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.

Thoughts
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.

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