Forum Index > Trip Reports > Gray, Baldy, Finney, Beefhide Butte, Seance - March 7-8 2020
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freddyfredpants
saucy



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saucy
PostWed Mar 11, 2020 12:04 am 
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The weather and avalanche conditions came together for a weekend peakbagging trip to the Sawtooths.  My plan was a counterclockwise loop up Eagle Creek to Oval Creek to tag some peaks and head down the West Fork Buttermilk Trail.  I headed out of town Friday afternoon and found myself at the Twisp River Sno Park around 8:30 pm. 

I got some sleep in my car and was moving up the icy packed 1090 towards the Eagle Creek Trailhead a little after 2:30 am.  It snowed lightly until around the time I had to cross Eagle Creek to take the Oval Creek Trail.  I had managed to lose the trail in that section but afterwards mostly kept to it.  There was no evidence of recent traffic, though the snow was not too difficult to travel through off the trail. 

After several uneventful miles between around 4800' and 6000' I finally started to gain some elevation and views.  I made my way up the basin north of Gray to gain the ridge.  The stable snow came with some firm melt/freeze and wind pack above the forests, so I mostly kept my ski crampons on for the occasional firm spots.  Otherwise it was straightforward zigzagging up moderate slopes.  I worked up Gray's north ridge and was on the top by 11:15.

Sky opening up in Oval Creek
Sky opening up in Oval Creek
Oval, pt 7978, Buttermilk Ridge, Courtney from below W Oval Lake
Oval, pt 7978, Buttermilk Ridge, Courtney from below W Oval Lake
Ridge to Gray
Ridge to Gray
Baldy and Finney from Gray
Baldy and Finney from Gray

I skinned down a 100' or so to get below the rocks, then made a descending southward traverse into the Fish Creek basin.  I took a few turns, but the slope tended towards hardpack and dust on crust so I mostly just used gravity to get the distance.  I transitioned back to uphill mode around 6600', then continued an ascending southwardly traverse towards Baldy's NE shoulder.  I skinned all the way to ridge where I deposited skis and pack for a quick wallowy walk to the summit.  The sun was out in force, and although the air was cold the snow surface felt a little warm.

From NE of Baldy, looking SE towards Beefhide Butte, Bigelow, etc.
From NE of Baldy, looking SE towards Beefhide Butte, Bigelow, etc.
Star, Seance, Beefhide from Baldy
Star, Seance, Beefhide from Baldy

My goal was to work my way towards the upper Surprise Lake Basin.  The west side of the ridge south of Baldy worked well for this, though with a lot of E-W wind lips running across the slope this took some time.  I rounded the SW corner below pt7618 and skinned 400' down the hardpacked snow to the basin.  By this time I had run out of water and not having encountered any convenient running sources needed to boil up some snow.  From about 2 to 3 I dealt with that, and ditched about half my stuff so I wouldn't have to carry it up Finney.

I skinned up the mellow ramp to the tarn at 7000' and pushed on to the basin NE of Finney.  The ridge to the west was corniced, but there was a passable spot on the left just next to the intimidating north facing rock buttress guarding the summit ridge.  This is the ridge that most parties cross and then drop down about 300' to reach the easier W ridge or NW gullies.  I did just that, skinning down rapidly, then skinning all the way up the gullies until just below the west summit.

Finney's North Face
Finney's North Face
Top of the NW gullies
Top of the NW gullies

At this point, all I knew was that there was a survey mark on the east summit so I assumed that was the true high point.  I booted up loose snow hiding rocks and vegetables to the west summit, gazed upon the unsavory traverse to the east, and despaired.  It really did not look that safe to attack directly as there was at least one asymmetric snow pile poised on a knife edge block along the way.  The north side of the ridge was too exposed.  The south side looked to be the best but would require some circuitous up and down climbing in loose snow. 

Since it was only 30 minutes to sunset and I still had a lot of ground left to cover, I doubted I had time for a safe out and back adventure.  I tested a few steps down towards the south side.  They felt loose enough to cause concern that just getting back up to the ridge might be a challenge, so I decided that the east summit would have to go another day.  Little did I know that Eric Gilbertson had snapped a photo of the summit register that actually lives on the west summit.  That was of course hidden under several feet of snow so I didn't really look for it.  I had once seen but since forgotten this photo, so spent the next two days thinking I was going to need to come back and tag the east summit for full credit.  I am of course happy for other peoples' diligence to translate into less effort for me.

The traverse to the east summit of Finney.  Almost doesn't look too bad.
The traverse to the east summit of Finney.  Almost doesn't look too bad.
The east traverse from a lower angle.  Slightly less than good.
The east traverse from a lower angle.  Slightly less than good.

As the sun dropped below the cloud bank to the west and the light dimmed I skied the NW gully back to the toe of the north buttress.  To save time I booted the slope rather than transition back to skins.  Once back at the ridge I skied by headlamp through enjoyable terrain into the bowl.  At the first tarn I took the ridge down to a steep 200' drop at the outlet of the larger pond and skied more directly back to my gear depot.

By this time the light had mostly faded, though the moon was out and nearly full.  I packed up and started back east towards the Prince Creek drainage.  I kept the headlamp on low so I could see immediately nearby terrain, but otherwise the moon provided beautiful illumination of the surroundings.  Once I got around the SE shoulder of pt7618 I ripped skins and skied into the bowl below. 

My goal was to get closer to Beefhide Butte and hopefully find running water for a cozy camp at 5600'.  I thought I could follow the trail, but it turns out that skiing a summer trail you've never been on, at night, in the snow, is really hard.  The upper portions of this section were reasonably open, though trail-like drainages kept pushing me farther south than I wanted to be.  Lower down the brush became dense and the going slower.  Around 5800' I passed a shelter with some bunks and briefly considered stopping there, but I held out hope for water and pressed on.  I heard some briefly, but never located any that was convenient.  Finally around 9:30 pm I called it and just set up a bivy where I stopped. 

I forgot about daylight savings time, but my phone remembered.  I thought I was going to get 6 hours of sleep but instead just got 5.  I took my time and got moving about 6:30 am.  I had camped very close to the trail, and was able to follow it up to Prince Creek.  From there it made sense to skin up the drainage to the open slopes below Beefhide Butte.  Above the drainage the terrain steepened continually. 

I spotted a lot of great ski options.  In particular there are two prominent gullies on the end of the ridge, and it turned out that the lightly treed slope between them, still protected from the morning sun, looked the most promising.  At this point was not entirely sure whether I might be continuing over to the east so I carried everything up.  Around 6900' I started traversing a steep wooded slope towards the SW ridge, and eventually skinned up to within a few feet of the summit.  East was too steep and corniced, so with some relief I looked forward to skiing back down the terrain I had just come up.

Finney from Prince Creek
Finney from Prince Creek
Upper Prince Creek and some mountains
Upper Prince Creek and some mountains
Looking back towards Finney with skin track below.
Looking back towards Finney with skin track below.
Tracks of some hipster hiking crows
Tracks of some hipster hiking crows
Maybe once a year I take a selfie.
Maybe once a year I take a selfie.

The ridge went quickly.  After I turned NW at 7600' the top 100' or so were a little hardpacked, but soon I was in the trees on a better surface.  I skied hundreds of feet down down amazing steep dry powder, eventually crossing my uptrack and then traversing north towards the creek.  Maybe 10 minutes after I had left the summit I was at 6300' putting skins back on.

Steeper than it looks!
Steeper than it looks!

I went back uphill NE in mellow terrain to the basin south of Seance, then a rising traverse towards the NW ridge of the summit.  I recalled Eric's description of tricky terrain on the east side so wasn't sure I'd find an easy way over.  When I reached the ridge I found it heavily corniced.  One spot however just next to the summit block looked like it might provide some access to the east side.   When I got there I found good if steep access, and that there was a convenient wind lip for transitioning below the steepest section.  I dropped my things and went up quickly to tag the summit a little after noon.

Looking back down Prince Creek
Looking back down Prince Creek
Seance summit block.  Ski access right at the top of the snow.
Seance summit block.  Ski access right at the top of the snow.

I booted down into the little protected spot and got into ski mode.  More great turns were had in the NE facing bowl.  Around 7000' I skied NW into a series of small bowls and boulderfields, gradually working into open, old growth forest.  Around 5900' the slope decreased and the brush increased enough that skins made more sense.  I pushed through the woods to the West Fork Buttermilk Trail.  Mostly I skinned down the trail, but when I reached the burned section found that skiing was a lot less efficient so went back to skinning.  I was at the TH by 5, and with a another transition or two was back to the car by 7:30.

Ski line off Seance.
Ski line off Seance.
Lots of this.
Lots of this.
Too much of this.
Too much of this.

44 miles
13.2k gain
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Bootpathguy
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PostWed Mar 11, 2020 8:23 am 
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freddyfredpants wrote:
Tracks of some hipster hiking crows
Tracks of some hipster hiking crows

Wild Turkeys

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Experience is what'cha get, when you get what'cha don't want
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Stefan
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PostWed Mar 11, 2020 9:58 am 
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You crazy kids and your phenomenal distances in the winter!!!

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Art is an adventure.
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kitya
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PostWed Mar 11, 2020 11:51 am 
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Bootpathguy wrote:
Wild Turkeys

Thank you!

I saw these recently too and was confused - why would a bird be hiking high up in the mountains instead of flying?

If I was a turkey I would probably stay below snow line where I can find some food?
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Nancyann
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PostWed Mar 11, 2020 12:18 pm 
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Amazing trip! Really enjoyed the photos you took of some of the more challenging terrain!
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Bootpathguy
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PostWed Mar 11, 2020 4:13 pm 
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kitya wrote:
Bootpathguy wrote:
Wild Turkeys

Thank you!

I saw these recently too and was confused - why would a bird be hiking high up in the mountains instead of flying?

If I was a turkey I would probably stay below snow line where I can find some food?

Don't know what elevation those tracks are at

Wouldn't dismiss ptarmigan either. Both species travel in large groups. I've seen turkey tracks at rather high elevations.

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RichP
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here and there
PostWed Mar 11, 2020 4:37 pm 
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Nice beardcicles.
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Forum Index > Trip Reports > Gray, Baldy, Finney, Beefhide Butte, Seance - March 7-8 2020
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