Upper Greensleeves is in no way related to Lower Greensleeves. They are two unattached flows. I guess thinking of a totally new name was too much effort! In any case, Damien and I decided to check out Upper Greensleeves. It is known to be a wet climb. With all the sunshine we’d been having coupled with temps in the 40’s there was a chance the ice would be completely saturated. Still. we wanted to check it out. From the base of G1 we followed the trail left passing Lower Greensleeves. The trail climbs steeply upward. Some trails branch out and converge, but in the end I’m almost certain all tracks lead to the base of Hangover. From hangover, we continued to traverse left until reaching the bottom of Upper Greensleeves.

The first pitch is several short tiers of W2 and steep snow. From a distance it looked like it could easily be soloed, but when I got up close I changed by mind and asked for the rope! The pitch is wide with many route options. I did my best to stay on the best looking ice. The pitch felt very alpine with the snow and ice mixture in the gully and the winds howling all around us. In fact, there were 80mph winds on the surrounding summits that day!

I belayed Damien from a tree at the base of the W3 pitch. As predicted, there was a liquid waterfall flowing over the frozen waterfall. I made several attempts to climb up the first W3 tier. Most swings, no mater where I placed the pick, resulted in the ice turning bright white. But I also could not clean the dinner plating no many how many time I swung.. It stayed put. I was nervous that the ice would dinner plate once under my full weight. Questionable ice and that fact that I looked like I’d been standing in the rain for an hour from the dripping ice made us decide to skip the second pitch. We barely made it down with one rappel from the tree with a 60m rope. There were other intermittent rap trees so we could have done 2 raps. Certainly a fun route, but do the second pitch on a colder day!

 

Damien and I were enthusiastic to attempt Mount Blackmore after our successful ski ascent of Hyalite Peak two days earlier. We came prepared with crampons and ice axes as the guidebook described the final few hundred feet to be technical in nature with some scramble gear required. This backcountry ski route is a classic and we expected it to have a clear skin track to the summit. However, we decided to depart before dawn just in case we did need to break trail. The route begins at the West Shore TH on Hyalite Reservoir. We got a bit confused as there were several trails taking off in different directions from the parking lot. Damien and I tried following the signs to Blackmore and ended up in maze of XC ski trails. Luckily, using our GPS we were able to navigate the maze and ended up on the correct track to Blackmore. The more direct route would have been to take the left most track at the TH and cross the bridge. I don’t think the roundabout we took costed us more then 15 minutes.

The skin trail through the forest was well packed down and obviously sees a lot of traffic. However, this was a Wednesday so only one party passed us. The trail gradually gains elevation though the valley in a series of long switchbacks and then the track plummets steeply to Blackmore Lake! I hate losing elevation on approaches! From the lake we continued along the left shore and up into the trees; once again gaining elevation. Eventually we reached a headwall and followed the trail to the right switchbacking through some trees until breaking out into the tree line and open slopes. Here we were granted out first view of Mount Blackmore. With a large face and intriguing open slopes, it looked like a phenomenal ski. Of course, we needed to climb it first.

Damien and I skinned through the trees heading upward to the far-right shoulder. As we ascended the track we watched the party ahead of us descend from the near the summit with a black dog bounded gleefully behind them. The little black dot bobbing up and down in the track was rather hilarious! There was a bit of sluffing near the summit as they descended, but nothing to cause alarm. High winds blew over the left shoulder causing snow to pour down the slopes. It almost looked like nearly continuous avalanche action, but this was not our route down and in a contained area. There were some cliffs on the descent route though and we made a mental note of their whereabouts.

Once reaching the ridge-line, we easily followed a skin track (exposed at times) until we were about 200 feet below the summit and incline began to get steep. Here we strapped our skis to our packs and continued up on foot, following a well beat in boot track to the summit. No ice axe or crampons needed. Hyalite Peak had been much more technical a summit by comparison.

Blasted by high winds  of 30-40 mph on the summit, Damien and I enjoyed outstanding views of the Gallatin Range. We didn’t linger long with the harsh conditions and quickly ripped off our climbing skis. Since Damien’s boot malfunction on Hyalite Peak, he had acquired a new pair of Scarpa Mastrele RS boots and was excited to see how they performed on the downhill. I have a pair myself and love them.

We eagerly departed the summit anticipating some fun turns and were not disappointed! Damien and I trended slightly skier’s left and bombed down the mostly un-tracked powder (most people descend off the shoulder far left it seemed). The snow was in marvelous condition! Soft, smooth powder that felt like silk underfoot and was a delight to turn in. I think this was my best ski descent to date. It even included a fun half pipe between to cliff bands! Damien was in great form too and was positively thrilled by his Scarpas.

Damien and I reached the trees and descended near the skin track until reaching Blackmore Lake. From lake we had to pack our skis and walk up the hill about 200 or so feet. Back in skis we bombed flew the to down the toboggan style skin track back to the car. Such an amazing and fun ski ascent/descent. I can see why its popular!

 

Elevation gain: 3422

About 11 Miles RT

Damien and I headed up to explore the Mummy Cooler Area mid-week. The trail leads up from just right of the Amphitheater Area near Fat Chance. Several trails seem to branch out from from the main one after gaining a few hundred feet. We kept trending right as all the climbs in the area are in  line along the same cliff. Finally, Damien and I ended up at the base of Matrix which is fatter than usual this year and going at about W4+. We turned right and followed the trail to its termination at Feeding The Cat W3+. A lot of folks were talking about this climb and we wanted to check it out for ourselves. It’s short, sweet and steep. From the bottom it looks like the upper portion is the most technical part. I felt uneasy about leading this one so Damien took the sharp end.

It turned out that the bottom 2qw steeper than it looked! The ice wasn’t in the greatest condition either; really wet and somewhat brittle. Damien asked me to finish the lead for him once he got to the top of the first tier. I climbed up the route, but felt too psyched out to finish the lead. The nature of the ice was freaking me out too. Last time I led on sub-optimal ice I took a lead fall and it still haunts me. We decided to bail on a screw.

Damien later found out that he’d led the crux! The top of the climb appeared worst from the bottom which was a big reason we bailed. However, it was the first tier that was actually the hardest part. Looks can be deceiving indeed. We will be back!

Feeding the Cat

Damien and I were excited to explore Hyalite Canyon beyond ice climbing and venture further into the backcountry. We chose to start our exploration with a backcountry ski ascent of Hyalite Peak. It was listed as a Bozeman area classic with medium traffic. The most famous summit in the canyon to ski is Mount Blackmore. However, the book mentioned that the final ascent of Blackmore was a technical scramble with ice axe and crampons needed. We thought that it was best to start with Hyalite to get a feel for the area first since it didn’t involve gear beyond skis. In the end we discovered that Hyalite was the more technical peak of the two!

Damien and I began our day in the early morning, just before sunrise at the Grotto Falls Trailhead (the end of the road). There is a wonderfully packed down track here used by both climbers and skier’s alike. We continued up the trail through forest making sure to remain on the Hyalite Creek Trail with each junction. The 3-4-mile trail through the forest to the head of the valley seems endless and elevation gain is barely noticeable.

At Shower Falls the track abruptly begins to gain elevation in earnest with steep switchbacks leading up to the tree-line. As the trees parted a large rock buttress came into view. We paused to examine our map. We could not assume that the skin tracks indeed went to Hyalite Peak and felt that it would be wise to double check. As it turned out, the route to Hyalite Peak circled around the left side of the buttress. However, the skin track went right. It a good thing we checked!

Damien and I parted from the well-established track and began to break our own trail. We circled around the buttress to a basin with frozen Hyalite Lake. Here we received our first distant view of an intimidating looking Hyalite Peak. The slopes seemed complex, but we continued to switchback upward generally aiming to the right of the summit until topping out at the lower saddle above Hyalite Lake. Ahead of us was a massive snow field and steep slopes leading to the upper saddle. The upper saddle was guarded by what appeared to be a cornice and we could see sluffing mostly on the left side. We decided to traverse on the right slope upward to avoid the possible avalanche danger and, hopefully, find a way to navigate the cornice.

The saddle appears much further away than it is which was a wonderful surprise. Damien and I traversed the slope which was icy in places but for the most part easy to skin. Near the saddle we encountered windblown talus and removed our skis. To avoid the cornice, we climbed up the talus to the ridge-line about 50 feet above the low point of the saddle where the cornice ended. Here were kicked steep steps up to the ridge and then descended to the wind-blown saddle at about 10,000 feet.

Damien and I left our skis at the saddle and climbed the remaining 300 feet on foot. The broad ridge was strewn with exposed rocks. The final ascent of 300 feet took about 20 minutes. I never experienced attitude issues below 13,000 feet before, but for some reason on Hyalite Peak the thin air made everything take 3x as much energy.

The summit was windy, large and marked by a large carin. Views of the snow caped Gallatin Range abounded in all directions and it occurred to me that this was my first Montana summit. I could not have asked for a more perfect winter ski ascent! The climb was more difficult and rugged than we anticipated, but the rewards are always worth it. Of course, we still had one more obstacle to overcome.

Damien and I returned to our skis (which took 5 minutes) and prepared for the ski descent. I am always amazed at how much better skins stick in powder. In the Northwest the skins are barely hanging on for dear life and nearly fall off as you remove them. In the Rockies you need to actually rip the skins off the boards!

Damien and I broke through a shallow part of the cornice and side hilled down the left side of the slope just below our skin track. The snow had a crust on it making turns awkward. As we reentered the basin near the lower saddle Damien suddenly plunged into the snow. Damien never falls, and I stopped immediately.

Damien’s gear malfunctioned. The pin that holds his boot in ski mode had popped out! Suddenly in walk mode he lost control of the ski and went down. Damien wears La Sportiva Spitfires. They are light weight boots and comfortable, but we’ve noticed that they are on the delicate side and can’t take a beating in the mountains. Some of the straps were already coming apart and one sole is tattered. However, none of this mattered. The most important issue here was that the boot is already not stiff. Skiing down in walk mode was not going to happen without some adjustments.

In frustration, Damien removed his ski and to get a better look at his boot. Naturally the ski eagerly began an independent journey down the slope. Our breaks don’t always automatically engage since the board is so wide. I charged after it. Luckily, it torpedoed into the snow about 300 yards down. Damien now faced the task of descending to the runaway ski. It was quite the sight! He skateboarded down on a signal ski, plunging into the snow every few feet. However, he fell impressively few times all things considered.

Damien resolved his boot issue by tightening every buckle on his boot and adding a ski strap to provide additional support. The fix worked, and I couldn’t see a difference in Damien’s ski performance. He informed me, however, that he was only weighting his good boot and the other foot was being used for balance only. Impressive!

We generally followed our skin trail back to the parking lot with fun tree skiing and a fast ride in the valley on the heavily traveled skin track. It wasn’t the most amazing ski descent, but it was an excellent mountaineering adventure…. and an excuse for Damien to replace his boots with a more robust model: Scarpa Mastrale RS.

Elevation gain:3449 ft

12 miles RT

 

 

Damien and I decided to venture over to The Amphitheater Area on our second day. On Damien’s first trip to Hyalite Canyon about 6 years ago, he and some friends had hired a guide. One of the climbs they did was Fat Chance. On our last trip to Hyalite, Damien and I had looked at this flow and deemed it too difficult for us to lead. It was time to return once again. This time things were different.

We waited a bit to get on the route since it was Sunday at the canyon and crowded as usual. The team before us went up the steep center section of the falls. When it was Damien’s lead he decided to angle more left of the main flow. He thought this route would be a bit easier than the intimating steep face. However, upon following Damien and then doing some laps on the center on the face as well, I think he ended up taking the more difficult way up! The center was steep and long, but extremely picked out making is a very easy climb. The left side, on the other hand, was nearly untouched and, though shorter, featured a steeper angle and more awkward moves! Damien crushed it!

Fat Chance is certainly a great route, but it does draw crowds. Get there early. It is easy to top rope and rappel from tree anchors.

Damien and I were excited to return to Hyalite this winter. Two seasons ago during out visit ,we’d spent our time perfecting technique and doing laps in the top roping area: G1. This year we hoped to tag some classic lead routes in the canyon. Our first stop was a noteable combo: Lower Greensleeves to Hangover.

Lower Greensleeves to easy to find. Upon reaching the popular G1 area continue left along the trail. In a few feet there is a small W2 flow (Willow Gully). A few yards later there is a larger and taller flow. This is Lower Greensleeves. It is rated W3, but many agree that it is really a tall W2 route. It’s a great warm up climb to get in the swing of things (literally) and a confidence builder. Damien easily led up the climb and belayed me up after him to a tree anchor. We stuffed the rope and screws into our packs and continued upward.

We followed a trail left from the top of Lower Greensleeves for several yards. Several trails branch off here and there. We stayed on the main one. It seems that all other trails eventually converged back together leading steeply upward and depositing us at the base of Hangover. Luckily there was only one team ahead of us and they moved swiftly up the climb taking the right variation. Damien and I opted to climb the traditional left variation.

It was my lead so I geared up and began to swing my nomics. I chose to stay in the far right corner of the falls near the rock. This seemed like the easiest way up, but in the end there were some awkward stemming moves in the ice chimney and then some technical and exposed moves to leave the chimney and get onto the open face of the flow. So much for taking the east way out!

There were several different belay anchors all on trees when I topped out of the tier. I continued up W1/2 ice and snow to the highest tree near the base of the 2nd tier before belaying Damien up. For the second pitch I stayed far right on ripply and dripping ice to an upper belay tree. It’s best to set up a top rope rather than belay from above since the tree is hanging over the falls. It is two rappels from trees to the base.

Damien and I returned to this route a few days later. This time Damien led up the center of the first pitch. It felt more exposed, but was not awkward. I led the second pitch again, but this time going through the center of the flow. From a distance it looks tame, but up close the ice reared upward and is very vertical. Luckily I got through the exposed moves amd completed my steepest pitch to date!

 

 

Damien and I only had a half day to ski on Christmas since we needed to drive 8 hours pack to The States. We opted for a short tour through the Teddy Bear Trees not too far from the parking lot. Who doesn’t want to ski something with that name?! We did not have a picture of the route or a great description, except for a small line on our map. Luckily, finding the junction off the main track wasn’t difficult. Basically we took a right when we reached the first main gully.

Damien and I followed the track though mostly open slopes with some slide alder for several hundred feet before the trail curved into the forest. The Teddy Bear Trees were supposed to be more left than we were headed, but we assumed the trail would curve back over. It didn’t. Instead, Damien and I ascended aggressive switchbacks through the trees aiming more and more right. Finally we stopped to locate ourselves on the map and discovered we were not in the Teddy Bears Trees, but on the restricted Grizzly Shoulder. With avalanche danger moderate we weren’t too worried about the slopes being bombed. All the same, we did not have a permit to be in the area and we prepared to descend. It was getting late in the morning anyway so we didn’t miss much tour time.

The descent from the shoulder was steep, deep and tight tree skiing. Probably the most difficult I’ve done in my life. But it was my type if fun (type 2)! Damien loved it too and made some impressive turns through the forest. It would have been nice if I didn’t need to be rescued from a tree well, but things happen!

We arrived back down at the main trail and skied back to the visitor center. A great end to a perfect backcountry ski Christmas!

On our third day at Rogers Pass Damien and I decided to leave the well traveled Connaught Drainage and explore the Asulkan. Last year we skied down Glacier Crest via the moraines making for the spiciest ski descent we’ve ever experienced. A mess of cliffs, blue ice, terrain traps and glacial junk to navigate! This time we planned to skin up the moraines and make an attempt to reach Pearly Rock. For some stange reason we just had to visit this maze of a moraine again! Damien and I began our journey in the dark skinning up the well traveled main trail from the Asulkan parking Lot. Temperatures were easily around -11 Fahrenheit,; the coldest it had been on our Rogers Pass trip. My nose hairs frozen instantaneously and I feared my eyeballs might freeze solid if I didn’t blink enough!

Damien and I reached the turnoff for the Great Glacier Trail just as darkness began to fade. We switched off our headlamps and crossed the small bridge. The skin track here hadn’t been used since the last snowfall. We could see the tracks vaguely in the forest enough to follow. However, as the track entered the rocky creek-side marking the beginning of the moraine maze, the track transformed to only a whisper that often vanished at times. The creek-bed was snow/ice covered, but we could hear water flowing beneath it. I did out best to break trail along the side where it was open, but terrain forced us into the trees and first large boulders of the moraines. We found ourselves in a labyrinth of massive rocks, cliffs and voids. High above us we could see the familiar upper moraine field filled with ominous terrain traps. Pearly Rock seemed like and unattainable destination. In addition, Damien observed storm slab issues as be took his turn breaking trail and I observed that iI could no longer feel my fingers and toes!

I experienced my worst bout of frost bite in the moraines. I’ve had ‘frost nip’ before, but the searing pain of frost bite brought me to tears. Damien helped me undo my pack as my fingers were useless. We located my hand warmers and I shoved my hands deep into my mittens. There was nothing I could do for my feet, but with my hands warming up the pain in my lower extremities became more tolerable. Damien and I reconsidered our route choice and decided that in extreme cold, no skin track, sketchy terrain and a possible wind slab issue did not fix into our acceptable risk margin.

Damien and I retraced our steps back to the main skin track and followed it further into the Asulkan Valley. Often this route is called A-slog-in because it is a long and endless approach to reach the towering peaks with epic skiing. It is also mostly flat requiring a skier to put their skins back on after a descent. Most people stay in one of the backcountry huts since the approach is long enough to warrant an overnight stay. We knew we wouldn’t get far with only 4 hours of daylight remaining, but we wanted to see the famous valley for future reference.

The lofty, snow covered peaks, were indeed epic as they reared high above us glowing in the afternoon sun… but only for a moment. Damien and I sat down to bask in the pleasant warmth and in ten minutes the sun dripped behind the mountains casting the valley back into shadows! In the winter this far north the sunshine is short lived indeed!

Damien and I turned around just before entering The Tree Triangle and skinned (or slogged) back to the [parking lot). When we returned to the Roger Pass Discovery Center I finally had the chance to look at me feet. The tips of my toes were purple. Definitely frostbite! I’ll have to be cautious for the rest of the season.

On our second day at Roger Pass in Glacier National Park Canada, Damien and I set our sights on a summit. In January we’d climbed Video Peak in the Ursus area and we’d heard that it was in great shape the day before. However, we also wanted to go for a different summit if possible. Therefore, we decided to go prepared for two options. Our main objective was Ursus Minor, a larger peak with the same approach as Video. However, the ascent would be more in an avalanche prone area and require several meters of class 4 scrambling on the ridge to attain the summit. For this reason we packed crampons and an ice axe. If Ursus Minor conditions looked sketch from Hospital Bowl we could easily change course and climb Video again.

We set our from the Rogers Pass Discovery Center along the main trail, turning right at the first junction to cross the bridge as we had the day before. The route to Hospital Bowl follows the Connaught Drainage. In the open area just before the last band of trees we turned right and followed a side skin track through the forest. There are some steep kick turns on this track, but is is well worn and manageable. In seemed much easier than the skin track we first used to attain Hospital Bowl nearly a year ago. After perhaps 1000 feet of gain the trees begin to open up and the grade becomes gentle gaining the last few hundred feet to the tree line and Hospital Bowl entrance.  Gazing up a Ursus Minor to our right and seeing what appeared to be a gnarly ridge and avalanche debris in the chute next door to the ascent route, we quickly turned our attention to Video Peak.

Damien and I continued up the skin track, ascending gradually up the rolls and bumps of Hospital Bowl in long, sweeping switchbacks. This is perhaps the most time consuming part of climbing Video: ascending the bowl to finally reach the base of the mountain. It is pleasant going through and the views of MacDonald and Sir Donald are incredible to behold, especially as a clear day like the one we experienced. Of course clear means cold, and I wore a light puffy the entire time. It was easily -5 Fahrenheit.

Finally we reached the rock band that marks the base of the Video Peak. Here we followed switchbacks up the right side of the mountain. The track is  exposed and we had our whippets ready. To gain the ridge near the upper rocks we needed to remove our skis and boot about 10 feet straight up. From here we followed the ridge and traversed under the summit to reach the broad slope open slope the other side. Damien and I tried to skin to the top, but the area was skied out and our edges wouldn’t bite. Instead, we carried our skis the final few meters to the top. Summit # 40 for the year!

After taking in the 360 degree views, Damien and I prepared for the descent. We were very excited since this time we wouldn’t have to contend with flat light as we had during our January tour of this mountain. To top it off, the route was about half as skied our as last time! Indeed, Damien and I enjoyed rad turns in deep pow all the way back down to the treeline. Descending Ursus Trees was a bit tricky with all the bumps and obstacles on the route, but we managed to descend back to the main skin track and avoid the crummy gully we ended up skiing down last time.We arrived back at the parking lot just before headlamps would have become necessary. Another epic pow day at Rogers Pass!

 

Damien and I originally planned to backcountry ski in Duffy Lake Providential Park for the long Christmas weekend. However, on Thursday evening when the latest avalanche forecast was released it seemed that the snow pack was not settling as well as originally predicted. We checked the status of some other regions and, drawn by memories of epic powder, Damien and I decided to commit to the 8 hour drive to Glacier National Park Canada.

Damien and first visited the Rogers Pass area of Glacier National Park in BC about a year ago en route to Canmore, Alberta. The park is riddled with impressively large and rugged peaks, vast glaciers and epic powder. It is a ski mountaineering mecca! Unfortunately, camping is very restricted during the winter months in the park, so we would have to resort to camping in our CRV along side some nice sprinter van build-outs. At least we learned from last season and brought 4x as many blankets!

After picking up our overnight parking permit from the Rogers Pass Discovery Center, Damien and I headed out on the main skin track into the Ursus Area. It snowed 5 inches overnight and avalanche danger was considerable above treeline. This suited us well as we didn’t want to take on anything too significant after driving through the night with minimal sleep. We set our sights on a simple tour up Balu Pass with a side trip up the Balu shoulder.

The powder was as perfect as we remembered. Once again I immediately fell in love with how my climbing skins glided over the track like a hot knife through butter. Rogers Pass spoils me and Cascade concrete just cannot compare on the up-track. The clouds cleared above and the sun illuminated the majestic lofty summits the towering above us as we skinned up the Connaught Drainage. The peaks here look Himalayan and I am spellbound every time I journey into the valley.

The route to Balu Pass is straight forward. After less than a kilometer there is a fork in the main trail. Damien and I turned right and crossed a small bridge over the creek. Then we continued on through the valley staying on the main trail throughout. Turning left at this junction is also applicable as this trail ends up linking back up with the one we followed, but it is better suited for a down track in our experience. In any case, the main trail leads all the way to the drainage’s end and up to Balu Pass which is nearly always visible throughout the journey. The skin track is well worn in and easy switchbacks lead easily to the pass after 2611 feet of gain.

The temperature was notably frigid as we skinned through the valley, the the wind that blasted us as we crested the pass knocked the temperature down further well in to negative degrees! We tried to find some shelter in the spruce trees that dotted the ridge, but they seemed to have  funnel effect on the wind making things feel even more arctic! Fortunately, the views of distant white mountains and expansive glaciers made all the cold worth it. I continued to wear my puffy as we followed the skin track up the shoulder in the direction of Balu Peak!

The gusts settled as we climbed the shoulder. I think the pass has a wind tunnel effect. Damien and I continued on until about 1:45pm. We decided that with sunset being at 3:25 this far North we ought to begin our descent. Damien and I ripped off our skins… so nice to actually be able to rip off the skins. In the PNW the saturated snow makes it so “ripping the skins off”  can better be describe as detaching the 2 inches of the skin that is just barely hanging on for dear life.

Goggles and helmets on, Damien and I began our descent. Instead skiing off the shoulder and into the valley directly, she skied back to the pass and then into the valley. This allowed for a longer tour and more fresh turns. There we no down tracks from the pass yet! The pow was thick and deep under our boards. Such a strange texture compared to concrete I’m used to. I’m still learning to ski in fluffy, rocky mountain powder, so my turns are cautious and slow. I love it though! Nothing compares to touring Rogers Pass. When we reached the main trail we followed it down until we reached a turn off on the right. This leads to the trail we had skipped earlier. After crossing the bridge we released our heels for a flat section and then removed our skis altogether and carried them up a small incline.  There the terrain again heads downwards and we skied swiftly back to the Discovery Center. Perfect warm up for the long weekend!