Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Swan Range - Ptarmigan Point

Dropping into Ptarmigan. Photo: Andrew Mayer
I finally made it out with Jeff and Andrew to ski the west face of Ptarmigan point 9,083. This is the largest of the west facing avalanche paths off the Clearwater lake loop road, and also happens to be the third highest peak in the range. We fought a little bit with the snowmobiles on the approach, and it took quite a while to hit snowline, but the going was easy, and we were soon on the Swan crest. We had climbed to the crest several avalanche paths to the south of Ptarmigan with a loose plan of skiing whatever looked good and kept us moving north. The snow looked better on the east side, so we took a short run down toward Gorge lake to start off the day.

Jeff getting us to snowline.
Climbing to the crest. Conditions were firm, so we just booted.
Jeff on the Swan crest.
Jeff dropping east into the Bob.
After a quick climb out, we skied straight west down a striking avalanche path to snowline. After an icy upper pitch, the snow gradually softened, and we enjoyed a long run. A big traversing climb put us at the top of the Ptarmigan avalanche path, relieved to find a snow strip which descended cleanly from the ridge. Once again, the top few hundred feet were terribly icy, but soon we were down out if the ice, skiing a run that I have wanted to ski for a long time with endless shallow powder and corn. On a perfect day. With great friends and fantastic views out to the Missions. I was psyched and I think everyone else was too. We milked every last bit of snow before eventally taking skis off well above the bottom of the avalanche path. Bushwacking and a brokend down sled kept the egress interesting, but it was never too bad, and we were soon back at the car.
Andrew spotting Jeff on our second run.
Climbing out of the second run.
Skiing Ptarmingan. Finally!
At the end of the snow, getting ready to hike out.
Thoughts:  I am quite impressed with the Clearwater Lake loop road terrain in the Swans. It is all big and exposed, so stable conditions are a must, but with that caveat, the ski terrain is dramatic and high quality. The road approach is fairly long, but the climb from the road to the crest of the range is direct, the drive from Missoula is not too long, and the bushwacking is blissfully minimal compared to adjacent ranges. The bottom of all of the avalanche paths are also all melted out and unfortunately about done for the year. Check it out sometime.

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