Skiing in summer!

The last two months have been very busy.  I’ve run the Rogue, finished a grip of papers and projects at work, traveled to Idaho, to Washington D.C., to the Bitterroots, and then moved to Fairbanks, Alaska, from which I am currently typing.  This is too much for a single entry, so I’m going to split it into a few.

I’d like to recap some early summer skiing.  A dry spring combined with ample accumulation over the winter yielded a deep snowpack that lasted well into July.  I partook in three summer skiing days of note, two of which I will discuss here.

First, I was lucky enough to join Brian, Leah, and a respectable cadre of fine Missoulian backcountry enthusiasts for the 7th(?) annual Warren Wallowfest in the Anaconda Range (there is no such thing as a Pintler.  Yer either in the Anacondas or the Flint Creeks).  The Anacondas are a beauty, and Warren Peak, though not the highest summit, is anomalously Teton-esque and offers outstanding views and fine almost steep skiing in its northwest couloir.

Jeffrey and Nick crush some June mush, while a secretive marmot looks on.

The approach to Warren Peak is easy and fun and only a little soggy.  A little far I guess.  But it’s worth it.

Booting up the northwest couloir.

Brian had been ultra training and Nick is just very fast, and they crushed the bootpack up to the top of the couloir, from which the summit is a quick talus hike.

A fine time to check the E-mail.

 We spent some time on the summit, had a quick glance at the hard lines, which were summarily dismissed, then skied back down to the base.  I got to go first which was really fun and only a little slushy.

Gang from nearby.

Gang from a distance.  Clouds are starting to look ominous.

B. Story descends in good style.  Clouds are starting to look genuinely concerning.

As soon as we all made it to the bottom of the couloir, the skies opened up, and in came the most epic thunderstorm I’ve ever been in.  Frequent lightning nearby had us scrambling for cover under large granite boulders that offered only scant protection from the torrential rainfall.  I though I was going to stay dry, but then the rivulets started creeping around the lip of my hidey-hole, and I learned that my windshell is not water-proof in any meaningful way.  I’ve never seen hail flow out of a couloir and off a cliff.  It’s neat.  It also quashed enthusiasm for another lap.  Thus, we bolted for the exit couloir, and bailed.  The storm did not let up.

A week or so later, I embarked on what I though would be my last ski day of the year.  Casey and I, having been rained out of an ascent of the No Sweat Arete in Mill Creek, decided that we ought to camp and subsequently dawn patrol the incomparable Trapper Peak zone in the southern Bitterroots.  We camped next to the big boulder at the last switchback, and got to skinning at sunrise.  We detoured around the north end of Baker Lake to scramble around on some sunny granite slabs, before reaching Gem Lake, switching from running shoes to skis, and ascending the still frozen sun cups to the Trapper peak ridge.  From there it was a straightforward skin and talus hop to to summit of the highest point in the Bitterroots. 

Harscheisen attack on the Trapper Peak.

The standard entrance to the northeast face was corniced, steep, and scary, so I took a more moderate line in from skier’s right.  The snow was very good, as it typically is here. 

Northeast face shredding.

We had intended to climb the Olbu face, but sketchy and tenuous snow fields in all the wrong places dissuaded us.  We decided to ski the Gem Lake couloir instead, which turned out to be steep and engaging.  I forgot to get out my ice axe before the steep bit at the top, and it was sort of scary with just a whippet.  I also got to transition from crampons to snowboard while stemming above a man-eating moat above a 50 degree snowfield, which was a good test of practical acrobatics.  The ski down was very good.  The day was hot and the drive long, but I made it back to Missoula in time for a few hours of work.

Gem Lake Couloir, near the end.


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