Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Scratching around on Stormy Joe

I was able to take advantage of great weather and a flexible work schedule to do some exploring in Bass creek on a random week day in March.  There is typically only another month or so of good low elevation coverage in the Bitterroot, so it always seems prudent to check as much stuff off the list as possible this time of year.   The plan for the day was not at all refined: head out with ice tools and crampons with hopes of skiing some new lines on Stormy Joe, then fill out the rest of the day with whatever looked good.  
Stormy Joe South face.  Party in the couloir and another interesting couloir
wind their way through the cliffs on the right side.
I skied the central gully which opens up and tops out just right of the summit.
The second run took the V-shaped snowfield which leads up and right to the high point.
he run to the left of the cliffs is also much better than it looks from the photo.
Surprisingly, I was last skier out of the trailhead with a 6:45 start from the car.  Always nice to see other skiers getting after it on such a nice day.  The three hour (to the minute) skin to the lake was uneventful, and I just settled in and enjoyed the sunrise.  My legs were still cooked from racing the previous evening, and it was nice to just cruise at an easy pace. From the lake inlet, I skinned out a ways to get a better perspective on a couloir that roughly splits the South face of Stormy Joe.  I still couldn't see much, but there was no reason to think that it would not go, so I started up.  The business started only a few hundred feet above the lake, with a short rock step to bypass an ice bulge in the couloir.  After re-joining the run and booting another few hundred feet, I finally got a look at the central ice bulges which comprise the middle  hundred vertical feet or so of the couloir.  The ice was fat and in great shape, so I climbed it at something like easy WI2.  It was great fun - easy, secure climbing.  I have not ice climbed yet this year, so I just took my time, getting solid tool and crampon placements the whole way.  From the top of the ice, I was able to skin the majority of the upper snowfield to the summit ridge.  The ski down the upper couloir was relaxed with good snow and a moderate pitch.  I didn't really find any way to bypass the ice, so I had to bust out the tools and crampons and downclimb the ice, which was fun.  It was also slow because I am a poor ice climber.  From the base of the ice, I skied the middle third of the line, hopped a little 3' bulge, and skied it out to the lake.  
Improbable.  Looking up the couloir from the bottom.
Looking up a few hundred feet of easy rolling ice.

About half way up the ice.
Skiing near the top of the line.
The second line was directly to the west.  It is much more straightforward, with an easy small ice bulge at the bottom, an interesting slabby pinch, and a big open upper snowfield.  I was able to skin most of the run, and was up and down it in less than two hours.  I topped out on the actual summit, which makes it my fourth summit of this obscure little Bitterroot peak.  The ski run was great. 

On the summit of Stormy Joe, excited to be skiing new runs in the Bitterroot.
Back at the lake, I decided to try to climb the back/west side of the massive avalanche path just below and south of the lake outlet.  Aside from some demoralizing, gloppy skinning, the terrain linked up, and I was on top of the run in about an hour.  With a little time to spare, I skied a short chute along the skin track before punching back up the track.  The avalanche path exit run was fun.  The entire bowl is a major avalanche performer, and the headwall is unforgiving and steep, but the snow was stable, and I felt pretty good about center punching this massive line all alone.  The schuss out the trail was quick as always, and I returned to the car in 11 hours, 30 minutes after 10,000 vertical feet of skiing.
Bonus run.  Love me some ski tracks.
Getting ready for the last run, with St. Joseph peak dominating the background.
The last run took the center of the bowl (photo taken in the morning during the approach).
It has the potential to avalanche catastrophically, so skier beware.

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