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….

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3 Responses to Getting Closer… Black Mountain

  1. samh says:

    Glad to see you played it safe, but also glad to see you got to ski a sweet line.

  2. soulturn says:

    Nice. Starred at that last weekend, deemed it crazy and rode a couloir… Saw you guys at the beartooth pass. I was riding with Riley. Stay on the sick path man.

  3. Rich says:

    Nice job! My friend and I skied Black way back in 89 when we were young and insane. I don’t know if we were the first to ski it but went back 10 years later and did it again. It is a sweet place to do some back country skiing. You definately earn your tracks up there.

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