Sunday, June 28, 2015

Missions - McDonald, Panoramic, St. Charles link up

Leah nearing Point St. Charles.

Record temperatures were not enough to keep Leah and me from putting in another great day in the Missions. We drove out to the Glacier lake trailhead the previous night, which helped take the sting out of the 5 am start. We hit the trail at first light and made quick work to Heart lake. We endured "pretty bad" bushwacking and hordes of mosquitos on the hike up to Island lake, but fortunately we were though before it got too hot. It was nice to top out on the divide by mid morning, and we were soon well on our way up McDonald peak. The climb up McDonald was just one long, hot, snow slog, but we made good time. On the summit, we were surprised to see no less than three parties, 17 people, and at least two dogs climbing the peak from all directions. Popular place, I guess.
Early morning light at Heart lake.
Bushwacking. It was worse than it looks in the picture.
Nearing the crest of the range on the way out to McDonald.
Leah fording Post Creek. Game face.
Climbing the East face of McDonald.
We were able to easily glissade the East face without an axe or crampons, and took a short break to cool off at Icefloe lake. A good hard push put us at Lake of the Couds, and another push put us on Panoramic peak. We had a nice long shoes-off-to-dry break on the summit.  The ridge to Point St. Charles ended up being too exposed, so we bypassed it on the north, and were treated to some terrible scree, steep snow, and fun but slow 4th class rock on the way to St. Charles. The egress to the car was nice and slow and relaxed. We were hot and tired, but the bushwacking was minimal, and the trail back was smooth and easy. A rejuvenating swim near Turquoise lake also helped. Even with the easy egress, we were both ready to get out, switch to flip flops, and drink a beer at the end of a day well spent.
Glissading near the bottom of McDonald peak.
Lake of the Clouds on the way to Panoramic point.
Leah on the traverse from Panoramic point to St. Charles.
Working the steep final pitches to Point St. Charles.
This is a pretty good traverse, but the drive is long enough, and there is enough adversity (mainly bushwacking) to keep it out of the "must repeat as often as possible" category.  I hadn't been on the east side trails in several years, and aside from some painfully flat switchbacks, they are well maintained and generally fabulous. It was surprising to see so many people on the mountain, especially since McDonald is so much easier to access with skis in the spring, but it is always good to see people getting after it. As a note of warning, mosquitos are out so don't be surprised.  Somewhere north of 8,000 vert done in a little over 15 hours car to car. Also, there must be a better way to get from Heart to Island lake. It would make the day a lot smoother. We took the shortest route between the lakes, but I wonder if it would be better to do a high traverse to the Island/Cliff pass from the north.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mission Traverse V.5

Nearing the halfway point of the traverse below the South face of McDonald peak.
I was fortunate to find time and energy between races for a long day in the mountains, and the Mission traverse was an easy choice. I still contend the Mission traverse is the finest long outing near Missoula.  I followed my previous route with only a few modifications, and it was delightful to spend a long day in familiar terrain, simply moving and enjoying the experience.

I ran the bike shuttle the previous evening, and was jogging from the canal at the bottom of the Ashley lake road at dawn.  The bushwack to Sheepshead was as slow, but I was mentally prepared. It isn't really that bad, just slow and long. Soon enough, I was on the enjoyable Southwest ridge of Sheepshead, which I followed easily to the summit. Something in my digestive system was a little off, but otherwise I arrived on the summit right on schedule, and in good spirits. The traverse to McDonald was quick and easy.  A brisk wind discouraged me from stopping on the summit, so I immediately started glissading the South face.  Aside from a few sections of steeper snow, I was able to carefully glissade or butt slide the entire way, descending 2,000 vertical feet in less than 10 minutes. I found a good water refill spot near the Ashley/Post divide and took a short break.  

Lots of downfall on the historic trail to Sheepshead.
In high spirits on McDonald.  Looking to Flattop and Kakashke.
Glissading on the South face of McDonald.
Instead of descending to Icefloe lake, I stayed high and climbed North Glacier peak via the North face and West ridge. This was my first time on the ridge, and I was pleased to find enjoyable 4th class climbing all the way to the summit. My stomach hit a low point on the traverse to the South summit, but a few cookies and a shot of gel were all it took to turn things around, and I ended up feeling great for the rest of the day.  I hit South Glacier several hours ahead of schedule and kept pushing to the Garden Wall. I took a full break, drying my shoes and socks and dining on grapefruit and jerkey. The climb to Mountaineer was quick using the west ledge bypass, as was the convoluted route to the Fissure glacier. I had plenty of time to hit Lowary, so I climbed it via the easy Southeast ridge, and made the quick jaunt out to East Saint Mary's. I was pleasantly fatigued by this point, but there was still enough pep in the legs to enjoy the long, steep trail run back down to the reservoir and car.  For stats, somewhere north of 11,000 vertical feet with difficulties to 4th class and bushwacking which never exceeds "Not too bad," done in 12 hours 1 minute.  Such a good outing.

The North face and West ridge of North Glacier peak. From the Ashley/Post creek divide,
I ascended the big snow ramp to near its terminus before scrambling 4th class rock to the visible West ridge.
Starting up the West ridge of North Glacier peak.  Fun exposed 4th class scrambling.

Lunch break on the Garden Wall.

Descending to the Fissure glacier, briefly wishing I had skis.

Classic Garden Wall view from South Glacier peak.