40% Chance of ShowersUsually when I see a weather report such as this for summit day, especially in June (practically Montana's monsoon season), I tend to stay off tall peaks, away from unpredictable storms and lightning. Nevertheless, our crew of four decided to take a chance and hope for the best.
Trailhead to Basecamp
We started at the Halfmoon trailhead on Big Timber Creek, the “standard” approach, if there is one. A few years back (2004), a friend and I had attempted Crazy from Smeller Lake and turned around at the false summit due to weather. The Big Timber Creek approach, despite being snow covered after the first mile, was much easier. I wouldn't recommend the Smeller approach unless you were climbing Iddings Peak in the same trip. After finding the well-marked turn to Blue Lake, we crossed Big Timber Creek one last time and broke trail for the last 1.5 miles to camp. Snow conditions were surprisingly favorable: soft enough to climb steep slopes without crampons and dense enough to avoid post-holing. We set up camp at 8400 feet, just above the short stream between Blue and Granite Lakes, and enjoyed the afternoon sun.
Day 2 – Off to the Summit
We woke up with alpenglow illuminating the peaks above us at 5:30am and, for the moment, not a cloud in the sky. After running through our options the day before and checking the routes that morning, our group elected to take a circuitous route along the entire west ridge, starting on the finger between Pear Lake and an unnamed basin to the east. The snow routes up the northwest face and north facing “Gap Couloir” off the west ridge were in and could have reduced our climbing time, but many in our group preferred to ascend on rock to the west ridge. We ended up on a fair amount of snow anyway as we traversed the west ridge to the base of the technical section, just east of the Gap Couloir.
The technical section was easier than I remembered from 5 years prior, perhaps due to a wonderful lack of fog. The easiest terrain seems to be on the south side of the ridge, although routes appeared to be possible both along the top of the ridge and on the north side. We quickly made our way through the most exposed part of the climb, regained the ridge, and attained the false summit. Puffy cumulus clouds were just starting to build above the Absaroka Range to the south and over our heads as well.
We found the tiny chimney heading into the southwest couloir and made a careful descent on the slightly softened snow (over 45 degrees for almost all of the 75 foot descent and easily exceeding 55 degrees in one section). While the rest of the group made their way down, I tried to find a way around the rib in between the false and true summits. I descended nearly 250 ft down the southwest couloir before finding a passable route up a more southerly branch of the couloir toward the summit. In the meantime, another in our party discovered a small slot near the top of the rib that would allow for easy passage and the rest of the group followed her to the next branch of the couloir for the final scramble to the summit.
We soaked in the views and had a bite to eat, spending a good half hour on the summit as the weather was holding, than headed off for the false summit and our descent route on the northwest face.
Our descent was quick and uneventful. The snow had softened slightly and was just starting to pinwheel. Another hour and we would have had to take a more conservative route. The slope had slid a day or two prior on the interface between new snow from the previous weekend and the well-consolidated snowpack, but the debris higher up were soft and easy to glissade through.
We returned to basecamp, cleaned up, dried off, ate an early dinner and retreated to our tents as thunderheads started to unleash rain and lightning for a couple of hours.
Day 3 – Return and Rain
We awoke to rain at 4:30 am, which continued to fall for the next few hours. We gave up around 9 am, packed up camp in the rain and headed for lower ground. The rain let off and by the time we hit the main trail, the sun was trying to break through. A SNOTEL station on the other side of the Crazies reported over a half inch of rain, but we could have easily received that much in the 12 hours before our departure. At least the 40% chance of showers had held off until after our summit!