Bass Creek and St. Josephs’ Peak:
Another popular mountain to ski, St Joseph Peak rises prominently from the Bitterroot Valley north of Stevensville Mt. The forest service gated the road, much to the dismay of local skiers in 1991, for big game security but due to the cabin up there at the bottom of the first bowl they may have had other motives as well. Despite a petition circulated by the Rocky Mountaineers club the gate went up and access to this great mountain with loads of terrain is now an exercise in patience and determination making it to the ski country thousands of feet above the valley floor. Access to the trailhead is via the Bass Creek forest service rd.
When the gate is open, drive to the trailhead and hike up the trail that follows the south edge of the ridge quite closely. The trail disappears into the snowpack and glades at around 8000 feet. Continue following the south edge along the ridge to the summit of Little St Joe.
From this point at 9000 feet there is great ski terrain from steep, north facing avalanche paths to gentle east facing bowls. The main ski runs are the twin bowls facing east that descend about 2000 feet before entering the timber. The grade is very gentle at the top and gradually rolls over to about 30 degrees. The two bowls are separated by a rocky, treed glade that makes traversing south from the more northerly bowl interesting. At the bottom of the southern bowl traverse south further to pick up the trail along the edge of the face. It is in here that the cabin stands a testament to another generation’s desire for a warm place to stay while enjoying the high country.
From the summit of Little St Joe there is a very clean ridge that allows access furtherback to other bowls both north and south and to the main prize of a trip to this ridge the summit of St. Joseph Peak itself, above 9000’. To reach the summit, the standard approach drops south off the ridge before the rocky buttress, traverses south west under the cliffs to the southern spur ridge where an ascent is then made north to the summit. The large southeast facing face below the cliffs is a long ski descent into Bass Creek. The ski off the summit to the north is one I look forward to making. The easiest descent of this bowl appears to be to ski some of this huge bowl and then traverse east and regain the ridge to ski out little St. Joe. There is an unconfirmed report of a hunters trail into this otherwise trailless canyon that would return the dedicated skier to the furthest switchback north on the access road.
Enroute west along the ridge the other large descent into Bass creek is via a large avalanche path goes to the canyon and joins the descent from the large southeast bowl off the summit . On the north side of litlle St. Joe is another avalanche path that descends into the drainage. There is certainly a solid week or two of exploring big lines on this mouintain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 2- We made a trip up Bass Creek to ski the north and south facing terrain above Lappi Lake. We dropped off the summit of Pt 8524 to endure wind raked hard slab interspersed with hard bed surface crusts. We returned to the ridge and skied the northeast glades from the false summit at 8200 for a couple of laps in about a foot powder that bore the effects of wind to a much lesser degree than we had anticipated. The bonding within the slab is high and with the old bed surfaces seemingly decent. We were reminded of dangerous Bitterroot rollovers when we encountered a major steepening that once we bypassed via a traverse left and eventual descent through a breaking ridge in the terrain found that we had been skiing above a slab cliff with its associated icefalls and rock outcroppings. Overall a great tour despite recent lack of snow, high winds, and the associated lack of enthusiasm. Another reminder came after the first run in the powder where I had been struggling with the wind affected snow on my skinny skis while Colin held better with the fat boards. We returned to the summit for another run despite my internal struggle and on the second round, I skied truer, the snow to the left was better protected and a smile erupted from my erstwhile internal scowl. Sometimes to enjoy the backcountry requires a total commitment and shedding of all but a desire to be out there, somewhere new, making the best of what could be otherwise described as a marginal opportunity. To wax philosophical, an attitude of commitment can be a great help in life as we push through challenges, down days, injuries, seeking the good life as well as turning constant challenges into opportunities for growth and further maturing.

2-28 I am tired...after a fine day skiing south and north facing aspects in upper Bass Creek drainage. Cold morning of 15 degrees with some warming by mid day to produce nighttime crusts on south aspects. North facing powder was sublime with still a considerable hazard on 35 degree terrain.