4-22-08 Earth Day...Don and I celebrated by skiing up Little Rock creek in a morning snow storm. When we reached the upper lakes at 7600 feet the wind was gusting 40+ the snow was spinning in from heavy clouds, and the upper peaks were firmly obscured above 9000 and it was 15 degrees. We could not wait comfortably for more than 30 minutes there and headed out, downcanyon with no change noted in incoming weather. Downcanyon the downsloping was clearing the sky some with strong ridge winds persisting. By the time we were at the egress at 4800 feet the canyon was dripping from snow melt in the trees. We had a good tour marked by the raw power of the scenery and weather a fun tour out skiing the fast outtake which included shussing the powdery stream bed, rapids and falls. We must wait and try again for El Capitan and the Como Peaks.

4-26-09 We made a break for El Capitan despite the variable weather forecast. None of us thought that we would get the weather windows that we did, but it remained cloudier with a lower ceiling down canyon most of the day while the upper basin had some consistent and fairly long lived blue sky moments. After the long approach to the base of the east face of a bit more than five hours, we began climbing the route we hoped to ski. The initial half follows a couple obvious gullies. From there a steep traverse marks the first crux as the climber must surmount a rock step on 50+ degree terrain above cliffs. With firm snow the move proved to be technically fine, and the exposure intense. Continuing a traverse and then ascending through the next crux of an icy patch allows entrance to the upper face pitched from 50-55 degrees. At this point our weather had deteriorated and we cramponed our way to the summit in a full whiteout. Don and Brian climbed the rocks to the summit while I watched and then we debated skiing the line. None of us were thrilled to ski the face in a whiteout so we hunkered down to wait. We did not have to sit for long as a perfect window opened up for us and the beautiful face descended below us in splendid sunshine. Brian dropped in first, left of the summit cornice and made slow deliberate turns onto this wildly exposed and technical face. We watched for a few minutes while he negotiated hard snow around rocks before we headed to the climbing line right of the cornice. I skied next and carefully linked turns between bouts of sideslipping. It was in hard conditions of refrozen corn with about an inch of powder on top. I passed Brian on the upper face and continued down skiing through both cruxes, trying to keep my nerves calm by focusing on the skiing and not stopping anywhere for too long. I managed to snap a couple of photos of Don and Brian skiing the upper face before traversing left passed the final crux where I waited for them. Below the snow was variable, more softened but with plenty of wet slide debris to reconnoiter. Skiing the final turns on low angle corn was heaven as we enjoyed the smooth slopes and sunshine alive at the base of this grand Bitterroot test piece. After having been shut down last year in our attempt, it was great to have made the trek this year and to ski it in fine style despite the challenging hard snow conditions. Hopefully powder next time!

photos by Don Lange, Brian Story and John Lehrman