Sunday, March 10, 2013

Grey Wolf via East St. Mary's

Posted By on Sun, Mar 10, 2013 at 6:54 PM

Grey Wolf Peak's incredible west face, riddled with couloirs is a sought after destination for Montana chute skiers.

I decided this year after years of skiing in the Bitterroots and Missions and eventually skiing more and more obscure lines for exploration and adventure, to enjoy a highlights touring season and learn the nuances of places I am familiar with going. It's been a good ski year despite 85% snowpack.

Grey Wolf's west face - JOHN LEHRMAN
  • John Lehrman
  • Grey Wolf's west face

Stability has been quite good for weeks and we have been out enjoying partially clear days, snow showers and boot top powder for weeks now. With the stars aligning for a Missions trip, four of us headed over East St. Mary's Peak to ski the West Couloir of Grey Wolf Peak. The road's been plowed making access to the St Mary's Reservoir quite easy. The trail was not too icy and we ascended the first thousand feet quickly before donning skis. The climb up and over the shoulder was uneventful other than entering the clouds which had not been forecast the day before. I took the time to call the NWS office in Missoula and they led us to believe the ceiling would lift in the afternoon. As we approached the initial moderate ski descent down the east flank of East St. Mary's to the base of Grey Wolf the clouds did lift giving us a decent view of the bottom of the peak.

Heading towards Grey Wolf
We aimed for the lake at the bottom of the couloir and set off. The flank provided good powder skiing and we enjoyed the run with one small slab avalanche to dodge as we skied through the rollover constriction through the cliff band.
Skinning for it!
By the time we were skinning up to the base of the couloir the sun was being dodged by clouds and after poking around in the snow and digging around looking at the wind drifted snow, we decided that the hazard was acceptable and we went for it. Skinning as high as we could across a bit of debris and sluff, we made it to the upper couloir where the snow surface was undisturbed. There we switched over to boot packing. The occasional snow ball would rocket down the couloir providing nice audio doppler effect.
Booting it to the top with Nick
It was not until the final 50 vertical that we realized that there was another party at the top of the couloir. They had approached from the Grey Wolf Trail and the East Couloir and were ready to ski. Thankfully they let us finish our ascent before they skied the west gully. It was fun running into them, all of whom I was acquaintances with or had visited the Downing Mountain Lodge. The shade factor kept the conditions cool and with the wind it was no place to hang out. We swapped into our skis, buckled down our boots and skied the run. The west couloir is a perfect ski run, about 40 degrees steep maybe more and quite perfectly pitched for its entire length before fanning out and exiting the rocks and cleaning depositing the skier by the tarn at its foot.
Skiing It
We stopped on the bench to chat with the other group as they switched back for a skinning return to the East Couloir and enjoyed a bite to eat. It was sunny now and Grey Wolf Peak was enjoyed in its full glory. From the tarn we reascended to the ridge inspected the small avalanche we had cut off and enjoyed good warmed up powder along the ridge until entering the trees where the conditions became supportable mush. We were able to work a brush bashing line down to within a quarter mile of the car and thereby avoided hiking down the steep icy trail's lower five hundred vertical. Having limited ourselves to the West Couloir we were in good time and feeling great. Back to Missoula for a great dinner at the good food store and thence onto Hamilton for quite the long day out in the mountains.
Grey Wolfs West face

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