Monday, September 29, 2014

Calowachan - Missions

I was fortunate to spend a fine early autumn day on Calowachan in the Missions. I have skied on and around Calowachan, and it has always been a challenge. In summer, the peak is more accessible, but still a bit of an adventure. While the route and craggy peak were both engaging, it was the exceptional crew that made this particular outing so rewarding for me.

Kt regaled us with tales of the outdoor industry and filming powder skiing during the bushwack up the drainage. If you keep your eyes peeled, you will see Kt's images all over the ski world. The bushwack was not too bad, and soon we were on an intermittent climber's trail, heading straight up to treeline and the base of the Northwest ridge proper. We left the ridge a few hundred vertical feet below the summit, and scrambled the Northwest face to the top, which had a few moderate 4th class steps.
Bushwacking socks and gaiters at the trailhead. Photo: Beau Fredlund
Bushwacking. Not too bad.
Kt, high on the Northwest face.
Natalie was in her element during the traverse to the South summit, and it was all I could do to keep up. By teaming up to scout tricky spots, we forged a route on the crest or east of the crest which had a bit of stout 4th class chimneying and many steep steps to navigate. Natalie is director of the Wilderness and Civilization program on campus, and it was fun if not a bit overwhelming to hear how she keeps the dynamic program thriving through a magical combination of vision, collaboration, and sheer dedication.
An enthusiastic point and a high five on the summit of Calowachan.
Kt on the traverse.
Leah on the traverse. Photo: Beau Fredlund
Beau and Kt coming up to the South summit.
Beau arrived on the south summit a few minutes after Natalie, Leah and me. After another long break, Beau pointed it to the south face, and I followed him down through beargrass, thick subalpine shrubs, and a few cliff bands. Based in Cooke City, Beau is one of the most dedicated backcountry skiers I know, and his calculated approach to ski mountaineering is inspiring. His quiet, intense demeanor and love of jazz music are both qualities that I can relate to, and his eye for aesthetics is a quality I can only hope to emulate. Check out the yurts, or better yet, hire Beartooth Powder guides to show you around next time you are in Cooke.
Walking off the South summit.
The descent was probably the least enjoyable part of the day, but we did manage to see a grizzly bear down in the drainage, which is always a treat. Never mind the fact it was within 30 feet of the trail. Good spot Kt. We jogged the Eagle pass trail back to the car, yelling incessantly for bears. Back at the car, a quick dip in the canal rounded the day out nicely. Thanks for the great day guys!

Calowachan is a good outing, and I will be back to do it again. Unusual equipment included a reservation recreation pass, bear spray, and bushwacking socks.  I used gaiters and they were the envy of the group. We benefited from Dan Sexton's route beta. Thanks Dan. The day was around 6,000 vertical feet done in around 9 hours car to car, all from the Eagle Pass trailhead.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Canyon Peak North ridge

Looking back down Canyon Peak's narrow North ridge.
I am bad at saying no to attempts on aesthetic and creative routes in the mountains, especially with perfect weather and vibrant fall colors. The North ridge of Canyon peak is one of the only established easy local alpine rock routes, and it is nothing short of shameful that it has taken me this long to climb it. Plus, I was excited to make it a loop.  Aesthetic. Creative. Perfect weather, Fall colors. All check. Unfortunately I had a lingering cold going into the weekend. A wiser man would have perhaps opted out in favor of recovery. Not me. I drove down the Blodgett trailhead late Friday evening and settled in for a generous night of sleep.

I started the day at Blodgett and biked the 1.5 mile road back out to the Canyon Creek road junction. From there, I jogged the road to the trailhead, cutting switchbacks of course, then jogged and walked to a highpoint about a mile below Canyon lake. I still contest this is one of the longest 5-mile sections of trail anywhere. I roughly followed the route suggested by Michael Hoyt in his excellent Bitterroot hiking guidebook (much of his information is also on summitpost), climbing off trail up slabs and open forest to gain access to the headwaters of the basin. I'm not sure it was much faster than just taking the trail to Canyon lake, but it wasn't much slower.
Looking back down at golden larch and Canyon creek from the base of Canyon Peak.
Canyon peak. The North ridge is on the right skyline. It is not as steep as it looks.
The route up the North ridge was good. The climbing is all 4th class except one short dihedral, which went at easy 5th. It could probably be avoided. The ridge is also delightfully exposed. A recommended route for sure.
Golden larch and clean granite on the North ridge.
On the summit. The cord hanging out of the pack is tat that I found and hauled off the mountain.
From the summit, I looked around for an easy downclimb route, but ended up using my previous descent route down the southwest ridge (described below). There are few moves of easy but exposed 5th class downclimbing, which made the descent the climbing crux of the day. I dropped west off the ridge at the first shallow col, and worked down easy ledges, slabs, and talus all the way to High lake. From the lake and a water refill stop, I nosed my way down the High lake trail, which is a bit cryptic. Also, the map location is dead wrong. From the lake, the trail climbs to the east, crossing the low slabby outlet moraine like feature at a poorly defined saddle. There are a few cairns. The trail becomes a litle more defined, and cuts east to the base of the large west facing cliff wall and skirts the base of the wall. From there, the trail crosses a talus slope before dropping west down to the drainage bottom. Below treeline, the trail was flush with uncut downfall which slowed the pace, but the run down to Blodgett was still fun. The run out Blodgett was great. Plenty of miles to stretch the legs out, and lots of smooth trail interspersed with fast rocky sections to keep things interesting. I returned to the car feeling as good as could be expected, having enjoyed another fine fall day in the mountains. I think the day was around 5,500 vertical feet and it was done in almost exactly 6.5 hours trailhead to trailhead.
Cruising around High lake.
What passes for a trail in Montana. Don't worry, there are two visible cairns. 
Blodgett spires looking attractive during the run out.
Route tidbits

Canyon peak North ridge route: The route is intuitive.  Follow the path of least resistance, either on or just east of the crest.

Canyon peak descent: The easiest and safest descent is to bring a single rope and rappel straight south from one of several established rappel stations. From the base of the rappel, one should be able to scramble either over to High lake, or more commonly, back east to the normal return to Canyon creek (there is a notch/ramp way east of the peak). If you are not rappelling, descend the crest of the southwest ridge about 100 feet from the summit until it narrows to a point. Downclimb on the crest, using big lichen covered foot holds and two slopers on the crest. The moves are easy, but it is exposed. From the bottom of the step, downclimb a steep but easy chimney to the east. You should now be below the steep summit cliff band. From here, proceed with your descent route of choice, downclimbing easy 4th class steps as required.
Looking down the descent ridge. I stayed on the crest to the first visible white pinnacle.
The crux is getting down to the pinnacle.  I downclimbed a chimney in front of the pinnacle to the left (not visible).
Just remember, you are trying to get below the summit cliff band.
I also left the ridge at first visible shaded low point and headed west (right) down to High lake,

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rut 50k 2014, race report

I had a great time yet again at the Rut 50k race in Big Sky. The race did not go particularily well for me, but the course was fun, and it is always great to spend time with the close knit ski racing and running community. It was also pretty cool to hear tales of the fastest people in the world battling it out on the course. And, Leah had a great run. Go Leah!
Hurting on the climb to Lone Peak.  Photo: Jenny Pierce
The race itself started out well. I finished the first climb in about 40th place, right where I wanted to be. The entire climb and descent to the first aid felt like I was floating, almost effortlessly. From the first aid, I followed Anna Frost all the way to the top of the Headwaters. I pulled the pace back a bit about halfway throught the climb and topped out on Headwaters feeling good. The descent off Headwaters felt great with the notable exception of one distinct cramping twinge in my left adductor, a problem that would eventually derail my race. I pushed at a hard and steady pace to tram dock, losing another place or two, but still keeping my goal pace. I also saw my dad at the out and back from tram dock, which was fun. About 500 vertical feet up the Lone peak climb, my left adductor cramped magnificently, forcing a long stop to whimper a bit, loosen out, and refuel. I was able to get the legs loosened up, and gingerly hobbled my way up to the summit, arriving in decent time but worried about how I was going to finish the race.

I took some time to completely fuel in the aid station, then began gingerly descending Lone peak. Fortunately, the cramps stayed in the background, and I was able to work my way down at a slow but even pace.  From the bottom of the descent, my legs were actually feeing good again, and I made a hard push to the top of Dakota then down to the bottom of the Andesite climb, reeling in a few runners in the process. About half way up the Andesite climb, my adductors started cramping again, and I had to stop about four times. Super painful and generally not good.  From the last aid, I just kind of jogged it in, keeping a mellow and steady pace to the finish. I finished in 7 hrs 27 minutes, about a half hour behind my time goal. It was great to see friends and family at the finish, and I was psyched to cheer Leah in at the end of a hard but very strong run for her.

Although I was dissapointed in the adductor cramping problems, I am grateful to have had almost a year of tweak and injury free running. Which has translated into many, many runs and mountain adventures unencumbered by fear of tweaks and injury. I am also eager to focus a bit on the adductor cramping issue, as it seems to plague many crossover ski racers such as myself. I used poles for the race, and I don't think they helped much, so scratch them in the future. Also, I used leopard print gaiters. Those things rock.

I have to once again give a big congratulations to the Montana Mikes for putting together one heck of  a Montana spirited run, party and experience I will never forget. And thanks to all of the international runners who not only out-ran the locals, but also participated in the event, inspired us all, and threw down as hard as anyone at the post-race dance party. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Glacier Park Running

Leah running down to Lake Ellen Wilson from Gunsight Pass.
I was able to finally get up to Glacier with Leah for Labor Day weekend. We did not do much up-front research, and as a result, ended up on the justifiably popular trails every day.

Day 1 - Jackson Glacier overlook to Gunsight pass to Sperry Chalet to Lake McDonald

With an early departure from Missoula, we were done with the drive, campsite setup, and shuttle by early afternoon. We started running from the Jackson Glacier overlook in a heavy downpour. Fortunately, the rain abaited shortly after starting out, and the run up to Gunsight lake was easy and quick. We continued up to Gunsight Pass, where we chatted for a few minutes with a group of NRCS soil scientists who were collecting baseline soil surveys in the park.  Pretty cool.
Neon arm warmers in full effect on the climb to Gunsight pass.
We continued down to the spectacular Lake Ellen Wilson, and enjoyed every step of the trail to the Sperry Chalet. After a quick lemonade stop in the Chalet, we ran the last 4 miles with ease, returning to the highway with 20 miles of absolutely gorgeous running under our belts. A super nice family from Kalispell gave us a ride out of their way to the campground - thanks guys.
About to drop to the Sperry Chalet.
Day 2 - Siyeh Pass backward - Sun point to Siyeh bend

We took an easy day, hiking and jogging the 10-mile Piegan pass loop. From Sun point, we hiked up toward Siyeh pass, taking a long break under a rock as a series of cold fall showers blew through. Once the storm abated, we blasted over the pass, then jogged down to Preston park and out to the car. We ran the last half hour or so in a steady downpour, which left us cold and eager to hit the road. Fortunately, a nice father/son duo give us a ride, saving a long cold wait at Siyeh bend.
Climbing to Siyeh pass, moments before the rain started. 
Leah cruising down from Siyeh Pass.
Rolling down soggy trails in the rain below Preston park.
Day 3 - Siyeh bend to Piegan pass to Many Glacier to Swiftcurrent pass to the Loop

A cold and wet evening and night didn't sap our motivation, so we headed out early for the longest run of the trip. We were able to once again hitch a ride over the pass. It was foggy and wet and spitting rain, which had us cursing the weather forecasters once again, since "wintery mix" would have been a lot more appropriate than the "mostly sunny" forecast. In any case, we jogged and walked to Piegan pass and pushed over the top during a lull in the precip, running down the impeccable trail to treeline as rain spattered the Many Glacier valley in front of us. We continued down miles of soggy but enjoyable trail to the Many Glacier hotel for a nice long lunch break.
Final push to Piegan pass.
From the hotel, we jogged up to the trailhead, then jogged the flat miles to Bullhead lake. Along the way, we happened by a group of hikers who pointed out a Grizzly bear low on the flanks of Mount Wilbur. Wildlife sighting - check. We walked the entire magnificent climb up to Swiftcurrent pass. Pushing over the pass, we ran down to the Granite Park chalet just as a round of showers rolled through. We were happy to sit them out in the comforts of the chalet. From the chalet, we ran down to the Loop, feeling good and enjoying the last few miles of a 26 mile day and 50+ mile weekend.
Coming up to Swiftcurrent pass.
Leaving the Granite park chalet.
While pounding the trails was fun and the only viable option given the weather, I can't wait to return and hit some more of the high peaks and ridgelines in the park.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sonielem Traverse - Missions

On East Saint Mary's peak with the Soneilem ridge in the immediate background. Photo: Jeffrey
During 50th anniversary celebrations of the Wilderness act, it seemed appropriate to pay homage by casting off into the wild Mission mountain wilderness on a new and unknown traverse. As much as I enjoy recreating anywhere that is outside, spending time in designated Wilderness is always rewarding, and it was no surprise to return to civilization grounded, energized, and a little humbled.

I overestimated the length of the outing, so we headed out very early from Saint Mary's reservoir. Not wanting to drive two vehicles, we both biked the shuttle to Mission reservoir by headlamp, and were jogging from the trailhead at 7 am. The trail to Lucifer lake is steep but good, and we made decent time running when possible, but mainly just hiking and enjoying the morning. From a water refill stop at the lake, we cast off into the brush, heading for the base of the avalanche path at the toe of the Sonielem ridge. We had to do a couple of map checks, but the bushwacking was not too bad by Mission standards, and we were able to nose our way up through brush infested cliffs with minimal carnage. I had no beta for climbing the steep northeast face of the ridge, and an unanticipated skiff of fresh snow had us both nervous.  Fortunately, we were able to weave a way through the cliffs, even if it was a touch more exposed than we would have liked. We really didn't want to have to downclimb, so it was with great relief that we topped out on the ridge.
Bushwacking to the base of the ridge.
Jeffrey all smiles as we top out on the Sonielem ridge.
Glacier peaks and Picture lake in the background.
The initial ridge was clean easy, and we walked over the Sonielem high point before starting a more exciting ridge section to Peak Y. The knife edge traversing was engaging, and I enjoyed deducing the routefinding puzzles on the fly. Soon enough, we bypassed a final cruxy vertical step on the west, and walked easily to the top of Peak Y. The traverse to each of the Lowary peak summits was also clean and quick. After another lunch break on Lowary, we jogged down to the saddle, and huffed it up to St. Mary's peak, intersecting a hiking party just a few hundred vertical feet below the summit. After chatting and relaxing on the summit for almost half an hour, we jogged the 5,500 vertical foot descent to the car at a casual pace, hopping over downfall and yelling for bears on the steep and rugged trail. We arrived at the reservoir tired but not too worked, and immediately jumped in for a swim. Great day in the hills.
The exposed middle portion of the Sonielem ridge.
Belly flopping near the summit of Peak Y.
Normal Greywolf from East St, Mary's photo.
Although it is perhaps generous to call this a classic outing, the clean ridge section of the traverse is high quality (with the exception of some rotten rock here and there). It is also fun to be in a place seldom visited by humans, despite the Soneilem ridge's commanding presence from the valley. Gaining the ridge at the beginning of the day was a big push, but after that, the rest of the day just kind of flowed by with ease. Of note, while the difficulties never exceed moderate class 4, bailing from the traverse would be long and difficult.

I can't help but dream about a traverse around the rim of Mission creek, from the Sonielem ridge to Kakashe. Maybe someone fast can go do it and let me know how it goes...

Our day was somewhere around 7,500 vertical feet, and done in about 8.5 hours at a moderate, steady pace with several long stops.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Holland Lake loop in the Bob

Lydia coming up to the Holland lookout.
When Leah suggested we do a long run with our friend Lydia, I immediately suggested the Holland Lake to Holland Lookout loop in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Fortunately, they were both excited about the idea, so after a huge breakfast at the River City Grill in Bonner, we rallied out to Holland Lake. We kept the pace bright but relaxed, and the run to upper Holland Lake was enjoyable and quick, and aside from a few huckleberry picking stops, the short push to Pendant pass was also quick. With a cool breeze in the air, we lost no time dropping down Pendant creek all they way to Pendant and Big Salmon Falls. This portion of the trail was muddy from the recent rain and heavy horse traffic, and we spent a lot of time walking around puddles.  
Distractions along the trail.
Lydia and Leah climbing to Pendant pass.
Rolling down Pendant creek.
From the falls, we managed to run by the Smokey Creek trail junction, but we realized our error quickly, and an easy backtrack had us back on route.  After a hard climb through wet brush to Smokey lakes, we continued up to Necklace lakes for a late lunch break. Refreshed, we made the final short push up to the Holland Lookout. The views from the top were unobstructed by clouds, and we took another full break to appreciate it all. We descended the Lookout trail, and the descent was smooth and easy. In fact, we all arrived at the car pleasantly tired, but far from worked after about 25 miles and something well north of 5,000 vertical feet of exploring in the Bob.
A questionable looking guy (Brian) in front of a beautiful mountain (Buck).
Montana had a bumper crop of beargrass this year.
Here, Leah climbs though it.
Newly weds celebrating at the Holland lookout.  Photo: Lydia
Team Storyberg was not able to keep up with Lydia on the long, smooth downhill back to the car.

Aside from the novelty of pushing deep into the Wilderness, I thought that the Pendant and Smokey Creek portions were the least enjoyable parts of the loop.  As long as one does not mind a shorter run, a Lower to Upper Holland to Sap[hire lakes to the Lookout would be a higher quality outing, I think. Also, Lydia is running really well right now. I certaintly wouldn't want to have her breathing down my neck on a downhill in the last few miles of a long race...