Forums Trip Reports Whitetail Couloir, Beartooth Range, MT
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  • #576989
    700 Posts

    The phrase “iconic line” gets thrown around perhaps a little too much in the climbing and ski mountaineering worlds, but it still never fails to elicit an immediate response from me. Images of the Ford/Stettner on the Grand, the Skillet Glacier on Mount Moran, and many others flood my mind, including the site of our most recent adventure, the Whitetail Couloir on Whitetail Peak, close to home in the Beartooths.

    My original plan was to do it car-to-car on Monday, using my four-day-weekend schedule to take advantage of a good weather window. However, an almost coincidental mentioning of the trip to my friend Simon (who I assumed would be working on Monday) got him pretty fired up. He managed to get Monday off work and come along, as well as convince me to do the trip as an overnight. As always, the blessing and the curse of the overnight is the giant pack, burdening us on the way in but allowing for a more leisurely pace on the 10 mile approach and sparing us from a 4 AM start time the next day. And more time spent in the mountains is never a bad thing.

    Preppin’ at the West Fork trailhead

    Simon and I left the West Fork trailhead at about 1 PM on Saturday. We quickly made it to snowline above Quinnebaugh Meadows, where we battled isothermic snow and rock walking on the skis to a more consolidated snowpack about 2 miles below the base of Whitetail. As an aside- special props to my friend Ben ( who’d been in the drainage the day before us. He’d forgotten his skins and postholed through isothermic shit an incredibly demoralizing distance towards Whitetail. We kept seeing the tracks and thinking it must’ve been some crazed fisherman, looking to “get away from it all” or something. Anyway…

    Snowline near Quinnebaugh Meadows, near first views of the line

    Further yet…

    Skinning into the upper reaches of the West Fork of Rock Creek blew my mind as the ski terrain kept revealing itself. I’d never been in here before and was amazed to find that once you get into the basin below Whitetail, the peaks open up and become less plateau-like and more reminiscent of terrain around Goose Lake. As with most areas around here, I arrive with one line on my mind and leave with 5 more added to the list. We found a nice little melted out hummocky area to throw down on, made some dinner, drank a bit of tequila, and crashed out under a beautiful starry sky.


    Temps felt good on Monday morning. Things had definitely frozen at our camp elevation of 9500′ and the day dawned clear, so Simon and I were fired up about our prospects in the couloir. A strong wind blew at all elevations. I noticed white plumes dancing along the high ridgelines, indicating cold temperatures but also windloading of the new snow from Friday and Saturday.

    After a quick oat breakfast, we began rallying up to the base of the couloir. The firm surface saw us transition from skinning to crampons almost immediately, and we made good time up the first 1500′ of the couloir.

    Terrain near Castle Mountain, lots of great lines visible

    Simon climbing

    At a certain point, we began to punch through an obvious windslab. This was disappointing to say the least, and we pulled off to a sheltered alcove to assess things. Our results indicated an active windslab varying from 6-12″ deep poorly bonded and actively propagating on the melt/freeze crust below it. Not overly important if you’re in a 600′ line in Hyalite, but certainly more consequential 2000′ up a giant, exposed Beartooth gully.

    The problem

    A small sluff from above ran past us as we were contemplating our options, indicating rapidly warming temps and seeming to affirm the decision to bail. With the crux (the essence of the line in my opinion) and about 500′ of beautiful couloir still above us, the decision was not an easy one, but our observations made the reasoning clear. Besides, as my friend Ryan Minton likes to say, ski mountaineering is a lifelong pursuit. As long as you come home safely, there’ll always be another shot. We chopped out platforms to strap in and rallied 2000′ of windbuff and corn back to camp.

    Always psyched

    Excellent riding conditions

    Heading out truly tested the limits of our “Teton Style” approach (wearing boots car-to-car). Probably not a decision I’ll make again.

    Can’t wait to revisit this beautiful valley.

    319 Posts

    Way to stay safe, but still looks like a fun day! MT looks sweet!

    134 Posts

    The Beartooths are just so damn pretty- and what a great line.
    For another day!

    351 Posts

    Nice TR–thanks for posting!

    87 Posts

    wow. that line is another one of “the most beautiful things iv’e ever seen”

    700 Posts

    Thanks guys!
    @brainsteak wrote:

    wow. that line is another one of “the most beautiful things iv’e ever seen”

    The quotes around that crack me up for some reason… 😀

    864 Posts

    Yeah.. that is gorgeous!

    Iconic for sure.

    1490 Posts

    Nice Nick, always nice to see folks making informed decisions based on the specific conditions. Beautiful spot!

    95 Posts

    Great TR and great decisions. Way to get after it :thatrocks:

    282 Posts

    Nice! easily in my top 5 lines i’ve ever ridden. And no runnel!! How did the cornice look? I can’t imagine doing it one day car to car unless there was a better skin to booting ratio, and i totally agree on the “teton” style, my feet were pretty rough for a couple days after we did it and i love my boots.

    700 Posts

    Hey man! There is no cornice this season, which is apparently rare. No runnel at all when we were up there, but I imagine that’s changed with the recent warm weather. I had a pal up there this past weekend and am waiting to hear back from him. I think car-to-car would be doable if you didn’t have to transition much and had frozen snow to skin on. Would be a huge day though!

    134 Posts

    This year, would you say late May/early June is a good time to attempt this one?

    700 Posts

    Funny you should bring this up Cody as we were just in the area over the weekend. I don’t think this will be much of a year for the Whitetail couloir. Nomad and my friend Ned climbed & shredded the SW couloir of Whitetail (I opted out due to crampons falling off my pack earlier in the trip :banghead: ). The southwest is basically the analog to “the” Whitey couloir and you can look down into it from the top of the former line. They did and took this photo:

    Like Ned says- at least 100′ of blue ice in the top. This seems to be pretty uncommon, so might be worth choosing some other beartooth lines unless you feel like getting technical/bringing screws & tools/rapping…

    551 Posts

    Nice, what a beautiful area and aesthetic looking line. Way to make the safe choice based on the conditions and not emotion. It’ll make it that much sweeter when you get the line in the future…..

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