The Blaze

Published 2010-06-23

Nothing like springtime in the mountains. You ever been sitting around early on a Saturday morning sipping black juice with your buddies trying to come up with a plan for the day? Should we head to the Gally? Maybe run the Kitchen Sink, ride Leverich, or try to find some north facing couloirs to boot up? It’s the fortunate problem we all run into living in Bozeman, and especially during the spring months. As the snow continues to melt faster and faster with the warming days, we thought it would be wise to try and get in some big lines prior to full blown summer. Gallatin Peak looks good, as does the Y Couloir on Big Black, but we thought that instead of the classic descent in the later months of July and August, we decided to have at the big NW Face of Blaze Mountain.

The beautiful N Ridge of Blaze Mountain. Photo: Dennis Duenas

I was off the couch after a 3 week stint of travel and work so needless to say I was psyched to stretch the legs a bit. The sun was blazing by 9 am and we trudged through the venerable stream that was the Spanish Creek trail, past one fork, and approached another. Years had passed since any of us had been up this drainage, and we hesitated at the crossing of Spanish Creek Trail and High Lake Trail. You’d think it would be obvious, but we would soon find out that Spanish Creek trail is NOT the right way. Traversing the base of the stunning NE Face, we realized quickly that our days of interstate cruising on well traveled ground were coming to an end.

Classic Montana style approach. Photo: Dennis Duenas

Montana is known for its heinous bushwhacking, and today was no exception. We left the comfort of the trail and headed up a steep forested slope, barreling through downfall, tight lodge poles, and just enough snow to make slipping all too easy. The forest broke a bit and skinning became an option. Another 1000 vert of dense forest we arrived at a steep couloir we hoped would provide access to higher ground and our objective. We eventually came to the beautiful E ridge of the Blaze and followed the fast moving scree up another 1500 vert. Not the best access, and probably wouldn’t recommend it to anyone, but a good time nonetheless, and a Grade A Montana approach.

E Face of Blaze Mtn., with the objective on the right skyline.

Springtime in the mountains. Looking back across the Flying D towards the Bridgers.

The Blaze is not a technical line, but probably one of the most aesthetic descents in the Gallatin Range. 2300 vert of almost perfect 38 degree corn, sort of a sword like slash cut into the middle of the NW Face of the peak. Perfect wind loading and practically no sun all winter makes the line skiable almost all year. From the summit of Blaze Mountain it’s about 3 minutes of skiing, maybe less, down to the lake, which to most non-mountain folk would sound insane. 11 hrs on trail for 3 minutes of skiing; that’s right, welcome to Montana.

Mystery Ranch Fuze doing it's job.

The usual suspects atop Blaze Mtn, Spanish Peaks.

The turns were superb, a blend of soft corn and 6 inches of thick pow balanced the mid June terrain, and a slight wind lip cutting the center of the draw made for some playful styles. A full speed run out into the lake basin, my husky in hot pursuit, and a final power slide to greet my comrades. Time well spent, eloquently expressed by ample high fives and dozens of yee haws.

Nice way to spend a summer day in the stunning complex of the Northern Madison Range.

Now the fun began. Having botched the approach completely, we thought for sure we had the descent figured out. Ha! Little did we know. Turns out the trail to High Lake traverses alongside the N side of the creek and we were on the S side. I figured, well, let’s just head down to the creek and meet up with the trail, it’ll be smooth sailing from there. 200 feet above the creek bed I stared unexpectedly at the creek raging below; no stream crossing in sight, and definitely no trail. With snow running out quickly and increasingly dense Montana timber, we swapped ski boots for running shoes and plowed our way down stream hammering my MR Fuze pack against the bloated Fir and Lodge pole forest. Alas, we came to a creek we had crossed previously, waded through the spring runoff and eventually crossed paths with our mistaken trail. Home stretch indeed.

Paying the price in an unexpected Montana bushwack.

A brisk 4 1/2 miles down our now familiar trail buried under 4 inches of runoff, we parked ourselves back at the V.A.N. and reveled in the classic tour we had just finished. I love Montana…