Another snow, rainy and high avalanche weekend. we didn’t want to revisit Smithbrook or the Enchantments for what seemed like the billionth time this winter. We’d been playing around with doing winter ascents of Helena and Bald Mountain along the Mountain Loop Hwy. Both are scrambles, but Damien concluded on previous attempts that Bald required a rope. he never tried Helena. With avalanche danger at considerable and more snow predicted we knew our chances we’re good. But there still was a chance since the routes were on ridges, plus it would be fun to explore a new area even will summiting.

We left the car at 7:30am parking less than a quarter mile up Deer Creek Rd at 1700ft. Damien was afraid of getting stuck in the snow since the freezing level was supposed to drop during the day. As it turned out Deer Creek Road doesn’t seem to be maintained anymore. There was huge piles of debris and sections of the road that were completed washed our by the creeks. At about 2200 feet we hit the snowline and put on our snowshoes. It was cloudy throughout with some light-medium snowfall every now and then.

After some discussion we opted to camp at Kelcema Lake. The trail begins at the end of Deer Creek Road and foes 1/2 mile to the lake in the shadow of Bald Mountain. Camping here would require up to take an unknown route up Helena instead of following the mining trail and also a 1 mile detour the following day to climb Bald. However, this still appeared to be the best option so we could easily leave our stuff at camp and carry lighter loads up the mountains.

We set out to climb Helena after setting up our tent on the shore of the lake. It was snowing again as we departed into the forest cutting our path through the trees going straight up the ridge. There was some minor bush-whacking involved, but this decreased as the snow got deeper higher up. In fact is was pretty easy to weave around the trees. We stayed to the left as we ascended. At one point the grade of the climb got steep enough to warrant removing our snowshoes and putting on our crampons. It was much easier to kick steps  this way especially above 4,000ft when the ridge narrowed and the trees gave way to some open slopes. On the left we found huge cornices, but the right side was safe and wind swept. The snow was comping down hard at this point and winds were picking up.

We finally reached the top of the hump on the ridge at 4950ft at about 4:00pm. At this point we had a decision to make. Continuing on would mean dropping 300 feet to the saddle and then continuing back up the ridge to the summit block and summit at 5400ft. The route we needed to continue on was similar to the forest terrain we’d already encountered. with some more open areas. We would definitely end up heading back in the dark… or possibly not even get to the summit block by dark. Once at the summit block we’d have to climb a gully which would probably be too dangerous in the heightening avalanche concern. Still both of us really wanted to continue. We were having so much fun. The weather conditions were giving the climb a true alpine feel and getting back in the dark didn’t seem like totally horrible idea.  However, avalanche concerns and deteriorating weather conditions won out and we began to head back down. We switched from pole to our ice axe at this point as well.

We thought that after the open slope areas we’d easily be able to follow our tracks down through the woods. However, the tracks were gone. Lost to the heavy snow and wind despite the tree cover. As it turned out, the way back to the lake was not the way the stone rolls. Using our GPS Map we tried to get back to the line we used to get up. First we were way left… then we were way right and almost in some obscure basin… then way left again. It definitely made things interesting. In the end we had our headlights on and stumbled through thick brush midway on the trail to Kelcema Lake.

So much snow had fallen during the day that we found the walls to our tent almost totally sunken in. Luckily it was a hardly Eldorado single wall so there wasn’t a total cave in. We busiest ourselves in the dark getting our sleeping pads and bed set up. Damien made water from the snow… he made a little too much water because we ran out of fuel when the dinner water was luke warm. We were still able to rehydrate everything just fine though. The best part of the night was when Damien out down opsack food bag for 15 seconds and when he turned back there was fat mouse moving around inside it. Luckily it hadn’t gotten a chance to eat yet and Damien dumped him out onto the snow where he fled away surprised!

It snowed all night, but in the morning it was cloudy and precipitation free. We were actually able to see the summit of Bald Mountain 4800ft across the lake. We packed up our climbing gear and headed back to Deer Creek Road where we crossed the bridge before turning off into the uncharted forest. The Bald Mountain Ridge was similar to Helena at first, but after 300 ft more open, steep areas revealed themselves. We were able to successfully find ways around these areas through nearby trees. As we gained elevation we were afforded some distant views of surrounding mountains ans also the wind picked up quite a bit too! However, the ridge also grew more and more narrow and at 3900 ft we reached a open slope that seemed in prime condition to avalanche.  We ventured a bit into a rock band to take a closer look. The slope was about 35 degrees. We had seen shooting cracks lower in the trees. the final step on took toward as I arrived at the rock band made a clear “whump” sound. There was a fluffy new layer of snow on stop of a hard older layer. When I played with the new snow with my poles it formed mini slabs.  If it avalanches one would be swept off a cliff and into the forest. Not good. With no away around this slope we turned back.

We had no problems getting back to camp this time as our tracks were still there! The clouds were still high with no precip and the winds calm when we laid in the tent for break before packing up for twenty minutes. Day light savings was killing us. The winds began lashing at the tent about 15 minutes later and when we finally did rise and peer outside we were greeted by thick snow and blizzard-like conditions! A good reminder of how things change quickly in the mountains. It also made a feel pretty good that we hadn’t been able to climb Bald. This was about the time we were have summited!

It was pretty exciting packing up camp in the snow and wind! Conditions stayed that way as we headed back down the trail. We soon found that we were carrying a ton of snow with our down the mountain and it piled into our packs! But then suddenly the clouds shifted and revealed blue skies and sunshine! Confused we took off a few layers… but then we had to rearrange everything again and once again the clouds grew dark. It was pouring rain by the time we got back to the car! A little bit of every weather!

 

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