Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Bountiful corn harvest in the Missions

Leah and I headed into the Missions with overnight packs, excited for two big days of touring. The corn harvest this spring has been as good as I can remember, so it seemed appropriate to ski as much as possible while the snow still lingers. A late evening approach put us at a picturesque camp right at snowline at dusk, sipping whiskey and enjoying a respite from a busy week.

Moonrise at camp.
After a leisurely morning at camp, we headed up to Lucifer and over the low pass into Ashley creek. Lucifer lake is just melted out enough that we had to traverse above the shoreline, which is always a challenge.  We took a short run into the head of Ashley creek, skipping over Grizzly tracks along the way. I was excited to hit up Sheepshead, and Leah was game, so we traversed above Duncan lake and climbed the South face. To our surprise, we spotted a party on McDonald peak across the way, relaxing and enjoying the view. We had a great run on the exposed East ridge down to the tarn at the base of McDonald peak, and were soon back on the trail, skinning the Northwest face of McDonald. 

Leah getting the ball rolling on the climb to the Ashley creek divide.
Skinning the last few steps to the summit.
Starting down the East ridge of Sheepshead.
Mid way through the climb, we were surprised to see the party making their way back up to the summit, and we all convened on top. It was Andrew and company, and it was fun to cross paths with them. They ended up cranking out their own 10k day. Nice job fellas. We skied a long run down the massive East face almost to Cliff lake, then made a long climb to South Glacier via Icefloe, the connecting ramp, Lake of the Clouds, and the upper West face of Glacier. We both summited with tired legs, pleased with our big loop over the highest peaks in the range. After lingering on the summit for a few minutes, we skied a direct line on the West face. The snow was overly warmed, and we had to carefully manage large wet sluffs on the way down toward Lucifer. But we made it back to our camp with enough time to enjoy a leisurely dinner before calling it a night.

3 turns in, 300 to go. Leah dropping in on the East face of McDonald.
Ski tracks on the East face.
Leah near the summit of South Glacier peak.
It froze well on Saturday night, so after a chilly morning at camp, we headed back up to Lucifer for more skiing. The snow was well frozen, so we kept the skis on the packs, trudging up to Picture lake, then up the massive southwest ramp all the way to the summit of Mountaineer peak.  We had an impeccable run down the East face. The snow was so good that we extened the run as far as possible down the wild basin below the Garden Wall.  We needed to crest the range in order to return to camp and civilizaiton, so we pointed the skis uphill and climbed the edge of the Sunrise glacier to the Garden Wall, then ran the 3rd class ridge to the summit of Shoemaker.  In keeping with the trend of the trip, we had an impeccable run with top to bottom perfect corn on the south face of Shoemaker. What a great way to wrap up the trip. Unfortunately, the day was getting late, so we once again pointed the skis back toward Lucifer and camp. The egress was long and somewhat painful with overnight packs, but it was a small price to pay for 13,000 vertical feet of amazing touring in the high peaks of the Missions.

Strolling across Picture lake on the way to Mountaineer peak. 
Skiing off Mountaineer peak. 
Perfect corn on the south face of Shoemaker.
After getting the climber's trail and terrain around Lucifer lake dialed in, I am now fully on board with recommending Lucifer as a worthwile access point for the Missions. Everything worth skiing is a long day, but the options are virtually endless once you get above the lake. The best time to go seems to be late April through late May on an average year when the approach to Lucifer is snow free and the lake is still frozen over. 

The skiing is really good out there right now. Go get it before the snow all melts away.

Our routes, shown in red.
Shout out
A big shout out to Blake Votilla, Inge Perkins and Jeffrey Friess for their bold Mission traverse on April 19. To my knowledge, their high route from Sheepshead to East Saint Mary's is arguably the boldest line completed on skis in a day. More info here. Strong work!

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