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.

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