The Gruff Couloir

Page Type
Montana, United States, North America
Route Type:
Mountaineering, Mixed
Spring, Winter
Time Required:
A long day
Rock Difficulty:
5.2 (YDS)

Route Quality: 1 Votes

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The Gruff Couloir
Created On: Jan 3, 2007
Last Edited On: Jan 3, 2007


The Gruff Couloir ascends a complex system of avalanche gulleys on the South side of the Bass Creek Crags. There are 5 avalanche starting zones high on the side of this ridge that all funnel into the start of this climb. Over 4,000 feet of elevation gain, on slopes that average 45-50 deg., with one 120 ft section over 70 deg., combine to make this is a challenging, but fun climb.

I am quite sure Luke Casady and I were not the first to climb this route, but we decided to name it after the mountain goat that we encountered as we started up the technical sections of this climb. It started out as the "Billy Goat Gruff Couloir" but was quickly shortened for obvious reasons.

Getting There

Use the Kootenai Creek Trailhead to acces this route. At a point 3.25 miles from the trailhead, and at 4300 ft elevation look for the first major drainage on the North side of the canyon. This is the first small creek on your right with water year round .75 miles past the Selway Bitterroot wilderness sign.

Route Description

Climb the west side of the Gruff avalanche chute that is less brushy, slightly steeper, and easier bushwacking than the East side of the chute. Wind through exposed rock bands on a fairly round ridge, until they become too steep, at about 5000ft., then angle traverse up into the avalanche chute.
TraverseTraverse up and into the chute at 5000 ft.
Idealy this will be above the second creek "Y", at approximately 5250 ft.. A short section brings you to another "Y" at 5700 ft, take the right gulley here, and proceed to another "Y" at 6100 ft. take the right gulley here too.

Ascend the last gulley up steeper 50deg. slopes, to directly under the rock outcroppings of the Bass Creek Crags. Traverse West just under the steep rock to a deep gash on the S.E. ridge of the main table top. The route steepens again here, and there is mixed climbing up 70 deg snow, ice, and rock for about 120 feet, the couloir is only about 10-15 feet wide through this section.
Upper Snow SlopesUpper Snow Slopes above the Constriction. Photo by Luke Casady RIP
Angle right up a steep snow slope to a short 20 ft. 5.2 rock step to reach the summit.

Descend the route, you may choose to rappel the upper rock, steep snow slopes, and the tight constrictions of the Gruff couloir. All of this will require two raps.
Rapping the ConstrictionRapping the Route
There are good trees to sling for the rappel stations.
Tight ConstrictionRapping the Route photo by Luke Casady RIP

Please cut off any old webbing and dispose of it properly.;]

Just a note here that if you traverse into the gulley below 5,000 ft, or climb the East side of the creek, at the first 2 "Y"s, you will have to take the left channel. All 4 of these "Y"s are easily discernable obvious drainages.

Essential Gear

The most essential piece of gear for this climb is your avalanche savy brain.

Bring along also;

60 meter alpine rope,

harness, belay/rap device,

ice axe, snow pickets, flukes, ice screws,

avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe pole,

20ft.of webbing {and rings} for building rap stations,

snowshoes, crampons,

and the 10 essentials for backcountry survival.

External Links

Winter Avalanche Conditions

Bitterroot National Forest

Current Weather Conditions


Extreme caution should be used in choosing a safe time to attempt this climb, as conditions high on the route will likely be very different than lower sections. Making stability assesments difficult at best, so constantly asses snow stability as you climb. For most of the climb you will be in the direct path of any thing that breaks loose up high, and will be unable to get to safe ground. The evidence of massive avalanches is all around you on this route.
Avalanche debrisAvalanche Debris photo by Luke Casady RIP

A thousand feet up I encountered a fir tree that was 4 feet in diameter at its base, but only 20 feet tall, with 5 different trees growing from this gnarly trunk. There were 2 ft. diameter trees lodged in its upper branches that made a lean-to shelter. I can`t imagine the number of avalanches this tree has survived, but I am relatively certain that a human will be unable to survive even one on this route. Choose a time when there has been stable weather for a while, do not attempt this route shortly after even a small storm, as the high ridges and slopes of the Bitterroots get a lot more snow than the valley floor. Remember also that this is a South facing slope that will get more sun exposure, causing more layers in the snow pack.
Lower Gruff CouloirHuge Avalanche Chute behind me photo by Luke Casady RIP

The Gruff Couloir

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