Note: This trip report is part of the TetonAT Trip Report Contest. John and Joe now in the running to win a FREE pair of Black Diamond skis based on viewer response and the TetonAT panel of judges! Good luck fellas!!
Boots and beer.
Turns every month? Yeah, lot’s of hard-chargin’ ski folk love to talk about it but few ever make good on promises made. Summer and fall usually involve too many other things of interest. Skiing usually nasty summer snowpack can slide low on the list quite easily. However, living in Southwest Montana this past year has given us a prime opportunity to make good on such a lofty goal. Plentiful snow from October until mid June kept some interesting white stuff around well into August. This year it was time to do good and make our mamas proud.
Being good Americans and Bozemanites, we didn’t want to waste valuable mountain biking and firearm discharging time with a super long day of hiking to marginal snow. Therefore, we opted for the easiest target we could find this August: The Tusk on Elephant Mountain. It’s visibility from town and association with underrated Fleetwood Mac albums made it a perfect choice. This line taunts as you gaze towards Mount Blackmore, a shimmering white sliver on a palette of brown rock. The Tusk in summer comforts intrepid skiers like a slash of white goo oozing from a crack on a burnt marshmallow.
It was August 31st and the temperatures were pleasantly cool for hiking. We were counting on the exquisitely crappy snow conditions. Opinions ranged from something resembling glacial ice to rock infested suncups or even unadulterated rain crust were thrown around. However, being the ever prepared, intrepid mountain travelers that we are we armed ourselves with plentiful supplies of Mountain Assult Juice. We figured an 18 pack of Oly and two limes would certainly get the job done.
Hiking for summer turns.
Alan decided to bike up the trail a ways since hiking down hill with skis on a pack is about as much fun as running, which is about as much fun as exploratory rectal surgery with a boat propeller. Joe and I decided to walk, since it was easier to drink beer that way. It turned out the two of us made the proper decision, as the added weight of skis and telemark boots on the back of the bike rider resulted in a nasty, helmet-less face plant. From this point on, Alan transformed into Massive Headwound Alan due to the nice inch long gash on his forehead. Fortunately, we were equipped with medical essentials. This unfortunate misstep lead to a productive meeting on the topic of safety and a round of Oly’s. Shaken, but not defeated, we continued onwards.
After too long on the trail we reached our objective. The Tusk was towering over us like the current financial crisis. There was no bailout for us though. It honestly didn’t look too bad, so we climbed up to the base of the snow.
Sure enough, the snow conditions were rock hard neve with massive, dirty suncups and rocks frozen into the surface. We celebrated our findings with another round of Oly’s.
Then it was time for the boot pack. The line was around 600-700 vertical feet and 30-45 degrees. It would be quite a fun run in good conditions. However, we weren’t looking for good conditions. We were looking for something more. We were looking for a reason to drink more Oly. Upwards we charged, mentally lashing our out-of-ski-shape legs for more output. The top was only a board’s width wide and the bottom fanned out much wider before ending in pointy rocks. Crampons became mandatory as the conditions were prime for accidental high-speed glissading into talus, and because we are such rad snowriders we own crampons and need excuses to use them. Before too long, we were at the top.
Dicey summer snow conditions.
We were all a bit sketched out. None of us had been out on boards for a while, and the Oly wasn’t quite as strong a confidence booster as was required. Oh no! We forgot the lime! So, it was an awkward changeover at the top. As expected, the turns were quite bad and bordering on hideous. A long season of edge reduction programs from the rocky slopes at Bridger Bowl left skis and snowboard alike chattering along the icy surface. Fortunately, the rocks frozen into the sun-cups provided some nice purchase when the situation got dire.
Summer riding on Elephant Mountain.
Then it was over. There was no discussion about going up for seconds, as firsts were quite enough for all of us. The victory lap consisted of Olys chilled in refreshing, cold summer runoff. All that remained was the downhill hike back out with the heavy packs and a bunch of dirty ski junk. After a summer of railing down trails on mountain bikes it was pretty tough to go back to walking down hill with ski packs. Fortunately, there were a few cans of Oly left to cushion the blow. The hike was pretty uneventful, except for an encounter with a group of horses who apparently had eaten a lot of grass before their trip up the trail. Navigating around this thing was the most difficult part of the trip. Mother of Fighting Jesus, that was something. Regardless, we finished successfully, with a sense of satisfaction mixed with dread about how bad the next months trip would be unless we sacked up and skied something more likely to not suck. (for the record, we didn’t and the next month the tusk was way worse.)