Sunday, July 27, 2014

Three Joe traverse, Bass Creek

Bass Lake and beyond from Stormy Joe.
I was finally able to spend a fine summery Sunday traversing from Little to Stormy Joe in Bass creek. I have wanted to do this traverse ever since hearing about Missoulian mountaineer Forest Dean's attempt last fall. It seems like kind of a long day in concept, but in reality it is quite doable, and I had a blast.

I left the Bass creek trailhead 7:15 and walked the normal winter route to the upper trailhead, then continued up the Little St. Joe trail for about 15 minutes. I wasted about 15 minutes searching for water (in retrospect, year-round water is available near the little saddle below the final summit pitch, somewhere around 8,000 feet), but otherwise the climb was casual. With 3 liters of water squirreled away in the pack I proceeded to the summit of Little St. Joe, ate a Snickers bar then continued west toward Big St. Joe.
Just your typical Big from Little St. Joe photo.
 I ended up passing a solo hiker headed out to Big St. Joe on the long ridge traverse between the peaks.  The ridgeline traverse was a little craggy and brushy in a few spots, but nothing too bad.  I worked through the summit cliffs on Big St. Joe via a stout 4th class gully just north of the ridge proper.  I hit the summit of Big St. Joe in 3:45, feeling fantastic and enjoying the day.  The descent to the Big/Stormy saddle was a bit slow at first, but the last 1,000 vertical feet went quickly on open sandy scree.  From the saddle, I was pleased to find a relatively krummholz and cliff-free route just south of the east ridge of Stormy Joe, which I took for most of the climb.  Eventually the sneak below the cliffs petered out, and I scampered up some 4th class rock and climbed the last few hundred feet on the ridgetop.
Crux gully on the east rideg of Big St. Joe.  I followed the right edge of the snow,
started up toward the left notch, then cut right near the top of the gully.
You just kind of have to follow your nose.
The exit from the gully was stout 4th class - plenty of holds but steep. 
5th lifetime summit of Big St. Joe.
It got a little bushwackey for a few bits, but wasn't as bad as it looks in the picture.
Looking back at Big St Joe from Stormy Joe.
Afer a celebratory stop on the summit, I made the slowish descent of the Southwest ridge, then cruised down an unmaintained trail from the Bass/Lolo Cr. saddle to Bass Lake.  I had a slow quirk when I dropped beyond the trail, but it was good to get a bit of character building bushwacking in just to keep things real. Having only been to the lake in the winter, I was struck by the beauty of the lake in summer, especially when it is full. I existed via the Bass creek trail.  I have been wanting to run this one for several years, and it was great. Of note, I took the summer trail on the North side of the creek, and it was quite nice for running, albeit a touch slower than the South side/winter trail. For stats, I think the checks in around 7,000 vertical feet and something just shy of 20 miles and done in 7.38 at a moderate but steady pace.
Bass Lake outlet, where I swam.
This is a good traverse. The peaks are iconic, the length is solid yet eminently doable, and the ridgeline traversing is relatively fast, at least compared to characteristically slow ridgelines in the central and southern portions of the range. The outing is blissfuly lacking in commitment, as one can bail south off the ridge pretty much anywhere except off the cliffy south face of Stormy Joe. It would also be a fine outing in the reverse direction.  Go do it.

With a long race in just 6 days, I held the pace back a bit, and it was encouraging to feel good all day.  I had a relatively smooth day, but have no doubts that it could go faster.  

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