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4 Days Skiing High in the Beartooths

This April marked Beartooth Mountain Guides' first Goose Lake ski mountaineering camp, an adventure that we hope to make an annual outing. We lucked out with a strong group of skiers who were motivated to learn a little bit of everything. We focused on expedition preparation, winter camping, tour planning, backcountry forecasting, steep snow travel techniques, glacial travel, and crevasse rescue. It's a lot to pack into 4 days, but we were able to dive into most everything pretty well thanks to the group's efficiency.

Setting up camp near Goose Lake

Day 1 started early with a 7:30 meeting at the Cooke City Exxon, our basecamp for most winter adventures in the region. After a quick briefing and gear check, the five of us loaded up on four snowmobiles and began the 10 mile ride, gaining well over 2000' feet in only half an hour. By 10 am, we had settled on a wind protected site and were beginning work on tent platforms. Soon enough, camp was setup and the stoves were melting snow in the cook tent. Weather was beautiful and calm for setup day, so we made the most of it...

Admiring our afternoon wiggles from afar

After enjoying some sunlight and refilling our water bottles, we clicked into our skis for an inaugural lap to Goose Lake. We were surprised to find no tracks on such a beautiful day, but made the most of our short tour with two laps before heading across the lake to scope out potential objectives for the weekend.

A view of our basecamp cook tent

That night, we enjoyed a hearty bowl of chili while discussing tour plans for the next day. Weather looked unstable, so we settled on a short but technical couloir that included a rappel at the top. This would provide a good navigation challenge, but fortunately everyone had a chance to see the line from our recon earlier.

Always good to have a real map!

That morning, we woke up to overcast skies and more snow than anticipated. After regrouping over coffee in the cook tent, we decided to stick to the plan and enjoy the challenge unless we needed to turn around. After a slow start, we were soon navigating in white out conditions high in the Beartooths.

Inside the ping pong ball

Soon enough we were rewarded with clearing weather and booted our way to the top of the couloir in mind, the aptly named Acid Drop. A steep rocky entrance guarded the aesthetic narrow hallway below, but a well situated rappel makes for a safe descent. We rappelled to a tight stance, where we skied one by one to an alcove that provided security for the whole team. It was a great opportunity to break out the ropes and discuss various anchors while in technical terrain.

After jump turning our way down the couloir, we made some nice turns down to the lake in clearing weather. Soon we found ourselves enjoying the warmth of the sun again before touring back into camp for the evening. In camp, we caught enough late afternoon light to dry our equipment and take a well earned break. We enjoyed a pesto tortellini dinner while discussing options for the following day, leaving the choice between a high ridge and another couloir up to conditions in the morning.

A view from inside the cook tent

We woke up to light snowfall and a low ceiling, but calm wind and a forecast of clearing conditions. With this in mind and a variety of terrain as a goal, we opted to climb the ridgeline for a nice summit and some good skiing. We skinned out of camp a little earlier after having dialed in our morning process and were welcomed to the base of our objective with opening skies. At this point, it had become clear that this was a good decision!

We donned our crampons and shouldered our skis to gain the ridge, where we continued to boot to the summit in mind. From here, we had views across the Beartooths to Yellowstone National Park, the Absarokas, and even as far as the Tetons. The weather was better than we could have hoped for, and the descent was looking great...

Near the summit of Mt. Fox, looking over towards the Sawtooths

We dropped in off the ridge and enjoyed the first turns, opening it up on the wide slope below. We regrouped before draining the last 1000 feet to the lake, hooting and hollering down the best turns of the trip.

Back at the lake, we were amazed by the warmth and started to scheme a new line into camp. The sunny slope that the entrance of our cook tent was facing had caught everyone's eye at some point, so we decided to give it a look. Upon arriving at the top, we found a clean drop right into camp.

Austin leading us into camp

All smiles on this one

Satisfied with the days tour, we lounged in the sun for an hour or two before gearing back up for an evening class session on glacial travel and crevasse rescue. Everyone had a chance to perform a mock rescue and before we knew it, it was dinner time. Over our vegetable stir fry dinner, we discussed our plan for the next day and fell asleep well after the third consecutive day of awesome touring.

Last light at camp

We slept in on our last morning before enjoying a big breakfast and beginning to break down camp. Once our bags were packed, we spent a few hours working on skills and refining our crevasse rescue. We discussed various snow anchors and their applications, even finding a nice slope to test them on. Before we knew it, it was midday and we loaded up to snowmobiles for the ride home. Temps were rising and we were glad to have camped in the perfect weather window.

Back in Cooke, we were greeted by dry pavement and spring conditions. We said our goodbyes and another great trip was all wrapped up. One for the books; the Goose Lake camp was a perfect combination of skills learning, winter camping, and down right good skiing! We are already looking forward to next season...

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