Sunday, February 24, 2008

Gray Wolf Peak

Thursday, my buddy Chris Spurgeon and I headed into the Mission mountains with plans of skiing the West face couloir on Gray Wolf peak. I had seen the face once before, but it had been about 7 years ago so I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew it would be serious, especially for me with my lack of experience. Other than Chris, I knew of only one other person to ski the couloir. That's not to say others haven't.

West face of Gray Wolf Peak (Couloir is just right of center)

We left the car by 8:30 and began the painful approach up East St. Mary. After 4,000 feet of bushwhacking and skinning, we reached the ridge plateau and the West face of Gray Wolf came into view. "Oh fuck me! I'm planning on skiing that!" It looked more difficult than what I thought my experience could get me through. I figured I could always down climb the couloir so might as well check it out.

Chris kicking steps up the couloir.

We dropped of the ridge and had a wonderful run 1,750 feet to the base of the couloir. Skies went on the packs and we began to kick steps up the couloir. The snow was firm, but with some soft stuff on top. Chris seemed to think it was perfect. There was one icy section, but we figured the sun would come around and soften it up by the time we were descending. 1,700 feet of kicking steps later, we reached the top.

Chris mid-turn.

Still very nervous about what to expect I decided to give it a shot. I wasn't confident that I could ski it, but I was confident that I could self arrest in the event that I fell. We clicked into our skies and I watched Chris make a few turns to a safe point where he could keep an eye on me. Chris is very experienced skier so watching him didn't build any confidence for me. Now it was my turn. I pointed my skies down the couloir, planted my pole firmly and jumped into my first turn. For that brief moment in the air, I wondered what would happen when my skies touched the snow again. Would I land in soft snow or would I start rag-dolling down the couloir? My skies entered the snow with the feeling of firm yet soft snow! "Oh shit, this is money!" The snow was perfect.

Chris continuing down the couloir.

Chris and I leap froged our way down the couloir having a blast with no fears of falling. With the snow conditions the way they were, it was actually quite easy skiing. He opened my eyes to an entirely new style of skiing. Now I can't wait to ski more lines like that, and with spring around the corner, everything will be coming into shape soon.


andrew.peckham said...

Dude, that is a sick line you skied! Great photos. What would you estimate the slope angle was at its steepest? I've been looking at the W. Couloir as a winter ascent route for Gray Wolf. Once you got to the saddle, what did the rock face towards the N. summit look like? Was it filled in with much snow, or bare rock? Did it look like there may be a 4th class rock route, or a snow face/gully to climb? Did you ski out the Dry Lake Creek drainage, or go back up to the ridge of E. St. Mary's? Sorry, lots of questions. I'm hoping to get out there this coming weekend, and haven't found a lot of info about the W. Couloir as a summit route.

Ryan said...

Hi Chris,

Nice work on Gray Wolf! Some friends and I are planning on giving it a go this weekend. Would you mind shooting me your e-mail address to ryanminton AT gmail DOT com? I've got some questions re: approach options...much appreciated if you're willing to divulge some info...thanks!

Ryan Minton
Bozeman, MT