Adventures on Hwy 212 – Beartooth Pass


The last few years it has become a bit of a tradition to head to Red Lodge and ski Beartooth Pass when it opens. Had great weather this year as well as some really good skiing.

Airing the top of Gardiner Headwall - Photo: Pat Owen

Airing the top of Gardiner Headwall - Photo: Pat Owen

A little pig ripping... Bearcreek Saloon Pig Races

A little pig ripping... Bearcreek Saloon Pig Races

IMG_3872

mmm... bacon

mmm... bacon

Davis skiing the crux

Davis skiing the crux

Pat Owen skiing in Gardiner Headwall

Pat Owen skiing in Gardiner Headwall

Steve Gilson and Zack on the top of Gardiner Headwall

Steve Gilson and Zack on the top of Gardiner Headwall

Pat Owen dropping in

Pat Owen dropping in

Enjoying the scene on the Hwy 212

Enjoying the scene on the Hwy 212

Camping up Rock Creek

Camping up Rock Creek

Getting Closer… Black Mountain


I have had a bit of an obsession with Black Mountain in the Northern Absarokas since I saw a sweet winter picture of it. While there are plenty of hearty lines that are particularly steep (e.g. Y-couloirs) they get skied fairly often, and I’m always looking for the way most people don’t go. Thus enters my affair with the North Face Direct route. The line was first climbed by Alex Lowe and Hans Saari, but they couldn’t ski it due to poor snow conditions. The first recorded climb and ski was done by Bobby Downs and Anjin Herndon in 2005. I spied this line hoping that it was a first decent but I was directed to a trip report on Tom Turiano’s website that proved that Herndon and Downs were the first down it.

Black Mountain North Face Direct route, we climbed and skied the green line the red line is the full route

Black Mountain North Face Direct route, we climbed and skied the green line the red line is the full route

Last winter Dave Repnik, Ryan Walters and I headed out to make an attempt on the line. Unfortunately about half a mile from the bottom of the route my Naxo binding exploded into a million parts. Obviously, we had to turn around. Since then I have wanted to go back and make another attempt. Today Ryan and I made that attempt.

Ryan and I headed out of Bozeman Saturday night and camped at the Pine Creek Campground. Once again the 4 a.m. alarm clock came much too early and Ryan and I whipped up some breakfast and coffee and hit the trail shortly after 5 a.m. The first 2 miles or so we had to hike as the snow level has climbed substantially with the recent warmth and rain. Struggling to climb the refrozen snow with our skins we made slow progress up the drainage. Passing where we had to turn around last year, Ryan and I scrambled up a small ridge and caught our first glimpse of the peak.

Our first view of Black Mountain.

Our first view of Black Mountain.

With the temps warming up we were able to skin a little more quickly and made good time to the bottom of the climb. We started booting up the exit couloir but ended up just wallowing in weird grapple-like snow. We put our skis back on and skinned up to a shaded area that provided better boot packing snow. We then trudged upward hoping the snow wouldn’t warm up too much.

Ryan booting up the exit couloir

Ryan booting up the exit couloir

The chute topped out to a nearly sheer 400 foot cliff. We traversed the top of the couloir to our decision point where we had planned to decide whether to continue or not.

Ryan traversing the top of the exit couloir with the summit of Black Mountain looming above.

Ryan traversing the top of the exit couloir with the summit of Black Mountain looming above.

We were on a wind lip that split the face, one side the fall line went down the exit couloir, the other side the fall line fell straight down a huge cliff. Here we had to decide to leave the safety of the chute and get out on the steep face that was an absolute no fall zone. Temperatures were warming very quickly and we watched small snowballs roll down and off the cliff. The snow was mashpotatoey and getting rotten. Because of the extreme exposure and quickly deteriorating snow we played it safe and stopped there. Right when we were making this decision we got a shower of slushballs releasing from the rocks above and this just confirmed our fears about climbing higher on the face. We down climbed a short distance to a less steep slope and geared up for the ski. The snow was chalky and responsive, very fun skiing. Ryan went first and threw a sweet slasher right on the edge of the giant cliff.

Ryan tempting the void with a slasher on the edge of a 400' cliff

Ryan tempting the void with a slasher on the edge of a 400' cliff

... and making it look like it's all in a days work

... and making it look like it's all in a days work

Not feeling as ballsy as Ryan, I opted to ski the gut of the line and had a blast making solid, big, arcing turns. Both of us were amped on the run and felt like we had made the right decision not to climb higher.

Looking back at our mountain graffiti

Looking back at our mountain graffiti

We then had to traverse out and cross Pine Creek Lake. We took our time enjoying the gorgeous mountains that surrounded us.

Ryan scoping our tracks

Ryan scoping our tracks

Plenty of options above Pine Creek Lake.  Makes me wish I had a helicopter

Plenty of options above Pine Creek Lake. Makes me wish I had a helicopter

One of the most beautiful drainages I have ever been in.

One of the most beautiful drainages I have ever been in.

Ryan and I continued the slog out and soon we were crossing creeks with our skis on and linking tiny slushy snow patch to tiny slush patch.

Ryan fighting willows on the ski out.

Ryan fighting willows on the ski out.

While we did not reach the peak nor ski the entire line we were happy with our decision. It’s better to play it safe and come back when snow conditions are better, the mountain isn’t going anywhere soon….

Ghetto Promo Vid


So as some of my friends may know I am sort of half-ass looking for spansers next winter so I can compete in the complete Freeskiing World Tour. I don’t think I will be able to afford the whole thing without finding a few spansers. So like the million other skiers out there who are trying to do the same here is my first entry. Sorry the footage sucks, I had to mostly steal it from youtube posts because I can never get the original footage myself. Thanks to Newman with Bonfire Films for shooting the bulk of the footage. Enjoy!

The Hanging Garden


In my last post I had a picture of a line called the Hanging Garden on the backside of Beehive Peak. This last weekend Steve Gilson and I went and made an attempt for the line.

The Hanging Garden seen from Gallatin Peak

The Hanging Garden seen from Gallatin Peak

The line is north facing so we did not need too early of a start. We left the trailhead around 9:30 and made good time up Beehive Basin.

The sheer south face of Beehive Peak, the Hanging Garden is off the backside

The sheer south face of Beehive Peak, the Hanging Garden is off the backside

Arriving at the bottom of the Southwest Couloir around eleven, we cached lunch and crampons and rested up for the climb up the West Ridge of the peak. While resting we watched several wetslides release off Southeast facing slopes as the day warmed. We climbed quickly keeping a close eye on the snow conditions and watching out for wetslides.

Steve Gilson climbs the Southwest Coulior.

Steve Gilson climbs the Southwest Coulior.

I had climbed Beehive Peak in the summer a while back and I thought I remembered the West Ridge of the peak not being terribly technical but when we topped out of the couloir there were two possible routes to get to the top of the Hanging Garden. One was a tight slot that was sort of technical up top, the other was a larger chute but with lots of exposure and windloading. We opted for the tighter and more technical slot that was out of avie and exposure danger.

Steve Gilson gets technical on the West Ridge of Beehive Peak

Steve Gilson gets technical on the West Ridge of Beehive Peak

This decision ended up putting us above some large cliffs on very thin, unsupportive snow. We traversed a ways out on the face where we had to make a decision whether to turn around, attempt to keep traversing a very steep face with only a couple inches of snow on loose rock, or down climb to an exposed ledge, put our skis on and traverse into the large chute we were nervous with at the bottom. Making matters worse was a fog was beginning to drift in and we could see a weather change was coming. We decided that down climbing and skiing across the thin snow was the best option. I down climbed first and carefully put my skis on (I was on a thin rock ledge above a 50 foot cliff to run out rocks to a 2000 foot vertical tumble down a tight rocky chute… I was a little nervous) and traversed across a breakable crust to a less steep spot. After watching me, Steve decided he could down climb and traverse without putting his skis on. We climbed the 100 feet or so to the top of the face where we could see the bottom half of the line. But we were still unsure we were in the right spot on the mountain.

Gallatin Peak from the top of the Hanging Garden

Gallatin Peak from the top of the Hanging Garden

We scouted around the top of the ridge and even tried calling my friend Patrick, who had skied the line before, to see if we were in fact above the line. I knew there were only two possible entrances into The Garden, a lower one which is the skiable entrance, and an upper entrance which ends in a large cliff. I was about 85% sure we were in the right spot, so I skied down the entrance a ways to see if the line went all the way through. It did. Steve skied down to the safe spot next to me and we got ready for the line. There was one more blind rollover to worry about, but I was now about 95% sure we were on the right line, so I dropped first.

Getting ready to drop into The Hanging Garden

Getting ready to drop into The Hanging Garden

The first turn was extremely exposed, it was a 10-20 foot wide hanging snowfield that went over a sheer 500 foot cliff, the line then went into the main chute where exposure was much less severe but still present. The snow was amazing, my first two turns were over the head pow, it was hard to enjoy though because I still wasn’t sure the line went all the way through and I was extremely wary of my slough carrying me over the edge. After, getting past the first exposed section the gut of the line was really fun, powder skiing, at the bottom of the line, it opens up again over smaller but still dangerous cliffs. Skiing carefully and taking my time I made it out the bottom of the line extremely stoked. I pulled out my camera and watched Steve drop in.

Steve Gilson drops into the upper section of the Hanging Garden

Steve Gilson drops into the upper section of the Hanging Garden

Steve Gilson in the gut of the Hanging Garden.

Steve Gilson in the gut of the Hanging Garden.

Steve skied the line carefully as well, but in the lower section above some large cliffs he fell. He felt his slough starting to push him towards the cliff so he quickly recovered and straightlined out. When he finally got to the bottom he realized he had skied the entire line with his boots in walk mode. Glad we had made it out we began the climb back into Beehive Basin.

Looking back at our line

Looking back at our line

As we skinned up a fairly steep wide open face I looked up and saw a wetslide coming down the same face we were skinning. Because we were switchbacking I was in a safe spot but I yelled down to Steve who was almost directly below where the slide was coming from. Since it was a wetslide it was moving fairly slowly and Steve easily avoided it. We topped out and dropped back into Beehive Basin and made the slog back to the car.

Steve getting to the top of the East Ridge of Beehive after almost getting taken out by a small avalanche

Steve getting to the top of the East Ridge of Beehive after almost getting taken out by a small avalanche

Me with the summit of Beehive Peak in the background.

Me with the summit of Beehive Peak in the background.