Friday, January 24, 2014

Running Rabbit Traverse

       A popular traverse in Glacier National Park is the Running Rabbit Traverse.  It is located down past Essex on highway two, following the middle fork of the flathead river.  About an hour and twenty minute drive from Whitefish, MT.   After the road bends east towards East Glacier look for a left turn towards the fielding patrol cabin, right after the Snowslip cafe.  On the southern boundary of the park, the wind blows a little harder, and the snowpack a little shallower.  The good thing is the starting elevation which is around 4,400 feet  With our last rain event affecting elevations up to 5,000 ft, this was a good time to start a little higher.  The Marias pass area got lucky and only saw graupel falling at 4,000 ft.  The traverse is traditionally begun with the climb up to sub-shields, 6,996 then unto Mt Shields 7,131, Snowslip Mt. 7290, and finishing with Running Rabbit 7,674.  Nice mellow ridge climbing is what this traverse is about, with the exception of a short boot pack to the summit of Snowslip.  Staying up high and enjoying the views makes this pretty special on a clear day.  Many different ski options are available of every mountain on the traverse.  One could climb around 4,000 and just ridge traverse all the mountains easily, or drop some north facing bowls and rack up the vertical.  We choose southern and western slopes because they lined up more with our goal of getting back on the ridge, and it was January- thaw- corn harvesting condition.  The other logistics are the car drop off or the hitch hike at the end.  We choose the hitch hike. Getting down in daylight made it an easy pickup.  Also a good opportunity to heckle your friend hitching,  it only tacked on extra hour.  Depending what slope you ski off Running Rabbit would determine where you would want to leave a car.
     Last thursday looked like a clear day so Jake and I set our alarms and planned on doing the Running Rabbit traverse.  Trimming some weight out of our packs and making our sandwiches the night before.  Our friend Sam met at our house around 5:00 and we were off towards the park.  After coffee, an hour of driving, talking about snowpack, discussing route options, looking at my app Topo Maps which I love and endure criticism for, more coffee, we set off for sub-shields around 6:45 am.  We popped up over the railroad tracks and started the climb towards sub-shields among a beautiful alpine glow morning.  
Every time it's worth it.  The sun rises on Sheep Mountain.

Jake and Sam climb towards sub-Shields. 

About to drop in off Mt Shields, Snowslip Mt. in the background.  We took a short 500 foot shot down sub- shields to continue the ridge up to Shields.  The snow was crispy on top, shallow and faceted on the ridge, which made me worry about how good the ski conditions were going to be.  As soon as we dropped off the summit of Mt. Shields on the south face it was like spring corn skied a little bit to early in the morning, and just got better all the way down.

Jake noticing the snow improvement towards the bottom of South face of Mt. Shields.

A quick boot pack up Snowslip.

These  majestic goats got scared off by us and traversed onto the North Face of Snowslip. Which is mostly cliffs and appears to be un-skiable.

Then there's this guy..always out on a sunny day the formidable Mt. St Nick

The turns down the Southwest face of Snowslip were some of the best of the tour.  Between Running Rabbit and Snowslip is a large bowl that has many ski descents, one could spend a whole day up there skiing.  It was almost noon when we were down there.  It gave us the old sun anxiety so we busted up to the ridge real quick.

The Buffalo content, lumbers up the mellow ridge up to Running Rabbit.  Sam is almost on the summit in the background.

Sam starting the descent to the road off Running Rabbit.  Two large avalanche paths come off RR western face, one of them is snow slide gulch and it comes down to the road near the goat lick parking area.  These slides have the classic funnel shape, and different micro aspects and ridges within the paths.  We skied with caution  This side is guaranteed to give your money back with a nice 3,000 ft shot to the road.  Getting plenty of sun, we sussed a ridge that comes off the summit and stays out of paths and trends left.    We enjoyed ridge skiing in creamy snow while watching our roller balls trickle into the gulch. Then only 500 ft. of log jamming jackie tree horn style and we were at the road at 2:15 pm. We approximated around 7,000 vert skied, 8 ish miles, in about 7 1/2 hrs

Some parting shots, this is a tour I did later on this week with my neighbor Chris.  Here He is traversing the north face of Nyack Peak, a stimulating traverse.  

This is the South bowl that we skied off the summit of Nyack.  We then climbed back up to ski a north facing shot into Rescue Creek, bullet proof from rain, winds and sun for 4 grand.  Oh well, dig that east coast edging.  Praying for snow once again. -SB