Page Type Page Type: Trip Report
Date Date Climbed/Hiked: May 1, 2004
Activities Activities: Mountaineering
Seasons Season: Spring

"Mt. St. Mary's in the Bitterroot: May 1st, 2004"

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Report by Luke Casaday

The plan for this day was to have a Level 1 Alpine Climbing class. The curriculum was to cover various different cramponing techniques as well as discuss and practice uses of an alpine ice axe. We settled on Mt. St. Mary's in the Bitterroot as a good place to hold the class and thought that we might make a ski descent of the peak after the class was done. We arranged to meet at the Park-N-Ride area near Super 1 at the Stevensville "Y" since there were some folks coming from Missoula and some folks coming from the Bitterroot. Folks from Missoula met at the Big Lot parking lot and car pooled from there. As it turned out I was the only one from The Bitterroot. Tim, Jeff, Sam, and Rob all hailed from Missoula.
Traversing to Roambs couloirSam and Rob descend from the saddle

We got as far up the St. Mary's road as we could plus a bit as is normal tradition, and started hiking up toward the trailhead by around 9:00 AM. We reached the saddle in the east ridge of St. Mary's by around 11:30 AM. This was our target location for the class since the slopes off the ridge to the west are quite steep and relatively protected from the sun. May 1st was an extrodinarily warm and sunny day however, and the snow was already quite soft. Tim and Jeff really wanted to ski more than practice alpine climbing techniques and we decided that if we wanted to do any skiing we should do it first before the snow got too soft, and use any remaining time to pactice alpine climbing techniques. However I kept eying the couloirs that run up through the rock bands on the east face of St. Mary's. I talked to Tim and told him that I thought I might be able to get up one of the couloirs before 1:00 PM and thought it might be a good alternative to the class if Rob and Sam were up for it.

Tim agreed, and said that he and Jeff would ski while we climbed if that is what everyone wanted to do. We passed the idea by everyone else and both Rob and Sam were very excited to get on some steep snow and practice some alpine climbing techniques.

The snow wasn't hard enough to need crampons and the route we were intending to do looked doable without ropes and snow protection, so we cached our skis and most of our climbing hardware at the saddle and descended down toward the lakes at the base of th East Face of St. Mary's. When we got down to the lakes we traversed up and over a small ridge to the bowl at the base of the cliffs. On our way up the ridge I took a moment to demonstrat a few self-arrest techniques with the ice axe. The snow was extremely soft and we were a bit worried about stability, so before dropping off the ridge we dug a hasty alpine snow pit and tested stability with the shovel tap test and the shovel shear test.

I was very suprised to find a very pronounced hoar frost layer about 18 inches in the pack. The pack failed on the hoar frost layer, but only after a few tuggs on the shovel during the shear test. We could not get any failures with the tap test. Hence we pronounced the pack 'stable' and carried on with our quest to find steep alpine snow.

I demonstrated safe butt glissading technique as we descended off the ridge to the bowl at the base of the cliffs.

Roambs couloir routeThe Roambs route

Then we slogged our way across the bottom of the bowl. The climb up the couloir was exhilarating! Sam had a clinometer with him and he measured to slope at 50 degrees. That is quite a slope angle for a first time alpine route! I was impressed at how well both Rob and Sam climbed! Their performance was outstanding, and neither had any previous alpine snow climbing experience to speak of (Rob had climbed a short section of steep snow before, but nothing this long).

We met Jeff and Tim at the top of the couloir and took lunch break. After lunch Tim and Jeff headed down to start their ski descent back to the saddle while Rob, Sam and I headed up to the lookout. After taking in the awesome views of the surrounding peaks we crawled inside the lookout to have a look around and then headed back down. We all agreed that the climb up had been an awesome line and deserved a name. We talked about what we should name the couloir but couldn't come up with anything suitable.

Climbing ROAMBS couloirSam climbs the couloir

We descended the normal ski descent route and were once again able to practice our glissading techniques (both standing and butt). We got back to the saddle by around 3:30 PM and Tim said that they had just barely gotten back. Jeff's binding stripped off his skis after his 6th turn, so he had to walk back down the bowl. Bummer!! We tried to fix it there, but nothing work very well and he decided to walk back to the car. Since Rob, Sam, and I were on snowboards we didn't move much faster than Jeff did during the descent anyhow since from the saddle down to the trailhead you have to run a pretty hard northerly traverse across the slope, and traversing on low angled slopes is hard on a board. We all arrived back to the cars around 4:30 or so and counted the day a complete success--except for maybe Jeff, but he acknowledged that it was still better than staying home and watching T.V. all day.

After getting home I continued to think about a suitable name for the couloir and decided to call it Roambs Couloir after Rob and Sam (their names scrambled together) since it was their first real alpine snow route.

Who is Luke Casaday?

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Luke Casady and Ansel Viscaya were caught in an avalanche high on the Liberty Ridge of Mt. Rainier, that swept them to their deaths on June 12. 2004. Rest in peace.

Luke and Tim Sharp (T Sharp) co-founded the Alpine Club of Missoula [ACOM]in the late fall of 2003. In a division of labor, Luke did the publishing, promotion, and was the web master of the ACOM web site. Tim did the necessary filing of legal documentation which officially established the ACOM as a non profit 503c {club}. This allowed them to legally handle money, and insulated us from liability. At the time of Luke and Ansels` death there were 18 dues paying members of the club, and it was a growing community of adventure minded alpinists. The ACOM still exists, with 2 fewer members, they hope to someday find their way [in the fog], and begin the climb again.

-submitted by Tim Sharp


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