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.

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