Saturday, March 21, 2015

Mt. Stimson- Glacier National Park

The SW Face of Mt Stimson in Glacier National Park attracts the eye of many aspiring mountaineers more than any other mountain in Glacier. Seen by every back country skier that has toured along the Middle Fork of Flathead River corridor but skied by few. The daunting task of getting in position to climb the 10,000 foot monster is the main source of deterrence for an attempt to ski the peak.Stefan and I were not to be denied an attempt at taming this wild beast.

Stimsons S Face and SW Face- center line
pc Pete Costain 

After some huffing and puffing about the weather window being there or not we committed to a two day trip. We stationed our vehicle at the Stanton Lake Lodge and walked along the train tracks to find the start of the Coal Creek trailhead that intersects with the Flathead River. We  loaded my pack raft and crossed the Flathead River three times to get our packs, skis and finally ourselves via a tandem row. At 9 am we were dry and skinning up the Coal Creek trail. After only a mile of on trail hiking we got to Coal creek and left the comforts of having a path to follow. We pulled up our pants, took off our boots and forded Coal Creek. From the other side we navigated our way over to the Pinchot Creek drainage.

Stefan tying down the gear
Crossing the mighty Flathead
Fording Coal Creek
Pinchot creek is Long, around 8 miles and protected by thick tress, down logs and steep sides of the drainage. To endure this approach we put our heads down, laughed at the annoyances and took all day to get to the head of the creek. Despite the low snow year we managed to skin the majority of the way in only walking some short sections. We mainly stayed close to the creek bed occasionally heading up on the right bank and into the woods when it tightened up. 9 hours after crossing the Flathead we chose to stop and set up camp for the night below Stimson's SW face at 5,000 feet. We set up a comfy bivy and laid down to rest excited for what the morning would bring.

We slept through the 4 o'clock alarm, but luckily only lost 15 minutes because I checked my watch and it was time to get moving. After an instant b fast of coffee and oats we were skinning up to the saddle between Pinchot and Stimson using head lamps and mountain sense to guide us. At first light we were in perfect position to watch an amazing show of the sun rising over the Glacier peaks. There were a few thin low clouds, but it was mostly clear.

Morning views

Mount Pinchot and Moon

Alpineglow, Stefan and the S face of Stimson
Clad with crampons we booted up the S face which was much steeper and longer than it looked like from below. The snow conditions were great for booting. The snow was pretty deep consolidated powder the higher we climbed on the S face. We were getting giddy with excitement on how good we may be hitting this classic line. A short mixed section of rime rocks needed to be climbed before the summit ridge was reached. By 10:30 we were scoping our descent from the summit, 5.5 hours after starting up from camp. At this time the sun was fully out and the winds were calm as we stood high above many of Glaciers impressive peaks.

more Alpinglow

Booting up the S face
Walking the summit ridge of Stimson
We hung out on the summit for around a half hour soaking in our surroundings. It was awesome to be standing on a perch I have wondered what would be like for so long. By 11 we were getting into position to drop into the intimidating SW face. We down climbed 40 feet through rime covered bulges and stomped out a platform to lock down the skis. We were both confident about the decent after our route up the S face. The first few turns inspired more confidence. There was a few inches of consolidated graupel on top of a very hard surface. Unfortunately the new layer was not consistent along the entire face. Soon we felt gripped as a bullet proof, hard surface was guarding our way through. Evert turn counted. It was a no fall zone. The line has multiple series of cliffs and a fall would send you towards a harsh change of life plans. It was like this for around 1000 feet. We would find some strips of that gripable graupel layer, but then hit the hard surface again readying the whippet in the uphill hand. for a self arrest if needed.

Scoping the line
Wow! that was amazing.
Big Line
Wicked Big Line
Gripping turns.
Whippet at the ready
We navigated the difficult section and were relieved when down lower the sun actually warmed the surface and we were soon ripping some excellent corn. As the surface got softer the angle of the slope became less and we were able to relax and enjoy our position while skiing a classy descent. We whooped and hollered cruising past each other, yo-yoing and riding down canadian style on lower softer portion of the route. It was blissful.

Navigating the cliff section

Finally able to relax!
one last look at the monster.
After finishing the decent we had our long way out on the minds. We stuffed up our pigs and slung 'em on our backs. We were hoping to make it out a couple of hours better than the way in. This didn't really happen. Retracing the route in was not much quicker on the way out. We definitely cared less, but were super tired and beginning to be over the adventure. We pushed hard and fast, splashing through Coal Creek this time with full armor, boots, liners and water up to the knees. The swishy liners captivated my attention all the way to the shore of the Flathead. Our stashed pack raft was where had we left it and just as darkness was covering us we began the first of three crossings back to the road side. Once on the other side we were high tailing it back to the suby parked across from Stanton Creek Lodge.

Overall the trip was amazing! We had an adventure. There was lure, there was mystery, there was doubt and there were us Boyz. We loved it. The only modifications we felt we would make would be to stay out there for 2 night instead of 1. It would have taken some pressure off the day of the descent and perhaps would have led to a run on our up track S face also and getting the SW face in complete corn. I will not be back up in Pinchot creek anytime soon, but when I now drive past the spot on the Middle Fork corridor where you can see the top of Stimson I can only feel proud of our accomplishment.


Hey friends there's a short amateur video I made for this trip on Vimeo, check it out.  S.B