Saturday, August 23, 2014

Anaconda Pintler Traverse

Looking back at the first half of the traverse from Howe.
I have been eager to attempt a long mountain adventure for some time now, and I was fortunate to find the time, weather and motivation to traverse the bulk of the beautiful Anaconda Pintler range from Haggin to Warren peaks in a magnificent long push.

I spent the previous afternoon driving for hours and setting up the 37 mile bike shuttle. Between the downhill riding and the tail wind, the shuttle went by quickly, and it was nice be out in the crisp, fallesque afternoon.  I camped in an aspen grove on the outskirts of Anaconda. I was able to get to sleep before 8 pm, and before I knew it, dawn broke, and I was off.
At the start.
Mount Haggin is guarded by almost 6 miles of vehicle-restricted road, and the first bit of the outing was spent walking with purpose. I arrived a Hearst lake in less than two hours, refilled water, and started up the mountain. Even with at a deliberate slow pace, the climb flowed by quickly, and I was on the summit by 10 am.  The descend of the West ridge was fast, aesthetic. I think that the most inspiring peaks of the range are in this sector, so I just kind of cruised along, trying to take it all in. Soon enough, I found myself bypassing peak 10,282 and dropping into the head of Mill creek for a water stop. The last time I was on peak 10,282 was with skis, and I was chased off the summit by a thunderstorm, ice axe buzzing. This time was much more civilized. With water secured, I made the long traverse to Mount Evans. This involved two long climbs and a fair bit of additional ridgeline traversing, and I arrived on Evans a bit behind schedule. Nevertheless, my mind and body were both in the game, and I left the summit in high spirits.
Haggin from the Hearst lake dam, 1.5 hours in.
Looking west from Haggin, with the clean West ridge extending in the foreground.
Water stop halfway between Haggin and Evans.
Looking back to Haggin from Evans.
Looking out to Warren (one of the middle peaks in the far back skyline) from Evans.
The traverse off the summit of Evans is a bit slow and tedious, but after bypassing most of the difficulties on the West, I was treated to a quick downhill over wild orange rock, and a surprisigly quick scramble up Mount Howe.  I summited Howe feeling great a bit ahead of schedule.  This would be the theme for the remainder of the day.  The next hour or so to Little Rainbow was fast, and it was good to finally at get a peek into the Storm lake basin. From the summit, a quick down put me at Storm Lake pass. I succumbed to the manicured trail, bypassing Mount Tiny in the process. The trail dumps out on Goat Flat, and I marched up the high plateau before engaging a short and tricky narrow ridge (easy 4th class) to the summit of Kurt mountain.  The traverse to Queener was cleaner than anticipated, and I arrived on the summit plateau well ahead of schedule. I did not go out to the exact summit. Having planned on traversing this section in the dark, I reveled in the last few hours of sunlight during the descent of the West face.  I continued along the ridge for a mile or so before dropping to a series of unnamed lakes in a beautiful little tarn below Fish lake for a water stop.

The middle quarter of the traverse.
Little Rainbow, Tiny, Kurt, Queener and the Storm and Seymore lakes basins from Howe.
On the edge of Goat flat, ready to engage the
more-technical-than-it-looks ridgeline to Kurt Mountain.
Fish peak from Queener. 
Sunset on the South ridge of Fish just before dropping down for water.
Another clean and fast thousand vertical foot climb to Fish peak went by effortlessly, and I walked over the summit without stopping, trying to take advantage of every last minute of daylight.  I turned my headlamp on about half way to Cutaway pass, and the remaining descent went smoothly, albeit slowly in the dark. I was happy to hop on the trail as it climbed west from Cutaway pass, but soon it dropped off the ridge, and I cast off up jumbled talus and boulders into the trail-less darkness.  I spent the next two hours traversing over Beaverhead mountain and two unnamed summits. The ridgeline along this section was slow at best. There were two distinct long 4th class knife edge ridge sections, and I spent a lot of time weaving my way through the technical terrain.  I just kind of bumbled along, slow and safe, with frequent map checks to make sure I stayed on route.  Soon enough I walked over the final summit and down the South ridge before veering west off the crest and down to camp and treeline. Essentially navigating blind in the dark, I spent quite a bit of time traversing around cliffs and rock slabs on the descent into Maloney basin, but it worked, and I found a bivy spot around 2:15 am. My appetite had been good all day, and I was able to house down a quick dinner of Hammer Perpetum, rice sticks, and salame before crawling into the sleeping bag.
Last light on Fish, lookng down to Cutaway pass.
The world was a little hazy at 1 am on top of Beaverhead, but I was still fired up.
Bed for the night in Maloney basin.
I didn't hear my alarm, but ended up waking up at dawn anyway. Soon I was continuing down into Maloney basin, but the going was better this time because I could actually see the terrain. I had slept magnificently, benefiting from the sleeping bag and little pad, and my legs han't had quite enough time to actually get sore yet, so I was surprisingly fresh. I was able to find the trail without difficulty, and took it for a mile or two in the direction of Warren Pass. I had not yet decided how to tackle Warren peak, but after some deliberation, I chose the longer but more conservative south side of the peak. I forged a horrid route through the moraines below the East face of the peak, but it still went quickly, and I was soon at the saddle below the Southeast ridge. For a second time, I chose longer and more conservative scrambling over tricky climbing, and kept traversing to gullies on the South side. I was able to find solid alpine tundra in the gullies, and the march to the top went by quickly. I lingered on the windless summit for a few minutes, snacking on Snickers bars, looking back on the range, and taking it all in. I descended the first half of the Porter ridge before dropping North down an unnamed gully to Tamarack lake. The Porter ridge was fast, but the gully was filled with all manner of unpleasant steep dirt, gravel and trecherous rolling talus. I just kind of shook my head and took my time, and soon enough I was at the lake. The run out of the Tamarack lake basin was hilighted by bumping into a group of UM students who were on a freshman backpack trip.  Good to see them out in the Wilderness. After a quick dip in Carpp lake, I jogged the final few miles on sore legs, and walked out to the car at 12:55 for a point to point time of 30 hours, 35 minutes.  The rest of the day was spent retreiving my bike, eating fried chicken in Anaconda, and booking it home.

Warren at sunrise on day two.
On Warren, tired and happy.
At the bottom of the unpleasant descent to Tamarack Lake.
Thoughts
This was a great adventure. I have not done a multi-day traverse in several years, and it was rewarding to get back at it. On an outing like this without a set route and limited beta, I really enjoy putting all the pieces together - figuring out the route, figuring out where to get water, deciding how light to go without being stupid, deciding which peaks to summit and which to bypass, and then just going for it and putting it all together on the fly. And when everything comes together, the hours and hours of unencumbered continuous movement in the mountains leaves me deeply energized and satisfied.

The mountains of the Anaconda Pintler range are not especially high or rugged in comparison to adjacent ranges, but the ambience of the range is enhanced by Wilderness designation. The trail system is also extensive and well maintained. I will be back for sure to do more trail runs. The route itself was good, but in my opinion, adding Warren peak at the end was not worth the effort.  Haggin to Storm Lake Pass, Storm Lake pass to Cutaway Pass, or Haggin to Cutaway would all be plenty long enough, and would be cleaner traverses.  I did not put in the legwork to figure out if the technical terrain on the east side of peak 10,200 is non-technical, but if one could stay on the ridgeline the whole way, a Cutaway Pass to Warren (or West Goat peak?) traverse could also be rewarding. I need to figure out if the Southeast and North ridges of Warren can be scrambled.

I stuck with my plan to move at a conservative pace, and as a result, felt great for the majority of the trip. My 30.5 hour time would not be fast for some people, but it is speedy enough to qualify as a fast traverse.  I must admit, pushing into the night was the least enjoyable part of the outing. The views were reduced to the glow of the headlamp, I was getting sleepy and stumbly, everything went slowly, and frankly the darkness was kind of scary. For gear, I took a minimal kit, but did throw in several items to keep a comfortable margin of safety (light sleeping bag, non-running day pack, enough clothing). I also used trekking poles for the first time in several years.  I think they help for long efforts like this to save the old pins from excess fatigue. I used dirty girl gaiters to keep rocks and sand out of my shoes.  They were great.  Will use them again for sure.

Statistics
Approximate total elevation gain (based on topo map):  18,400 feet
Length: 41 miles done in 30 hours, 35 minutes
Accomplices: None
Put in:  Anaconda, MT
Take out: Carpp Lake trailhead
Equipment:  Saucony Exodus running shoes, capaline shirt, wind shirt, Patagonia Houdini Jacket, Camp Magic pants, buff, warm hat, 40 degree down bag, tiny foam pad, 3 x 1L water bottles, emergency kit, light day pack (not a running pack), trekking poles, dirty girl gaiters. 
Most exciting piece of equipment:   Leopard print Dirty Girl gaiters.  Those things rock, and the lepoard print makes me feel sexy. 
Named summits: Haggin, Evans, Howe, Little Rainbow, Kurt, Queener, Fish, Beaverhead, Warren
Fatigue factor (1-10): 7.5
Stoke factor (1-10): 9.8 (10 is by definition impossible without skis)
Memories to suppress:  Shattering the screen on a brand new camera. The night.

Route images
Haggin to Evans
Evans to Fish
Fish to Warren

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