feet below the summit.

Steep(er than it looks) skin track on the North face of Buck.

Steeper-than-it-looks view down the North face of Buck.
Summit view from Buck, looking to Southeast face of Holland peak.
Note the large glide cracks, which had expanded significantly in the past week.
The view way back up to the summit of Buck during a sit-down lunch break.
The mantra for the rest of the day was to stay out until early evening, cruise around, and ski safe looking terrain. Fortunately, less shaded aspects were holding safe, consolidated snow, and there was no rush to beat the heat of the day. After a nice sit-down lunch break, I skinned up to a ramp on the north shoulder of Buck, skied it, took a second sit-down lunch break, and skinned back up to the crest of the range. Next, I took a pair of shorter runs above Upper Rumble lake, the second of which included skiing down to a pituresque pothole lake at the head of the main fork of Rumble creek.  I rounded out the day by skiing the big Southwest face of the unnamed peak northwest of Holland, which has been calling my name for years. I had to do some over-ripened corn ski cuts, but it was a great line. Tired and thoroughly out of water, I made a short climb to the summer trail and bombed out to the car.

Ski tracks from the first run - I climbed the high point in the background.
It is a fine ski line - much better than it looks in the picture.
Looking down the third run and north across Upper Rumble lake.
Looking south along the Upper Rumble lake basin with Buck poking out in the background.
I took this run down to the lake on the lower right.

Fun exposed skinning to the fourth run.
... And a huge open face to top it all off at the end of the day.

I have now hit many of the skiing hilights around Holland peak. A few notable objectives remain, however, including the Northeast ramps on Holland peak, a pair of north chutes into the main fork of Rumble creek, and three more ski lines on Buck (direct North face, Northeast face, and Southeast face). Some day I should also investigate a direct ski out to the trail via Rumble Creek. So much to do in this corner of the Swans.

I would not be surprised if this was a first ski descent of Buck Mountain, but Kalispell/Whitefish people have beein skiing extensively in the Swans for years, so I hesitate to make any claims.

The route - I suppose this is what "skiing by intuition" looks like.

Stats were 11,100 vertical feet, done in 11 hours.  I took heavy(ish) skis and boots and a full steep snow kit (crampons, axe, whippet, helmet, etc) in order to be solid on the exposed North face of Buck.