Weather and Labor Day plans don’t always see eye-to-eye when living in the Northern Rockies. While a lot of the US is heading into an ideal backpacking season, Montana can be getting snowed on this time of year. Despite the definitive forecast of rain/thunderstorms/snow up high, Julia and I packed our rain gear and headed into the Beartooth this recent holiday weekend.
While we planned to hike a bit further on The Beaten Path via East Rosebud, we stopped short at Rainbow Lake after being properly soaked for the duration of the hike in. Berries, bear scat, moose, and the surreal scenes that occasionally crept through the clouds kept us occupied along the way. It ranged from a steady drizzle to a full-on gale during the walk and we soon realized that wet was going to prevail. The early stop allowed us to properly set up camp, attempt to dry out, and have a fire with dinner. We even utilized a high-pitched HMG Flat Tarp for standing protection when away from the fire. The decision to stop early resulted in quite the enjoyable evening.
The next morning we eased into things – lying in and listening to the constant patter of rain on our silnylon shelter. The rain eased up and we slowly broke camp while enjoying coffee/tea and shortbread. We then hiked a couple of miles up the trail to scope the next alpine lake prior to turning around to head back. We lucked out with a little bit of clear skies at Lake at Falls which was soon to be socked in on our way back. The rain heightens the colors and the experience. Not every trip can be with bluebird skies and waist-deep wildflowers. At least that’s the mantra when in the thick of some nasty weather.
The gear highlight of the trip goes to the new MontBell Ex Light Down Anorak. This hooded, UL down pull-over has a big kangaroo pocket and a draw hem. My men’s medium (sans stuffsack) comes in at 173g/6.1oz with a claimed 65g/2.2oz of 900 fill power goose down. At over 35% down and just a hair heavier than its predecessor, the Ex Light Down Jacket (160g/5.6oz), this new anorak has me grinning. This little number was unleashed soon after arriving at our soggy night’s camp and provided plenty of warmth as part of my layering system throughout the night and into the next morning. Low temps were around the upper-thirties (°F) based on overnight snow levels. While not the burliest or warmest, it is one of the most viable UL jackets currently on the market. Nice job, MontBell.
It just snowed again (!) – this time to the valley floor, but will be trending back to traditionally warmer end-of-summer temps come tomorrow and for the next week or so. In the meantime I’ll be participating in Big Sky’s 2nd annual The Rut 50K on Saturday along with a slew of other runners. Best wishes to all involved and a big thank you to all of the folks who manage such an event – here’s to a great race and a wonderful autumn!
One of my favorite places in the lower 48 has yet again, lived up to its hype. Glenn Owings and myself recently both jogged the Teton Crest Trail from Phillips TH to String Lake TH. Although finishing at String Lake, we cut off the last pass (Paintbrush Divide) due to time limitations. So instead of ~39 miles, we did ~33 point-to-point. Regardless of the deviation, it was a beautiful trail and a wonderful day in the mountains with a friend. That’s what’s up.
We both carried and wore similar gear for the day, with the standouts being the Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 and the Sawyer Water Filter Bottle. First up, the UD SJ Ultra Vest. Now in it’s second iteration, the SJ UV has just enough volume (7L) and compressibility for a full day in the hills. The SJ UV also has front bottle carry, ala the rest of their signature series of running vest-style packs, which allows for a well-balanced and efficient method of water carry. And as in this case, bear spray can go up front in a bottle pocket when running in grizzly country. The vest has very little bounce when loaded and fit properly, which is a key component to this style of carry. I also carried a pair of Ultra Distance Z-poles collapsed on the back of the pack for over a dozen miles and didn’t notice them there. Both Glenn and myself used the SJ UV to great success and would definitely use it again for similar long-day outings.
Next up, but no less successful is the Sawyer 24oz Water Filter Bottle. I’ve mentioned this dip/sip method before but the latest version incorporates Sawyer’s Mini Filter into the equation, thus lightening and lowering the volume of the system. The only modification that I’d suggest is doing away with the stock Sawyer bottle due to it’s stouter profile and hard plastic, and replacing it with a cheapo bike bottle of your preference. Most that I’ve found have a universal thread that mates up with the Sawyer lid. This way, the end result is trimmer for front vest carry and also facilitates being able to squeeze the bottle for increased flow. Glenn and I used this system to great success for the entire length of our Teton Crest experience. I’ve been using it for over a year now and find it to be a very time-effective solution to water filtration in the backcountry. Dipping and sipping, we carried no extraneous water weight the whole way.
So, those two pieces were the winners used for this trip. Everything else was fairly standard and trusty, with a windshirt, small emergency/FAK, LW gloves, buff, headlamp, and extra calories being carried inside the vest back. All other stuff, such as camera, gels, chews, electrolyte tabs, water, mini-map, and bear spray were carried somewhere in the external front and lat pockets. The system works pretty damn nicely.
The route went something like this: Headlamps, running, and the rising sun. Wildflowers and surrounding mountains begin to show themselves. Wildlife as well. Six moose in the course of a mile. Deer on the trail. Ten miles and Marion Lake, the day has just begun. Shelves of flowers and the first glimpse of the Tetons. Death Canyon Shelf was awfully nice. Granite, Whitebark, and elephant’s head in AK Basin. The best flowers of the trip out of said basin. Cheeky marmot and the three Tetons from atop Hurricane Pass. Schoolhouse glacier and the best of moraines. Old growth Whitebark and Doug fir, huckleberries, tourists, Jenny Lake, tired feet, no shade, String Lake, and a celebratory soak in the outlet. Pica’s in town for the best burrito and margarita combo around. Campfire back at Gros Ventre with Julia, shooting stars and the milky way to accompany. A sound night’s sleep.
We really couldn’t have asked for a better day in the mountains. I can say it was training for The Rut 50K, but it was really just a gorgeous day out in some pretty nice wilderness. Just how we like ’em.
The north face and its springtime bunny ears are a siren call to glisse mountaineers here in town based on a mix of accessibility, appearance, and the mountain’s ski history. Names such as Tom Jungst, Doug Coombs, Hans Saari, and Alex Lowe are just a few that come to mind. Also, ski touring this winter has provided a great aerobic base as well as strong legs for an easier transition into spring ultra marathon training. So why not give thanks to mountain running by skiing the mountains – and visa versa?! I hope to get some summer skiing in but until then I’ll probably be running the trails these last few weeks in prep for the summer-opening Old Gabe 50k. Pretty psyched for it! Anyway, here’s my recent Blackmore trip in photos and some standout gear notes below:
Gear Highlights – all of the below has been with me for many miles and thousands of vert over the course of months to years. It was also all used on this trip to Blackmore. Buyer beware:
Sportiva GTR with Plum Race 145. Mounted 2cm forward. Awesome.
Dynafit TLT6 P. No tongue or powerstrap. The gold standard of LW touring boots.
BD Whippet. A little extra security goes a long ways. For the up & the down.
RAB Fusion pant. Hybrid of Neoshell and Matrix softshell. My go-to touring pant.
RAB Boreas Pull-On. 4-way stretch UL softshell/windshirt. Highly functional mid/outerlayer.
Patagonia Houdini. Simple nylon windshirt. One of my most used pieces over the last five years.
RAB VR Tour Glove. Super breathable two-ply softshell with a Pittards leather palm. So very nice.
Thanks as always for checking in and please do enjoy yourselves out there!
Over the last few days Julia and I have spent a night in the Yellowstone backcountry and then for the New Year, an overnight at the Fox Creek cabin in the northern Gallatin range. Both trips have been via metal-edged XC skis with lightweight packs over easy to advanced terrain. For such outings we’re both on Fischer S-Bound series skis with 56mm NNN manual bindings paired with this season’s Fischer Offtrack 3 BC boots. These particular setups do have their shortcomings (flimsy plastic bindings, lack of much downhill control) but the compromises and limitations are OK so long as they are used in the proper conditions. The fore-aft efficiency of movement with these XC ski rigs is great though and for that we are appreciative. We probably aren’t going to push them too far based on previous breakage issues – hence an eight mile YNP round trip and a twelve mile ski to Fox Creek and back.
The overnight in Yellowstone was quite sublime with us experiencing a nice range of weather from bluebird to blowing and snowing. And waking to the sound of wolves howling is fairly unique in the lower 48. Skiing amongst huge bison is also quite fun, until a small herd sneaks up on you. While skiing along the Slough Creek trail, which is also a bison freeway, I joked that it be funny if we encountered a herd along the narrow corridor of a trail that we were attempting to ski up. And sure enough, on the way down I turned around only to see a bison jam directly behind Julia. I can only imagine what those huge beasts were thinking upon seeing us flailing down their path on skinny skis! So we politely stepped aside behind some convenient boulders and watched as they passed by to the valley. Not your everyday traffic jam to say the least.
Our next backcountry outing was on New Year’s eve to the Fox Creek Forest Service cabin which is located six or more miles out the S. Cottonwood Creek drainage near Bozeman. Unless you really have to, don’t pay for the cabin is my recommendation for future parties. I’ve stayed in plenty of cabins – hell, I grew up in one, but this one takes the cake. Not in a good way. From the broken windows, rancid cots, and the overflowing outhouse, to the likelihood of hantavirus and the highly hazardous wood stove, it was not worth a red cent. But the experience is most of it, and we somehow made it work with a crackling fire, homemade mulled wine (!), homemade fish pie and garlic baguette, chocolate, and some bubbly to ring in the 2014 New Year. Here’s to hoping that you all had a lovely 2013 and wishing everyone a wonderful 2014! Keep calm, keep crushing, keep pushing, and keep carrying on.
A couple friends and myself went on an exploratory ski touring mission into the Tobacco Root Mountains yesterday. We’ve experienced a 50°F swing in temps over the last week or so, with the last few mornings at -20°F. Snow conditions have also fluctuated drastically, with a early-week storm that dropped over 15″ of fresh in some of the surrounding mountains.
Just the conditions I have been waiting for to give my new 177 Dynafit Huascaran skis (112 underfoot) a go. Mounted with toe-shimmed Speed Radicals and paired with Dynafit Speed Skins and TLT6 Performance boots, the setup is both fat and light. A dream for backcountry powder, as this week has confirmed. For reference sake I’ve put over 11,000 vertical feet on the Huascarans since the beginning of December, and over 16,000′ of BC touring so far this month. Anyway, enough tech and specs – on to skiing!
We set off in below zero degree temps and freezing fog, in hopes that we were in an inversion and that the alpine would be warmer and clear. The approach begins on a 4WD road through the tiny Petosi Hot Springs area until the road dissolves into a snow machine track. Nothing a 4runner and some chains can’t handle. We then spent the next few miles skinning the sled track until it went no farther. And into trailbreaking mode we went.
Well over two hours into it and nearly six miles of skinning, we reached the Bell Lake Yurt and the amazing alpine zone that surrounds the basin. The weather gods looked to be smiling upon us with the yurt’s thermometer reading nearly 8°F and the skies slowly clearing. A bald eagle soared overhead while we took a moment to sip tea and snack at the closed yurt. Steep couloir terrain abounds back in this area, but early season continental snow pack relegated us to an easier objective of mostly tree skiing off of Long Mountain (10178′).
We put a track up through the trees and the south ridge before summiting at 3PM to sunny and windless skies. Our descent consisted of a few bony sections traversing the east ridge before dropping into the subalpine fir and the oh-so-tasty whitebark pine forest. The snow was perfectly light and sufficiently deep (12″+) as we dropped over 2000′ back to our approach track. Hoots and hollers from all of us – with only the wildlife to hear us back this far in the hills. What an absolutely stunning and successful recon mission! We safely made it back to the truck before dark and rallied back to town with grins on our faces.