February 18, 2013

Crashing Snow Bowl & Booting Point Six

In our second winter here in Montana, Lisa and I finally made our way up to ski at Snow Bowl.  My coworkers Ric and Mark convinced Lisa and I to join them out on the slopes for Martin Luther King day.  I have been up to this area several times before to run but never during the winter.  There is something about paying for an easy ride up any mountain that just doesn't sit right with me.  I prefer to stomp it out myself for free and not be limited to chair lifts.

Neither Lisa nor myself had skied in over two years.  Adding to that, snow bowl is know for steep icy slopes.  This was going to be interesting.  Something that hasn't changed in the two years since we last went skiing - why is it so damn expensive?  For a moment I thought about snowshoeing up and skiing down but I would have ended up alone all day.  A hundred dollars later and we were ready to go...

Lisa was pretty nervous while riding up the Grizzly Lift for the first time.  As advertised, the bowls looked very icy and steep.  On the first run Lisa completely stopped halfway down and was unsure she could make it down to the Levelle Creek chair lift.  After a few runs, with some hard falls, she gained her confidence back and was flying down the slopes.  She was looking particularly good on one run until crashing into Ric and a six foot embankment next to the Levelle lift.  The look on Ric's face as she crashed into him was worth the lift ticket!

After a few hours of skiing the western bowls, we took the long eastern boundary paradise trail back to the lodge.  Lisa, Ric, Mark and me shook off the snow, ice and bruised muscles while enjoying an expensive cafeteria lunch.  After lunch I decided to head outside of the park, into the backcountry and up Point Six.  At 7,940 ft, Point Six rises high above the Missoula valley floor.  On most days Point SIx is buried deep in the clouds but today we had a beautiful cloudless day - minus the smog of course.    

Point Six is known for its weather station called the Death Star.  I've seen this dark ball from as far away as Lolo Peak.  It's huge and makes strange noises.  This summit is the windiest of all the Missoula area peaks. After hurdling downhill at break neck speeds all day it was nice to finally push myself slowly, upward.  

The snow drifts were incredible.  One second I was on the surface and the next I was chest deep in snow.  Oh and there were huge cornices that I was trying to avoid in my big ski boots.   Add the deafening, skin freezing winds gusting at 40mph and it made for a great mountain summit experience.   

In my opinion, Point Six has the best views in the Missoula area.  While on the summit you are right in middle of all the major peaks.  You have great views of the Missoula and Bitterroot valley floors, the Bitterroots and Sapphires off to the South, the Missions and Swans to the North and obviously you are nestled among the Rattlesnake peaks.  Ch paa qn peak and the town of Arlee sit just West of the Point Six.

Murphy Peak (8167 ft) is so close that it feels like you can reach out and touch it.  Behind Murphy are the Missions.  Serious Griz country and monster 10,000 ft peaks.  Missoulians like to pretend that Griz don't wander over to the Rattlesnake, right....

Close up of the Missions.  I really want to hike / run over there sometime soon.  

Looking northeast into the Rattlesnake Wilderness at Mosquito peak (8057 ft).  Way off in the distance you can just make out the snow covered peaks of the Swans.  Most of the flat areas between the major peaks are wet marsh areas in the summer.  In the winter they freeze and it is much easier to navigate and connect peaks.  

Straight east is the formidable Stuart Peak.  Twice this winter I have tried and failed to summit Stuart.  The Stuart Peak trail is currently waist deep and would require more than just me breaking trail.  Can't wait for the Spring thaw.

Oh how small Mount Jumbo and Sentinel are from the surrounding peaks.  The Sapphires are tiny but beautiful.  

While peak gazing I noticed movement far, far below on one of the alpine lakes.  If you look carefully there is a guy skiing in the middle of Jenny Lake.  Lisa and I miraculously crossed paths with this guy on our final run.  He snowshoed out from the lake and came out on the upper paradise trail.  He looked exhausted and was happy to downhill back to the lodge.  It took him a couple hours to snowshoe out from the lake.

Finally, the beautiful view of the Missoula and Bitterroot valleys.  Due to a stagnant high pressure system, we had plenty of smog trapped in the valley.  When sunlight hits the smog it turns into a blueish white haze.  I can't stand it.  Such a beautiful, remote place surrounded by wilderness should never have air quality issues.  All the city does is issue air quality alerts and recommend its citizens to stay indoors.  That is not acceptable.

Great day out on the slopes but I enjoyed the awkward ski boot hike to Point Six the most.    Can't wait for summer and running to the summit while snacking on wild huckleberries.  We finished the day off with a pizza and a few pitchers of beer at the lodge.  Not sure if I will come back here to ski again but the pizza and beer might be worth a long drive!

February 11, 2013

Running the Towers

Normally I know better than to run up Mount Sentinel and University Mountain this early in the year.  This second week of February I was pleasantly surprised.  Other Missoulians had already been up to the Towers.  The sun was out and it was a great day for a 2600ft climb up the Sapphires.   

The trail tread was very narrow - no wider than the width of my foot.  I tight roped all the way up and only had a handful of deep snow face plants.  Still can't believe I was able to run the entire way up in February!

The trees thin out near the top and provide great views north and east.  Stuart Peak and the Rattlesnake mountains were about to be swept into the clouds.  Still haven't been up to Stuart yet...  

The last hundred feet of climbing were really rough.  Windswept side slopes meant alternating between a couple inches and a couple feet.  Never knew what you would get with each foot strike.

Trees and towers alike were coated with ice on the north and west sides.  Very beautiful and quiet up there.  The sun was melting the ice on the towers and huge shards of ice came flying at me.  Didn't get to spend too much time admiring the view or searching for peaks to run later.  

I ran as far as I could over the ridge back towards Pattee Canyon.  After a half mile I was waist deep in snow.  Miller Peak (7000 ft) was towering in the distance under some crazy clouds.  I need to find a way back there.

Look how far my waterbottle fell into my footprint.  Wasn't running that section!

As always, the views on the way back down were incredible.  That is Mount Dean Stone sitting in front of the Bitterroot range.  Beautiful sunny day in the mountains and a solid 3 hour run.  Getting ready for Chuckanut in March!

Well after 2 1/2 years I finally broke my yaktraks.  One of the metal coils completely separated from yaktraks and was pointing out away from my foot.   Gonna need to replace these fast!

February 2, 2013

Failed Stuart

Coming off a Sheep mountain snowshoe high I was adamant on climbing Stuart Peak.  I have lived in Missoula for 18 months now and have never made my way up the most prominent peak South of Missoula.  This time Chris, Apple and I were joined by another coworker Mark Schleicher and his friend Nathan.  We hit the Ravine Trailhead just before 7 am hoping that the weather would get better as the day went on....

The first couple of miles were dark, rolling and frustrating.  Getting my gear to sit right took a while and then I realized that this trail climbs a lot and then drops back down before it starts the long climb up to Stuart.  Before we left I told Chris that dogs were not allowed in certain areas of the Rattlesnake but he refused to accept this.  When we saw this sign I was all smiles.  Notice how he refused to look at the camera while next to the No Dogs sign!

The two days before we were blasted by a snow storm that left no less than a foot of powdery snow.  As I predicted, no one had been on the trail since the storm.  That meant we were breaking trail the entire 11 miles up to the 7,950 ft summit of Stuart.  Route finding was also fun because none of us had been on the ravine trail before.  On top of that we were all very aware of the recent avalanche warnings.  The snow was so high that the white blazes (who's brilliant idea was that) were barely visible on the snow covered trees.  Without blazes there is no way to tell which direction the Stuart Peak trail went with all the snow.  Luckily Mark and Nathan had been on the Stuart Peak trail enough that they knew the general direction of the trail.

Once on the Stuart Peak trail we were breaking through a couple of feet of heavy, wet snow. It was obvious that we were moving very slow up the mountain.  A few miles from the wilderness boundary Mark mentioned that we wouldn't make the summit at this pace.  I was confused because I was willling to push for the summit if it took all day and all night.  Immediately I went to the front and started breaking trail.  Imagine doing high knees in a foot of fresh snow while going up 5,000 vertical feet.  For the next 2 miles I went as hard as I could with my big wooden snowshoes.

I spent the best part of an hour in my happy place. Finally we made it to the wilderness boundary. We took a minute to eat, drink and regroup. Meanwhile I was quietly wondering if my effort was enough for the group to continue onward to the summit. After a few minutes of silence we came to the decision to turn around. I thought about continuing on alone but the last few miles were taking their toll on me and the weather was still awful. Zero visibility with the occasional tease of blue sky hundreds of feet above us. I absolutely hate turning around on a summit unless the weather is really bad or there is an injury. Eventually I took the experience for what it was, enjoyed it and headed back down after 6 hrs of grueling trail breaking. Still it was a bitter pill to swallow.

On the way back the wheels completely fell off. My pants wouldn't stay up and my snowshoes straps had frozen solid to my pants. I couldn't adjust the snowshoes with my frozen gloves and they kept kicking out. What resulted was me face planting hard many times and falling way behind the group. Eventually I strapped the snowshoes to my pack and post holed my way back to the parking lot. It was like the mountain was having a laugh since I couldn't reach the summit!

Adding insult to injury, the sun started poking through the clouds as we were approaching the parking lot. Unreal.

Feeling beaten I tossed my snowshoes and pack in the trunk of the Jeep and headed home to salvage what was left of the day. Stuart peak followed me all the way home in my rearview mirror. I will be back!
Originally from Strongsville, OH, I spent 8 years in Raleigh, North Carolina and have since recently moved to Missoula, MT. I have been a runner all my life and have recently started pursuing ultra marathons. Any excuse to be outside and on the trails.