Sunday, July 24, 2016

Scapegoat - Echo to Mineral Hill run

A free mid-week day materialized in late July, and I was able to check out an entirely new-to-me corner of the Scapegoat. With time and intellectual energy pointed toward domestic pursuits, I pretty much just rolled out of bed earlyish, grabbed my running stuff and a map, and just went for it, hoping for the best.
The route, and a fence from the road. Echo, Iron, Unnamed, and Mineral hill from right to left.
It was a fun day, and I was cruising up the well graded Dry fork trail less than two hours after leaving the house.  After an hour plus of movement, I emerged on the northwestern flank of Daly peak and began the overland journey.  It was interesting, if not a bit slow, to climb along the edge of an old wildfire and see the remnants of what looked like a fairly expansive hand suppression effort.  Before too long I was above the fire, and a consistent push put me on top of Daly peak a little over two hours into the day. Racing the heat, I kept moving all day, stopping only to refill water, fill my hat with snow to keep cool, and occasionally snap photos. The traverse to Iron and Echo had more krumholtz schwacking than ideal, but it wasn't too bad clad in bushwacking socks.  

Echo from Iron mountain.  The going became less scrappy as the day progressed.
Unnamed and Mineral hill from Iron mountain.
From Echo, the going became more clean and elegant, and I enjoyed moving easily over the uncomplicated terrain.  From an unnamed summit just south of Windy pass, I dropped over a thousand vertical of steep grass and scree to the pass.  I ended up following the system trail North out of Windy pass for a few minutes before starting the climb to Mineral Hill  A good solid push up the south ridge put me on the final summit, roughly 7k of climbing into the day, still feeling pretty good.  The return to the car was surprisingly quick and pleasant.  I was able to stock up on snowmelt water, and a few stops at water crossings to manage heat allowed for a comfortable exit on a very hot day. The trail was surprisingly runable and enjoyable, especially near Windy pass.  The Bob is ecologically complex, and it was interesting to drop from the sub alpine to the valley through old burns, spruce, larch, lodgepole, ponderosa and aspen stands.  This being the first longer outing since a minor foot injury, I took it easy, and everything felt great all the way to the car.  About 7 hours car to car at a moderate, steady effort.
On Mineral Hill, ready to head home.
Looking back at the traverse.
Nice trail running on the way out.
Thoughts:  I think this is a fun loop, but it is a little too scrappy and the peaks are not commanding enough for it to quite rise to the status of must-do.  Still, a great day and fun to explore a new wild corner of the Bob close to town. I think running the shuttle is simplest, but a bike or car shuttle to the Bear creek trailhead to eliminate the weird return around Cooper lake.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

North Trapper, Cowboy ridge loop for time

Leah and I spend a glorious weekend in the southern Bitterroot, and on the first day I did the classic North Trapper/Cowboy ridge/Trapper circuit for time.  This is one of the only high quality established alpine routes in the Bitterroot, and I have been wanting to give it a hard go for several years now. I have not been climbing recently, and the thought of quickly downclimbing past rappel anchors seemed a bit arrogant. But, the technical difficulties are not too bad, so I decided to give it a go, with caution.

I left the car at a hard but reasonable pace, and just stuck to it all the way past Baker, Middle, and Gem lakes, and up to the notch at the top of the basin.  The descent to the N. Trapper basin is relatively complex, with two couloir systems and some routefinding and tricky downclimbing, but I made it in without botching anything too badly.  The ascent of N. Trapper went quickly, and it was fun to romp up the clean slabby lower flanks of the peak.  The upper peak went quickly, and I was on one of my all time favorite peaks well ahead of schedule.

From the summit, I embarked on the traverse.  Accepting my rusty climbing skills and head, I took my time and tried to just move in an efficient, unhurried fashion through the traverse.  Even though it felt like I was moving slowly, I only botched one section and ended up pushing through the technical portion of the traverse in reasonable time.  I also found a new sneak around the second chimney, further ironing out bugs in the route.  I made up a lot of time on the non-technical climb to Trapper peak since my legs still had quite a bit of pep.  From the summit, I promptly lost the trail on the South side, but made adequate time off trail.  Once on the familiar faint climber trail above Baker lake, I just ran it out down to the lake, then out to the car.  A minor foot injury the previous week left me with no confidence to push the pace, so I ended up just cruising it in, feeling great. Total time 3 hours, 38 minutes car to car from the Baker lake trailhead.  This was an absolutely delightful outing in the most alpine region of the Bitterroot.

The rest of the weekend was spent camping, hiking, and enjoying time with Leah.

First off, I forgot my camera, so apologies for the lack of images.  Even though there is not a lot of technical climbing, this is a great alpine route full of easy 4th class climbing, exposed ridgeline traversing, and tricky-ish routefinding.  For those uncomfortable with routefinding, it is very much worth bringing a rope and very light alpine rack with slings.  There are typically rap slings at each of the west side chimneys for belays or raps.  As for time/effort, I was pushing at a hard pace, but it was never super desperate or painful.  I probably lost 10 minutes total to routefinding blunders, and took the entire last downhill fairly easy to preserve my left foot, so there is room to go faster.  Still, everything went flawlessly, and I am confident that this is a quick time, if only through a small triumph of efficiency.

Here is a very crude route description of the Cowboy traverse from N. Trapper to Trapper.  The route is of similar difficulty in the reverse direction.  The main takaways are that one is on the crest except for three spots North of the saddle, and the obvious cliff section South of the saddle, all of which are fairly intuitive:

From the N. Trapper summit, traverse south on the crest several hundred feet until it drops off steeply, and a minor sub ridge drops off to the west.  Downclimb west into an obvious gully system.  After about 100 feet of easy downclimbing, you will be on a small ledge with a large chockstone step directly below.   There will usually be rap slings above the chocksone. The chockstone can be downclimbed back down to the gully system (10 feet of easy 5th), but it is easier to traverse south on the ledge and downclimb a shallow ledge system.  Once on the lower ledge system, follow it back South to the main ridge.  Continue on the main ridge system until you encounter another steep drop on the crest. This can be easily bypassed on the west via an obvious vertical chimney.  There will usually be rap slings here.  The chimney is vertical for about 20 feet, but it is secure.  Once below the chimney, continue south on ledge systems to the crest.  Shortly before reaching the N. Trapper/Trapper saddle, one final steep step is encountered.  The easiest bypass is a narrow ledge/gully system on the East side which drops from the crest almost 100 feet north of the step.  It is likely that you will have to backtrack a bit to find it, but it is the easiest way down.  The alternative is to make a few exposed slab moves just east of the crest, then downclimb a 4th class chimney east of the crest.

From the base of this step, one can scramble to the saddle, then up easy west facing ledges to a large grassy plateau.  From the top of the plateau, the cliffy lower half of the North ridge of Trapper peak is bypassed on the West.  Take a sandy ledge system down and across the west face (several ledges go).  Stay on the easiest ledge system for several hundred feet until you arrive at a large open gully/ledge system which climbs to the skyline ridge.  This system is past most of the sheer west facing cliffs of the lower North ridge of Trapper, and just before the ledge systems shut down farther out on the west face.  Work up this open gully/ledge system, following the line of least resistance all the way to the crest.  From the crest, it is an easy 300 vertical foot class 3 climb to the main Trapper summit.

Splits for future reference:
Baker lake: 0.17; Notch ~0.45; Base of North Trapper 1.00; N. Trapper summit 1.35; Trapper summit 2.45; car 3.38

Thursday, July 7, 2016

8th and 9th annual Warren Wallow

The 8th Warren wallow went undocumented last year, so this post will encompass two outings, both of which were splendid.

8th Wallow - Tamarack version
After a relaxed day of spectating the Double Dip and biking in Pattee canyon, Jeff and I drove out to the Carpp lake trailhead.  I have always wanted to camp at the trailhead to ease the morning start, and doing so was every bit as pleasant as I had hoped.  Temperatures never dipped below freezing, so we set off at first light in order to do most of our skiing before noon.  Instead of using the normal Carpp lake approach, we hiked out to Tamarack lake and skied the best looking of the couloirs in the cirque.  Aside from a little scree sneek at the top of the fan, the run was enjoyable.  From the lake, we made a long bootpack to the upper reaches of Porter ridge, then slogged up the Southwest face of Warren to the summit.  It was a long climb, and we may have donated a running shoe to the mountain gods (a story in itself), but neither of us were in a hurry and it was kind of fun to grind up well over a thousand vertical feet of loose scree in ski boots.  The normal North face route skied well, and we tacked on the exit couloir to Upper Carpp lake.  In keeping with recent tradition, these were my last turns of the year, and they were great. Much to my chagrin, I started feeling quite terrible on the hike out.  Little did I know that I would spend the next 12 hours on the couch sleeping off some ungodly stomach bug.  It was good to explore some new ski terrain while keeping the Warren streak alive, and thanks to Jeff for a great day, and for the tasty breakfast burritos.

In keeping with the lazy nature of summer skiing, neither of us had a camera or tracked our vertical, but rest assured we skied enough, and the day was beautiful.

9th Wallow - Maloney solo version
I made a solo push out to Warren on a drop dead gorgeous Sunday in mid June.  With a respectable start from town, I was jogging out of the trailhead before 8:30 am.  Aside from a couple of silly and painful 10 minute lactate threshold efforts, the approach was casual and delightful, and I was on the summit of Warren well under 3 hours from leaving the car.
Warren from Upper Carpp lake.
The North face skied as well as I have ever seen it, with consistent snow top to bottom, and a convenient sneek around the choke that was in the sun and not icy.  To my surprise, as I was snacking at the pothole lake, a lone runner popped up on the horizon, and within just a few minutes joined me at my snack spot.  Turns out it was Mike Wolfe, who was out for a few hours during a family backpack trip.  Always fun to see great people in the mountains.
Ready to ski Warren's classic North face run.
A Wolfe in its natural environment.
For my second run, I climbed a snow strip looker's left of the standard North face, which ties in to the lower couloir system on the Wiggler run.  It is more exposed to rock and ice fall than ideal, but I moved quickly through the exposed bits, and was soon on top of the Wiggler exit couloir.  The couloir was great fun.  With a few extra hours to burn, I kept working deeper into Malloney basin, skiing two shorter runs between Warren and the next peak east before calling it a day.   I may have missed the trail on the way out, but eventually found it and ran out to the car with a big grin on my face, tired and content from another great last ski day in the mountains.
Second run in the lower Wiggler couloir.
Excited to check out some new terrain in Maloney basin.
Maloney basin skiing.

More Maloney basin skiing.
Hmmm. That looks fun. Always something to come back for.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Beaverhead ski rambling

A warm spring has ski season drawing to a premature close, but I was able to sneak away to the Big Hole valley for two days of skiing. No agenda, just camp and ski.

Sacajawea peak couloir bounce
Couloirs in the Sacajawea cirque.
After a crisp morning driving the last few miles of jeep road and firing up the stove for coffee and breakfast, I rolled out of the trailhead shortly after 7 am.  The trail to and around upper Miner lake was quick, and I was trudging up the first run of the day from the lake inlet less than two hours after leaving the car.  I opted to ski one of the steeper couloirs in the northern edge of the cirque first before the snow got too warm.  The ascent was straightforward, and I was soon transitioning at a tiny perch below the ridgeline cornice.  The steep hanging upper snowfield demanded full attention. Fortunately, the technical difficulties were brief, and I was soon safe and sound in the gut of the couloir.  The rest of the run skied well.
First run.  All cued up for couloir skiing!
Homer Youngs  peak in the background.
Lunch break after the first run.
Next up was a pair of couloirs on the northern flank of Sacajawea peak.  Both runs terminate a few hundred feet below the top, and I am yet to summit this craggy mountain.  A long boot/skin/boot put me on top of the first run.  To my delight, the snow was excellent, just-plain-fun couloir skiing.  I stopped at the tarn above the lake and spun a lap in the other fork of the couloir, which was slightly shorter but equally enjoyable, with the added bonus of skiing the exit chute to the lake.  Second lunch was deluxe with good food and a little shoes-off nap.
Looking up the second and third runs.
Looking down the third run.
From the lake, I made another almost 2,000 foot climb to a similar couloir system, skied it, and made a final exit climb to the high ridge east of the cirque.  The final few hundred feet of scree to the ridgeline were loose and acutely unenjoyable.  Fortunately, I wasn't in a hurry, and slowly slip-slid my way up.  I traversed the rocky ridge crest east for almost an hour as gusty winds blew high clouds in and out.  The long exit snowfield was a great last run. After wading the creek with ski boots on, a few miles of jogging had me back at a mosquito-infested car by early evening.  Great day in one of the finest couloir skiing zones around.  Something around 9,000 vertical feet done in about 11.5 hours.
Upper Miner lake.  from high on Sacajawea.
To exit, I traversed the right skyline ridge and skied the most
continuous snow stripe, crossing the creek below the lake outlet.
Big Swamp creek exploration
I have heard that the skiing is good around Ajax peak, so I drove up the drainage without an agenda before settling in for an evening of cooking and relaxing in solitude.  I decided to ski an unnamed 10,000 foot peak east of the crest because of its two prominent and aesthetic ski lines and easy access from the car.  In the morning, I struck out off trail to the base of the peak after a hearty breakfast of fresh coffee and leftover curry.  Morning visibility was nil, but fortunately the ski runs were obvious, the rain never came, and there was enough rock at the edge of the snow to keep vertigo in check.
Looking up at the two lines in Big swamp creek (far left and right).
They are better than they look in the photo.
The first run was a long, clean gully well east of the summit proper, and the second was the best of a group of gullies which drop from near the summit.  They were both highly recommended runs, and I was surprised to see an old set of ski tracks.  Having skied the best lines in the cirque, I devised a plan to summit, ridge traverse to the next cirque west, and ski it out to the car.  The climb to the summit was enjoyable, but to my dismay, there was very little snow in the adjacent cirque.  With plenty of time and limited other ski options, I traversed out there anyway, eventually linking snow patches down to a remote lake at snowline.  Since there was not enough snow to justify a second run, I peeled ski boots off and took a nice nap in the sun.  The exit was easy. Shod in running shoes, I was back at the car after a short bushwack to the road and a blissfully short 10 minutes of road jogging.  Aside from working through some residual fatigue, this was a relaxed day, less than 5,000 vertical feet done in about 7 hours.
Second run. Good stuff!
Looking west to Ajax peak and the snowless cirque that I scrambled out to.