Skiing The 4th Of July Couloir in Beehive Basin
Location: Beehive Basin, Spanish Peaks, Madison Range, Big Sky, MT
Trailhead: Beehive Basin Parking Area – 7900 ft
Distance: +/- 7 miles round trip
Time: 4-5 hours
Top Elevation: 10675 ft
Vertical: 3250 ft
USGS Maps: Lone Mountain, Gallatin Peak
Jeremy Wood and I have a tick list of lines to ski in the Spanish Peaks. With a plan to knock off some objectives in April, we opted for an alpine start, which is why it was still dark when I picked up Jeremy. While en route to the Beehive Trailhead, without any coffee, we discussed our mission for the day.
The GNFAC advisory isn’t available for alpine starts, so we made a plan on what to look out for. After approximately 12 inches of snow in the last 72 hours, our only main concern was fresh wind loading – something we verified with the GNFAC’s advisory later. With that in mind, we chose to make an attempt on the Hanging Garden – an exposed line on the north side of Beehive Peak that has eluded me multiple times.
To reach the Hanging Garden, we left the Beehive Parking lot and made our way through the Beehive Meadows toward Beehive Peak. Accompanied by a very heavy pack and a chorus of bear calls, we made our merry way up valley. I went on this same mission once before.
The ski tour was essentially a walk in the woods in the dark in the cold. The alpenglow hit Beehive Peak just as we reached the upper basin. Our route from here was to skin up the cirque as far as we could and then transition to crampons. With my BD Sabertooth steel crampon claws on my feet, we would set a bootpack up the 4th of July Couloir. It seemed simple enough.
The skinning was quite easy and we rapidly gained elevation. At the bottom of the rock face, we transitioned to crampons for the last 400 ft of vertical. Unfortunately, the bootpack wasn’t very firm. We wallowed in snow leaving a meandering bootpack that look like a drunk person had set it.
In about 3.5 hours after we left the car, we were standing on the wide col at the top of the 4th of July Couloir. We drank some water and assessed our situation. We peered down the North Twin Couloir and decided today wasn’t the day due to large wind pockets.
Instead we looked upwards toward Beehive Peak. The first chimney is a simple snow climb that ends in a few easy class 5 moves. We wandered toward the North Twin and looked up the second option. It had been aggressively sideslipped (most likely someone turning around from Hanging Garden) and it looked firm. This would be our ascent route.
We quickly climbed the 2nd ascent option. The snow was crampon friendly and there were plenty of exposed rocks. Above us we could see a saddle. When we reached the saddle, there was lots of room to drop packs and soak in the views. We’d reached our destination – the top of the Hanging Garden.
The Hanging Garden is only a few meters wide with hundreds of feet of exposure down to Beehive Lake. The steep line was wind loaded and had some interesting wind formations in it. It appeared that someone had skied a couple of turns and bootpacked out of the line.
Due to the exposure, the wind loaded slope, our stability analysis, and a bit of the unknown we chose not to ski this line. If something goes wrong there, we stood no chance – and we had a few red flags.
Our alternative was to ski our ascent route. As we transitioned to ski mode we peered down the line. There were lots of exposed rocks and the line makes a sharp dog leg into the North Twin Couloir near the col, a few hundred feet below. Plus, this line was super steep.
Jeremy lead the charge, then I followed. We worked our way safely down to the col managing sluff, making hop turns, and dodging rocks the entire way.
At the col, we looked longingly into the North Twin – another line that is high on our list. With the warm weather forecasted for this week, the wind slab problem should trend toward stability. Maybe later in the week, we’ll make another attempt at the Hanging Garden or the North Twin or both.
For now, we had some nice velvety snow to ski in the 4th of July Couloir. The 4th of July Couloir gets skied regularly, but it was relatively untracked for us on this trip – as long as the wandering bootpack didn’t bother us.
We quickly made it back to the valley floor far below. It was another fun adventure in Beehive Basin. We didn’t get to ski our main objective, but as always the main goal of ski mountaineering is to return to the car at the end of the day. We certainly did that.
View Route on Hillmap
Here are a few additional photos from our Beehive Peak ski mountaineering adventure and skiing the 4th of July Couloir:
This Beehive Basin ski adventure took place on April 9, 2015.