Thursday, March 26, 2015

Canyon Peak, South Face redux

While I haven't been getting big, epic days in lately, I have been able to knock out a few tours that are more standard in length, and it has been good to get them cataloged. Canyon Peak is a great example. While the arduous approach and egress prevent the tour from being a true classic, the South face is a fabulous ski run, and the day flows well overall once you get through the approach. The basic tour should be doable in under 12 hours for a standard touring party.
Canyon peak from near the base of the South face.
I was excited to spend the day with Blake, but he ended up bailing at the last minute, so I left all the avy gear at home, threw in the light ski setup, and headed out from the Canyon Creek trailhead alone shortly after 6 am. The entire approach to the falls below Canyon lake was in intermittent snow, and I walked most of it with running shoes. I wasn't especially motivated to move fast, so I settled into a comfortable rhythm, waiting patiently for daylight. I still contend that the Canyon Creek trail is one of the worst in the range, and it was in terrible shape today with intermittent snow, lots of bare patches, and endless running water on the trail. The other bugger is that the trail gets progressively worse over the first three miles, slowly crushing morale.

The tenor of the day shifted at Canyon lake, and I enjoyed the beautiful crisp morning, moving quickly to Wyatt lake and beyond to the Canyon/Sawtooth divide. From the divide, I ripped skins and did a quick downward traverse onto the massive South face. Conditions were firm but otherwise perfect, and I was excited to be way back in wild Bitterroot mountains so early in the day. A quick ski crampon assisted skin and boot ascent had me at the point of highest snow just a stone throw below the summit, excavating a perch to put skis on. Climbing to the top is difficult, and I did not summit. The ski run was great. The snow was just barely softening, and I skied grippy ice and corn all the way down to the logical end of the run a little over a thousand feet above the canyon bottom. Several years ago, I had turned around due to avalanche danger about 200 vertical feet below the point of highest snow, and it was great to finally ski it from the top.
Near Canyon lake. What a nice day. 
Poised at the top, Ready to ski.
It was still well before noon even after a short sit down lunch break. I still had a lot of energy and was excited to just ski a bunch of stuff, so I set an informal goal of making it a 10k day. I skinned easily back up to the Canyon/Sawtooth divide and skied the next avalanche path east down to snowline, which was great - interesting skiing with perfect corn. I repeated the process, skiing the next avalanche path east which was less interesting but had great snow. I topped out on the buttress above Canyon Lake and skied down to to the lake, enjoying some nice warming powder on the way down. With an hour to spare, I climbed back up to the divide and skied a short northwest facing couloir. I ran out of steam about half way up the climb, but it was nothing that a big gooey shot of peanut butter chased by a little gel couldn't fix. There was a pinch at the bottom of the couloir which I thought I could air out, but of course when the time came, I chickened out and ended up bypassing the choke via some shameful but otherwise safe sideslipping through scrappy trees off to the side. I made a valiant attempt to use the last run as a way to traverse down drainage below Canyon lake and cut off some of the trial, but I ended up getting stuck in thick downfall. It took some blue collar creativity to get back to the trail, but I'm pretty good at adversity, and was soon back on the trail. I walked and jogged the exit in ski boots, and was back at the car soon enough.
The excellent second run just east of Canyon peak.
Nice corn snow on the third run. 
Good shallow powder on the fourth run. 
On top of the fifth run near the end of the day. Tired, happy, grateful.
Standing water, intermittent snow and downfall made for an interesting hike out.
By the numbers, about 11,300 vertical feet with a stout approach and egress, done in almost exactly 11 hours at a moderately hard and steady pace car to car. This was a great day. Unfortunately, it was also served as a poignant reminder that Bitterroot Canyon approaches are done for the year.

Also, a few thoughts on Canyon Creek driving directions: The Canyon Creek road is hit or miss for driving in winter. The road is plowed for about a mile past the Blodgett turnoff. From there one can normally drive to at least the first switchback. Take note that the trailhead is shaded, and can it can be difficult to turn around. If in doubt, consider parking at one of the large turnouts on the road where it turns west about a quarter mile before the trailhead. The snow is often bare or thinner there than at the trailhead proper.

1 comment:

  1. Nice work Brian. Sounds like a nice day out in the mountains!