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.

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