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.

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