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.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Southern Swan Farewell

Last week we set out for one final tour in the Swans. For this attempt, to ride a line that got away from us earlier in the season.  Hiking up to ride the line in cold windy temps only to top out on the peak with no visibility was a tough pill to swallow as always.  Sitting atop the peak without any views made me feel like the hike was for nothing.  As always the alternative of riding great powder snow sweetened the day,  however I could not help but want to get back to these lines for the rest of the season.  Not being able to link a tour up in the early spring for access reasons the tour got pushed much later into the season.  Last Saturday though the weather looked good for a last ditch attempt. 
Lines from earlier in the winter
Arriving at the Swan range the night before for a little R & R camping my heart dropped a little bit, discouraged by the lack of snow on the west facing peaks.  We held strong though knowing the northern and eastern faces hold snowpack much later into the season.  Our tour would depend heavily on the warming air temperatures of the day.  With well above average temperatures the week before, and a cold front moving in for the weekend, we knew that there was a good chance the snowpack would lock up for the whole day.  Making the entire approach in tennis shoes makes late spring tours more flavorful.  Knowing the whole way up that instead of riding out the entire way in a few minuets that you have to hike the entire way making for a lot more work to ride the lines you want. We made quick work of it though and just as we entered the basin in the early morning, the sunlight that was forecast until noon disappeared under a sheet of clouds with periodic snow storms.  With the cool weather and no solar energy my excitement dwindled as I knew the chances of corn were very low. 





 



We pushed on however knowing that just reaching the peak alone would be worth catching the view we were cheated from earlier in the winter.  Arriving at the top we were treated to beautiful views and a line that was still in tact.  A small down climb and it was decided we would ride it.  The snow was soft enough to be edge-able, at the top but the sun cups from last week had made the once smooth surface a bit bumpy.  The first few hundred feet were firm, however as we neared half way through the chute the snow softened enough to be a little more enjoyable.  The views down in the basin were amazing and it was great to finally descend the run we had stared at on so many tours this winter.  Even though the condition of the chute was less than to be desired I still found great enjoyment getting to ride it this season and dream of how great both chutes off that face would be in good snow.  Its always nice to be able to ride something you have stared at numerous times weather its in good condition or not, and being able to scout the access an added bonus.
 



 

We hiked up and out and hiked all the way back to the truck only to have a rain storm move in just as we shut the doors to the pickup.  While on top I wanted to wait longer for the snow to soften but for this day we took advantage of the small window we had and were lucky to time it just right to stay out of the rain.  The Swan range is a special place, especially with snow and I will spend the next few months dreaming of the next great ski day in the range.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Chasing Snow-June turns in the Rattlesnake

For people that live seasonally, chasing the snow as it recedes up the mountain, the mark of summer can be tough.  With the late winter and cool temps we had this year it felt as though winter would never end.  This season had minimal "spring" tours as fresh snow fell well into May.  Usually we are riding spring snow in March and by the end of April you come to terms with the bitter sweet realization that soon you wont be skiing much longer.  This season was different in the fact that we hardly had a spring, and when the clouds lifted the temperatures turned up depleting the snowpack at a rapid rate.  It did not give me the time to mentally switch my mind to summer mode. My mind still set in snowboard season, attempting to push objectives as one by one they fell off the list as their snowpack dwindled.   I think it is safe to say that in the last two weeks we have finally transitioned into full on summer snowpack.  As I type this I look at snow in the forecast for the up and coming weekend....?   Its always a tough adjustment for me, one I try and fight but in the end it is a loosing battle every season.   I find myself staring at my mountain bike trying to decide if its worth the bushwhack up to snow, or if I should throw in the towel and hop on two wheels.  Either way this seasons transition has been harder than most for me, possibly because of my growing love for an excuse to trek into the alpine with no one else around on a crisp cold mountain morning.  This season it felt like it came out of no where.  Maybe because winter kept coming but the hustle and bustle of spring and summer stayed on schedule. Or maybe its the dynamic of ever increasing perspective of time with age that changes my perception.  I think about it often, and it seems with age each season gets shorter, and just as I adjust to summer I find myself back on snow as if the seasons just roll into one another.  An interesting dynamic.  But I digress.

Either way Curt and myself reluctantly made plans to go for a bike ride, both feeling like we were letting the season go,  wanting to snowboard more than bike.  The weather didn't look good calling for "aggressive thunderstorms" so we set plans for a short early morning ride.   As I awoke in the morning I remembered a location, a short 2 mile hike to a sweet little couloir that held snow until mid June most years.  I texted him 30 min before we were to set out and he agreed to go snowboarding instead.   I think they say the first step to addiction is admitting that your addicted.  We missed a turn and found ourselves on the other side of the mountain.  With time against us and anticipating thunderstorms we knew our only option was to set a bushwhack to the top from where we were located on the road.  It was a bushwhack for sure both in and out, but worth it when we found the couloir in great stable corn snow making for great turns.  The peak also offered some amazing views of the surrounding ranges, and as luck would have it the crazy thunderstorms that were in the forecast didn't show up until the evening.  A great in prompt to adventure leaving that glimmer of hope that there is still more snow to be skied this season!





 



Photo: Curt Tweedy

Photo: Curt Tweedy

Monday, May 29, 2017

Silence on Memorial Day-Bitterroots

Heading into the woods solo is something I rarely do.  I find it harder to motivate.  I've found over the years that with partners the depth of the tour itself is heightened with conversations that typically enrich the soul and recharge the mind.  In addition I find decision making much more strait forward with partners.  Gaining that additional perspective on the mountains not only teaches us, but provides the tools to take a step back and analyze the situations from an outside perspective.  Things we may not have considered, brought to our attention by a partner decreasing the chances of overlooking things.
This trip however was a solo one.  Although not as enjoyable as the team efforts, I had a great day nevertheless. When solo I am more attentive, knowing any wrong move made could be problematic without a support group.  Walking through the hills without speaking a word all day, although somewhat boring, gives the journey a more organic feel observing the surroundings and sounds without interruption feeling more intertwined with the wild.  On days such as these the pace and destination set only by yourself and the limitations of the day presented.

On this day exploration of new terrain, and run was the goal, however far from expected.  As luck would have it stable weather held most of the day, and the snow did not get too hot until later than expected.  Catching the snow at the perfect time allowed for an amazing new run, leaving me wanting more but knowing better, the heat radiating up from the snowpack as I boot packed out.  

Sitting atop the peak amongst thousands of lady bugs, staring off into the range with clouds not moving I lost myself for a moment.  The calm of the day reminded me of the saying "silence is deafening" as it truly was.  Staring at the clouds and peaks I felt for a moment that time all but stopped.  The hustle and bustle of the life we are forced to live and all adult obligations melted away for that brief moment, a brief moment that felt like an eternity.









 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Patience is a virtue-East to South Wolf link-up

It all started with an email to Curt on last Monday.  I had the day off and if weather played along, I wanted to put in a big day Saturday.  Curt was down, per the usual with a return email saying he wanted to do a big day as well.  The tentative plan, a link up of the East and South Couloirs off the Wolf.  We had been tentatively planning the trip all season, but weather windows were few and far between this year.  The plan was in motion as I nervously watched the weather forecast morph before my eyes day to day throughout the week. By mid week the forecast had all but deteriorated to a few hours of "decent" weather Saturday morning, crushing my hopes of the trip.  Fortunately the forecast swung the other direction by the end of the week and it looked like odds were better than not we would have at least half a day of clear skies.
After being denied our objective line during our past two outings in the Missions,  I was cautiously hesitant to throw the effort at such a tight weather window with no clue what was going on with conditions up there. It had snowed at elevation the past five days so we knew it would be winter conditions.  Other snotels had shown about 3 inches per day so without a wind event odds were good the snow came in gradually with steady temps suggesting possible stability. Obviously this guess is a guess because the Missions are more challenging than other surrounding ranges when it comes to predicting weather and snow conditions.  They seem to have a different weather pattern than the Rattlesnakes south and with no snotel sites at elevation it seems you just have to go for it sometimes.   So after a phone call discussion on Thursday that is what we did.
When I checked the weather on Saturday morning I was elated to find full sun predicted for all day Saturday and instantly got excited.
We made the standard trek over from Missoula leaving town at a decent hour, surprised at how much light we had this time of year.  Arriving at the trail head I was bummed to see the range socked in, and kept telling myself if we just push up their the sun will burn off the clouds later in the day.  Curt set a great pace and we made great time through the woods, walking through fresh snow while the trees were dripping from the fog condensation.  We eventually made it to the basin only to find the fog at elevation to be thick.  We lost time navigating blindly through the basin with no point of reference and 30 feet of visibility.  Luckily we recognized the terrain enough we made it to Ridell Lake.   The mountain are a beautiful place to be when its clear, when it is socked in it can be a humbling experience.  Reaching the lake is usually a breathtaking experience when the massive south face becomes visible, raising your spirits as you emerge from the forested terrain. Today this was not the case as we stared into the nothingness.  A quick discussion about our plans led to skipping the south couloir and pushing to the east.  I had concerns climbing the bigger feature with no visibility, not being able to see the snow conditions or hang fire above.
So we pushed up to the pass, breaking trail in fresh snow reminding us more of January than almost May.  Reaching the pass glimpses of visibility started to poke through raising our spirits, was it going to break?  As soon as we could see, another wave of clouds would roll in and it was back to nothing.  Dropping into the basin was intimidating with poor visibility and very flat light.  You don't realize until you cant see how much you rely on your eyes to navigate and ride with confidence.




Reaching the bottom of the basin we took our first look at the east couloir which was only exposing its lower half.  It started to clear as we were in the bottom of the basin so we pushed up to the apron of the couloir to investigate the snow and pray the fog would burn off.  The surrounding snow was incredible powder unaffected by wind, preserved for the entire week.  Even the aprons were perfect smooth powder with no avi debris or hard pack.  Its not every day you find conditions like this.  Pushing up into the couloir we dug a pit.  To our surprise the snow was stable and about 2 feet deep or deeper in spots. Booting up the couloir however was a physical affair with knee to chest deep snow, backsliding every couple steps.  Just as our excitement levels raised for the fog to break and perfect snow conditions, the fog rolled in extra thick, and a snowstorm broke out.  I was devastated.

To put all that effort in, gamble on the weather and be skunked on an objective for a third time had me feeling defeated.  Curt and I quietly sat there knowing the outcome of the day, loosing all ambition.  We gambled and lost.  We couldn't even see far enough to comfortably ride down the apron, worried we might ride off lower lying cliffs. All this perfect snow and 20 feet of visibility seemed like a cruel trick.  As always we eventually got to the decision making point. We had three options. Climb and pray the storm and fog lifted, a risky move if they didn't.  Sit in the couloir and wait it out, or give up, call it a day and  blindly ride down the apron and head home.  With the wind out of our sails we settled on sitting and waiting.  We could wait until we started to shiver at least as we were both more lightly dressed expecting clear skies.   So we dug out spots and waited for over an hour and a half until we could take it no longer. 


Just as I stood up shivering to dust off my board and strap in for the most heart breaking exit of my life, a flash of sunlight caught the top of the couloir for a brief second then disappeared as soon as it showed itself.  I watched Curt's eyes light back up as he caught a sunlight glimpse to the top of the couloir in perfect shape.  We both looked at each other, should we wait longer?  Then 10 minuets later another glimpse.  Soon the glimpses were becoming closer and closer together.  It was then we decided to take the risk and keep climbing.  To our amazement, soon after the clouds broke and the sun came out. Going from the depths of disappointment to an all time high is something unexplainable.  Having the clouds break, exposing the entire range in a matter of minuets almost gave me vertigo, like someone turning on the lights in a dark room only to find out your standing on a cliff.  Your mind cant process what it doesn't see.  We were absolutely blown away as excitement rushed back into our systems.

 
We wasted no time climbing the couloir eventually strapping in with perfect untouched snow dropping below us.  I dropped first blow away by the snow conditions.  Navigating with what you could see between turns, it was a bad day to use sunglasses.  I stopped to watch Curt descend only to see glimpses of him in-between clouds of white.  At the bottom he was speechless.  It was so good we decided we had to do another lap.  The boot pack was  in right? Wrong.  The second boot up was slightly easier but with cold snow the boot steps just didn't pack down.  We pushed on anyways thinking only of the resulting turns.  Our second lap was just as good.  Riding a little fast I had to stop mid way because my face hurt so bad from heavy face shots I had an ice cream headache and my glasses filled with snow on the last turn.  It was hands down the best run of my year.













With the day getting late we decided to call it a day, sitting in the basin staring up at our lines and the amazement of the surrounding basin.  We had a few snacks, switched over and started our exit up and out of the basin on a beautiful afternoon.   We soon reached the pass and that is when I saw it.  That look on Curt's face, I've seen it before, similar to when my dog sees a squirrel and locks eyes on it.  Curt had turned the corner and laid first eyes on the south couloir, one I had wrote off earlier in the day considering our battle with the weather.  He sat and stared quietly.  I knew what he was thinking so I asked him, "you are not thinking about giving that a go today are you?"  He smiled back at me and said "We could?"  He was right, we could and honestly other than darkness I couldn't find a reason not too.  I hymned and hawed about it for a good 15 minuets.  The weather stayed cold all day and the pack had not lost any stability from the heat of the day. Quite frankly the he run from top to bottom looked better than I had ever seen it.  I just could not say no,  so we went for it. Curt being the crusher that he is,  set out breaking trail most the way up, fast, until we switched to booting knee deep snow.  With limited daylight we gave it a good effort.

"The Look"






Getting to the top with a fleeting sun gave quite the lighting as we dropped in.  The run although slightly more consolidated than the east was in amazing condition from top to bottom something I don't often experience when riding in the alpine.  Usually part of the run is not great.





Walking out of the basin as the sun was nearing the horizon was breathtaking and we soon made it back to the truck with 30 min of daylight to spare.   I cant thank Curt enough for pushing hard all day, pushing that last run or for the experience of the entire day.  It truley was a sureal, emotional rollercoaster of a tour, which might possibly be the best tour of my life to date!