May 02, 2014

Climbing and Skiing - The Perfect Combination

Ten years in the making...

On May 1st, 2004 I climbed the southwest couloir on Bell Mountain in the Lemhi Mountains with a fun group of folks from a regional Internet forum on The original plan was to climb the west ridge, however, Mike Howard and I convinced the group to try our luck in the southwest couloir. You can read about that trip here.

Jaren and Heather below the southwest face of Bell Mountain
On May 1st, 2014 Heather and I, along with our friend Jaren Watson returned to the southwest couloir with intentions to ski it, perhaps along with one of the western chutes; something I have been thinking about for several years now.

The southwest side of "Bell" is easily reached from Black Creek in the Little Lost River Valley north of Howe, Idaho. I often wonder why most folks choose to use Basinger Canyon as their approach. Both Basinger and Black Creek require high clearance vehicles to reach the mountain yet the latter offers a much easier approach to the upper mountain as well as options to reach other routes on the summit dome.

Friends from climbing one of the icy chokes in the southwest couloir. 2004
I think a spring-time ascent (and descent.. on skis!) of the southwest couloir is one of the most fun ways to experience Bell Mountain. The couloir is moderately steep with several icy chokes that can hold short sections of water ice -- perfect for a budding alpinist! The surrounding terrain is craggy and alpine-like.
Jaren climbing steep snow under bluebird skies and bright sunshine
Below freezing temps in the morning hours of our climb/ski made for easy and safe upward progress on firm snow. The angle averages 45 degrees with some sections that are less steep. The narrow chokes average 50 degrees in steepness. This year, the snow and wind patterns deposited enough snow to cover the ice in the chokes allowing for a full ski descent without a need to rappel or down climb.
Looking down some of the less steep terrain in the southwest couloir

 Our primary goal was to try and ski one of the western chutes on the summit dome -- all of which flow into the southwest couloir. Unfortunately Heather was feeling ill. This combined with the west chutes not having enough snow for our liking, we opted to ski the southwest couloir from just below the western chutes.
Narrow and technical ski terrain!
The skiing was steep, interesting, and technical as the southwest couloir drops into the Left Fork of Black Creek. Many controlled hop-turns and some side slipping kept things in check on the steep and narrow sections. Short pitches of skiing punctuated with rests in safe zones below rocky out-croppings got us safely below the final choke.
Below the final choke in the southwest couloir

Letting the skis run after being confined in small spaces of the southwest couloir
Once on the apron below we could let the skis run fast after being confined to tight spaces in the couloir above.  The snow was quickly warming up and the wet slide potential was on the rise. A few of the more southerly chutes had let loose the day before and with a warming temps, we expected the similar activity to occur.
Heather pointing toward the southwest face of Bell Mountain

Big terrain! Heather heading down into the left fork of Black Creek
We boogied down to the snowline, stowed our skis and made the pleasant hike back to the truck parked at the mouth of Black Creek. Birds chirped and wildflowers danced in the afternoon breeze as we wandered down the canyon still high on endorphins from our adventure.

Hopefully it won't be another ten years before we return for the complete descent from the summit, down the west chutes and into the southwest couloir!