Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Peak baggin' in the Tobacco Roots

Atop Mt Jackson, the sixth highest peak in the Tobacco Roots, during a brief break in the clouds

June brought us into the heart of the summer with the passing of the solstice, the longest day of the year. One primed for hedonism and vague pagan rituals.

And, surprisingly enough, great skiing.

I was lucky enough to get invited up to a friend’s cabin about 11 miles back in the Tobacco Root Mountains, just about an hour or so west of Bozeman for a party celebrating all of those things. Well, all right. There weren’t any pagan rituals or anything. But we climbed a mountain and skied down it and tried to drink a keg of microbrew — certainly enough to cause anyone to dance around a fire and make wookie noises.

I drove to the cabin relatively late Friday night not entirely sure where I was going. My friend Tyler gave directions the night before after we were both a few beers deep: take the Cardwell exit off I-90, a right onto a Forest Service dirt road that you follow about 10 miles until you pass the mine tailings, then it’s a left and you’ll drive over a chain and past a ‘keep out’ sign. Just follow the road until you reach the cabin. Of course.

Sunrise from the cabin door
Directions that seem strange at first always make sense once you get out in the country, however, and I reached the cabin as the sun was setting. Tyler, Michelle and Phil were all drinking around the stove with a pair of dogs mulling around underfoot. We all sat and drank and talked and waited around to see if Little Phil would show up. More beers were had while everyone watched rain begin to fall. Little Phil arrived and talk turned to how great it’d be if snow was falling at higher elevations before turning in for the night.

The day began around 5 a.m. Saturday with Phil whipping up a manly breakfast of eggs and potatoes. The four of us set off into the morning chill astride a four-wheeler dirt buggy contraption shortly after breakfast. It took about 30 minutes to make it from the cabin to the end of a trail not far from Sailor Lake at the base of Mount Jackson. It took about 20 minutes of bushwhack straight uphill, roughly paralleling a stream, before we reached the snowline.
Montana cat skiing!

As luck would have it, a few centimeters had fallen overnight. We took this and the wide bowl at the base of Mt. Jackson in, eyeing up lines and listening to Phil talk about the good stuff that lies even beyond the surrounding ridgeline.

Then we gathered ourselves, talked it out and decided to bootpack up the main north-facing chute coming off the peak, to summit and possibly ski down, depending on the conditions, before hoofing it along the northeastern side of the mountain. Scrambling up a scree field just below the chute made things interesting, and apparently tore a buckle off one of my boots. They were crappy old Scarpas that I bought for about $20 at the ski swap last year, so I wasn’t all too broken up about it, but I was a little worried about how the break would affect the whole skiing aspect.

One happy effect of the boot breakage was that it was a little easier to hike up the chute, even as the slope angle, wind and snow started to kick up a bit.

The low-vis boot pack up
We peaked out after a decent hike and took the requisite summit photo. It was cold, cloudy and snowy while we munched on pepper slices and cheese. But then the sun broke out for about five minutes to give us a partial view of what the Tobacco Roots looked like from 10,400 feet. Brother, it was a nice way to see the first weekend of summer.

We decided to ski down the chute we climbed — shit, it was a possible first descent, why pass that up? Little Phil claimed firsties and we all took our turn before scrambling across the scree field again to reach the ridgeline and find some more fine lines down the bowl. By the time we reached the bottom, it was pounding snow in near whiteout conditions.
Fresh snow on the first weekend of summer? Sure, why not.

We down climbed back to the buggy and headed to the cabin again to set up for the solstice party, rather than take more laps.
Tyler and Little Phil (orange jacket) lead the hike back down
GPS route from top to bottom

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