On early Wednesday morning, I skinned up Snowbowl for a few solo laps on our local Springuary snowpack. I managed to shave 5 minutes off of my previous time for 1h10m to the top of Point Six. The 800′ NE face of Point Six offered excellent sparse tree skiing with good quality firm old powder into Burgundy basin. Next, I skinned up the headwall and up Burgundy ridge to the first open shot and dropped in. I did this at 9AM, and the corn was still quite hard. Like concrete really, and the previous week’s worth of canoe tracks left by afternoon slackcountry enthusiasts made the whole thing quite the jarring ride. The ski out via Jenny bowl was about as bad (with more trees), but the ice made for fast travel conditions, and I was back at the truck just before 11, for a total of 4800′ done in around three and a half hours. P.S.: learn to kick-turn, you shuffling Fritschi-wielders. You know who you are.
I exchanged working Friday for Saturday, and joined Casey for the long Bitterroot classic of Gash Point to Sky Pilot. After whiteout conditions on top of the primary objective and an epic midday bonk made last year’s version of this tour less than ideal, I was looking forward to a shot at completing this in better time and better style. We left the truck at 6:36, and quickly reached the upper Gash Creek trailhead on the icy boot pack/skin track (depending on the time of day). Above this, icy conditions and sparse coverage made skinning the (lack of a) skin track frustrating until reaching the Gash Point approach ramp. Once upon level ground, the firm snow made for fast going, and we summited Gash Point just over two hours into the day, stopping for a moment on the ascent to admire the sunrise over the Anacondas, far to the Southeast.
On the route to Bear Lake, we decided to traverse only when the fall line riding was not good (though generally tending west), which turned out to be an ideal tactic, as there is an abundance of south facing glades that empty upon a low angle bench that delivers the careful rider directly to the lake with a relative absence of calf burning sidehilling.
From Bear Lake to the base of the North face was strenuous, involving alot of steep and icy sidehilling with harscheisen. This tour would have been miserable without them. I advise all objective-minded splitboarders to pick up a pair (the Spark R&D model is great). They really weigh nothing and have turned extreme frustration into mild inconvenience a few times for me now.
|Slush on ice approaching Sky Pilot’s N. face.|
|Looking back at the Sweathouse/Bear Ck. divide. Gash Point is just off image to the right.|
The boot up the N. Face was straightforward, with a bit of punching into voids due to the talus slope and very shallow snowpack. Sky Pilot sees a lot of wind, and the face was in poor condition. While we were there, winds were around 30mph sustained with gusts to 50mph. It was interesting watching sastrugi form, but also a little unpleasant.
|Casey sky piloting.|
|Just above the choke of the North Face, managing some weird sastrugi conditions.|
Skiing down the face was fine, if a little bumpy, and the choke was fun. The lower part of the face that had experienced less wind was fine, and we enjoyed a high speed burn back down to Bear Lake, dodging some crevasse-like glide cracks that had opened on the slabs of smooth granite above it.
The 2300′ skin back up to Gash Point was like sitting inside a snowy, slippery oven. We managed to do it in just over an hour.
As a bonus, we decided to take advantage of the stable conditions, and ski the short couloir that drops from the ridgeline into North Bowl. I’ve been wanting to ski this line for years, but hadn’t gotten around to it. We booted the 150′ chute Junior High style, snowboards assembled and used as pseudo-ice axes. The ski down was steep and chalky. Including this line greatly increases the satisfaction of skiing North Bowl, and comes highly recommended. Watch out for the man-eating void at the top.
|Looking down the obvious couloir above North Bowl. Does anyone know if this fine fellow has a name?|
After a rocky and slushy egress from Gash Lake back to the Gash Point ramp, we skied the burn nearly to the upper trailhead until things got too thin. A bit of walking, a bit more riding, and more walking got us back to the truck just after 3, for a round trip of around 8:30, with 8900′ of climbing (calculated via topo) and around 15 miles.