Gros Ventre Mountains – Twin Creek to Cache Creek via Ski Cabin - 3/9/13 to 3/11/13
This trip has been long overdue. I visited the ski cabin in the spring of 2003 or 2004 . . . that time of my life is pretty much a blur. I was slow-shoeing not splitboarding at the time and my pack consisted primarily of booze and other illicit material. Anywho . . . I’ve always wanted to return in the winter. I got Monday off of work and my cousin Austin and I planned a three-day, two-night excursion to the gros ventre ski cabin. The tentative plan was to access the cabin via the elk refuge side (twin creek) and exit via the cache creek side. The curtis canyon road is closed from 12/1 to 4/30 to protect wildlife winter range. I picked up the free permit (to access the cabin via the elk refuge) from the Greater Yellowstone Visitor Center and they informed me that a “large” avalanche had been reported near Jackson Peak on the previous Monday. Details beyond that were non-specific and rather frustrating. Location of the slide? Aspect? North Face? East Face? Who reported the slide? No specific answers. “You should be able to see it when you get up there . . . just be careful.” As good advice as any I guess. I also got some additional Beta from nickstayner regarding the access around the private property at the start of the tour. Thanks nick! More info can be found in the “Select Peaks” guide by Turiano.
Gear was assembled on Friday night after a long days work. The packing list was checked and doubled checked. Thanks samh for the template!
Get your shit together!
With pack and gear on I would be pushing 240lbs+ My wife and 10-month old son dropped us off at the private property, we loaded our heavy packs onto our backs, and began our journey.
Old snowmobile track and a game cart?
Great views from the curtis canyon road. Photo - Austin Sessions
We stopped for a snack at the sheep creek road intersection. Austin spotted two wolves on the next ridge north thru his binos. We made really good time to the summer trailhead. From the trailhead to the wilderness boundary (located on the northeast ridge of Jackson peak) was strenuous . . . knee to thigh deep unconsolidated mess that had us trading trail breaking duties every 20 mins or so. Lots of cursing and complaining . . . mostly from me as I continued to sink even when following Austin’s lead. Austin didn't complain a bit even with blisters from a boot liner issue.
Austin at the wilderness boundary
From the wilderness boundary we contoured into sheep creek toward Goodwin lake across what Turiano describes as “notoriously hazardous avalanche slopes”. Austin went first. I watched as the lower half of his body disappeared into a loosely consolidated “hole” about halfway across the open slope. We later hypothesized that our path of travel was slightly above the summer trail which is lined by large rocks and boulders. I had the same “hole” encounter at a different location and sunk to nearly my armpit. I wallowed, struggled, and finally freed myself. Not what you want to be doing in the middle of prone slope with a fully loaded pack.
Austin and the snag
We stopped at Goodwin lake to take in the view and grab a quick snack. The wind was howling off of the east ridge of Jackson Peak as we proceeded across Goodwin lake.
Austin skins across the lake
Within another ¾ of a mile of contouring we had located the cabin, 9.5 miles and 3,000ft from the start of the journey. A small pocket slide was visible on the far west facing aspect of the Front Door Bowl. Two fresh tracks were clearly visible near the crown. We found the cabin occupied by four local gents who made the trip up cache creek late the previous night. Good guys. We were relieved to hear that no one was caught or injured in the small slide. We later learned that two of the party of four bivouacked somewhere between the south ridge of Jackson peak and the top of the noker mine draw . . . YIKES! Evidently the other two members had forged ahead as dusk began to fall in hopes of locating the cabin in some daylight. Glad everyone was okay.
Saturday night was a spectacular night for star gazing. With the new moon only days away and not a cloud in the sky the views were breathtaking. I set up my camera at the south end of the cabin meadow and shot a 1,000 frame timelapse sequence (approx. 8hrs) of the stars above the cabin and table mtn. Temperatures dipped near 10F but the timelapse rig performed great. Check the photos and video at the end of this post.
The crew of four was cleaning and preparing to leave the next morning when Austin and I set out for Jackson Peak. We cruised up the rock hard and wind fucked south ridge. The views did not disappoint. We were at the summit around mid-morning.
Nearing the Summit - Photo: Austin Sessions
Cairn is a little shorter than I remember - Photos: Austin Sessions
I see a line
Add this to the list
We poked around the entrances to the north face of Jackson Peak and confirmed what we saw on the approach the previous day . . . wind scoured and pour coverage. This classic face had been a tentative objective of the trip, but the conditions steered us back to the lightly treed east facing shots. We dug a pit . . . were satisfied with the results . . . and put in a few fun laps on the creamy (and sometimes crusted) east face.
Jackson Peak - North Face
Austin on the east faces
A bit firm here . . but still fun - Photo: Austin Sessions
We took a short detour to the Front Door Bowl and rode consolidated pow back to the cabin. The best turns of the trip. We contemplated additional laps, but wanted to do some chores in the daylight.
Can you spot the cabin?
Austin did battle with some stubborn knot infested wood rounds, and emerged the victor . . . thanks in large part to the MONSTER MAUL! Kudos to whoever packed this beast in . . . even if it was on horseback.
Austin and the Monster Maul
Shitter with a view
With the wood split, stacked, and the kindling box overflowing, we cooked dinner, packed, and cleaned the cabin. I had hoped to shoot another starlapse from a different location, but Woody the weatherman nailed the forecast. High clouds began to build as the sun set and only a handful of stars were visible as the sky turned from deep gray to black.
In the morning we made coffee and oatmeal, packed the remaining gear, gave the cabin a once-over, signed the register and shouldered our heavy packs. It was lightly snowing as we headed out . . . almost like the cabin was telling us to stay another day . . . “the front door bowl’s only gonna get better” . . . “the views on the way out will be better tomorrow,” but as D. Miller wrote in the cabin registery following his famous first decent of the behemoth face “got to return to the OTHER reality.”
The exit was the polar opposite of the entrance. Snowing, blowing, and flat light. We made good time to the ridge separating the flat creek bench from the nowlin bench. The limited visibility made it a little difficult to find the exact access to the noker mine draw. We transitioned a little too early and had to bootpack a short distance. The conditions in the noker mine draw were challenging. A mix of sun baked crust, death dust, and breakable crust tested our mettle as we descended with the heavy packs. The conditions improved as we descended and the snowpack became more consistent. All-in-all it was a pretty consistent fall line that in better snow conditions could be really enjoyable. The exit at the base of the drainage was predictably "type 2" fun. Creek crossings, bush whacking, and the like . . . but not horrible. The drainage spits you out at the end of the groomed cache creek road (4.6 miles from the trailhead). Nothing but a slog from there.
A bit of flat light
Were having fun now
Myles could tell I was tired when I got home . . . he carried my bag in for me
As always this trip has created more “what-ifs” and “next times”. We didn't get the main objectives . . . nor did we bag any amazing riding shots . . . but I'll never forget the trip. It won’t be another 10 years until I return, I know that. Hopefully my recent knee injury will mend in time for the spring corn cycle.
Big thanks to Austin for helping pack camera gear, taking pictures of me, and being an all-around positive dood!! Couldn’t of done it without him.
Post subject: Re: Gros Ventres - Twin Creek to Cache Creek 3/9 to 3/11
Posted: Mon Mar 18, 2013 6:49 am
Joined: Sat Dec 15, 2007 5:44 pm Posts: 704 Location: The Magic City
Hell yeah! So happy to see this!
Awesome photos. Glad you guys had such scenic conditions back there. Can't wait to watch the vid on the big TV later tonight.
Classic anecdote about the folks at the Visitor Center. Those guys are full of information about the cabin/surrounding terrain- unfortunately, much of it isn't useful!
Those crazy isothermic conditions in the woods are unfortunately the norm it seems. Every trip I've made in there between March and May has provided the gloppy mess in full from about the summer TH to the wilderness boundary.
I've had friends do exactly the same thing on the avy slope on the approach as they tried to get across it quickly with a heavy pack and wound up wiping out right in the middle of it. One even spilled out much of the contents of the top of his pack !
Thanks for the beta on the Noker Mine Draw approach/exit. I'll probably check that one out next time I head in there during the winter months.
Great TR dln! Even if the objectives weren't had, the trip seemed like a worthwhile wandering. I really dig the speed of your adventures, with a good combination of riding and reflecting. Sweet time lapse and photos too!