Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Sky Pilot and then some via Gash, 2017

Andrew and I rallied out to Sky Pilot mid way through a period of cold high pressure.  Even after throwing around a few more creative ski tour ideas, it seemed prudent to just go for an old favorite tour.  Just a few days after hearing about Ben's avalanche fatality, I was on edge all day.  But it was good to just get out and feel the bite of cold air and mounting fatigue from a full day in the mountains on which Ben thrived.
Climbing above Bear Lake. Ski options abound. Our third run
is visible on the right margin of the photo. Photo: Andrew
We left the car a touch before dawn, and made the standard tour out to Gash proper.  The established track only went to the standard South bowl cutoff, and I think we were the first party past Gash this year, so it ended up being a full day of trail breaking.
Sky Pilot, from Gash, with the shaded North face beckoning.  Photo: Andrew
From Bear lake, we decided to head straight to the North face of Sky Pilot.  To my surprise, two hasty pits revealed only moderately bonded snow interfaces around 40 cm deep, but we continued up through relatively benign terrain to the base of the face itself and dug a third pit.  Extended column tests failed to propagate, and coupled with other signs of stability, we felt reasonable continuing to the summit.  To my minor dismay, chunky wind slabs skied remarkably poorly all the way down the peak.  Fortunately snow quality improved on the rolling terrain back to the lake.
Skiing to the tarn below the North face of Sky Pilot. Photo: Andrew
I had hoped to ski a second run in the vicinity of the lake, and there was just enough time left in the day, so we simply opted for the safest skiers left tree lane above the lake.  It was a big climb to the top, but we cranked it out, and were rewarded with good skiing back to the lake.  The exit climb was long as always, and I had some biting neuroma foot pain, but we were back at Gash soon enough, and the exit ski was fast and quite enjoyable.  By the numbers, 10,800 vertical feet, done in right around 10 hours car to car.

Thoughts:  I still contend Sky Pilot is one of the great long Bitterroot tours.  It was good to get out for a long day, and finally add an additional run to the tour, which makes it into a full and demanding outing.  It was great to get out with Andrew and ski a lot of stuff. For driving, plan on parking at the end of the snow plowing, about 1.5 miles shy of the lower trailhead.

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