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.

Thoughts:
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.

Beta:
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

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