Thursday, February 5, 2015

Big St. Joe, South Gully East

Leah skiing on the South face of Big St. Joseph peak.
Leah and I have been having an ongoing debate on the relative quality of this ski season. While I still contend this season is on par or better than average, the weather in the past three weeks has not helped my case. Last weekend, the mountains were coated in a dangerous, uniform layer of ice. Despite the stable snow, we bailed on steeper, more interesting objectives and instead headed up Big St. Joseph peak hoping for sun warmed snow on the south face with an acceptable bail option back down the ascent route. The day was gorgeous, and we made good time on the ascent despite surprisingly melted out and challenging climbing in the gully at the base of the peak. Andrew was the only one who had brought ski crampons along, and he put them to good use, skinning everything except the 40+ degree exit from the Southeast Bowl. This was my sixth lifetime summit of Big. St. Joe.
Andrew, getting it done.
Climbing the summit ridge. Photo: Andrew Mayer
It was breezy on the summit, so our stay was abbreviated. We booted west to the highest south gully. Finding sheer glazed ice, we reluctantly booted up and out and back over the summit, expecting to reverse our ascent route. After skiing the summit ridge, we took a gamble and nosed our way down into the eastern most of the three massive south facing avalanche paths on the peak. The snow had softened just enough, so we went for it. The ensuing run was fantastic, with good corn snow and a long, enjoyable fall line with a nice clean rock lined couloir exit. I was elated to ski this big, beautiful run in legitimately good conditions. The exit out Bass Creek has survived the warm wet storm largely intact, and we were out to the car in no time. Good day, and always great to get out with a strong new partners from Missoula. 6,000 vertical feet and done in about 8.5 hours car to car.
Leah and Andrew cruising on the South Face of Big St. Joe
Leah and me coming out of the pinch on the South Face. Photo: Andrew Mayer

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