Sunday, June 15, 2008

Cave Mountain traverse

The unsuccesful route

We used this route and got to a spot to scramble to the top

The fabulous Rocky Mountain Front from the top of Cave Mountain
I got suckered Saturday by the abundant snow that fell Wednesday along the Rocky Mountain Front.
It was part of that massive storm that took down trees and limbs in Great Falls with more than 7 inches here and put down 2 feet of snow in the Little Belts that brought skiers out for turns on Showdown.
So we packed our backcountry skis as snowshoes Saturday hoping for some mid-June skiing.
When we got to the Teton Pass Ski Area northwest of Choteau we found mostly spotty snow, but decided we didn’t want to put on our plastic boots and carry the skis up the 1,000 feet or so to reach the more consistent stuff.
We turned around, surveyed our area options and decided for a climb of Cave Mountain (el: 7,542 feet) above Route Creek.
I had climbed the mountain on two other occasions on two different routes and had been unsuccessful on a third route.
We started up from the Route Creek trailhead attempting to gain the ridgeline from the north. We were encouraged by the lack of snow at first.
When we reached the ridgeline I realized that we were following part of the route on my unsuccessful climb of about 15 years ago.
The peak is unclimbable from this route. A 700 foot buttress rises to the peak above a very beautiful pass.
From the ridge we got our first look at the panorama of snow-covered Front peaks.
We decided to traverse the mountain along its north flank, looking for a ramp, gully or couloir to ascend the peak.
However, it would mean side-hilling along this flank in deep snow, with the occasional rock and ledge scramble.
This is nerve-racking travel and the snow soaked our boots and pants.
We did this for more than an hour, not finding what we wanted. We dropped about 700 feet as well.
Finally, as I began surveying ways down and off the mountain, we reached a place where we could go up --- at the west end of the mountain not far from one of the routes I had used successfully.
Then, it was quickly up over the limestone jumbles and slabs to the top.
There we got the 360 degree panoramic of this area ---- Wind, Ear, Metis peaks, Green and Rierdon gulches, Rocky and Old Baldy, Teton, Lockhart, Wright peaks. Closer in, the expansive Jones Gulch below massive Choteau Mountain. Farther out, the peaks above the North Fork of the Sun in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
The clear, blue skies and the snow made the peaks pop.
We headed down from the top along the traditional climbing route to the pass below us to the west and then down a drainage below that to the Route Creek Pass trail.
A most satisfying traverse of Cave Mountain.

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