Monday, November 23, 2015

Chaffin traverse

Looking out to the Shard from Little Tin Cup peak.
I was able to put in three solid days of mountain time before heading to Minneapolis for a few weeks, and the Chaffin traverse was by far the highlight.  An otherwise robust night of sleep at the trailhead was cut a bit short well before sunlight as opening day hunters began their parade up the Chaffin road.  Pretty cool to see folks getting after it, and they motivated me to get up eat a cold breakfast, and start moving.  The trail up the drainage to the second scree field/set of switchbacks was quick, and the climb out of the canyon went smoothly.  A quick jaunt up the headwaters of Little Tin Cup creek also went quickly, and I was on Little Tin Cup Peak about three hours into the day.  An icy wind kept me from stopping on the summit, and slippery north facing snow kept my hackles up as I worked my way around cliffs on the west ridge before walking open talus to the base of the NE ridge of the Shard.  I had climbed the NE ridge as an extension of a solo climb of the North face over a decade ago, but my memory was fuzzy, so I worked my way through what seemed like the easiest route.  It ended up involving about twenty feet of easy 5th climbing.  For those who care, one could avoid the climbing by descending a few hundred vertical feet and working west across the south face to the normal route.
Smooth sailing up and out of Chaffin creek.
Little Tin Cup creek and point from the peak.
Looking up at the technical easy 5th bits on the Shard.
I climbed the broken ledges just looker's right of the skylined trees well left of the crest.

From the main summit, I made the traverse to the West summit.  I was not sure this would go, but there is one solitary ledge system approximately 400 vertical feet below the summit that links the two peaks.  The whole connection was a bit loose and ugly, but it goes, and it is a good connection to know about.  From the West summit, I boulder hopped along, hitting a few unnamed bumps on the ridge and West Chaffin.  I had planned on ending the traverse here, but it seemed like the craggy peak further south is actually higher, so I made my way over to it.  I think I have heard this peak described as the Tusk and South Chaffin, but I would be interested if anyone knows of another common name.  It is a major Bitterroot peak. The only weakness was on the west ridge, so I climbed it, negotiating two easy 5th class steps and considerable exposure along the way.  I was pleased to find the climbing enjoyable, and it was a treat to stumble upon a technical peak since there are so few in the Bitterroot.

Looking back to West Shard from West Chaffin.

West ridge of South Chaffin.  Easy 5th.  Don't fall.
Happy to be back in the snow on South Chaffin.
Also, glad to haul out a LOT of super sketchy tat.
On the summit, a surprise little snow squall blew through, and I ducked out of the wind for a few minutes as it passed.  There was a lot of extremely sketchy rap tat on the summit which I was able to load up into my pack and haul out.  As a PSA, there are no remaining slings on the summit, but none of them would have been adequate for rapping anyway.  After a careful downclimb, I continued down the drainage past the string of high lakes.  There is a major cliffband above Tamarack Lake which I did not know about and of course botched (in the future, bypass this on the north side of the drainage) but otherwise it was a quick journey to Heart lake.  I briefly considered making the big climb to Sugarloaf, didn't have the motivation to embark on an uncertain route with storm clouds brewing. Instead, I took a long break Tamarack lake to reflect, then ran out the technical and enjoyable trail.

Moment of reflection at Tamarack lake.
I would definately do this again.  It is possible to extend to Sugarloaf for a full traverse.  Something north of 7,000 vertical feet and 15 miles, done in roughly 11 hours car to car.

The evening before, I ran the Palisades loop, shortcutting the road switchbacks to tighten it up to a sub 15 mile affair.  I caught the sunset on the crest of the range, and was back to the car only a few minutes after turning on the headlamp.  It was fantastic.  The day after Chaffin, I did a 30-mile loop around the head of Piquett creek.  Unfortunately, the trail was washed out and choked with downfall much of the way, so it was a poor outing overall. Aside from checking out a new area and enjoying another great fall day, the only real highlight was climbing Piquett mountain.  Also, it was good to end the three day block of playing and training fully whopped. In the future, it would be much more expedient and enjoyable to climb Piquett from Little Boulder Creek, further up the West fork.

Beta: Shard Main/West summit connecting ledge, Cl3
There is a narrow ledge which connects the Main and West summits.  From about 400 vertical feet below the summit, rougly half way up the face, traverse straight west on the broadest ledge.  It will be obvious if you are on the wrong ledge, because it will cliff out.  The ledge continues into the deep couloir between the two summits.  It is vey dirty and loose in the cleft, and might seem fairly desperate for Class 3.  From the cleft, 3rd class ledges lead to the West summit.  I think it might be easier to find this ledge from the West summit.

South face of the Shard.  Main/West summit connecting ledge rougly takes
the orange ledge mid-face and wraps into the gully on the left margin of the photo.
Photo: Michael Hoyt.
This is the ledge I took to get from the main Shard summit to the West summit.
Ugly/steep/loose dirt between the summits.
This would be covered in snow most of the year.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

PSA - Wisherd Ridge/Lockwood point access changes

Wisherd ridge skiing. Photo: Jeff Schmalenberg
Wisherd ridge is a semi-popular ski destination for Missoula area skiers. The two conventional access points are to snowmobile in from Gold Creek (Blackfoot river drainage), or approach Lockwood point from Rainbow Bend up West Twin creek. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has recently acquired Plum Creek land in Twin Creek and has come up with a solution for public parking and access to Lockwood Point and Wisherd ridge from West Twin Creek. I have written this post in conjunction with TNC to help convey their access policy for all winter public users, both backcountry skiers and snowmobilers. Pray for snow and happy skiing.

Disclaimer: I have not done a lot of skiing at Wisherd, however I do advocate strongly for backcountry skiing access, and I hope skiers, snowmobilers, and lovers of all things winter and wild will find this information useful. I encourage folks to use the new West Twin creek parking area to access Lockwood point and Wisherd ridge, and to abide by the basic common sense restrictions in order to maintain access. TNC has taken on a messy but ultimately beneficial job of acquiring Plum Creek lands and conveying them to agencies like the Forest Service that will ensure they are managed sustainably into the future. It is at times controversial and messy work, but the ultimate outcome is remarkable for both the land, and for long-term public access.

The past situation: There is no established public parking area, so folks have generally used one of the following access points. Both have been problematic.

· Rainbow bend school bus stop. In the past, folks have parked along the highway and used an ATV trail to access the West Twin Creek road. There are “No Parking” signs here, since in the past there have been problems with trucks and snowmobile trailers interfering with the bus stop. Some vehicles have been ticketed in the past. Don’t park here.

· West Twin Creek road: The section of this road from the highway to TNC’s section line (old gate location) is a county road, but it is narrow single lane 12 foot road prism. Parking along the road is technically legal, but it has caused problems with Private land owners trying to get in and out of their houses. Don’t park along the road.

The solution (for now): The current route to the Lockwood area passes through TNC land and two separate private parcels. TNC has developed a new parking area and is going to try to allow snowmobile and foot access in winter. The private landowners currently permit public access through their lands, but if snowmobiles start going off roads and such, this access could easily be revoked. See private land denoted on map.

· TNC has moved the gate further up the West Twin Creek road and created a parking lot on their property. The parking lot is about 1,000 feet up the road from the highway. All public users should park here.

· TNC, thankfully, has tentatively agreed to keep the gate open from December 1 –April 1 to allow snowmobile and skier access through the gate. The gate will be signed describing the access. Snowmobile use through the gate is allowed from December 1 –April 1. There are also rootwads, boulders and such that ensure the gate is effective. Under TNC’s rules, Snowmobiles are requested to stay on the groomed/signed trails and/or on the forest road system. If accessing Wisherd by foot, just park here and start trudging. Just be sure to stay on the road where it crosses Private.

It is admirable for TNC to work with snowmobilers and backcountry skiers and to provide a public access point on their land. BUT, if someone screws up and starts driving wheeled vehicles past the gate, or deviates from the road where it crosses Private land, this will end. So please get out, enjoy the new access point and always be smart and courteous.

Map showing the new parking area and overall site. 
Provided courtesy of The Nature Conservancy. 

The second document in TNC’s Open Lands Policy. These policies haven’t changed and are the same that Plum Creek had adopted. For those unfamiliar with Plum Creek’s public access policy, the basic idea is to allow relatively unrestricted public access where it does not impact their operations or negatively impact natural resources.
Document provided courtesy of The Nature Conservancy

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Sheep to Mile ridge traverse

Andrew and Jeffrey had to return to responsibilities after our Hilgard day, and it is too bad, because the third day was perhaps the best.  Mile to Sheep is a high quality long mountain bike ride, and I did a heavily modified version on foot, leaving the trail at the toe of Coffin mountain and following the crest south to Mile creek. 
Looking South from Sheep.
With 50 miles over the last two days, I had some trepidation about how my body would hold up, but the whole rig felt remarkably good. I cruised up Sheep creek, spooking a few deer and marveling at the crisp frosty morning. It took less than three hours to summit Coffin via the north ridge.  I was treated to sweeping views of the southern Gallatins and Madisons from the summit, and the Tetons beckoned on the horizon.  I ran down the lid of the Coffin, chasing goats along the way, then pushed to the top of Sheep, the highest peak in the range.
Early morning views to Hebgen reservoir and the southern Gallatins from Coffin.
Jogging down the of Coffin peak.
Sheep lake from Sheep peak.  Skyline ridge in the background.

The spine of the range undulates gently all the way to Mile creek, and I worked through it, occasionally stubbing out to peaks off the crest but generally just moving in the moment and relishing the day.  The range receives heavy snowmobile traffic in winter, but in the summer it is a wild place. From the trail, I stubbed out to Targhee peak at the southern terminus of the range and took a long break, relaxing and gazing across the broad Henry's fork valley to the Tetons. The return run was fast and enjoyable.  I had dropped a bike off at the Mile creek trailhead, and a simple 10 mile downhill shuttle rounded out the day.  I was out for about 6 and a half hours, and the outing could go faster without summiting the peaks off the crest.  Highly recommended outing. It would also be fun to do a complete range traverse, continuing to Baldy and Lionshead, but the shuttle would be much longer.
Nearing the Mile creek trail.  I continued out to Targhee.  I skied Targhee peak several times in my Bozeman days, as it is moderate enough to ski with High avalanche hazard, and also has a few intriguing steep lines on the Northeast face.

Tired, happy, and ready for a shower after 3 days of mountain adventuring.