With a few good reports from the Missions, I joined Colin for his second day in a row at St. Mary’s Peak in the Missions. We ascended the ridge from the reservoir managing to stay on the steep climbing trail to 5,500′ where we had enough snow to begin skinning. With beautiful blue skys we made it to the upper alpine ridge in good time and continued on to the east peak, having decided to save Grey Wolf for another day. From the summit of the east peak, having been exposed to a cold wind for at least half an hour, we skied southwest down the broad, beautiful ski face off the summit of East St. Mary’s Peak. The snow was alternately decent powder and foamy settled wind buff. It was challenging and we took many rests on the 2500′ descent to the basin below. We decided to avoid skinning back up the descent face during the heat of the day and committed to the south ridge of West St. Mary’s peak which was arduous to attain on hot, south facing, steep slopes. We had a few minutes of relaxing skinning along the ridge before we had to transition to boot pack up a short gap in the rock band on the south facing sub peak face below the west summit. This run was very aesthetic and we contemplated skiing it, traversing east over the ridge at 6500′ dropping back into the drainage below our first run on the SW face and taking this fine looking gully down to 5000′ where we could head east again and sneak through a pass and reattain the road below for some bushwhacking. If anyone has info on this route it would be great to know how well it goes!
We continued up the ridge passed the subpeak/face and onto the increasingly steep, corniced ridgeline. We were not sure this ridge would work to attain the summit as it became wind drifted, heavily corniced cliffed out on the left and right and spicy. We worked up the flat portion as far as we could and then descended a short steep section to the west traversing snow covered rock bands to attain the west face of the west summit from where we boot packed Brian and Chris’ old downtrack up to the summit. (The two of them had skied the west face to a long bushwhack to a car shuttle off the Mission Reservoir road.) We contemplated following their route but could not find a friend to shuttle us and did want to call in any big favors or throw caution to the wind and find a willing neighbor below. From the summit of West we made the traverse on steep slopes back to the east peak setting off one plate /sluff that triggered a good sized slab avalanche from an exposed rock band. We watched intently and grimly mesmerized as the slab accelerated massively going over the cliffs below to run onto the concavity below and gradually to a stop with only remnants making the second lowest section of cliffs above the basin. The traverse took on a different level of anxiety from there as we skinned and booted about 20 feet below the ridge confined to the slab, feeling the crust below 12-15 inches and wondering if we were going to pull out anything else. We reached the east peak for the second time at 5 p.m. pulled skins and skied the ridge down and out in the beautiful evening twilight reaching the Subaru with 30 minutes of daylight left at 6p.m. What a day to be alive.
Almost two weeks ago, before I took off for a trip to BC and the Valhalla range, Don and I made a fabulous trip up Bass Creek to ski the massive east face of Bass Peak. Not for the undetermined the ten mile approach took us four hours and change at a steady pace. We skied the face in perfect snow with bright blue skies and had a decent snow pack for a change. From the bottom of the head of Kootenai Creek north we ascended pt 8285′ due east and bowl bounced our way back to the iconic Pt 8533′ and the tremendous run back on the north face to Bass Creek. We made it to the creek crossing below St Joe by dusk and skied the final miles out with headlamps. With 7500′ vertical and about 25 miles under our belt for the day we felt good about this long day in the northern Bitterroots. Starting with moderate terrain this tour kept getting more exciting and the final committing line into the heart of the north bowl topped out at 55 degrees for 200 vertical. Scary but stable, the steeps were running small sloughs. Since then the new snow and wind loading has put enough strain on the buried surface hoar layers that folks have been cutting slabs lose and almost getting into trouble out there. Keep it safe and spread out on steep ground, nothing worse than multiple burials in close proximity. Being at least 10-20 yds apart at all times in avy terrain will make a difference in not triggering a slide and with recovering slide victims.
Looking forward to another day in the mountains here. I am heading up Downing Mountain today Feb 17 to check on snow conditions after delivering a load of firewood to the lodge.