Lots of rain recently.
Being in Tensleep during early spring and late fall is such a treat. The Coloradan masses must think the road’s gated until Memorial Day. Showing up to an empty Mondo parking lot with Kate, on a gorgeous bluebird weekend day in the 60s- tromping through the last remaining snowdrifts out to the French Cattle Ranch, laying perhaps the first human tracks of the year out there- soon enough, we’ll be competing for camping and classic routes, generally bumping elbows with the rest of the masses. But I’ll enjoy this while it lasts.
I can’t remove the fuel line because of a stripped connection (which also creates a less-than-perfect seal and thus a small leak). Occasionally, a flame will burst forward from behind the heat knobs, due to more leaks in the internal fuel lines. The top is severely dented after being trampled by cattle in Vedauwoo. The pin that releases gas from the canister requires a set of pliers to turn. I’ve carried my Whisperlite in the camping box as a backup for the last two years now, sensing the Coleman’s demise to be imminent.
But it keeps on surprising me, continuing to facilitate delicious breakfasts and dinners on all sorts of adventures. Sadly, I’ve heard that the newer iterations of this classic Coleman camp stove are nothing to get excited about, having problems with durability and general quality. I’m happy to have one from this generation, one of my most valued pieces of gear.
I had another fantastic solo Beartooth adventure late last week to explore new-to-me line up Rock Creek. I’d heard about the June Couloir from a couple of friends who’ve skied it, and of course read about it in Ron Brunckhorst’s seminal climbing guide. I wasn’t certain of its exact location, but I’d seen a fine looking couloir on my handful of trips up Rock Creek and figured it was probably worth a closer look whether it was the June or not.
Temperatures in the mountains had been quite warm over the last couple of days, so once again I headed out with low expectations, packing my fly rod as a backup if it turned out to be a scorcher. Thankfully, the frosty puddles on the Rock Creek road indicated a solid freeze overnight.
Conditions turned out to be as good as could be hoped for. The couloir has some funky positioning that makes timing a choice descent challenging. The bottom and top sections receive consistent morning sun while the middle crux sees a bit in the early morning, then moves back into the shade. For me, this unfortunately meant survival shredding (sideslipping w/ ice axe in hand) through the crux of the line. Oh well. Turns below were fantastic, especially with a base freshly covered in yellow Swix.
The basin is full of ideal ski terrain. Easy access makes this a trip that I will make many more times in the future. Here’s another line opposite the June that was prime for the pickin’ after the day’s first descent.
The forecasted afternoon thunderstorms were building as predicted, so I decided to save all of the other bowls and faces for another day and skedaddle. Spotted some cool small bear tracks on my exit:
Thankfully, they didn’t truly cut loose until just after I’d made it back to the car.
A closer-up view of the June:
The other line I shredded, opposite the June:
More nice terrain:
Looking up towards Glacier Lake:
The east entrance to Yellowstone National Park is now open, so Kate and I headed down and met some friends from Bozeman on top of Sylvan Pass for a couple days of excellent spring ski touring in one of my favorite spots.
First day was spent in a familiar area that takes full advantage of the excellent ski access afforded by Sylvan Pass.
Even though Ryan’s ski patrol season is over, he’s still out there mitigating the hazards.
The sun warmed things enough to provide fantastic surface conditions, but cool temperatures and heavy west winds kept things reigned in so we could enjoy skiing late into the afternoon.
More hazard reduction (joke) on the giant cornices along the Top Notch ridge
The clouds and light provided some spectacular visuals of the eastern side of Yellowstone National Park.
That evening, we found a patch of dirt to call our own just outside the park
I was pretty amazed that Ryan’s van accommodated all four of us comfortably!
Ryan, about to shoot the moon:
Day 2 brought warmer temps and another classic tour with equally special views. Clearer skies allowed one to see all the way to the Tetons, always a treat. Top Notch, Doane (summit obscured by the clouds) and Stevenson right of center in the photo below.
Despite skiing new lines in great conditions, the best part about this trip was getting to ski with Ryan again. Our schedules never really aligned for the bulk of the season, so it was fantastic to finally get to pull off a trip with him again.
A fascinating John McPhee book on Wyoming geologist David Love (and Wyoming geology in general). Also a phrase I think of every time I look at the Crazies.
To celebrate the end of my semester, I spent a wonderful night alone at the Half Moon Campground revisiting Jack Turner’s Teewinot, a favorite from my formative high school years and still remaining as such. I arrived to clouds, wind, and flurries but fell asleep under a starry sky.
The path to the Southwest Couloir of Crazy Peak is rife with opportunity for lots of “en route” ski opportunities, both sunny or shady depending on your inclination (and conditions). Perhaps the longest, if you’re traveling the path of least resistance, is the one into the Crazy Lake basin, a nice treeless alpine bowl.
The couloir itself is a straightfoward, aesthetic affair. Despite the sun, conditions were classic alpine buff pow, my favorite.
Though I’ve expected to many times, I have yet to boot a couloir in truly firm conditions this season. I consider myself lucky/blessed (you decide- I can’t ).
I strapped in at the last point of good coverage. The descent was glorious.
To my surprise, rapid warming was kept at bay and climbs/descents were still possible on all aspects after my descent. I had a “safe” Plan B in mind should things have warmed too drastically, but it involved booting up a rock ridge way off my intended route, so I was happy not to have to employ it.
View of the couloir, post-descent, from the opposite side of the basin:
Another fun, long (relative) north-facing descent saw me back into the Big Timber Creek headwaters.
A couple more climbs and descents saw me back to the vehicle and another bumpy ride out Big Timber Canyon. The Southwest Couloir tour, at least the way I did it, is a true classic on par with Gallatin Peak for the skiability and easy, natural linking of descents en route. And of course, the scenery on days like yesterday is unparalleled.
Random notes: Possible to make it to Big Timber Canyon trailhead in a Subaru (or maybe even lower clearance) currently. There are still a couple sizeable drifts that will take a little while longer to melt, but they’re pretty firm and rutted out. Also, the snow coverage is consistent after the 1st bridge, looks to stay that way for at least a little while longer.
Edit- Patrick posted his photos on his blog Quiet Insights, which are excellent and well worth the look.
It’s funny the methods and amount of time time I dedicate to planning our little adventures. High speed internet enabling endless Google Earth perusing, disconnected pieces of information on obscure lines discovered on random blogs and websites, SNOTEL temperature and snowfall data, NOAA “point” forecasts… one would think that with all of these data points you could create an accurate, well-developed image of what to expect on a certain trip. Often, this is the case. Just as often, the reality is totally different- part of the fun of executing plans such as these.
A testy Beartooth beauty
Beartooth Mountain (and the Bear’s Tooth!) from Spirit-Rearguard col
Ned above our second camp in the headwaters of the Lake Fork of Rock Creek, evening, Sky Pilot(?) in background
Southwest side of Whitetail Peak on the last day
Thanks to Patrick and Ned for helping provide a trip full of unforgettable moments.
Once again, the sights seen on this trip have left me incredibly psyched for more Beartooth exploration both short and long. If we haven’t gotten out recently, come on over! Because I doubt I’ll be making it back to the mountains around Bozeman any time soon.
PS: Not that anyone reading this will be heading up there, but just in case: we lost a can of bear spray and a set of Black Diamond Contact crampons in a yellow Petzl kevlar case, most likely along the upper reaches of the Rock Creek road or possibly up by Moon Lake. Would love to see them again! Hoping to get up there early next week so maybe I’ll find them myself…