Thursday, June 22, 2017

Central Swan traverse V.6

When my alarm went off at 4:15, it was pouring rain.  The plan was to rally and climb McDonald peak. Instead of rallying, I rolled over in the tent and went back to sleep.
Nearing the Holland peak summit.
Three and a half hours later, I jogged out of the Holland lake campground with a new plan, headed for a traverse of the Central Swan.  Instead of doing the customary car or bike shuttle, I decided to try it as a loop, so the first two hours of the day were spent running the Foothills trail to the Rumble lake climber's trail junction.  The brush was saturated from heavy overnight rain, but it was otherwise a nice way to check out a new section of trail.  The climb to upper Rumble lake went quickly.  To my surprise, it had snowed a few inches above 9,000 feet overnight.  And it was cloudy, which was not forecast.  On top of it all, I was already tired, probably from being mildly sick. It was shaping up to be an interesting day in the mountains.  I opted out of the 4th class North ridge and instead headed for the normal summer route on the South face.
Easy rolling along the Foothills trail at the beginning of the day.
From Holland, looking South along the traverse.
The normal summer route is easy but exposed, but it was passable with the new snow, so I pushed to the summit.  After reversing the climb, I continued to Buck.  Fortunately, the clouds slowly lifted, and the temperatures warmed a few degrees, and the day was shaping up to be a good one by the time I was starting up the North ridge.  I arrived on the summit still tired, but looking forward to the rest of the traverse.  The descent was quick, and I was able to bypass all of the tricky ridgeline steps on snow.  I have always found the traverse from Buck to Woodward to be long but enjoyable, with great views into two separate high basins, and a little slightly tecnhical bonus summit along the way.  And it is only a 40 minute excursion from Woodward to the lookout.  I arrived at the lookout still tired but elated from getting to spend a few precious hours cruising ridgelines in the Swan.
Approaching Buck mountain.
Taking advantage of snow to bypass rock steps on the South side of Buck mountain.
Easy going on the way to Woodward peak.
The run down from the lookout was great.  My legs were tired, but the trial is smooth and fast, and I was back in the campground less than an hour from leaving the top.

Thoughts:  Holland peak to Holland lake.  Done in a touch under 9 hours from the campground.  This is my sixth time doing some version of this traverse.  I contend that the crest north of Holland peak, and south of Holland lake are more enjoyable, but this central bit has the fewest logistical hurdles.  Running the shuttle was surprisingly tiring, but it does not take any longer than doing a car shuttle (as long as you run the trail).  I have been slowly warming up to the idea of taking advantage of consolidated June snow to do running traverses.  Instead of skiing.  An ignoble concept, I know, but it is pretty fun mixing it up in the snow, and glissading effortlessly down slopes that would in the summer be clad in scree, brush, or other hateful travel surfaces.
At the lookout, looking back. Woodward, Buck, and Holland peaks visible.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Old Baldy to Rocky Mountain Traverse in the Front

The traverse.  On Old Baldy.  Rocky Mountain still had its head in the clouds.
I have always wanted to spend more time in the Rocky Mountain Front.  We were able to take advantage of good weather and relatively snow-free early season conditions to pull off a quick but successful trip.  Saturday was spent lazily spending time with family, packing up, and driving out to the South Fork Teton trailhead.  I went to bed excited for an early morning jaunt through the mountains.

I was walking just before first light after a rather rude 4:15 alarm.  The approach was all off trail, and the low end Pretty Bad bushwacking started right from the trailhead.  Soon enough I was at treeline, starting up the endless loose scree.  The climb up Old Baldy went quickly.  Near the summit, clouds and biting wind had me shivering in all my clothes.  But I pushed up, tagged the summit, donned micro spikes, and ran down about 2,000 feet of steep snow and scree to the warm basin below.  I passed the next ridge by climbing a steep snow couloir with microspikes and running down scree to the next basin above Our lake.  Another short push up steep snow put me on the high pass south of Headquarters pass, a little tired but generally pleased with the day.  Thirty minutes of tundra running, steep talus traversing, and ridge downclimbing put me at Headquarters pass.
Looking back up at the Old Baldy descent.
Second climb. Steep snow, anyone?
Looking back from the pass above Our lake.
The highlight of the route is climbing the striking 4th class North ridge of Rocky Mountain, and I got right to work.  The climbing head and muscle memory is quite rusty, but the climbing was all easy, and I had a great time moving up to the summit.  An easy half hour of descending with micro spikes put me on the trail, and from there it was easy cruising out.
Excited to start up the striking North ridge of Rocky Mountain.
I met Leah and Sam on the trail, and we headed back up to Headquarters pass and did a great hiking loop to Our lake.  Sam had a great time napping in the baby carrier, trying to eat dirt and rocks, and getting his first sample of steep snow glissading.  It was a great day.
Tricky stream crossing. Sam was unphased.
Leah hiking to the pass above Our lake.
Thoughts:  The running traverse was a blast.  It isn't an absolute classic, but it is quite good.  It would be fun to extend the traverse from somewhere farther off the North fork of the Teton, but this route does not require a shuttle, and is certainly a clean, logical, and highly recommended tour through a high corner of the Rocky Mountain front.  Somewhere around 6,000 vertical feet and not a lot of miles, would have done it in about 6 hours car to car had I run all the way out to the car.  The snow required micro spikes, but it was preferable to negotiating loose steep scree that inevitably emerges later in the summer.
Mountains and lovely people.  About as good as it gets.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Running races, 2017

Unless I have a breakout race or something, I will put all running races in one post.  The format is more of a journal for me to look back on over the years, but if other people find it interesting, that is great too.

Pengelly Double Dip, Missoula
I finally participated in this long standing Missoula "tall half marathon."  With our son in day care, both Leah and I were able to run, which was great except Leah is fit, and I knew she would be keeping me honest on all of the climbs.

My heart rate monitor wasn't really working right, so I ran by effort, starting a few clicks above what seemed reasonable for a two hour race.  The few numbers it did flicker over the first hour were in the 170s, indicating the last hour of the race would be a painful horror show at the same pace.  At that effort, I was pleased to top out on the M climb in about 15th place.  I was hoping to pass a few people on the flat fire road, but it didn't really happen, so I just rolled along in my slot, working hard but feeling OK.
Working hard above the M.  Photo: Votography Images
I once again took some risk and pushed very hard for the entire climb out of Crazy canyon and up University.  I only moved up one position, but also arrived at the high point of the course less haggard than those in front of me.  With a little gas left in the tank, I was able to slowly move up, passing one runner on the University descent, and closing the gap to John Fiore and Nicole Murray on the climb to Sentinel.  I had just enough run left in my legs to pass both John and Nicole at the beginning of the downhill, and ran hard all the way down to Kim Williams, with Jeffrey in pursuit.  The last flat mile was very hard, since I reeled my friend Doug in, but just did not have anything left to pass him in the last few hundred yards.  I ended up finishing totally whooped, at 1.54, in 9th? place.  Leah came in just a few minutes later in 7th.  Great run Leah!

It is a short race, but I had a very good performance relative to my fitness.  Pushed hard, took some risk, moved up, almost blew up but didn't, and finished totally spent.  And had a blast. 

Don't Fence me in 30k, Helena
First climb. Me, looking like a chump with one arm warmer.   Moving up.

I finally did this hilly and beautiful race, and it was every bit as enjoyable as I had hoped.  We had good friends watch Sam, so both Leah and I got to race, which was wonderful.  I went out reasonably hard, and settled into the first climb around 30th place.  Even though I faded a touch over the course of the race, I did not fade as much as everyone else, and I spent the next ten miles or so working hard but also slowly picking runners off.  I was surprised at how fast the course was, especially the uphills, which were runnable with very few exceptions.  I did have a surprisingly low patch on the runnable Helena ridge section, battling a sideache and generally not keeping good turnover on fatigued legs, and both Tory and Leah Handleman (women's leader) came within about 5 seconds of reeling me in.  Fortunately I found another gear somewhere for the last steep climb to the peak, and the ensuing technical downhill was just tricky enough to allow me to hold my lead to the finish.  I crossed the finish tired and with a few calf twinges, feeling like I had a perfectly solid race given my current fitness.  2.53, 17th place.  Leah ran a predictably solid race, finishing sub-3.30, 16th place female.

For future reference: I ran the first two uphills with HR in the 158-162 range and faded to the low 150s by the end. Not an even effort, but I moved up something like 15 places over the course of the race, so it seems as though I paced reasonably for an optimal performance.  I could have dug deeper on the climbs, but not much. With a few cramp twinges on the last downhill it seems as though doing so could have very well risked a blowup.  As a metric, I am feeling slower than past years, but not too far off.  But (fingers crossed) healthy and grateful to be building fitness. I'll take it.

Riverbank 10k
I ran this long standing Missoula race with Sam in the stroller.  Sam was on his best behavior, so I was able to give it a more or less full effort.  I didn't really have a time goal, but after a mile or so of sorting things out, I started pushing hard, which was about a 6 flat pace.  I passed people throughout the race, with the exception of one dude who passed me in the half mile, and who I could not catch despite my best efforts.  I got a lot of compliments running in the top 10 with a baby stroller, but I don't think people realize that a baby stroller doesn't actually slow one down much at all on flat pavement. Final time was 38 low, 6.07 pace.  Without a doubt, Sam was the stroller champion of the 10k.

Monday, May 8, 2017


I skied Sweeney on the last day in April.  The forecast was for rain, so I headed out with plans to ski for a few hours.  The weather ended up holding, so I stayed out all day and had a great time.  I ended up climbing to just shy of the summit, skiing a good long run South to Sweeney creek, climbing back to the exact summit, then bowl bouncing my way back to the car.  I did not bring a camera, so no photos. With fast conditions and a solid all day pace, I was able to eke out 10,000 vertical feet in just under 9 hours car to car, and it was great to be out all day and get tired.  The snow was just OK, but I didn't care. 
The tour.  Note the recommended run to the South.  All three northeast bowls are popular and recommended.
I think the Sweeney approach is too long, and the terrain is too scrappy and steep for good winter skiing.  But, everything is different in the spring when the road opens up to near the trailhead, and one can piece together the avalanche prone terrain more easily.  I also think that skiing South off the peak makes the tour a lot more interesting, and would highly recommend adding that into the day if at all possible.

Also, in early April, a group of Missoula's finest did a traverse from Lolo to Sweeney, and reported having a great day.  I think it would be super fun to team up with another party after the Lolo gate opens and to the traverse in opposite directions.  Either direction has good skiing, and it is a very reasonable length day.  Any takers for this spring?

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Complete Rattlesnake Traverse

Jeffrey at nearing the end of the traverse.
After years of scheming, it was great to finally do a complete ski traverse of the Rattlesnake range.   I was a little hesitant, given the potential to be slowed by glopping, but Jeffrey was excited to give it a go, and even offered to run shuttle.  How could I say no?  The day of, we set out from the Finley trailhead at 5:50 am, excited for an adventure.  The approach was surprisingly quick. After an hour of brisk walking, we transitioned to ski boots at the base of the hanging valley.  Jeffrey put in a hard hour of trailbreaking, which put us at the saddle near the head of the basin.  We took the line of least resistance, skiing a short steep run into Agency creek, traversing near the head of the basin to the base of Mcleod, and punching it up into the mist.  Fortunately, I was familiar enough with the terrain that we were able to navigate successfully despite the whiteout.  From the Mcleod summit, we skied the excellent South face, then did a long skate into the Five lake basin.
Jeffrey moving up Finley creek.
First run.
Skating toward Sanders.
 Jeffrey took the reins and punched in the entire next climb, which was short but hard, with tricky dust on crust skinning the entire way.  I was happy to just draft, hoping to put in a trailbreaking shift or two later in the day. From our high point on the shoulder, I had hoped to continue west to the unnamed summit, but the ridgeline was craggy, and we decided to keep rolling south.  As a result, we skipped a super nice looking run, oh well.  The rolling traverse to Sanders lake was long but surprisingly quick, considering the distance and need to put skins on to surmount a short sub ridge.  We arrived at Sanders lake a little under five hours into the day.  We skinned to the crest west of the lake, and booted the upper West face. It ended up going surprisingly quickly and smoothly (the NW ridge of Sanders is pretty scrappy in the summer).  We skied good roller ball corn on the Southeast face before skating across the flats to a transition just above Glacier lake.  The push to Mosquito was all easy and fast skinning.  We skied the excellent Southeast couloir with terrible roller ball debris and sun saturated wet crap snow before making another long traverse down to Worden lake.  It was my turn to try to repay trailbreaking debt incurred earlier in the day,  so I made a hard push all the way to Stuart.
Interesting booting high on Sanders.
Jeffrey skiing off Sanders with the one and only North face of Mosquito behind.
More schussing.  Sanders run behind.
I cut a small wet slide at the entrance to the Mosquito peak run.
Lots of switchbacks on the climb to Stuart.
The day was still young enough, and we were feeling good enough to ski the direct South face (instead of beelining out on the SE ridge).  The snow was surprisingly good corn, the run was steeper than I had imagined, and it was good to finally ski this face that I have been eying from town for so many years.  The exit was slow but fun. We were able to stay located on the trail up high, and had about a mile of entertaining intermittent snow patch hopping before having a perfectly clean transition to shoes about a half mile above the Overlook/Stuart trail junction.  From there 40 minutes of uneventful jogging put us back at the car, hot, tired, and excited to have completed the traverse.  By the numbers, 8,500 vertical feet and about 20 miles, done in 10.5 hours car to car at an all day pace.
Great skiing on the surprisingly steep South face of Stuart.
Light on your feet!  Dirt skimming on the exit.
Make no mistake, it was a great experience moving efficiently along the entire spine of the Rattlesnake.  The skiing was just OK, however, since all of the runs are short and south facing.  The most fun part of the day for me was skating and schussing on low angle terrain below the runs, covering ground quickly, and spending the day with a great partner.  The length is actually not too bad, and this tour is in the reach of an "average" touring party with good routefinding skills, as long as one allocates a long day to the adventure.  For skiing quality, I don't think the complete traverse is nearly as good as the classic Stuart NF/Eagle Chute/Mosquito N chute/Sanders N chute/ Return Point 6 (many options) link up, which is one of the finest long days around Missoula.  Also, Mcleod needs to get skied more.  The approach is a little rough around the edges for the first and last hour, but it is not too long, the summit is awesome, the skiing is great, and there are a few good options to bowl bounce your way there and back to make it into a really nice day.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Chaffin Creek, ticking not-quite-classics

I had two good late season days in Chaffin creek.  As fits my bordering on obsessive compulsive personality, I saw so much nice looking terrain on the first day that I had no choice but to come back for a second day to desperately try to ski as much as possible.  While Chaffin creek is most well known for the North couloir on Sugarloaf, I would contend that ski terrain above the lakes is abundant and sadly under appreciated.

Little Tin Cup South
With little planning or beta, I did a loop into Little Tin Cup creek, up Tin Cup point 9,617, and down one of the South gullies to Chaffin creek.  I kind of botched the approach to Little Tin Cup creek, but to make a long story short, both the approach and the ensuing run into the creek was inefficient, scrappy, and generally not advised.  Once in the creek, I made great time until the glop struck.  The last hour plus was quite glippity gloppity, but two long pushes interspersed with a glop stopper application stop put me on the summit not much worse for the wear.
Glop, step, repeat in upper Little Tin Cup creek.
The day was only getting warmer, so earlier plans to ski more stuff in Little Tin Cup were shelved for another day.  The upper gully skied well, but soon I was having to do a lot of ski cutting to release the new wet snow.  Not ideal, but I am quite willing to sacrifice smooth skiing in order to manage avalanche danger.  I had originally hoped to spend some time finding a direct exit, but it once again didn't seem prudent, given all the warm, mobile snow hanging above, so I traversed west and made my way out to the bottom of the avalanche path.
Looking down the gully.
Midway down the gully. Sugarloaf staring back.
Below the exit pinch, deciding that it was time to head home.
After a quick snack, I deemed conditions too gloppy or dangerous to justify a second run, so made the well filled in exit in about 90 minutes.  I would love to go back and ski a few more runs in Little Tin Cup creek.  If done again, I would also ski the more open but still quality gully which tops out just west of the summit instead, as it is a cleaner and more direct line.

Upper Chaffin
Looking into Upper Chaffin creek from Little Tin Cup point.
Lots of ski terrain.

I was able to manage a mid week day off, and returned to Chaffin to ski terrain in the headwaters.  This time I just huffed it up the drainage, arriving at the lake in 2.5 hours to the minute.  The first run on the agenda was the beautiful Southeast face of the West Shard.  From Heart lake, a good bit of tree wandering put me at the bottom of the face, which I was able to skin all the way to the top.  From the summit plateau, I traversed to the final summit ridge, only to be turned around about 200 vertical feet from the summit by lack of snow and too-big-for-me-to mess-with cornices.  The ski back down was a little crusty, but it is a great moderate line and I loved it.

Steep skinning high on the West Shard.
The second run took the obvious open peak and devious exit couloir. Photo from the West Shard.
The West shard run is the obvious slope in the foreground.
Rugged summits of the Shard from my turnaround point.
Looking down the West Shard run.
I did a hard traverse at the bottom, which put me at the inlet of Tamarack lake, poised for a second run.  I put in a good hard hour of skinning, which was enough effort to gain the summit of the unnamed peak east of the Tusk.  I skied the open upper slopes, then dropped through a nice and aesthetic exit couloir to Chaffin lake.  Ok snow, great line, good times. 
Nice turns off the summit...
... and nice turns down the sneak exit.
After a quick schuss down to Tamarack lake, I climbed a moderate couloir just above the lake.  The skinning went quickly, but booting in the upper half was a lot of work, and I had to break out all of my steep skinning, alpine crawling, and old fasioned wallowing tricks to make headway.  I topped out tired and happy.  The snow was terrible roller ball mush, but I didn't care.  The exit ski took a little under two hours from the top of the run, including several miles of intermittent snow at the bottom of the canyon.  Great day done in the classic Bitterroot canyon slog style. About 8,500 vertical in about 9 hours at an all day pace.

Looking down the last run.  Great couloir, something less than great snow.
Exiting across Tamarack lake. Last run is in the foreground.  The second run is the peak in the backgound.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Wisherd Ridge, Five Bowl Friday

I had a free Friday morning to ski, and after ruling out a number of more adventurous outings due to time and avalanche constraints, settled on skiing as much as possible at Wisherd Ridge.  The pre-dawn, rainy jog up the Twin Creek road was surprisingly enjoyable, and soon enough I was switching from running shoes to ski boots at first light.  The skin to the ridge and over the top was equally enjoyable.  I topped out as the clouds burned off, about 3 hours into the day.
My goal was to ski a run in each of the five bowls, and I started with the short and steep northeast face of Bowl 5.  The skiing was just OK, but it was quick, as was the climb to the southeast shoulder of Bowl 4.  While it would have been strategically prudent to take advantage of the deep snowpack to ski the usually-scrappy north chute, I skied the normal southeast face, then booted up the North chute.  I skied Bowl 3 right down the middle, before climbing right back out the same way, and skied the open southeast face of Bowl 2 as far as the skiing was good.  One final, easy skin put me atop Bowl 1, which I also skied via the Southeast face.  Having only exited once previously via a very much not recommended bushwack below Bowl 2, I was treated to a fast schuss out the logging road below Bowl 1.  Once on the main Twin Creek road, I just stuck to the switchbacks to avoid too much isothermal snow bashing.  The entire exit went in exactly an hour, with 35 minutes of skiing, 5 minutes of boot to shoe swapping, and 20 minutes of running.  Five hours car to car at a moderate pace with fast conditions.
Bowl five.
Bowl Four.
Bowl Three.
Bowl two.
Exiting from Bowl one.
Back at the car after a great morning.
Thoughts: While I still prefer the Rattlesnake (or Marshall) for close-to-town skiing, it was quite enjoyable to spend a morning in the hills close to town. The five bowl tour is definitely recommended.  I need to allow an extra hour and go back to add Sheep mountain to the mix.