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.

No comments:

Post a Comment