Winter Storm Watch


The annual vigil of carefully watching the weather and waiting for the flakes to fall has begun. This year’s summer felt too brief with the majority of it spent rehabbing my knee. Nonetheless, I did get out on some hikes and enjoyed the wonderful Paradise Valley just out my back door.

Mount Wallace (10,620′) in the southern Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness.

My lovely wife, Sarah, biking in Paradise Valley on her way to brunch at the Pine Creek Cafe.

Passage Creek in the southern Absaroka-Beartooths.

Passage Falls in the Mill Creek watershed.

Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium)

Fishermen on the Yellowstone River

Yellowstone Lake, look closely and you can the Teton Range in the distance.

Paradise Valley, perhaps the best place on earth?

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Summertime…


Gallatin Valley from the South

It has been a nice, hot, and smokey summer up here in Bozeman. But a new puppy and canoe have been keeping me plenty busy. Here are a few select shots from the summer so for.

Wild Iris

Charlie Noone fishing Upper Hyalite Creek

Rainbow over Gallatin Canyon.

Fishing under Elephant Mountain.

Nice looking Cutty caught by Eric Bee.

There have been several fires this summer with the heat and dryness. Watched this chopper refill to put out a nearby fire.

A new canoe has added a new element to the summer. Sarah and I testing it out on Hyalite Reservoir.

Sarah enjoying the evening.

Canoing on the Yellowstone.

Sarah and Dudley enjoying the float before we flipped and I swamped my camera.

The Prison Shower – Mission Creek, Montana


I awoke to my phone ringing at 4:25 am, it was Shawtan, I silenced my phone so I could get 5 more precious minutes of sleep before my alarm would go off at 4:30. 4:28 my phone rings again, this time I groggily answer and tell Shawtan that I’m still down to ski and to pick me up in a half hour. I gear up, eat breakfast and slam some coffee before Shawtan picks me up, we make a brief stop to pick up Chris Shafer and take off for Livingston.

We arrive at the trailhead around 6, and Chris realizes that he can’t hike in Birkenstocks or his alpine boots as the snowline has risen well above the trailhead. He dons Shawtan’s slippers and we head up the trail. About 1/4 mile in we experience our first challenge, swollen creek crossing. Shawtan and I just walk through the water in our AT boots but Chris’s clogs are no match for the rapids. His first log crossing attempt nearly ended the trip 15 minutes into it.

Chris Shafer clings for life after nearly going for a swim.

We continue to hike in and out of snow patches for about a mile and a half before we put our skins on and start skiing towards and through a large burn zone. Concerned about the warm conditions, it didn’t really freeze the night before and it was going to be almost 70 degrees, we opted for an obscure and well protected couloir.

The Prison Shower from afar, maybe a first ski decent?

We skinned up to the base of the couloir where we switched to crampons and ice axes. The snow was “tricky”, a 1-3″ ice crust on top of mashpotatoey snow. Not the best ski conditions to say the least.

Climbing into the Prison Shower

The couloir was pretty short, 500-600 feet long, but it was steep and extremely narrow. At the crux of the couloir we discussed if our skis would even fit through the narrow slot. Snow conditions were too horrible to do any straightlining, so Shawtan with his long skis had to turn around. Before turning around Shawtan measured the slope angle and it measured in over 40 degrees steep. Chris and I continued climbing and the couloir got steeper. I finally topped out of the couloir and took in the stunning views of a Montana morning.

The Crazy Mountains from the South

Mission Creek headwaters, the peak on the left is known as the Elephant Head.

Chis reached the top of the couloir shortly after and put his skis on in the steeps. A precarious place for sure.

Chris Shafer gears up at the top of the Prison Shower Couloir.

I skied into the couloir and found extremely sketchy snow conditions. The thin ice crust was just enough to grab a ski.

Peering into the Prison Shower

I sidestep/sideslipped/survival skied the couloir and was only able to really get about 3 or 4 turns down the whole couloir. On the apron snow conditions did not improve and I slowly skied to Shawtann who had been waiting for us. Chris dropped in shortly after me and essentially skied it the same way as I.

Chris Shafer just above the crux of the ski.

Shafer entering the crux, it was less than a ski length wide, and I had to do a little airwalking on my skis to get through it.

Chris Shafer skis out of the Prison Shower unscathed.

We skied a little bit of corn on the way out before sitting on some rocks to eat lunch and watch wetslides peel off southfacing cliffs.

Chris Shafer enjoys a little corn on the way out.

We hiked out the last mile on dirt and had to cross more streams, we made it back to the car and had celebratory beers. Chris dubbed the run the Prison Shower because it’s so steep it makes you clench your butt while you ski it.

Shawtan jumps over a creek on the way out of Mission Creek Valley.

One other side-note, I’m moving to Gunnison, Colorado at the end of the month. So soon I will be skiing back in my home state!

Prepping for Europe


I leave in a week for a long European excursion to do some skiing and traveling in the Alps. So I have been spending the majority of my time working, training and planning. In the process I found a really cool zone that, by Montana standards, is pretty easy access. So over the course of a few days I made 3 trips into the zone and summitted all 3 of the major peaks in the drainage, which resulted in nearly 30 miles and 20k of vert climbed and skied in 3 of 4 days. Not a bad way to start shaping up for the 20k vert a day in the Alps.

For skiing I’ve been trying to ski Bridger Bowl when I can, but without a pass it’s sometimes hard to get up there.

Ryan Walters sending it in Mundy's bowl at Bridger Bowl

Myself, airing out of Alabaster Chute in the Diagonals zone at Bridger Bowl

This tin was in my pocket during a pretty violent fall in Mundy's. Saved me from ending my season early, that's for sure.

As for touring and climbing, I’ve spent a lot of time on the easy approach and low angle of Mt Ellis, but I also found a drainage that I am going to keep secret for a little while. Skied off of 3 different summits over 4 days in this area.

Panorama of the Northern Absaroka mountains

The first of the three mountains climbed and skied during a summit binge in this drainage.

The fun thing about the 3 mountains in this zone is that they get progressively more difficult. The first day was on the easiest peak to get a feel for the snow and see what the terrain looked like.

Steve Geiger coming out of the inversion on the approach

Only one of many aesthetic and fun looking lines only a little more than 2 hours from the trailhead

Over the next two days I bagged both of these mountains

Shawtann Whitson climbs towards the summit of the first mountain climbed.

Rob Wudlick and Steve Geiger hike to our line

Shawtan Whitson enjoys the bottom half of 1200' of powder.

Steve Geiger on the approach for summit number 2

Steve Geiger nears the summit of peak number 2 after getting caught in an afternoon storm

Patrick Lawrence gears up at the trailhead in the wee hours of the morning for an attempt on the third peak.

Looking down my line from the top of the gnarliest peak in the zone

The last peak we climbed was the most difficult to climb and ski. I was up there with my good friend Patrick, who I ski and climb with frequently. After winning a round of ro-sham-bo for first tracks down what appeared to be one of the best runs of my life, Patrick staked out a cover worthy photo angle and waited for me to drop. I clicked into my skis on the pointy summit and looked down my line, one turn on a spine then straightline a little chute, lay a big slasher for the photo then race my slough out. I yelled to Patrick that I was dropping. I lightly skied onto the spine and made my first turn, this is when the mountain reached up and took one of my skis. I fell headfirst down a little chute, over some rocks then went through the washing machine as my slough pushed me down the hill. I fought my way out of the moving snow above another rock band, and with only one ski traversed to a “safe” spot. I yelled to Patrick I was ok, but I was missing a ski. Worried my ski was buried deep in slough at the bottom, I looked around and sure enough, my ski was poking straight-up still on the top of the mountain. Patrick recovered it and brought it to me. I gave him first tracks for the rest of the run because of my stupid fall.

Looking back up through the carnage after falling on my first turn. If you look at the very top of the mountain you can see my ski poking up.

Patrick Lawrence slashes after rescuing my ski.

More Yellowstone!


My last post about Yellowstone turned out to be quite popular. So here is some more Yellowstone National Park action!

All the way back in May my mother came up to Bozeman and we spent a day in the Park with my older brother who was doing geothermal research. We got to get up and close to some features in Mammoth and learn all sorts of fun facts.

Mammoth Hot Springs

Mammoth Hot Springs

This hot spring is off the beaten path and I think is a fairly new spring.

This hot spring is off the beaten path and I think is a fairly new spring.

Narrow Gauge hot spring used to be fairly small, but in the last ten years or so really started spewing water. Here you can see terraces forming around trees.

Narrow Gauge hot spring used to be fairly small, but in the last ten years or so really started spewing water. Here you can see terraces forming around trees.

Narrow Gauge hot spring, near Mammoth hot springs.

Narrow Gauge hot spring, near Mammoth hot springs.

A little black bear taking a nap.

A little black bear taking a nap.

Then this last weekend I headed to Yellowstone one last time for the year. Only the Gardiner to Cooke City road was open, but we still drove to Cooke City then hit the boiling river.

Pretty cool falls that I had never stopped at before. Don't know their name either.

Pretty cool falls that I had never stopped at before. Don't know their name either.

Abiathar Peak. Yes this face is skiable, and yes I want to make an attempt this winter.

Abiathar Peak. Yes this face is skiable, and yes I want to make an attempt this winter.

Lamar Valley looking back towards the Absaroka Mountains.

Lamar Valley looking back towards the Absaroka Mountains.

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….