South - March 29, 2004

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Trip Report
Montana, United States, North America
Date Climbed/Hiked:
Nov 30, 1999
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South - March 29, 2004
Created On: Jan 2, 2007
Last Edited On: Oct 31, 2007

Bass Creek Crags--South: March 29, 2004

Trip Report by Luke Casady
img:256449:alignright:medium:Tim hiking up the avalanche run
Tim Sharp and I had trip to climb the Bass Creek Crags via the south side (Kootenai Creek) several months before this but were turned around due to unstable snow pack. We felt optimistic about the stability on this trip since it hadn't snowed in some time. (I'm beginning to think it doesn't really snow in this part of the state anymore.) We met at Kootenain Trailhead at 5:30 AM in order to give ourselves plenty of time. Our objective was the middle "tabletop" crag. As viewed from the south you can see a couloir that runs up the southeast corner of the crag. The best vantage point in the valley to check out the couloir is from St. Mary's Road about 1/4 mile after you turn off Hwy 93. We hiked (more like ice skated) up the trail to a half-mile past the wilderness boundary. (The most direct access point to the crag is to turn off the Kootenai Trail about a half-mile after the wilderness boundary on the west side of the first major drainage after the wilderness boundary.)

On our previous trip we had gone up the west side of the drainage so this time we thought we might try going up the east side. The first half-hour or so was pretty slow going since the underbrush was a bit thick. However after about 1,000 vertical feet we were able to get into an avalanche run and the going was much easier. (From our exploration we surmised that the best access is to go up the west side of the creek until the ridge gets steep and then cross the drainage. After you cross the drainage follow the east bank up until you come to an avalanche debris pile. After getting through the debris get back into the drainage and hike up the consolidated avalanche bed layer. Of course this is only the best approach if there is snow to walk on.)
img:256450:alignright:medium:Tim Sharp coming up the steepest section of the approach
Our approach up the drainage kept getting steeper and steeper until we were snowshoeing on terrain that required an ice ax. At times the snow was soft and the going was a bit tiring, but for the most part the snow was prefect for our MSR snowshoes.

By about noon we were up high enough that we could actually see the crags. Up until that point we were too close to be able to see over the contour of the slope. From where we were we could see that we needed to traverse a bit to the west since our exploration up the east side of the drainage had put us into the far east fork and we needed to be in the middle fork.

During our traverse over to the base of the couloir we saw a mountain goat so we decided to name the couloir Gruff Couloir, after our goat friend. It is amazing where they can go. We saw his tracks go up to the top of a spire and then go to the edge of a cornice hanging on the spire. It appeared that he must have jumped off the cornice onto the rocks about 6 feet below or else he sprouted wings since his tracks didn't double back. In any case I was impressed. During our entire climb we kept expecting to see him peaking over some ledge down at us. He probably was but we never saw him.

When we reached the base of the couloir we decided to dump our packs there and continue on without them. We put on our crampons and harnesses and got our ice tools out. As we talked about the route we decided that we could probably simu-solo it, but that we might want to rappel it so I tied the rope onto my back.

The climb up the couloir was pretty straight forward. For the most part it was about 45-50 degrees with one short sections of about 70 degree snow and ice. The only real tough part about the steeper section was that the ice and snow was quite thin. It was a bit tricky to find anything solid. Even dry-tooling was hard since most of the rocks just below the surface were loose.

Once we got up through the steepest part the climb actually got a bit exciting for me. The upper section of the couloir was quite unstable so were were trying to "climb as light as possible." (Sort of like crossing an unstable snow bridge--just think light thoughts.) As I was ascending the unstable snow I could have sworn that after each step I heard a light crunch or whomp sound that is often associated with collapsing layers in the snow pack. We were really in no position to do anything about it so I just turned up the pace and nearly ran to the top of the ridge. (Upon our descent we discovered that what I was hearing was the sound of my footfalls crunching through the surface crust echoing off the couloir walls. At its tightest the couloir is only about 10 feet wide.)

The final 30 feet required a few easy fifth class moves on the ice rocks. We arrived at the summit somewhere around 2:00 PM and were rewarded with relatively calm winds that allowed us to savor the summit moments a little longer than we had anticipated.

After about 30 minutes on top we rappelled the first thirty feet of 5th-class stuff and down climbed the unstable snow one person at a time. Then we rappelled the steep section of the couloir and were back to our packs within 20 minutes. The hike out was great but a little bit long. I swear Kootenai Creek flows up hill. During the hike out it felt like we did more up hill to get back DOWN to the cars than we did on the way in.

We got back to the cars at dusk--about 12 hours after we started.
img:256451:alignleft:medium:Tim thinking "light thoughts"
img:256452:alignright:medium:Luke rappelling the steepest part

Who is Luke?

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.

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 officialy established the ACOM as a non profit 503c {club}. This allowed them to legaly 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, we hope to someday find our way [in the fog], and begin the climb again.


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South - March 29, 2004

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