Missions miscellanea and Colter’s powder pen.

Little chute above Dry Lakes Basin.
I spent a cloudy Sunday with Brian, Leah, Kyle, and Ben putzing about in the Missions.  Our objective was the East Couloir of Lowary Peak, but the standard all-enveloping Mission cloud soup overtook us at its typical altitude of 8700′, putting a stop to that plan.  We instead had a look at a very long and gnarly couloir that dropped into Dry Lakes Creek.  It appeared to go, but uncertain 50 degree ice, and the drop to 5500′ also quelled the group enthusiasm for this line.  A short traverse put as at the top of a fun chutelet that deposited us near the base of Grey Wolf Peak.  While time was not sufficient to ski any of the more notable lines on that mountain, we decided to ski the Chockstone couloir, immediately south of the West Couloir. 

Booting up the Chockstone.

Transitioning under the stone. 

 On our egress, we skied the east side of the enormous east bowl below the St. Mary’s approach ridge.  This was almost 3000 feet of excellent skiing, followed by an unpleasant but short bushwhack back to the trail.  This is a great alternative to skiing back down the approach ridge, and doesn’t take too long.

The next weekend, I traveled to Cooke City for the second year of skiing at Beartooth Powder Guides’ Woody Creek Cabin with a large group of Bozemanites and Missoulians.  Fortunately, this coincides with the awful Super Bowl weekend. 

We spent the morning of our arrival taking shifts pulling one of two heavily overloaded pulkas up and down the hill whilst attempting to find the correct path to the hut.  I was so enamored by the sleds, and so frustrated by their bad performance due to having insufficient numbers of them, that I resolved to build one at home as soon as I returned, so that next time I, at least, would be part of the solution (I will test it on an upcoming voyage in the Sawteeth).

The slog in took longer than anticipated, so we were left with only a few hours of light to get some skiing in.  With a good bit of fresh snow, and a considerable advisory, a few of us set off towards Ole’s Woods, a low angle tree skiing zone near the cabin.  Breaking trail up to the ridge was some work due to all the awful powder, but we nonetheless managed to attain the ridge and work to the highpoint where the snow ended (due to wind scouring), where we were treated to extraordinary views of the bizarre and craggy Pilot and Index peaks.     

Atop Ole’s Woods, with dusk nearing.

Despite the late start, we managed two laps in immaculate, face-numbing, hippie-pow before retiring to the hut for cribbage and booze.  Classic.  The next morning, the 10-dude rotating skin track machine rumbled up to the top of Woody Ridge for some of the best powder runs I’ve ever had, down Woody’s 2000′ west side.  A few of these laps plus pit digging (CT19Q3 at 30ish cm, ECTNX, #ConsiderableMeansYouShouldConsiderIt) plus a hike to the base of a strange submarine-like outcrop of columnar basalt in the howling and icy wind took up most of the day, and we returned to the cabin at dusk again for a another round of sled-heavy beverages and 10PM bedtimes. 

Half the crew, all the icy wind.

Submarine, glare ice, powder.

Republic, Woody, Granite, Index, Pilot.

The next day was stormy and cold, so we went skiing again.  Yogesh and I split from the main crew and climbed the big ridge separating Hayden Creek from its east fork.  The east side was an enormous wind-loaded powder bowl with just enough angle at its headwall to deter us from dropping into it, so we traversed down the easy ridgeline catwalk, skirting gendarmes and volcanic dikes on both sides.  We were searching for a line that Yogesh had admired from the opposite side of the valley the year before, and we found it where the ridge ended, a glorious little couloir that opened onto a very large northeast face.  The snow at the top of the line was not confidence inspiring, with shallow wind affected snow atop facets making up the bulk, and we took turns ducking from cliffband to cliffband, trying to avoid exposing ourselves to the center of any potential slide.  Once out of the high wind zone, and about the time our cliff band protection ran out, the snow softened, became friendly (with limits), and we were treated to fine mid-thirties powder skiing into the basin bottom.  We were able to traverse above the gullied creek bottom without skins, and quickly rejoined the main Hayden Creek skin track.  Many of our crew were leaving that afternoon, and I was hoping to find the remainder who were not.  Miraculously, I found them just a few hundred yards away, and Chris, Dave, and I skinned back up the traverse that I had just set for another lap in the East Hayden basin.  We skied a nice, if short powder line through trees, and made a quick egress to the cabin, once again at dusk.  

In the clouds atop the Hayden/East Hayden divide.

The next day was sunny again, and the remaining five of us set out for a last lap on the west side of Woody Ridge.  We skied a massive avalanche path descending from the flank of the Submarine, which was fun, steep, and deep for about 800 feet, before the slope turned shallow.  Cruising along the bottom of such a massive slide path was interesting in itself, as we observed trees flagged many feet off the ground, and the different zones of regrowth, corresponding to the different intensities of the avalanches that rip through yearly. 

We skied the big slide path on the right.

We returned to the cabin via the hyper-locally iconic Tree Chute (which was heinously tracked.), the splitelemark  back down the buffed out skin track to Cooke City was a delight, and the drive back to Missoula was long, windy, and cold.  Thanks for the good times, dudes.

Narwhal impression.

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