Sunday, October 23, 2011

Black Mountain y-couloir

Winter is finally here. This past weekend Bridget and I chased the snow that accumulated high in the mountains of central Montana. We decided to climb the Y-couloir on Black Mountain (located east of Paradise valley). Bridget and I had been kicked off this peak with force this past spring by a strong snow storm that left us sprinting for the trail head, a rematch was in order. We figured that there would be ice somewhere on the peak and perhaps the Y-couloir would be in fine shape. We left Pine creek trailhead at 8:00am and made great progress to the beautiful Pine creek lake; one of the coolest high mountain lakes I have ever been to.

Bridget hiking up the 5,000 some feet to Black Mountain under perfect fall conditions.

Bridget on the approach

When we reached the lake we could just slightly make out the summit of Black Mountain as strong winds raked the summit and clouds swirrled around it. We climbed up snow covered boulderfields to the base of the route, passing beautiful blue marble (?) boulders that would be perfect to climb on in the summer. When we reached the base of the couloir we found the snow to be incredibly windloaded and a bit spooky. We decided to rope up, hug the rock to our right, and place as much gear as possible between us as we simul-climbed. We literally swam up the couloir as spin drift slides randomly cascaded on us. After looking at the left branch of the Y-couloir we decided to go up the right branch. We could see some ice bulges and the objective dangers didn't look as bad.

The bottom section of the couloir, spooky windloaded snow and strange pro.

Bridget is down there somewhere.

Bridget lead out as she got pounded by spin drift "slides". She climbed through the crux of the route over a fun 80' section of ice and neve. We topped the couloir out and both sat in the sun as we nursed the first screaming barfies of the year.

Bridget on the upper section on the couloir

just having fun

This whole section was composed of rock-hard ice, burried just under the powder snow.

Bridget nears the top of the couloir

Heading to the summit.

Bridget on the top

And this is why I love Montana.

This is another reason why I love Montana.

The only down side was the amount of trash we found at the lake, lame.

We scrambled against the wind to the summit then decended the North ridge back down to the lake. We hiked out to the trailhead in the dark and decended from winter back into autumn. The experience was about as good as it gets and a great reintroduction back to winter.

Cheers, Loren

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Pensive Tower

Pensive Tower and where we went, take this topo with a grain of salt

Bridget and I had another great climbing trip this past weekend (Oct. 1). We drove to the west fork of Rock Creek and camped at the trail head on a Friday night as the stars illuminated the trees and mountains around us. We awoke early (5:00am) and hiked the 9 or so miles to the base of the tower. Along our hike we encountered a small pine martin on the trail. The pine martin was inquisitive and kept poking it's head out from rocks at our feet. We continued hiking and turned our headlamps off at quinnebaugh meadows where we rounded a corner and saw two large moose grazing in the meadow.

From this point on the west face of Silver Run Peak dominated the view, as a series of walls drop down to the creek for nearly 3,000'. Pensive tower is a route I have always wanted to climb ever sense I had first wandered up the valley. It's a perfect line on a perfect piece of alpine granite. There is no real information on the route aside from a very brief mention in the Brunkhorst Guide. I had heard of a few people who had attempted the route. Most of the parties I knew ended up bailing on the route because the difficulties encountered were much harder than the guide book states, or the notorious Beartooth weather swept them off. For some reason I kind of had a stigma with this piece of rock...

Bridget crossing the creek

Bridget on the approach. Pensive tower looms above.

With this in mind Bridget and I crossed the creek then headed up to the base of the route. The fist "approach pitch" was composed of terrible loose choss and steep grass climbing. I was hoping the whole route wasn't going to be like this. After the approach pitch the rock got better, dare I say, good! Steep, short splitter cracks abounded and the rock took protection well.

Myself climbing up the prow

Bridget following one of the 5.10 pitches.

The guide book says the route should be 9-14 pitches of 5.8 climbing. On pitch 4 we hit a solid bit of beautiful 5.10 climbing, not hard, but hard enough in the mountains with a pack on. A few pitches later I looked up and saw some leaver gear at the base of a steep corner system. I climbed up to it, clipped the fixed gear, then tried to wiggle my way into a steep groove that lacked holds or a crack. The back of the rounded groove was composed of loose brick sized blocks. I down climbed and looked around, the fixed gear was obviously a rappel/bail anchor (as it wasn't in the least bit stuck). I peered up into the groove again and pulled off the #4 cam. I placed this between the loose blocks (so the blocks cammed on either side of the groove) and sketchly french freed at A0. A good #3 placement was just in reach now so I plugged and pulled on this piece as well. After that episode (and a few more A0 moves) we arrived at a large ledge. We continued climbing pitching the feature out until the terrain mellowed out and we could safely simul-climb. We topped out at 4:00pmish.

Bridget leads through a few roofs

Miles of easy simul-climbing near the top

A confused Asian man near the top, White tail peak in the background.

Bridget on zee summite

We packed our bags and hurried off the Silver Run Plateau under dark skies. We eventually hiked the 9 miles back down (Sundance Pass) to the car, 15 hours after leaving it.

Bridget doing a speedy descent off the plateau

Hiking out we stared at the golden aspen trees as they swayed in the breeze, then scarred a porky pine that was in the trail. The best part of the hike out was finding a lodge pole pine that had been mutilated by a cantankerous bear.

This climb coincided with my Birthday, and you know what? I couldn't have had a better present.

Cheers, Loren