Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Sweeney peak to creek loop

Looking west along the traverse from the summit of Sweeney peak.
It took a 3:30 wake up call, but I finally, finally, finally got this one done.  Jeffrey and I were thwarted last fall by weather, and a return trip the day after the election was derailed because my soul was crushed. But this time it was going to be great. The plan for the day was pretty simple:  get up early, scramble Sweeney peak, take the ridge west to the head of Sweeney creek, drop to Duffy lake, and take the trail back to the car, then rush home to pack up and head out for a backpack trip in the Pintlers.

Everything went easily.  The climb to the peak was aided by supportable snow, and I summited shortly after sunrise on an impeccable, breathless morning.  The traverse west along the crest is scrappy but never unpleasant, and it went quickly.
Sunrise from the climber's trail to Sweeney peak.
Looking out to Lolo peak from the summit of Sweeney.
I completely bypassed slow gendarmes at the head of the drainage by descending into an unnamed tarn and doing a short snow climb to regain the unnamed summit directly above Duffy lake.  From there a snowy, rock-slabby, bear-grassy descent put me at the lake a little over three hours into the day.  The run out on the trail was great - all runnable and just technical enough to be interesting.  I pushed all day at a slightly bright but sustainable pace, and returned to the car in a little under 4 hours, 40 minutes, elated to have finally done this fine little outing so close to town.
Climbing out of the tarn.
Descending to Duffy lake. Pyramid Buttes and Holloway lake are in the background.
Thoughts:  This is a good, remarkably quick outing.  It is a little too scrappy to be one of the best around Missoula, but it is pretty user friendly for the Bitterroot.  It would be good to add Pyramid Buttes to the day.  This is also the time of year to do a Sweeney to Lolo traverse on foot.  One could bypass slow ridgeline traversing on firm snow at the head of One horse creek, and it would be fun.  A fit mountain savvy runner could get the whole thing done comfortably in five hours, I think.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Central Swan traverse V.6

When my alarm went off at 4:15, it was pouring rain.  The plan was to rally and climb McDonald peak. Instead of rallying, I rolled over in the tent and went back to sleep.
Nearing the Holland peak summit.
Three and a half hours later, I jogged out of the Holland lake campground with a new plan, headed for a traverse of the Central Swan.  Instead of doing the customary car or bike shuttle, I decided to try it as a loop, so the first two hours of the day were spent running the Foothills trail to the Rumble lake climber's trail junction.  The brush was saturated from heavy overnight rain, but it was otherwise a nice way to check out a new section of trail.  The climb to upper Rumble lake went quickly.  To my surprise, it had snowed a few inches above 9,000 feet overnight.  And it was cloudy, which was not forecast.  On top of it all, I was already tired, probably from being mildly sick. It was shaping up to be an interesting day in the mountains.  I opted out of the 4th class North ridge and instead headed for the normal summer route on the South face.
Easy rolling along the Foothills trail at the beginning of the day.
From Holland, looking South along the traverse.
The normal summer route is easy but exposed, but it was passable with the new snow, so I pushed to the summit.  After reversing the climb, I continued to Buck.  Fortunately, the clouds slowly lifted, and the temperatures warmed a few degrees, and the day was shaping up to be a good one by the time I was starting up the North ridge.  I arrived on the summit still tired, but looking forward to the rest of the traverse.  The descent was quick, and I was able to bypass all of the tricky ridgeline steps on snow.  I have always found the traverse from Buck to Woodward to be long but enjoyable, with great views into two separate high basins, and a little slightly tecnhical bonus summit along the way.  And it is only a 40 minute excursion from Woodward to the lookout.  I arrived at the lookout still tired but elated from getting to spend a few precious hours cruising ridgelines in the Swan.
Approaching Buck mountain.
Taking advantage of snow to bypass rock steps on the South side of Buck mountain.
Easy going on the way to Woodward peak.
The run down from the lookout was great.  My legs were tired, but the trial is smooth and fast, and I was back in the campground less than an hour from leaving the top.

Thoughts:  Holland peak to Holland lake.  Done in a touch under 9 hours from the campground.  This is my sixth time doing some version of this traverse.  I contend that the crest north of Holland peak, and south of Holland lake are more enjoyable, but this central bit has the fewest logistical hurdles.  Running the shuttle was surprisingly tiring, but it does not take any longer than doing a car shuttle (as long as you run the trail).  I have been slowly warming up to the idea of taking advantage of consolidated June snow to do running traverses.  Instead of skiing.  An ignoble concept, I know, but it is pretty fun mixing it up in the snow, and glissading effortlessly down slopes that would in the summer be clad in scree, brush, or other hateful travel surfaces.
At the lookout, looking back. Woodward, Buck, and Holland peaks visible.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Old Baldy to Rocky Mountain Traverse in the Front

The traverse.  On Old Baldy.  Rocky Mountain still had its head in the clouds.
I have always wanted to spend more time in the Rocky Mountain Front.  We were able to take advantage of good weather and relatively snow-free early season conditions to pull off a quick but successful trip.  Saturday was spent lazily spending time with family, packing up, and driving out to the South Fork Teton trailhead.  I went to bed excited for an early morning jaunt through the mountains.

I was walking just before first light after a rather rude 4:15 alarm.  The approach was all off trail, and the low end Pretty Bad bushwacking started right from the trailhead.  Soon enough I was at treeline, starting up the endless loose scree.  The climb up Old Baldy went quickly.  Near the summit, clouds and biting wind had me shivering in all my clothes.  But I pushed up, tagged the summit, donned micro spikes, and ran down about 2,000 feet of steep snow and scree to the warm basin below.  I passed the next ridge by climbing a steep snow couloir with microspikes and running down scree to the next basin above Our lake.  Another short push up steep snow put me on the high pass south of Headquarters pass, a little tired but generally pleased with the day.  Thirty minutes of tundra running, steep talus traversing, and ridge downclimbing put me at Headquarters pass.
Looking back up at the Old Baldy descent.
Second climb. Steep snow, anyone?
Looking back from the pass above Our lake.
The highlight of the route is climbing the striking 4th class North ridge of Rocky Mountain, and I got right to work.  The climbing head and muscle memory is quite rusty, but the climbing was all easy, and I had a great time moving up to the summit.  An easy half hour of descending with micro spikes put me on the trail, and from there it was easy cruising out.
Excited to start up the striking North ridge of Rocky Mountain.
I met Leah and Sam on the trail, and we headed back up to Headquarters pass and did a great hiking loop to Our lake.  Sam had a great time napping in the baby carrier, trying to eat dirt and rocks, and getting his first sample of steep snow glissading.  It was a great day.
Tricky stream crossing. Sam was unphased.
Leah hiking to the pass above Our lake.
Thoughts:  The running traverse was a blast.  It isn't an absolute classic, but it is quite good.  It would be fun to extend the traverse from somewhere farther off the North fork of the Teton, but this route does not require a shuttle, and is certainly a clean, logical, and highly recommended tour through a high corner of the Rocky Mountain front.  Somewhere around 6,000 vertical feet and not a lot of miles, would have done it in about 6 hours car to car had I run all the way out to the car.  The snow required micro spikes, but it was preferable to negotiating loose steep scree that inevitably emerges later in the summer.
Mountains and lovely people.  About as good as it gets.