Thursday, June 7, 2012

McGown Couloir Skiing: June 6 2012

Tuesday June 5th cold front re-coated the central Idaho mountains with snow one more time, thus it was time head to the Sawtooth Mountains and ski McGown Peak next to Stanley Lake.

Snow at 6000 feet Wednesday June 6th morning 
The Alpine Way trail, a mile south of Stanley Lake Inlet trail, was quite wet and log bridges were extremely hazardous with the ice and snow. The first crossing at Stanley Creek, we were in holding to our lives,   gliding in our knees with hands and feet stabilizing the glide. During the last crossing of a secondary creek, Brian felt backwards into the creek. After rescuing his sunglasses from the deepest part of the creek, emptying water from his ski boots, and squeezing excess water form his shirts, we continue at a very rapid pace to warm him up.

After leaving the trail at 6700 feet, right before where Alpine Way trail crosses the creek and start climbing steeply, follow a faint game trail in the south side of creek. The trail disappears at times, but cairns are here and there if you look for them.
Topo mapa and route for McGown Peak
As we gained elevation, between the cold fresh snow and water soaked hiking shoes, our feet got pretty cold. Once we reached the snow level at the 7600 feet we were ecstatic to be able to change footwear and get into our ski boots. We dried our cold and wet feet, and soaked in the brief warm morning sun for few minutes. Ahh ... dry socks and ski boots, life was good again!

At the snow line - 7600 feet. Brian getting his pack ready for the snow climb.

We left the shoes and wet socks behind and started climbing in steep snow to the hanging valley below McGown Alpine terrain.

Hanging Valley below McGown. Looking to the north.
Brain contemplating ... and looking at the central but lower McGown Couloir.
We had a quick snack at the hanging valley, and promptly resume our ascend ... it was too cold to just sit an enjoy the view. It should be noted that the lower McGown couloir looks really good, and we agreed that we will have to come back to ski it.

Picture to the north from the base of  McGown Couloir. Stanley Lake is in the center.
At the base of McGown Couloir we were disappointing since it looked small. But this was just a mirage due to flat lightning.

Looking up into McGown Couloir from its base.
As we ascended mostly to the left of couloir, it revealed its sheer size.

Brian booting-up the McGown Main couloir.
Many of us that ski through late spring and early summer carry a short ice ax, boot crampons and ski crampons. For the type of conditions we find in Central Idaho I have been pretty content with my Grivel-Nepal light ice ax and Grivel lightweight aluminum boot crampons with front points (that is CRITICAL, some do not have front points). And I should mention that anti-balling plate for the boot crampon are a MOST!

From the snow line at 7600 feet to the bottom of the the couloir we established a boot trail. The ascending route was too steep for a skin track. By the way, if we would have selected to skin up on a different route, ski crampons were not ideal due to the new snow. During late spring it is hard to predict the optimum tools thus we carried our faithful skins and "just-in-case" ski crampons.

A third of the way up in the couloir., with crampons visible.
Anticipating lighter snow inside couloir and a harder "iced" snow surface, we transitioned to boot crampons. That was a smart decision. Climbing up to the top without boot crampons would have been considerably risky.

The top of McGown Couloir with views to the North. Boot track can be seen to the skier right.
The top of McGown Couloir with views to the South.
Brian removing boot crampons at the top.
The ski down was steeper at the top 400 feet that I anticipated but uneventful. Below some additional pictures of McGown Couloir.

Brian a hundred feet or so from the couloir top.
The snow was velvety soft and about 20 to 30 cms deep within the rock walls of the couloir. However, the snow did not bond well with the icy old snow surface. These resulted in pretty energetic sloughs that forced us to moderate our turns and aggressively managing the fast and punchy sloughs from knocking us off the skis. Inside the couloir we did not find slab conditions, a blessing with the slick old snow present under the new snow.

After skiing down to the bottom of the couloir, we decided to ski the fall line into a the heart of the hanging valley.

Couloir at the leftmost upper corner, boot track in the left, and ski tracks center to right.
The snow had a wind-crust layer out in the open slopes, with soft velvety underneath the cardboard crust. A short video clip of Brian skiing after exiting the couloir.

We enjoyed the skiing, but could not stop wondering how much better it could have been if the winds would have been lighter during Tuesday's storm.

Additional pictures of McGown Peak and Couloir are included next. Enjoy them!