Cooke City Part IV – 3/11

The weather gods once again smiled on us and the clouds that had come in the evening prior dropped another couple inches of fresh snow. We were all intrigued by the views to the north we had gotten atop Woody Ridge the day before (and by a line we had noticed on the map titled “Egg Monsters from Mars”) so when we awoke to a perfectly bluebird day we decided it was the perfect time to make the trek into Goose Lake. Goose Lake sits about 10 miles north of town, just beyond the Wilderness Boundary, and represents an entryway to the heart of the Beartooths. While the terrain we had been exploring was certainly impressive, the topo map made it clear the mountains surrounding Goose Lake were on a whole different scale.

Unfortunately Brett’s back was hurting so he decided to take a rest day, leaving nine of us for the three sleds. Feeling quite experienced at this point, we quickly passed Mineral Shoulder and Henderson Mountain, our playgrounds from previous days, and continued deeper into the backcountry.

After passing the enticing looking Sheep Mountain, we popped out into a flatter area with a series of lakes. Navigating became more difficult and the traveling more fun as we zipped across powder filled lake beds. Driving the sled, I experienced my first powder face shot on a snowmobile. Getting barrelled by blower pow must have served some sort of evolutionary purpose back in the day because there is truly a primitive joy to flying through a cloud of snow, regardless if it is kicked up by a ski edge or the front of a snowmobile.

After crossing a couple of lakes we pulled up in an open valley. It was clear we had taken a wrong turn and we would need to backtrack. Before doing so, however, Prescott pointed out that there was a delightful looking mini-zone on the hillside above us. Savoring the freedom the sleds provided, we shuttled the towees to the top and enjoyed the show as everyone made their way back down, with Mike providing the grand finale, launching off the corniced cliff.

We made our way back to where we had lost the main snowmobile track and after a quick glance at the map, resumed our journey into Goose Lake. The snowmobile track grew fainter, narrower and more undulating and it was clear we were getting deeper into the backcountry. Eventually we came to a stop at the top of a hill, the Wilderness Boundary sign visible in the distance.

After some discussion we broke up into two groups, with Ellen, Joe and Mike opting to go on the hunt for some pillow lines to the west and the rest of us heading north to check out the terrain around Goose Lake.

The weather was absolutely flawless, with hardly a single cloud in sight. There had clearly been no wind the night before and the snow sat smooth and untracked for miles, a canvas just waiting to be skied on.

We decided to skin up the ridge to the southwest of the lake and then work our way as far around the lake as time allowed, skiing shots as we went. The dramatic Wolf Mountain and Sawtooth Mountain dominated the skyline, their 2,000 ft faces peppered with amazing (and scary) looking couloirs.

Soon enough we reached the top of the ridge. We poked our way to the edge of the rollover and Garrett dropped over the edge to scope things out and take some pictures. “It pretty much goes everywhere” he radioed up and, one by one, we took off down the face, disappearing from view, only to reappear as a speck on the snow down below, whooping and hollering. The snow was absolutely immaculate, still dry and fluffy despite the day’s sun, and I savored the freedom to turn wherever, with no need to avoid trees or other tracks. We all reconvened at the bottom, grinning from ear to ear and immediately set to work putting in a skin track back up.

The climb went quickly and we were soon at the top. I needed to use the bathroom so I let the others drop ahead of me. As I was getting ready to drop, the others radioed up to inform me that it would be an ideal shot for a naked lap, an idea we had joked about earlier in the day due to the perfect warm weather. Being the best skier on the mountain and eager for the extra G.N.A.R points, I readily agreed and stuffed my clothes into my backpack. The face was steeper than I expected, and I quickly picked up speed, setting of sluff around me as I careened down towards the lake. The onlookers laughed and cheered as I made my way down, power-stanced, legs wide, my ski pants flapping off the top of my backpack behind me. The cold sting of the powder clouds mixed with the warming adrenaline of some no-fall skiing, and I enjoyed some of the most exhilarating turns of my life before coming to a stop beside my friends.

Seeing a group of four approaching along the lake, I quickly began the process of re-dressing as the others set off around the lake and up the flanks of Mount Fox.

The skin up Mount Fox was long and exposed, making us thankful for the rock solid stability we had been seeing all week. The other group made their way up parallel to us, offering some wonderful perspective at the size of the terrain around us.

Eventually we reached a little plateau a couple hundred feet below the summit of Mount Fox. Running short on time and not liking the looks of the cornices above us, we decided to transition and head down the appealing looking gully to skiers left. We skied the upper pitch one by one and then party skied the lower angle terrain back to Goose Lake and skinned back to our sleds.

This was one of my favorite backcountry ski days I’ve ever had, despite barely scratching the surface of the amazing terrain around Goose Lake. The beyond flawless weather, remote location, sheer scale of the surrounding peaks, and miles upon miles of untouched powder all combined to create a truly perfect day out in the mountains.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *