Monday, September 16, 2013

Bear to Big Creek traverse

A winter view in the summer.  Bear Lake and the Sweathouse spires from Sky Pilot.
I received a text over Labor Day weekend from James who had just completed the Ranger group traverse in Big Creek.  Inspired, I ran out of the Bear Creek trailhead at 8:30 am a week later, hoping for a logical extension to James' traverse.  The end result was a run up Bear Creek, a ridge traverse from Sky Pilot around the head of Big Creek and the Ranger peak group, and a run down Big Creek.  I did not do my due dillegence with trip research, so I pretty much just winged it, which was not a bad way to explore another magical corner of the Bitterroot.

The day started off with an hour long bike shuttle from Big to Bear creek. From the trailhead, the run up Bear creek to Brian lake was relaxed and fast enough. I filled water bottles just above the lake before pushing up to the pass and scrambling to the summit Sky Pilot.  Having visited Sky Pilot many times in the winter, it was rewarding to see a familar view without snow.  For future reference, the scramble up Sky Pilot from Bear Creek was quite enjoyable, and would make a great ~5 hour out and back run/scramble.  A quick descent and climb put me on the summit of the peak above East Fork lake in good spirits.  However, a preliminary look out to Ranger peak revealed a characteristically complex and slow ridgeline, so I mentally prepared for a long, scrappy grind before setting off.  The ridge turned out to be every bit as slow as I had feared, but I worked it out, making many deviations on the east and west sides, and fighting a little bit more scrub brush than desired.  In retrospect, it would have been faster and perhaps more elegant to drop to the Pearl lake group and bypass most of the ridgeline on the east.

Looking out to Ranger peak from the point above East Fork lake.  This is going to be slow.
Soon enough, I was on Ranger point, and the traverse to Ranger peak was clean and ejoyable, as was the knife edge ridgline down to Old Stormy.  I managed to find a trickle of water before Old Stormy and took a generous break, downing well over a liter of water before heading down to Big Creek lakes.  I was able to follow rock slabs most of the way to Big Creek lakes, and a surprisingly short and tame bushwack was all that was required to regain the lakeside trail.  From the inlet of the lake, I refilled water for the last time and started down the trail.  James had told me that the Big Creek trail was fun running, and I certainly agree - lots of techy but runnable sections in the upper few miles, then miles of buffed trail through dark old growth Cedar forest.  I had a blast cruising out, and was even a little reluctant to see the car at the end of the day.
Looking back to Sky Pilot from Ranger peak.
Looking east to Big Creek lake and the Heavenly Twins from Ranger peak.
I never tablulated stats, but the run was at least 20 miles on trail with perhaps 5 miles and about 4 hours of scrappy ridgeline traversing, and 7,500 vertical feet of so of climbing.  I ran at a brisk but moderate pace, and was out for 9 hours, 36 minutes, not including the 1 hour bike shuttle.

The route is in yellow (red and white are ski routes).
Happy feet at the car.
Viva la Bitterroot!

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