West of Stevinsville Montana. rises this behemoth. Access the summer
trailhead on a forest service rd. The trailhead is at about 7000 feet
making it one of the higher trailheads in the central Bitterroot range.
Its proximity to Missoula and prominent east facing bowls high above
the rangelands in the valley make it one of the more popular ski objectives
in the range.
The standard approach from the trailhead follows the trail for about
5 switchbacks to the ridge which then involves a half mile traverse
west before starting to climb the ridge to the summit. The windward
slope next to the first bowl is thick whitebark pine krumholtz and is
difficult to travel through making the ski approach along the ridge
quite good with a few rocks to negotiate passed depending on snow depth.
An alternate approach from the last switchback entails a fall line hike
straight up the south face or west to the ridge if you traverse the
open talus slope at the last switchback. Good option in spring when
road is barred by deep snow.
From its 9300 feet summit, its east facing bowls drop dramatically into
a cirque via several cliffs, chutes and bowls at 40 degrees and steeper.
The runs are short from 600- 1500 but exciting. Most lines into the
east bowls require committing to avalanche prone slopes. The exceptions
are the modest ridges separating the first from second and second from
main bowls, which offer a margin of safety.
There is an open lookout on the summit with boarded windows and significant
exposure. Can be a nice place in windy weather, crawl through the floor
door. The south face from the summit down through windrows of whitebark
pine to McCalla lake can be an excellent ski when the upper slopes have
not been windblown bare. Beware of shallow snow. Further on there is
an obvious snow pillow below the descending ridge on a east face as
well that is always filled in and affords a good ski down to McCalla
lake. Behind St. Marys to the west is an excellent if short alpine north
facing bowl that drains to Kootenai creek eventually. From there the
ridge descends to a col enroute to St. Marys Creek and the Heavenly
One can ski an easy line to the south off the summit a moderate line
east along the ridge and then into the bowls, and an extreme line north
east off the summit into the cirque. At the bottom of the cirque there
are multiple options for regaining the ridge and returning to the ascent
trail, all of them require a short 200 foot climb on steep terrain to
regain the ridge. These north facing chutes can themselves be fun to
ski especially in higher hazard or for chute for thrill skiing.
Skiing back to the trailhead is decent in powder, less so in fast springtime
conditions. The glades south to the switchback are an excellent choice
when filled in properly and in shape. Ski from the false summit fall
line to maximize vertical on face and you will stay out of gully and
run into road no matter where you descend.
Seasonability: St. Marys road closes due to current snow conditions,
making for longer and longer road tours. It is open to snowmobiling
as well. If you must park lower down on the road anticipate a long slog
up the road. It is not great then midwinter without snowmobile assistance.
Great early season due to elevation and trailhead access and windblown
conditions filling in bowls. Great in spring for steep skiing and consistent
free-thaw cycles. A must tour for the Bitterroots.