Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Apgar Traverse

Last week we celebrated the Life of our friend Adam Lawton, who 3 years ago on January 6th passed away in an avalanche in Canada. Adam loved being on his skis. He loved pushing himself to exhaustion. He embraced how the mountains can make the human body suffer. In honor of Lawton, Stefan and I chose an objective that He would appreciate. A ski tour that did not include any glorious ski runs, just a long day in the mountains. Where we suffered. I call this tour Exercise Ridge.

The Apgar mountains are a small chain of that sit between the North and Middle forks of the Flathead River. They lie on the Southern border of Glacier National Park. They are not as big or impressive as their neighbors. In comparison the are pretty small. The total distance is approximately 12 miles of walking and around 6,000 feet of elevation gain including the ups and downs along the ridge. There are two Lookout towers that mark the start and finish of the traverse. We chose to go from Apgar Lookout to the higher Huckleberry Lookout. Finishing with a 3,000 foot ridge to ski to our car parked on the North fork road. 

West Face of Heavens Peak
Rarely skied Mega Line
The suffering did not take long to begin. Once we left the Apgar Lookout trail we found out that things were not going to be easy. The fresh snow was not supportable enough to cover the hundreds of down trees and branches. Sometimes it felt as though I was skinning through quick sand while Goblins were trying to pull me under. Maybe they were. I could not see my skis. The initial 2,700 foot climb to get onto Exercise Ridge took us around 3 hours. It was arguous skinning, but we were not to be denied. 

Crossing MacDonald Creek which flows into the Mighty Flathead

Once on the Ridge everything was O.K. again. We began moving along quickly, making up for lost time. The views of the terrain dropping from the ridge were impressive as were the sights of the Southern Park Peaks around Lake McDondald. The hard to get to ski runs made us wish we had more time in the day to sample, but we had a long way to go. We trotted along, mostly with our skins on even for the short descents. Our longest descent from the ridge was 1,000 feet. We ripped skins for this and at the bottom quickly transitioned back to skinning up. With the shortness of daylight this time of year there was not much hanging out during the tour, just progression onward.

Stoked to be above the brush and on the ridge,

Lots of ups and down on the Ridge

Beautiful Scenery and some good looking terrain.

An impressive crown left after the big dump last week.

Too bad we didn't have time to sampling some of the goods back there.
A look at where we were traversing.

Exercise Ridge was longer than it seemed. The 8 summit points we topped tired our legs and watching my watch was a bit anxiety provoking. We crested the final summit just as the sun dipped below the horizon. We quickly transitioned at Huckleberry Lookout and committed to our intended ridge 3,000 feet above the Camas road, which is closed in winter. Headlights moving South on the North fork road gave us hope that this Epic adventure would soon be over.

Looking back to where we had came from.

The never ending Ridge traverse.
Wheres the lookout.

Pretty worked.
The skiing began great and we carved figure 8s above supportable frozen powder. Then the ski adventuring became real as light became darkness and the open ridge became a dense alder forest. We picked our way down, side slipping, holding on to branches and sliding over down logs. This went on for awhile until it became too thick and not enough snow. We kick off the skis and walk down to the valley floor. It wasn't over. We shouldered, threw, dragged and whipped our skis through even more dense alder brush and down logs. I cursed a lot and hated myself for awhile. This was the cause of suffering. I finally crawled up a small mound headwall and onto a flat open surface, the road. 11 hours after beginning this sufferfest.