Gallatin Peak - Moonlit Ski Loop

Gallatin Peak - Moonlit Ski Loop

Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Location Lat/Lon: 45.36822°N / 111.3658°W
Additional Information GPX File: Download GPX » View Route on Map
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 5, 2020
Activities Activities: Mountaineering, Skiing
Seasons Season: Spring


Gallatin Peak rises in the center of the Spanish Peaks unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness and is an incredibly remote, shear and beautiful summit.  The peak contains 4 distinct glacier-formed faces, which all have phenomenal skiing and mountaineering opportunities.  The summit towers over the surrounding peaks, offering one of the best views in the region.  The peak has multiple 1800 ft descent options, which tempt skiers from all over the area. 

After days of following the weather forcast and keeping track of the moon cycle, Big Sky local Micah Robin and I decided May 5th would be a good time to give it a go.  We ventured up to Beehive Peak the day before to scout out the conditions.  After skiing a beautiful line down the SW face in perfect corn we decided things were lining up nicely and rushed home to get some sleep before our epic.  This would be my 5th ski trip to Gallatin Peak, so I knew we had a big day ahead of us.    

Moonlit Approach

Micah and I awoke with 10:00 PM alarms and met in the Beehive Basin parking lot at Midnight welcomed by a 91% full moon overhead.  We were able to start skinning from the trailhead and made our way about 2.5 miles up the basin towards our first technical climb.  We then transitioned into our crampons and climbed up the unnamed SW couloir to the saddle north of Middle Peak with ice axes and whippets in hand.  We enjoyed very solid snow and easy bootpacking conditions.  At about 3:00 AM we topped out and prepared for our 1000 ft. descent into Bear Basin.  At this point the Moon was no longer lighting northeast facing slopes because it was approaching the western skyline, so we had to descend in pitch black skies with headlamps.  We skied about an inch of dry snow that had fallen two days prior on top of chalky (but very firm) snow into the head of Bear Basin.  

Photo 1: Dropping into Bear Basin

At the bottom of our run we returned to the moonlit snowpack and enjoyed our next climb with no need to use headlamps.  At this point the night started playing tricks on us and we halucinated animals in the moonlight - very strange, but we knew it wasn't real and continued our journey.  We made our way to the pass that separates Bear Basin and Hell Roaring Creek; ski crampons were nice for this section but not essential.  Making sure we weren't anywhere near the cornices, at 4:30 AM we transitioned into our skis and enjoyed another 600 vertical ft. descent of smooth, edgeable snow to the base of Gallatin Peak.  From the headwaters of Hell Roaring Creek we watched the moonset and started noticing the first signs of dawn.   

Photo 2: Micah Robin topping out at the pass between Bear Basin and Hell Roaring

Photo 3: Me dropping into Hell Roaring Basin at 4:30 AM

Gallatin Peak Itself

Now we were at the bottom of the SE face of Gallatin Peak where we finished the rest of our coffee, crammed in a couple hundred calories and put our skins on under the early stages of morning.  We continued up for about 15 minutes until having to put on our boot crampons and get out ice axes.  We climbed for another 600 vertical ft up the S gully until we reached tree line and stopped to see the sunrise and alpenglow at 6:05 AM.  Inspired by the beauty and remotness, we chilled for about a half hour enjoying the view.  

Photo 4:  Early stages of sunrise

Photo 5: Alpenglow in Hell Roaring Basin

Photo 6: Me enjoying the morning light just above treeline on the SE face of Gallatin Peak

As much as we would have loved to take a quick nap, we still had to summit.  We continued up the frozen SE face for the remaining 1,000 vertical ft of pure alpine glisse.  We carefully kicked in footsteps and ensured solid ice axe holds for every step; we were humbled by the sustained steepness beneath us and did not take it lightly.  We slowly made our way to the summit and topped out at 7:25 AM.  We enjoyed the summit with beautiful morning skies, light winds and insane views.  The peak really takes your breath we made sure to stay up there for at least a half hour.  The beauty of starting at midnight is we weren't concerned about wet slides and felt no need to rush through our trip.

Photo 7: Summit View looking South West

Next thing we knew we were clicked into our skis on the summit dropping into the first couple turns of the East face (pure glory) before traversing over the the entrance of the North Couloir - a roughly 1800 ft steep, rocky and technical descent to Thompson Lake (the head of the North Fork of Hell Roaring Creek).  The couloir was very firm in places, some might even say "bullet proof."  We skied with ice axes and whippets in hand.  It was a - jump turn...breath...jump turn - style descent for most of the way.  The north couloir has exposure and a fall in those conditions would not be good.  It took us a solid 40 minutes to safely get down. 


Photo 8: The top few turns of the East face

Photo 9: Me on the East face

Photo 10: Getting into the North Couloir

Photo 11:  Micah taking advantage of one of our few soft turns in the North Couloir

The Exit Slog

As our adrenaline wore off, the sleep deprivition started setting in.  We took a 5 minute nap, ate another heap of food, and prepared for our next ascent to Summit Lake.  The climb to Summit Lake is stunning and easy - bringing the vibes up again.  From there we skied about 600 vertical of prime corn down to the S. Fork of Spanish Creek where we mentally prepared for our last 1200 ft slog up to Mirror Lakes Pass (pass between Beehive Basin and S. Fork of Spanish Creek). 

At this point it was about 10:30 AM and the sun had heated up that inch of dry snow just enough to allow it to stick to the bottom of our skins.  We were already pain caving pretty hard and lugging extra snow on the bottom of our skins brought us to humorous levels of exhaustion.  Gotta love it.  Once we reached Beehive basin we felt like we were home and completed our loop with another fantastic corn run 3 miles to the car.  At noon we reached the Trailhead, making it a solid 12-hour outing (half under moonlight).  We traveled about 12.25 miles and 5,900 vertical ft. We felt very satisfied with the outing and thrilled with how everything went. This peak is one of my favorites and I look forward to venturing out there again.            


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