Thursday, August 27, 2015

Bitterroot - Twin Lakes to Ward traverse

Smokey morning above Twin lakes. Photo: Jeff Schmalenberg

A busy week of work precluded planning a suitable weekend outing, so I fell back on a trip in the Bitterroot that my friend Jeff had proposed.  Much to my surprise, he was available for Saturday, so after some last minute shuttle logistic planning, we loaded up and went for it. The goal was to traverse from Twin Lakes to Ward peak along the Lost Horse/Roaring Lion divide. Mario Locatelli pioneered the route, which was also one of his group Mountain Marathon adventure hikes back in the day. I have run into Mario out in the hills on several occasions, and he is a character.  Intrigued by the historic nature of the route, but with no real information or route details, we headed out at first light, keen for an adventure.
Jeff approaching the first summit.
The morning was great. We summited the first peak without difficulty, and dropped off the ridge into the headwaters of the Twelvemile drainage, then again to Tenmile lake, where we filled water for the remainder of the day.  From Tenmile, we regained the ridge and settled in, hopping across endless boulder fields.  We stayed on or near the ridgetop, and the traverse from Tenmile to the headwaters of the North Fork went quickly, as did the traverse above the North Fork. 

Alpine tarns below the ridge in Twelvemile.
Climbing out of Tenmile.  Photo: Jeff Schmalenberg
Jeff boulder hopping high above the North Fork of Lost Horse creek.
The day was unfolding well, and we chugged along at a strong moderate pace, alternating between sussing out the route, chatting about life, enjoying the silence of the wilderness,  and stopping for food every couple of hours. Just before the head of Camas creek, we dropped off the ridge to the South, eventually doing a few class 4 moves up to a notch which gave access to Camas.  We bypassed the Fin, then regained the ridge and pushed to Ward.  Content with our effort, we took a long break on top of Ward, then ran the last six miles of trail out to the car without incident. Jeff banked a ton of good-outdoor-partner karma by graciously running the motorbike/car shuttle while I ate pizza and drank beer in Hamilton.
Jeff on the short step out of the North Fork.
More boulder hopping in the headwaters of Camas creek.
Great day, great partner, great adventure.  I don't remember the exact stats, but it was around 18 miles with 7,000+ vertical and a little over 10 hours.  The route is long enough to be a challenge, moderate enough to be non technical, and definitive enough to be worth repeating.  It would not be fun, but there are bail options into Lost Horse creek all along the route, and we left a bike near the bottom of the North Fork as an emergency bail backup. I would contend the traverse is not quite classic since the terrain is not particularly clean or exciting, and it doesn't hit any major peaks aside from Ward, but it is still a very worthwhile outing.
Moving.  Photo: Jeff Schmalenberg.
During the same trip, Leah and I climbed Whites mountain from Bear Creek pass at the head of the Lost Horse drainage in a surprisingly long (11 hour) day.  We followed the route recommended in Hoyt's Bitterroot climbing book.  It was great to spend all day traversing though high subalpine tarns and over high ridgelines deep in the Selway-Bitterroot wilderness.  Whites is a rarely visited peak and it was great to explore this remote corner of the Bitterroot.
Leah on the summit ridge in front of El Capitan.
Stiding out on the return from Whites.  Foxy gaiters.

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