Thursday, April 13, 2017

Castle Crag via Nipple Knob

Back in mid-February between race weekends, Jeffrey and I were able to connect for a full day out in the Bitterroot.  With recent warm temps, we didn’t have a great sense of what conditions might be like but as we like to say – “you don’t know until you go.”  We decided on Castle Crag at the head of Sheafman creek.   
east face of castle crag
We started our day by ascending the broad east face of Nipple Knob, and skiing an inch or two of creamy powder on a supportable crust down the N side to sheafman creek.  We then found the summer trail and cruised up canyon to garrard lake.  Climbing out of the drainage to get on castle crag’s SE ridge can be a little tricky but we carefully forged a route up N facing storm slabs til we could hop over the ridge and easily ascend supportable crust and talus on the S side to the summit. 
the S face of W sheafman point
climbing out of sheafman creek
nearing the summit
We had a look at the N couloir but found the entrance heavily winded loaded and the rock slabs at the choke not quite filled in.  We instead started our way down the long S-facing gully into mill creek.  We enjoyed dust on supportable crust most of the way down til the bottom thousand or so feet gave way to heavy slush conditions.  After finding the mill creek trail, we had a nice lunch break in the sun before beginning the long skins-on egress out.  Given the unsupportable isothermic mush, what should have taken 2 hours became a character building 4 hour affair with endless wallowing and a minor onset of blisters and trench foot.  But we persevered and eventually found ourselves back at the car, feasting on chips and glad to be done.
wind loaded entrance to N couloir
cruising down the S gully
the slightly scrappy bottom ~500ft of the run from near the mill creek trail
Stats: about 19 miles and 6800 vert in 11 hours car-car

Rose: skiing castle crag for my first time
Thorn: the long slog out mill creek
Bud: the N couloir looks like a short but engaging run when in condition

Thoughts: both sheafman and mill creek trails are flat enough that a pair of race or kicker skins would be beneficial

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