Saturday, October 31, 2015

Southern Madisons - Monument group and Skyline ridge

Andrew and Jeffrey were able to join me for the first two days of an extended weekend trip to the Southen Madisons.  We spent the first day doing a big loop on the western boundary of Yellowstone National Park from Sage creek. We rolled out shortly after sunrise and worked our way up to treeline.  Although it was a perfectly clear day, it was cold and blustery, and we would be occasionaly hit by remarkably intense icy gusts.  On the edge of the park, we saw a small herd of elk, a huge flock of goats at the head of Bacon Rind creek, and two seperate hunting parties on the trail.  The ridge to Redstreak was enjoyable, punctuated by clean, rolling terrain and one drop down off the crest for water. With some extra time in the day, we bumped out and back to Whites, marveling at the huge flock of goats in the headwaters of Bacon Rind creek.
Andrew running early in the day.
Cruising over unnamed peaks shortly after leaving the trail.
Jeffrey closing in on Redstreak.
The Skyline ridge traverse was quick at first, then slower as it became more scrappy and technical. The whole thing took less than two hours, and in no time we were on Sage peak.  It took a long time descend to the trail, and an even longer time to run the ten miles out to the car.  I kind of sandbagged how long the run out was going to be, and if it was possible to mutiny, it probably would have happened.  Fortunately, the easiest way out was to just run, so we stuck together, running steadily and working our way through the mess of trails caused by hunting camps.  With 30 miles under our belts, we returned to the car remarkably worked, considering there were two more days of adventuring ahead.  Fortunately a big dinner and long nigh sleep lay ahead.
Looking out to Sage with the Taylor Hillgard group in the background.
Unflattering photo of me nearing the top of Redstreak.
Looking back to Redstreak and the Skyline ridge.
The next day, we were hoping to do an Echo-Hillgard traverse. Spitting sleet coupled with fatigue from the previous day sapped our motivaton to push it, so we did a loop up to Expedition pass, through Hillgard basin, and down the Avalanche creek trail. The traverse looks really good, and I need to go back. 
Hillgard basin, as the weather began to improve. 
Camping in basic but complete comfort.  Love Montana.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Tobacco Root traverse

Sunrise. Beauty.  Gratitude. Andrew heading to Little Granite.
I grew up staring at the Tobacco Roots, as they dominate the western skyline from Bozeman. I have also been fortunate to spend quite a bit of quality time in T Roots kicking around on skis. Having not spent much time in the range in summer, it seemed like a great challenge to do a complete traverse, simply starting at the northernmost peak and heading south on the crest until there were no more mountains. Andrew was also able to make the trip happen with short notice, so after a bittersweet morning in Missoula, I headed over, dropped my truck off in South Meadow creek, and biked the 30 miles to our meeting point in Harrison.

Car to Granite
After a night sleeping under a full super blood moon, we headed off at 4:30 am by headlamp.  We got a little turned around in the dark above Mason lake, but we kept pointing things uphill and summited Hollowtop at first light.  An extended sunrise cast its rosy glow for almost an hour as we followed easy terrain over Jefferson and Horse.  The traverse over Little Granite is a bit craggy, but it was still fast, and the big climb up Granite was quick.  By this point, we had settled into a pattern of Andrew leading the climbs, and me leading most of the downhills and tricky terrain, since I was more familiar with the route. The day was turning out to be every bit as beautiful and fun as I had anticipated.
The view from Hollowtop.  The moon was out but it was still dark.
Sunrise from Jefferson.
Still sunrise as Andrew descends from Horse mountain.
Andrew moving. Little Granite in the background.
Minor technicalities on Little Granite.  Hollowtop in the background.  Photo: Andrew
Granite to Bradley
We dropped off the crest to Granite lake for water, then bypassed an unnamed peak before making the climb to Lonesome.  The terrain became somewhat more scrappy from Long to Thompson, but it was still moderate, and it was fun to see the Bell lake terrain in summer.  We summited Thompson still feeling good and enjoying the day.  It was a long but moderate trek to Branham.  We stayed true to the crest over Branham, and ended up negotiating extensive loose 4th class terrain.  Andrew managed to roll a rock onto his knee.  Fortunately he didn't fall, but the impact ended up slowing him up a bit for the rest of the day. After an hour plus of technical scrambling, it was nice to eventually top out on Bradely and look south to easy rolling plateaus.
Looking down the South ridge of Branham and on to the southern third of the traverse.
Interesting terrain on Branham.  Photo: Andrew
Getting technical on Branham (Not as steep as it looks).
Bradley to car
From Bradley, the traverse just bops along on high plateaus, so we settled in cruised over Lady of the Lake, Belle point, and a few unnamed peaks.  Andrew's knee didn't allow him to run, so we walked with purpose. Aside from one knee, we were both still feeling great.  It was my first time in this portion of the range, so it was good to scope some ski terrain for future trips.  At the southern terminus of the range, we summited one final unnamed peak before  scooting down to treeline and on to the truck, arriving a little ahead of schedule.  The shuttle and drive back to Missoula were both long. In fact, I got way too sleepy to finish the drive, and spent the night in the back of my truck on Homestake pass.  It was a small price to pay for an impeccable day in the mountains.

Andrew on the plateaus of the southern Tobacco Root.
Approaching the final peak of the day.  Photo: Andrew
Andrew on the final, unnamed summit.  A bit tired and a lot satisfied.
I think this was a great traverse, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. There is no escaping the fact that the range lacks wild character in comparison to adjacent ranges, but I still really enjoy the time I have spent there, and it is always impressive to see the old mining remnants.  Also, it is still pretty wild up on the crest. Although the route was not as long as I had anticipated, the complete traverse is still a substantial undertaking.  Most of the terrain is moderate, and one could make the whole thing easy 3rd class bypassing Branham. We did it in a long 15 hours, and it could easily go an hour faster.  A South to North ski traverse would be nothing short of epic, and I need to get back and make it happen sometime.  It was fun to share the day with Andrew. It was his first time in the range, so he got a full introduction. For stats, 10,000 vertical feet and 14 named summits.  Not sure on the mileage, but probably in the 20-25 mile range.