Sunday, March 24, 2013

Deep up Bass Creek Without a Skin


After a local we met in the climbing gym regaled us with tales of epic days up Bass creek we set an early alarm Saturday and headed for the North facing slopes around Lappi lake. We found stellar untracked powder in a fantastic remote setting worth returning to. It also proved to be our longest and most challenging day of the season so far and included route finding, trail breaking, stream crossing and related shenanigans.

A few miles up the trail as the sun rose above the canyon walls we  started to get glimpses of what lay above.


The Bass creek area is worth the length and challenge of the approach (we logged 14.5 miles round trip). We were worked at the end of the day, but I suspect that better route beta would have helped with the exhaustion.  On the approach we tried to keep to the summer trail on the North side of the creek as shown on USGS maps and marked with "trail" signs.

On the way out we followed some snowshoe tracks and found a significantly easier route on a skiable old road that crosses to the South side of the creek, avoiding sections of switchbacks and downed trees. This is a much nicer winter route; we were able to ski, kick and glide to within a half mile of the car on the way out.

On the way up we should have crossed the creek here. Instead I just took a picture of the intriguing boulder and followed an existing skin track along the summer trail until we lost it in some blow downs. 
Trail conditions were spring like in places but mostly skin-able.
Clouds blew in and out all day but the views were fantastic when we could see them.
The first proper view of our destination, the ridge above Lappi lake seen at center.
Tracks of a wolf or large cat.

Crossing Bass Creek to start the climb to Lappi lake. We left the main trail a bit late and contoured around under cliffs back to the low angle ascent route. I suspect that a more direct ascent would be better for future trips.
Sun breaks revealed views of the many south facing couloirs and chutes of the St. Joe ridgeline.
We took advantage of a sun break at the lake to eat some lunch before pushing upwards to the ridge.
We reached the ridge at 7700'. Tired legs and a wind sculpted ridge line convinced us to forgo the 8500' summit and head down as the clouds started to close in again.

The ski back down to the creek was good.

Really good. 

Really good and enjoyably long.
In the creek bottom Jen discovered she was missing a skin (She'd lashed them on the outside of her pack since it doesn't have a dedicated "wet room" pocket). She started improvising with two Voile Straps, some cord and the spare skin clip from our repair kit.

While Jen was improvising I stuffed some essentials in the front of my coat and started skinning back up hill. Fortunately I found her skin in a brushy spot a few hundred yards above us so we didn't need to put her fix to the test for five miles back to the trailhead. 

The river crossing to stay on the old road is worth it...we were able to ski all the way to the lower crossing in tour mode with our skins on. Next time we will take our skins off just after the upper crossing.
It really started to dump as we scooted and hiked the last few miles to the car. Powder season in the Bitterroots may have some epic days left...

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