Ridgeline near Trapper Peak in Montana's Bitterroot Range

Trapper Peak – Kinda like spring skiing

Brian and I set out to do a little poking around on what I perceive to be “the mountains that are what mountains should look like.”  The Trapper Peak massif was my gateway drug into the world of mountains and skiing. I first climbed the mellow ridge of main Trapper (in the center) as a young child, and made many pilgrimages back over the years to visit the mountains that define my mountains. North Trapper (on the right) was my technical testpiece as a teenager, yet every time I made the trek up one of the canyons below, or even past them on the highway in the valley below, the desire to pack a pair of skis up there tapped on my shoulder.

From Highway 93 near Conner, MT
From Highway 93 near Conner, MT

I called Brian up last Wednesday night, proposing a little adventure into Gem Lake to see how the skiing was up high.  Thursday morning had us two switchbacks below the summer trailhead, beers stashed in the snow, and trading out the truck for the skins. with quick time up to the lakes, we decided to continue on to the peak proper, following the mellow south-eastern ridgeline. Without the warming we expected, we were able to ski down the East face, right from the summit. Not to say the skiing was great. Variable at best. A powder turn here, a hardpack turn there, some breakable crust between. Although the terrain wasn’t very steep, it was still survival skiing (sans pucker factor).

Brian: knee dropping type III (not fun) snow
Brian: knee dropping type III (not fun) snow

A quick boot up a little couloir to the ridgeline put us right above our camp on a South aspect, where fun (albeit slushy) corn turns were had back to camp.

This North facing stuff is still kinda powdery... let's ski it in the morning!
This North facing stuff is still kinda powdery… let’s ski it in the morning!
backcountry ski hammock
Backcountry ski hammock

Brian settled into his hammock and me onto the ground as we waited for the sun to go down so we could get some rest. The sun was still hitting some high points on the ridge as we crawled into our bags.

After a restless night (hole in sleeping pad, wind, paranoia that my camera’s timer wasn’t working [it was, see first photo]), we got up and headed back over the ridgeline with the intention of skiing the southeast face and couloir on North Trapper. A hard freeze made perfect conditions for cramponing up what had been an almost slushy shot the afternoon before, yet the powder on the North protected aspect held in stellar condition.

The sun beat us to the punch on North Trapper though (several hours earlier than the day before), and as we watched snow slough as we approached from below, we decided to try a little more north aspect couloir skiing on East Trapper (peak on the left). We chose the line on the left side of the picture here: it was the most aesthetic, topped out, and looked like the chokes were at least ski width wide (they were, barely).

Brian Martens photo
Identical twin couloirs! Brian Martens photo

The bootpacking wasn’t bad, the chokes were narrower than we thought, and the snow skied better than we thought, too! We basked in a little sun on the ridgeline at the top of the couloir before clicking in and letting the jump turn circus begin!

Tight turns!
Tight turns!

Brian broke his binding cable right above the apron, so I skied and he ran downhill into a sunny spot to do a little repair work with some bailing wire. A quick boot up and over the ridge and a few perfect corn turns down to camp put us on our way out the canyon.

It all turned to hard skiing slop down low, but we skied decent snowpack to within a mile of the truck, retrieved our beers from the nearly melted snowbank, and were on our way back to the valley, as I had a memorial service to attend (for the guy that took me backcountry skiing for the first time as a teenager). I am sure he was smiling knowing that I was rushing from the mountains to his memorial service!

Hardpack turns, corn turns, powder turns, slop cement turns. Kinda like spring skiing!


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