Get out and Ride

After living in Montana for most of my grown life, I have found myself always serching for new zones to snowboard and bike. Over the past few years alot of my adventrues were inspired by looking at mountain ranges on google earth, then getting online to reasearch access to them. I have found that the majority of my inspiration as of late, has come from blogs that I have stumbled apon. These blogs have not only inspired me, they consistently teach me of all the great areas of Montana I have not seen. On top of the inspiration, these blogs have kept me curiously searching for more. They have also helped me plan trips and access areas without a throw-away scouting trip. I hope that this blog can do the same for a couple more people in Montana. I hope that this inspires other to get out and REALLY see Montana. This blog is for all those who participate in the endless search for more....More mountain escapes, whiteroom apointments, after work bike rides, or persuit of personal progression, Most of us are in the constant serach for Gnarnia. Lets get out and Ride. What do you ride for? I made this blog to display my seach in hopes of inspiration, less solo missions, and more adventures with like minded individuals.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Spring is here-Close to home exploration

Spring is here, just like a light switch was turned on, we went from feet of snow falling in the mountains to rain and warm temps.  I guess it was bound to show up sooner or later.  I have no complaints, we had amazing snow conditions most of the winter.  In the last week or so our snowpack was in a huge transitional phase resulting in pretty hazardous avalanche conditions.  I still wanted to get out with somewhat nice weather forecasted, but questionable avalanche conditions up high. I decided to get creative, at least more creative than I have been in my past.  With more than average low elevation snowpack and colder than average temperatures most the year, some close to home areas around Missoula were sill looking ride-able.  Possibly it was just seasonal luck more than creative thinking.  If the snow up high is questionable, one can look down in elevation to where the snow is in perfect spring condition. Odd to think of going lower than higher.  These tours were far from crazy by any means but I found excitement in attempting the close to home, short window of time tours for the first time.  They turned out to all be a lot of fun.

Blue Mountain

For the first time ever I decided to tour Blue Mountain.  This is an area I have spent hundreds of hours biking and running but have never snowboarded. I found myself one warm sunny day staring out the window at the snowpack left on Blue Mountain.  It has ample deadfall, but I figured with a freeze overnight I could catch the corn perfectly.  Lucky for me it ended up being a perfect day and I found a sustained 1300 foot run in perfect corn.  I must add that it did require a little navigation but it was great to get a little vertical and a tour in a new place so close to town all in about 2.5 hours door to door.  The excursion opened my eyes to potential skiing up there mid winter on a heavy year.
Views from Blue


Mount Sentinel

Sticking with the current trend, while up on a hike one day I noticed that although mostly bare, Mt. Sentinel had a sustained wind drift that looked ride-able for a sustained 1000 feet.  With hot temps and rain forecasted I knew I had a very short window of time to try and catch it while it was still in tact.  I was wishing I had gear the day of my hike, but ended up returning three days later.  The hike up is always great with views in all directions.  I got a few weird looks with ski gear on my back in the rain but the strip of snow was in great condition.  It was apparent much of it had left in the three days since my hike which had me questioning the attempt, but I was thrilled when I was able to ride all 1000 feet of skiable snow from the top.  The turns were great and its always a weird experience skiing snow with grass on both sides of you while staring down at the Missoula valley.  One thing is for certain.  It is much more fun to ski down than hike.  It was also a great work out and I was able to complete this tour in about 1.75 hours door to door.  Great option with snow and a short window of time.





 

And lastly I was able to squeeze a quick 2 hour tour into an afternoon in the Rattlesnakes that led to a tight couloir and a sunset which may have been the highlight of the outing.  A quick 20 minuets from my house and I was skinning. Catching the sunrise or the final rays of light at the end of the day is always hard to describe.  It just adds so much more depth to the experience.








 
So here is to new experiences, and capitalizing on the additional light we have this time of the year.  Sometimes it is so easy to look past the low hanging fruit, or fruit you didn't realize existed because your focus was to fine.  Even though these outings are far from "epic" I sure have had a good laugh and enjoyed exploring them.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Marshall Mountain-Southern Swan Range

The older I get, the less a trips "success" is measured by riding the set out objective. In fact as of late the objective seems to be a general area instead of a particular line. I am starting to get intrigued and excited by checking out new terrain, terrain you don't hear much about. If the area is good skiing with lots of objects it becomes hard to determine any one effort as a "failure".  In fact no trip is ever really a failure, unless you let it be.  Chances are the line you didn't get to ride will linger in your memory and haunt you until that day the conditions are right.  I feel blessed to have a partner with a snowmobile finally affording me the luxury of checking out new terrain just out of reach.  It has allowed us to reach the summit of three southern Swan Range peaks and leaves me sometimes questioning why I would go elsewhere. 

After summiting Pyramid and Crescent earlier in the year, and discovering breathtaking lines present on Marshall Mountain, nestled between the two, we had high hopes of scouting the peak and riding some of the lines off its most northern aspect.  Forecast were calling for a decent day for the attempt but the weather was horrendous all day.  The mountains were socked in all day with a steady wind bringing temperatures into the negative territory.  Navigation was challenging with a new area and no points of reference as well but we decided to push on. 


The peak briefly exposes itself


Nearing the summit
As we sledded in my hopes of catching the lines in the right condition started to deteriorate.  Almost a foot of snow at the trailhead had me concerned for more at higher elevations.  If wind was a factor with the low density snow it would be a risky move to commit.  We decided to proceed in the hopes the clouds would break, at a minimum getting a lay of the land and scout the lines.  The initial skin was tough and questionable with a weird collapsing crust just below the fresh snow.  When we eventually gained elevation the crust disappeared.  Never a good sign for stability though. 

We continued on a sub ridge to the summit with winds and snow depth increasing with every step.  At some points the snow was close to knee deep.  On the low angle slope the snow was cracking under our steps reassuring us that we would not be riding steeper terrain this day.  We eventually made the summit as it came in and out of view through the clouds screaming by.  It was cold.  We sat and waited until there was no feeling left in our bodies hoping to catch a glimpse of the surrounding areas.  Nothing materialized so we decided to ride the two feet of cold smoke on the ascension ridge.




The ridge was of mellow pitch but the snow was so light we were able to ride 2-feet of fresh snow like it was 8-inches.  Carving turns, loosing sight, feeling the snow come up over our thighs into our face was about as good as a consolation prize gets. 




It was so good we figured we would do a second lap expecting our skin track to still be intact.  It however was not as the winds were quickly transporting snow that day.  Another quick push to the top and we were treated to a 3500 foot run nearly all the way back to the sleds with fun snow and a great fall line the entire way.  There is something magical about finding tours where you can get runs like this all the way out to your sled, cutting out what can sometimes be a demoralizing egress without one.
 
Peak exposes itself on the second lap

Scouting the abyss




While the tour was not a success by the initial objective, it was still a massive success to summit and figure out the access.  This will set us up for an amazing return trip, if we get a clear day in the near future.

 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Crescent Mountain-Southern Swans

Last week Curt and myself found ourselves searching for options.  Heavy moisture and thermal changes in the snowpack had us scratching our head on the best options.  When the conditions and stability are in question, exploration always seems like a good option.  The goal for the day, check out some new terrain and get some exercise.  Seeley usually fits the bill for exploration, and weather was looking the most favorable there so we decided to head out Saturday morning.

In the morning some loading of sleds and we were off.  With no real plan until reaching the trailhead we settled on two areas and decided to commit to one of them when we hit the turn off.  The first option was the exploration of the Marshall Mountain, an area with great terrain and fairly strait forward access.  The second option was Crescent Mountain with less strait forward access and to the best of my knowledge, a more "bushwhack" approach.  While Marshall Mountains access leads to a much closer approach and over 1000 less vertical feet of ascent, we ultimately decided on Crescent with the favorable weather we had on our hands.  It may sound like a stupid decision but after years of looking over at Crescent from the summit of Pyramid, and looking over from adjacent ranges to see the distinct, single avalanche path running close to 4000 feet off the summit of Crescent I could not fight the urge to climb it and stand on its summit.



We started the day with high hopes that were quickly diminished on the climb.  As we stepped off the trail we soon discovered light, breakable crust over the top of warm rotten snow.  It got worse as we navigated the major deadfall over the creek approach in such snow conditions.  We pushed on, questioning our decision, in hopes that snow conditions would get better with elevation. Unfortunately they actually deteriorated before they got better.  Just as we were completely demoralized after 2500 feet of skinning bottomless mank we finally reached an elevation the snow conditions improved.  I think it is safe to say at multiple points Curt and myself questioning calling it a day. Lucky for us we put our heads down and quietly slogged through it. 

We eventually made it to the ridge, and as always spirits jumped through the roof.  The views were instantly amazing with the greater Swan peaks exposing themselves and the constant view of the Mission Mountains.  Quick work of the ridge had us on the summit, a place a few hours prior I did not think we would make it to on this day. 





 



We spent a good deal of time on the summit taking in the incredible views, and scouting all of the options off all aspects of this peak. Some of the lines definitely warranting a return trip.  The terrain up there is endless and I could not help but dream of trips further back into the range. We talked in depth about the central peaks and wondered how many have been skied. 









Ultimately we decided to drop the Southeast face.  We had a discussion about the possibilities of cliffing out on the exit but we decided to give it a go assuming there would be a route back to the creek.
The run was in great condition and we were ecstatic to find the run to be a perfect all the way down.  It was just plain fun riding for 3000 feet in a min half pipe from the summit.
  
 

 

As with all highs there can be lows, and we soon found out that the bottom of the drainage is blocked by a 200 foot cliff.  We exhausted all options with no solutions and ultimately chose the conservative, possibly only option we had.  This would require us to climb back up and around the cliff band which was more prominent than we originally thought.  It turns out the demorilizing skinning was not over for us this day and we had to skin through even warmer, bottomless snow bushwacking the never ending cliffs up for another 1500 vertical before we found a passible route out.  I guess this comes with the "exploring territory".



All in all I look back on the day and the horrible egress fades and the tour as a total comes flowing back as a positive fun adventure.  It was tough that day to realize what we had to do but it was so worth it to summit a new peak, scout new lines and ride a line in great conditions that I had been staring at for years now.  Another great day in the Swan range.