Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Mcleod peak ski

On Mcleod.
I had a great day skiing Mcleod peak, the highest and most commanding, by leaps and bounds, peak in the Rattlesnake.  I had made a halfhearted attempt on the peak several years ago with Leah and a larger crew, but poor conditions and a less than alpine start forced a turnaround well before the peak.  Things went a lot smoother this time.  I didn't make plans to ski with others, because I had been sick, and didn't know skiing would be possible before rolling out of bed the day of. Starting from the car before sunrise, the tenor of the day was set, with beauty and wonder everywhere.  Beauty in the form of wild mountains, clear, crisp skies, and yesterday's rain drops still frozen to the trees.  Wonder in moving effortlessly over the frozen landscape and finally feeling my body turn the corner after days of sickness.
Frozen ran glittering on trees during the approach.
I had parked a few miles out from the trailhead, but the skin in was fast on packed ice, and the first mile of the trail was packed and quick.  Getting into the hanging upper East fork of Finley creek is quite terrible, with a hard-to-follow meandering trail in the drainage, and a few hundred feet of dry talus to gain the valley.  But, once in, the going was fast along the open southern edge of the creek.   Grizzly tracks got my hackles up, and I couldn't help but wonder if a rare set ski tracks would get the Grizzly's hackles up. From the head of the drainage, about ten minutes of booting put me on a high saddle, and a few hundred feet of scrappy steep skiing and traversing put me below the Southwest face of the peak.  Mcleod was easily ascended by booting the West face and Southwest ridge.
Pretty morning. Ugly approach. About two hours in, and almost to skiable snow.
Bears are out.
I had considered skiing the Northeast face, but deemed it too steep given the icy conditions, and instead skied the moderate South face to the tarn.  The top was severely icy, but it was not too steep, and I was soon cruising smooth, firm corn.  I was well ahead of schedule, and threw in a few extra short runs, climbing and skiing the adjacent east face and a nice moderate rolling run into the adjacent cirque.  The snow was firm enough to boot everything, which made the climbing very easy. After a nice lunch break on the lake, I made one final climb to re-gain access to the exit basin.  The run into the basin was once again very icy, but so it goes.  I took advantage of the firm conditions to make the flat exit in just a few minutes.  From the bottom of the hanging valley, I spent about an hour fighting steep talus, brush, and deep intermittent snow on the trail before hitting the trailhead.  The two mile road exit was all on intermittent ice which was a little sparky but very fast.  And there you have it, a remarkably smooth adventure to Mcleod peak done in 8 hours, 10 minutes with time for a pair of extra runs at a moderate-for-a-sick-guy pace.
Looking back up Mcleod's South face.
Third run.
Climbing for the fourth.
Forth run.  I took it to the lake in the background.
Fifth run out Finley creek.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

More Northern Bitterroot skiing

Leah skiing the classic Pinball Wizard gully.
Short days and adequate low elevation snow coverage have allowed for more exploration in the Northern Bitterroot.  It is nice to add a few new tours to the list that can be done in a short day from town.

Pinball Wizard gully from Bass creek
The Pinball Wizard is a well known classic, but there were two interesting aspects to this itteration.  Most importantly, it was my first day out in the Bitterroot with Leah this winter, and it was magical to spend a day in the mountains with her.  Second, we approached up the adjacent drainage to the east of the Pinball, and it was surprisingly fast and easy.  In fact, I think it was easier than going over Little St. Joe, and safer than climbing the Pinball Wizard directly.  A lot of low elevation snow is required to fill in the scrappy bottom thousand vertical feet between the trail and the upper approach gully, but after that it is smooth sailing. Leave the trail just after the second Bass creek stream crossing and follow your nose.

Interesting steep skinning in the bottom of the approach gully.
Getting those kick turns dialed.
We had enough time to spin a short powder lap in the approach gully before bouncing our way down the Pinball.  The skiing was terrible, with breakable crust and impressive avalanche debris in and below the gully.  Oh well.
Leah low in the Pinball Wizard.
Debris.  More impressive and extensive than it looks. 
Little St. Joe, North gully
I rolled out of the trailhead around 5:30 in the rain, excited for a morning out in the mountains, exploring new-to-me terrain close to home.  The climb to Little St. Joe is always long enough to be a little humbling, and it took a full three hours today with moderate trailbreaking above the cabin.  Wildlife was out, with deer and snowshoe hare to keep my company.  I was surprised to find visibility and wind on the summit remarkably tame.  After some sastruggi skiing followed by careful terrain management in the starting zone, I found great powder in the upper part of the North gully.  I skied good powder down to about 6,200 feet, stopping a few hundred vertical feet above the confluence with Sweeney Creek.
... that special feeling you get skinning alone in the rain, waiting for first light.
Good steep tree skiing above the gully.
Looking up the gully.
The 3,000 foot climb out was quite excellent.  The skinning and routefinding were straightforward, and it was great to put in a good trailbreaking effort and get tired.  I skied the northeast bowl to exit, continuing out to the main road from below the bowl.  Having done this once before, I thought that this time might be quicker, but it was just as thick and flat and generally bushwackey as I remembered (1.5 hours summit to car).  I still contend there should be a quick route out from the bottom of the bowl, perhaps farther north, catching a logging road high above the main Little St. Joe road.  I will certainly have to investigate, as I think the northeast run is better than the customary southeast run, and an easy exit from the bottom would make Little St. Joe a more appealing one-run objective.  In any case, I was on the road soon enough, skating the flats and slush and brush bashing in between switchbacks.  8000 vertical feet, done in about 7.5 hours car to car at a moderate pace.
Looking back at a clean track near the top of Little St. Joe.