Joined: Sat Dec 15, 2007 5:44 pm Posts: 712 Location: The Magic City
Montana's been sort of lacking on the TR forum this year, so I thought I'd provide a little stoke. Things were really good there for a bit... now hopefully it refreezes over the weekend!
I’ve been pretty fascinated with Gallatin Peak since my early backcountry snowboarding days. From Bozeman, its north face dominates the Madison Range skyline. And, as a fledgling Montana splitboarder, once you climb high enough in Beehive or Middle Basins (classic novice touring destinations), Gally suddenly appears to the north, a beacon to aspiring glisse mountaineers.
I made my first, uninformed foray back there in 2005, utilizing a camp at the head of Beehive Basin and cruising out to the thing the next day with approach skis and my solid board. Funny to think how approaches, both literally and systematically, have changed over the years.
Last week, I had a random couple of days off school and I drove towards Bozeman thinking the Gally Peak tour was going to be a solo. Near Livingston I suddenly remembered a friend who was likely to have a midweek day off and be free on short notice- Andrew Whitmore. Our linkups have been too few, so I was happy to hear that he actually had a very similar plan for the next day. He’s spent more time in the Spanish Peaks than anyone I know, implying not only would the descent off the peak be awesome but we’d have some choice descents on the way there too.
Our tracks into Bear Basin off a Beehive/Bearcol, plus some others to the right. One looked like a snowboard track... someone from the site here?
A climb out of Bear led to another fun descent that brought us to the base of the South Face. We ditched a bunch of extra food, water and gear at the base and proceeded up the rapidly softening face.
Andrew surveying his domain, near the summit:
South Face shreddin':
Finally a snowboarding photo, of me:
Nice shred terrain on the other features back there:
We took a different way back home, providing some more fun, fresh descents and allowing us to make a big ol' lollipop loop:
Another random weekday off last this week led me to the Beartooths to go see how things were setting up for the spring.
My destination was the classic Chamonix Couloir in East Rosebud Canyon, the go-to line in the region (maybe the entire Beartooths this time of year). It's a 4000' long couloir that offers a sustained, but never death-defying steepness and exposure. Temps indicated good melt/freeze, so I didn’t expect much more than a gorgeous day out among the mountains, a good workout, and variable snow, maybe some corn if I was lucky. Immense walls shade the couloir most of the day. Along with its length, these factors make timing a descent really tricky this time of year.
At about 8000′, sort of near the “mouth” of the couloir, I was met with an excellent surprise: powder! It’s what I like to call alpine buff conditions- not light, unconsolidated powder like you’d find at lower elevations but stuff that accumulates by continual sluffing off the giant walls, groomed to perfection by an almost ever-present breeze. My favorite. This was unexpected.
I dug a quick pit and was surprised again. No reactivity, no weak layers to speak of (!) and massively deep. The pit wall was 4′ deep. I shoved my 8′ probe into the floor of the pit and still couldn’t feel the ground. That’s a lot of snow for 8000′ in the Beartooths!
The top couple hundred feet of the Cham sees the sun more than the “tenderloin” of the run, and it had just started to hit it as I topped out. I resolved to hang out, eat some food, and revel in the awesome scenery of this spectacular Beartooth canyon.
After about 15 minutes of this, however, I got a little antsy and decided to ride the top bit in still semi-frozen conditions. Oh well… a small price to pay for 3000′ of excellent alpine pow.
After scratching through the frozen top bit, I hung out for a minute, mentally preparing for what was to be one of the best runs ever. Conditions like this are what I dream about, and what keeps me coming back time and again. Turns are effortless, and you lose yourself in the rhythm of descending the mountain in a perfectly controlled fall. On descents like this, I achieve the “flow” state described in performance psychology: total focus and immersion. And pure, unadulterated joy! I will spare any more inadequate attempts at description and just say it’s a pretty amazing place to be, if only for a brief moment.
It was the perfect way to ring in the spring in the Beartooths. The West Fork road opens on 4/15 according to the USFS, making access to the Whitetail/Castle area practical again. Things are looking good around these parts!
A shot of the lower 1/3 of the Cham from last season: