Friday, January 23, 2015

Pinball Wizard Gully

Near the top of the Pinball Wizard.

The Pinball Wizard gully is sort of a local classic, dropping cleanly south into Bass Creek from the large saddle between Big and Little St. Joseph peaks. It has a big, committing starting zone, then funnels into a long clean open gully, before pinching down into a fantastic incised halfpipe for the bottom few hundred vertical feet. All in all, it is one of the more accessible and fun 3,000+ vertical foot peak to creek runs in the Bitterroot. Even though the run can be skied with less than welded avalanche conditions, the entire football field sized southeast facing starting zone slides almost every year, and the run demands respect.

I headed out from the normal Bass Creek trailhead in the dark on a random Thursday to try for a fast car to car outing. I was able to follow a skin track for most of the ascent, and the climb went quickly at a bright but sustainable pace. Sunrise was beautiful. The traverse to the top of the gully is scrappy and fairly long, and I added about 5 minutes of ridgeline traversing at the end in order to climb to the safest possible entry point. I have been really leery of the snowpack this year since it just doesn’t seem to be as stable as what I’m accustomed to in the ‘Roots. Nevertheless, I felt confident dropping into the wind loaded but somewhat vegetated headwall. Once I got into the gully itself, the south facing snow had baked down, and the skiing was fun, if not a bit breakable. The schuss out to the car is a little slower than normal, with an open creek crossing and a few down trees. I skied out to the car at 3 hours 31 minutes.
Sunrise on Little St. Joe.
Shadow closing in on the summit of Little St. Joe.
A little crusty, but it was great to ski a clean 3,000+ vertical foot fall line deep in the Wilderness before work.
I had a pretty clean and fast go at this circuit, but it could probably go 15 minutes faster with better conditions and a little more desire to go hard. I bypassed the little rocky summit knob, but the fastest route comes within about 20 vertical feet of the Little St. Joe summit. Even though nothing was slow, none of the conditions were super fast. Avalanche danger was stout moderate, and the terrain requires some attention to detail, so I stopped worrying about time during the traverse and focused on making safe, calculated route decisions. 

Trail report: Bass Creek is in. Continuous ice and snow all the way to the car and plenty of coverage beyond the Pinball Wizard/Lappi Lake junction. Avy danger is a bit funky, but otherwise go get it!

Route: Park at Bass Creek trailhead. Head straight uphill (usually snow free at car) and climb Little St. Joe via southeast ridge. Traverse west toward St. Joseph peak to top of Pinball Wizard gully. Down gully and out on Bass Creek trail. 

Splits were: Summer trailhead: 1 hour 5 minutes; Leave top: 2 hours 25 minutes; Start descent: 2 hours 50 minutes; Upper Bass Creek crossing; 3 hours 5 minutes. Car 3 hours 31 minutes.

No comments:

Post a Comment