WORDS AND PHOTOS: BRENNAN LAGASSE
The long daylight hours of summer are a constant reason to get out and enjoy the mountains across the West. In places like the Sawtooth Range of Idaho, where I found myself on the summer solstice, the question was never what can we do, but how are we going to fit it all in?
In Stanley, tourists are slowly quadrupling the population of town. Many of them are there to experience the world-class stretches of the Salmon River. Hailey, Idaho, local Lee Drake, Jillian Raymond and I thought we might go for a similar backcountry adventure until we pulled into to Stanley Lake to camp on the night of the summer solstice and looked up at the North Couloir of McGowan Peak.
The North Couloir was recently listed as one of the 50 Classic Ski Descents of North America. When you’re posted up at Stanley Lake it’s pretty obvious why. The 9,860’ peak, while not all the high, is beautiful. Three ski objectives fall from the mountain, but it’s the North Couloir that stands out as one of those corridors of snow that just pulls at backcountry skiers.
In the sublime setting of the Sawtooth Range, an area caked in beautiful ski descents and deep wilderness for miles on end, McGowan’s North Couloir is a gem if you happen to catch in powder during the winter, or head off for a late season mission like we did on the solstice.
The well-traveled approach is a worthy adventure for anyone that enjoys summer hiking. Once you locate the faint climber trail near the creek that brings you up to the base of McGowan the accessibility of this classic peak and line become much more apparent. The couloir itself is fairly straight forward—a flaring apron out the bottom, large protruding granite walls, and a crux section found mostly near the steep, tight top section of the couloir.
On the summer solstice we could’ve been biking, rock climbing, or checking into a host of other worthy recreational opportunities in the area, but we chose to ski. We skied because in all reality the summer solstice is the longest day of the year, which also means from there on the days only get shorter until it’s “that time of year” once again. We skied because the line looked that good from Stanley Lake. We skied simply because we could.
If you find yourself in the Sawtooth area anytime soon, or perhaps next winter, when you look up at McGowan you’ll know why we chose to go for a ski on the summer solstice. And after you ski it, when you get your look-back from the parking lot, you’ll be thinking the same thing I was: How have I waited this long to spend some quality time in the Sawtooth Range, and when am I going to be able to come back?