Tobacco Roots ski mountaineering – Bell Lake cirque and Long Mountain (10178′)

Early December Bridger Bowl backcountry
Early December Bridger Bowl backcountry

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.

Fresh tracks, Bridger backcountry
Fresh tracks, Bridger backcountry

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!

Dyanfit Huascaran and appropriate accessories
Dyanfit Huascaran and appropriate accessories
Adam skinning up southern ridge of Long Mountain
Adam skinning up southern ridge of Long Mountain

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.

Looking towards Branham Peaks (10292') where Bell Lake Yurt resides below
Looking towards Branham Peaks (10292′) where Bell Lake Yurt resides below

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′).

Some of the north facing couloirs on Branham Peaks
Some of the north facing couloirs on Branham Peaks
Adam and Skyler on the summit of Long Mountain with the Bridgers in the distance
Adam and Skyler on the summit of Long Mountain with the Bridgers in the distance

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.

Huascaran on the descent. Looking back at our ascent ridge on Long Mountain, with Branham Peaks and Leggat Mountain behind
Huascaran on the descent. Looking back at our ascent ridge, with Branham Peaks and Leggat Mountain behind
Long Mountain, center. Ascent ridge on left. Descent to lookers right of prominent avy path
Long Mountain, center. Ascent ridge on left. Descent to lookers right of prominent avy path

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