Monday, March 02, 2015

A couple exceptional trips

My son, Demian climbing in one of the South Fork Teton drainages of Front
The snow was so good and it was cold enough that I had two exceptional backcountry trips last week.
Demian's avalanche gear
The first, last Thursday, was up the South Fork of the Teton with my son, Demian.
The second, Sunday, was a sort of tele-fest in the Kings Hill/Weatherwax area in the Little Belt Mountains.
The ski in the Front was particularly satisfying because my son showed me a new area, which will open up some real possibilities for skiing and climbing.  Many times I've skied into the bowl beneath Teton Peak.  He showed me an area below the peak just east of Teton.
 We skied up a spectacular valley and he climbed the peak on his skinned split board.  The snow was about six inches of powder sitting on a hard pack.  I found it difficult to set an edge and telemarked out while he climbed.
The skiing Sunday was in an area I've returned to many times.  The snow was a perfect 8 inches of powder that was set up just right for yo-yo telemark skiing.
Perfect telemark slopes in Little Belts Sunday

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

It all adds up on Izaack Walton trip

We found pussy willows in bud at Three Bears Lake near Marias Pass beneath Summit Peak in Glacier Park
Thank goodness for Groupon!
This Internet discount coupon service allowed us to spend two nights at the Izaack Walton Inn in Essex for $99 ($107 with tax) for a room that normally retails at $159 per night!
At that rate, with gasoline and meals, a trip there can be a little pricey.
Dinners are in the $25 range.
Ski rentals are $20 per day.
It all adds up.
I understand that people like groomed trails and the Izaack Walton offers 33 kilometers of them on roads south of the railroad tracks.  If you're not a guest, it'll cost you $10 per day for a pass.
I'm not sure I can understand shelling out that kind of money when there's Glacier Park for free a short distance away across U.S. 2.
A bustling Nordic scene at Izaack Walton Inn
We had a great stay there last weekend, particularly enjoying the fire and quiet time for reading.
I don't care for the groomed trail scene and did it one morning before going across U.S. 2 to the Walton Ranger District trailhead and snowshoeing up Ole Creek, a very satisfying trip.  A couple of weeks ago, I used this trail to climb about half way up Scalplock Mountain.
Last Saturday, the conditions were too icey to ski, so snowshoes worked just fine.
And it cost absolutely nothing.  We encountered only a solitary cross country skier who was carrying his skis because of the ice.
The weather was at first rain and wet snow on Friday, and then the temperatures plunged to about 2 degrees and the skies cleared.
Our destination Sunday was nearby Marias Pass, where in the trees, the snow is generally good.
Temperatures which had been minus 13 in the morning were 25 above in the afternoon.
We had a nice snowshoe in about 6 inches of new powder on the Autumn Creek Trail, where we lingered in the Little Dog Mountain area.
Again, this was free.
We were excited to see pussy willows budding on the shores of Three Bears Lake.  A sure sign that winter is losing its grip!
On Saturday night we drove about 25 miles to West Glacier to the Belton Chalet Restaurant where we found gourmet food at considerably less expensive prices than at the Izaack Walton.
Bottom line:  watch for deals at Izaack Walton, ski or shoe in the park, eat supper at Belton.
After doing the groomed trails at the Izaack Walton

A frosty crossing of Ole Creek

Katie at Three Bears Lake beneath Summit Peak

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Snow in the Front

A quick trip back in fast powder

I'm sun-tanning in the Waldron bowl

Approaching the bowl
It snowed sufficiently on Sunday and Monday that we had pretty decent snow on the Rocky Mountain Front on Tuesday, good enough for a good ski to the North Fork Waldron Creek bowl.
The conditions were as ideal as I've ever seen them:  cloudless, deep blue skies; no wind; about 10 inches of new powder.
The only negative might have been that the powder was sitting on hard pack ice and where there had been wind or sun, that ice was exposed and could make particular areas treacherous.
It was only 10 degrees when we started, and it warmed up to over 30 degrees.
I skied with Jim Heckel to the 7,000 feet mark and we had lunch in the bowl in bright sunshine, enjoying the spectacle of the Mount Lockhart ampitheater.
We encountered only one other person that day, and oddly enough it was made son, Demian, who was up for the day from Conrad to climb Teton Peak.  Wish I could have joined him.  His photos from the top are breathtaking, with great views across the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Warm temperatures today and predicted again for Thursday before (I hope) winter and good skiing returns.
Coming up the bottom

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Resorting to hiking

The Gibson Reservoir trail not far from Big George Gulch
We didn't trust the snowfall in the mountains and opted for a hike rather than a ski on Sunday, and things turned out just fine.
Of course I was a little unsettled when I got home and found out that it had been snowing furiously at Teton Pass Ski Area just north of where I was hiking in the Sun River Canyon/Gibson Dam area.
Anyway, we took two hikes in about 2-3 inches of wet and quickly melting snow first along the Gibson Reservoir shoreline to Big George Gulch (4 miles roundtrip) and then up Hannan Gulch (5.5 miles roundtrip).
Hannan Gulch Ranger Station
The sun peeked through the threatening skies a couple of times and there were a couple of sucker holes.  It was just at freezing the entire day, but there was no wind and the hiking was quite pleasant.
The reservoir looked to be about 30 feet low and there was lots of open water.
On the way back to Augusta we spotted very large herds of elk in the distance on the Sun River Game Range, a sight that attracted not a few sightseers.  The elk were very tough to make out without binoculars, however.  But, they were there.
Gibson Reservoir Overlook

Friday, February 13, 2015

Looking for decent snow

Nice, but thin powder near the top of Kings Hill Peak
For more than a week now the local ski hills have been advertising "Spring Skiing."
The warm spell has taken its toll and I'm looking for any excuse to find some skiing.
On Tuesday night several inches of powder fell in the Little Belt, and of course, on Wednesday I was up on the hill looking around.
The powder provided a bit of skiing atop a pretty solid ice base.
I worked my way up from Kings Hill Pass to the top of Kings Hill (elevation: 8,031 feet), a gain of nearly 700 feet.
The day was absolutely beautiful, living up to the Spring Skiing billing:  bright, deep blue skies, passably skiable new powder and light winds. The winds were promising to make short work of the powder, however, and I kept my ski day short.
Kings Hilll outcrop
Once on top I skied the ridgeline to the head of Weatherwax Creek and the amazing bowls there where I took a couple of runs to the bottom.  I had to really work to keep from going out of control because of the icy surface beneath the thin vaneer of powder.
I came back by way of the power line right of way having covered more than 1,100 feet of elevation gain over 4 miles.
It will have to do until winter (hopefully) returns.

Click on this link for graphs, photos of trip:

Climbing Kings Hill on skis

My way down with lots of great views into the Divide Road area along the power line right of way

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

How to hike new wilderness areas in Front Heritage Act

Rocky Mountain peak is in the Our Lake Addition to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area under Heritage Act
UPDATE: This post has been updated. An earlier version had incorrectly indicated that The Deep Creek Addition also includes the South Fork Teton River Trail No.168,  along Rocky Mountain Peak’s east flank. Also, I had incorrectly indicated that it has yet to be determined if the lower reaches of Falls Creek were included. They will not be as per the agreement of all parties and the lines drawn on the Heritage Act map.

Access to the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas has gotten a whole lot easier with passage of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act.
The act added five roadless areas totaling 67,112 acres in the Front to the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat, moving the boundaries of the wilderness closer to hikers, backpackers, snowshoers and backcountry skiers.
Dave Cunningham, information officer for the Lewis and Clark National Forest, pointed out that people have had easy access to these areas all along, but that they just weren’t called, “wilderness.”
It may be some time before the U.S. Forest Service finishes its review of boundaries and puts out a detailed map.
Rocky Mountain District Ranger Mike Munoz said that acreages in each of the areas, and which wilderness area, (the Bob or the Scapegoat) will have to be sorted out and approved by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture.                                                                                                                                                             With what I can gather from looking at current maps and comparing them to the proposed boundaries in maps published by the Save the Front organization, here are descriptions of the five areas with some ideas on how to reach them.  These approaches will be covered  in the new edition to my book that should be out before the hiking season.
Devil's Glen is now in the Scapegoat Wilderness Area

  • Silver King/Falls Creek. Think Dearborn River and the 6-mile round trip Devil’s Glen hike (Trail No. 206 ) and you’ve reached the wilderness boundary, in this case the Scapegoat Wilderness, part of the Bob Marshall Complex. Walk the Continental Divide Trail between the Alice Creek headwaters and Caribou Peak and you will also be in the Scapegoat.
Cross the South Fork Sun packbridge and you'll be in Patrick's Basin Addition to wilderness

  • Patrick’s Basin If you’ve ever climbed Patrol Mountain, the area immediately north and east nearly to the Benchmark Road, is now in the wilderness. You can now reach the wilderness boundary from the Benchmark Campground almost immediately when hiking the Straight Creek/Patrol Mountain Trail Nos.212/213.  Patrick Basin also contains other large mountains like Allen and Sheep Shed that would be part of the Bob Marshall.  A major access is Lange Creek Trail No. 243. (reached via Trails 202,242 or from Gibson Reservoir).  Under the bill, you’ll be in the Bob and the Patrick Basin Addition nearly as soon as you cross the South Fork Sun  Pack Bridge at Benchmark, Trail No. 202.
Deep Creek Divide from the Deep Creek Addition will now be part of the Bob

  • Deep Creek.  This addition is a land of great gulches and high peaks. The rule of thumb here is that if the creeks flow toward Deep Creek, it’s in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. That would mean that hiking the Green Gulch/Reardon Gulch 19-mile loop (Trails No. 126,127,135) you’d be in the Bob along Slim and Sheep gulches, but not Green and Readon gulches. Another way to reach this would be via Blacktail/Mortimer gulches from the Sun River Canyon area (Trails No. 223).
The Our Lake Addition is now part of the Bob Marshall

  • Our Lake  This is probably the Front’s most popular hike (Trail No. 184), but the wilderness boundary is moved closer to the parking area near the South Fork Teton, and includes the east side of Rocky Mountain peak, the highest mountain in the Bob.  This addition also pushes the boundary closer to the trailheads of Headquarters Pass (Trail No. 165), and  Route Creek Pass (Trail No. 108).
The ridge between Teton Pass and Washboard Reef is now part of the West Fork Addition to the Bob

  • West Fork Teton  Just behind Mount Wright along Trail No. 114 to include the forks of the West Fork, like Wright and Olney creeks. The Wright Creek drainage, without a formal trail is particularly scenic with towering Mount Wright on the east and an extension of the limestone Corrugate Ridge to the west.  Previously, the wilderness boundary had been at Teton Pass, a hike of 5.5-miles one way. That is a hike I’d highly recommend.

The Heritage Act also designates 208,160 acres of the Front as “Conservation Management Areas,” where the restrictive Forest Service Travel plans are now set into law.  That means that much of the Front remains “de facto” wilderness without the title.
However, it would limit road-building while it protects current motorized recreation and public access for hunting, biking, timber-thinning and grazing.
And, importantly, the act prioritizes eradication and prevention of noxious weeds on the designated public lands. This, in turn, helps protect adjacent private lands.
Earlier, through the efforts of former U.S. Sens. Max Baucus and Conrad Burns and former Lewis and Clark National Forest supervisor Gloria Flora, the Front was withdrawn from oil and gas development.
The Heritage Act was passed through an amendment attached to the 2014 Defense Bill and represents a compromise supported by then U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, a Republican, and U.S. Sens. Jon Tester and John Walsh, both Democrats.  It was signed into law by President Barak Obama.

Here's the Save the Front coalition's proposed Heritage Act map:
heritage act map.jpg

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

January thaw prompts Glacier visit

Snowshoers prepare to walk the Lake Mcdonald shoreline Monday in Glacier
Temperatures have been in the 60s and snowmelt running in the streets of Great Falls.
Monday was an unbelievably warm and sunny day and I was prompted to head out the door with skis and snowshoes, looking for snow in the high country.
What I found was an icy, corn snow.
But, no matter.
I used the snowshoes to climb half-way up Scalplock Mountain in Glacier National Park. Skis were useless, and a little dangerous on the ice.
McDonald Lake was as pretty as I've ever seen it.  There was beautiful snow in the mountains in all directions, blue skies and radiant sun, with an unfrozen lake.
It was such a great day to be out.
I tried to reach Two Medicine Lake, but found the road unplowed and too slushy to chance.
The Rocky Mountain Front was simply spectacular.
I drove up by way of U.S. 89 and used the new scenic pullouts between Pendroy and Dupuyer. I laud the state Dept. of Transportation for the wonderful job it did in engineering a straighter and safer highway with its reconstruction of that stretch.
Rocky Mountain Front from new U.S. 89 scenic overlook.  Old oil well in foreground

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Exploring back side of Porphyry Peak (west side)

Forest Service Road 6413 groomed for snowmobilers made a nice cross country track for me
The warm weather has me climbing the walls as I helplessly watch all this good snow melt or get glazed by the wind.
I heard that there had been 5 inches of new powder at Showdown, so I headed in that direction Wednesday before it all disappeared.
I was amazed that the temperature was only 8 degrees near Kings Hill Pass and was 13 degrees when I put my skis on for this trip.
I was curious about Forest Service Trail 747, a relatively new trail that connects the Porphyry ridge road/trail 830 to Forest Service Road 6413 above Moose Creek in the Little Belts.
Because of my ineptitude in trail-finding, this became a loop trip.
From the pass I dropped down the Showdown Ski Area black diamond Yogo Headwall and then climbed up 1,100 feet to reach the top of Porphyry Peak at 8,219 feet.  I left the ski area here and went .8 miles along the Porphyry divide where a trail sign for Trail 747 appeared.
Trouble was, I couldn't locate the trail.  There were no slashes on the trees and no obvious clearings indicating a path.
My instinct took me straight down some 500 feet through pretty thick timber, where I encountered forks of Jumping Creek --- and I knew I was off course.  I climbed back and contoured to the north and east and finally hit the road, a nicely groomed snowmobile trail.  I skied the courderoy for about a mile and found a trail sign for the bottom of Trail 247.
At this point I noticed the trail was marked by yellow tape tied around the trunks of the trees.

Yellow tape, not slash marks, marked FS Trail 747 on the west side of Porphyry
The trail followed a ridgeline up and gently contoured to where I had found it on Porphyry ridge.
I went back in the opposite direction, eventually hooking up with the ski hill and used Golden Goose and then Meadows runs to get back to the lodge.
I climbed back up to Kings Hill Pass and my day was complete:  7 miles and 1,900 feet of elevation gain!
Telemark opportunities:  not much if you don't like thick trees.

Want to read more and see a topo map of this area?  Click here

My pack and skis on a lunch break.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Deadman exploratory

A tour with a view

Perfect telemark slope

Down the long ridge line
I can't remember a more bluebird winter day than today as I skied an exploratory route on the Deadman Ridge from Kings Hill in the Little Belt Mountains.
The sun shown brightly and the sky was a brilliant blue.
The snow was just about perfect for an off-trail exploratory and telemark ski trip.
Unfortunately, the top layer is a hoar frost, which will cause trouble later in the winter as it is submerged and could be the culprit in an avalanche.  That hoar sat upon an icey layer above several feet of powder.
I went off trail for some telemark skiing and then varied the Deadman backcountry trail route by skiing beneath it in several spots (see map from link below).
I went 6.6 miles, climbed almost 1,000 feet and descended 2,200 feet.
I topped the day with a soak in the hot springs in White Sulphur Springs.

Click here for map and more on trip

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Gorgeous scenery with little effort on Front's Jones Creek

The ski up the Jones Creek bottom
The mountains northwest of Choteau in the Teton Canyon are the heart of the Rocky Mountain Front.
We were looking for an easy ski Saturday and found it in Jones Creek, a National Recreation Trail No. 155 there.
It was an easy ski up the bottom on this largely unmarked trail that used to be a road.
Mountains rise steeply in all directions.  There's Choteau Mountain to the east, Cave Mountain to the south, and unnamed divides to the west and north.
The skyline

Large blocky, unnamed mountain to the east

Southern skyline
We traveled about 4 miles north and turned around, gaining 890 feet over that distance, before turning around to complete this 8 mile run.
This is a drainage that gets lots of wind and the snow had a windcrust on it. Once broken, it provided a fast track back in powder.
A cloudy sky yielded to a peekaboo sun that made the snow caps pop.
We talked about what a great backpack this trail would make, where we could quickly set up a camp and walk connecting ridgelines in all directions.
I tried to locate the West Fork Trail No. 156, and while I didn't find any markers, could figure out where to ascend that creek when I return.

Click here for more detail and map of this hike: Jones Creek bottom

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Downhill, no; backcountry, yes

Showdown was picture perfect early in the day as I rode the ski lift

After giving up on the ski lifts, we wandered into the backcountry for the skiing we love
Every three or so years I have to remind myself why I don't like downhill ski hills.
I fell prey to a friend's request Wednesday to accompany him and others on what would be an epic powder day at Showdown Ski Area south of Great Falls where more than 24 inches had fallen in the previous three days.
It was a picture perfect day with bright, blue skies and sun illuminating the ski hill, a very inviting picture, indeed.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long for my distaste for the ski hill scene to emerge:  the lift lines (even if small), the mechanization, the noise, the groomers, the snowboarders whizzing by and shredding perfectly good powder lines, the chopped up powder.
The snow got chopped up quickly
I did five downhill runs, including two down Big Seven and tossed it in, opting instead to skin and climb from the ski lodge to the top of Porphyry Peak, about 1,200 feet in elevation gain.
The climb calmed my jangled nerves and gave me the aerobic workout I had sought, although working my way down Big Seven and dodging snowboard gashes was a hard workout of a different sort.
Once on top, my friend Wayne Phillips and I headed out of bounds through the trees to the north and east, losing much of that elevation and enjoying the best virgin powder of the day.  Because the area is shaded the powder was much lighter than the tough, heavy stuff we were pushing around on the hill.
Despite having to break trail, this was the best part of the day.  It was the pure, quiet, gorgeous backcountry.
I enjoyed the company of my fellow skiers at the lodge during breaks, but other than that, the only time I'll use the ski area is when the lifts aren't operating, mainly during the off season.
The shadow of a lift rider in the snow

Alpenglow on Big Baldy as the sun sets

Friday, January 02, 2015

First O'Brien Creek run of season

Mount Neihart Baldy comes into view at trip's end
O'Brien Creek bottom
O'Brien Creek run in the Little Belts has became an annual tradition, something that must be done each season.
It has a serene more than spectacular beauty, and the snow is consistently terrific.
It goes from Kings Hill Pass near Showdown Ski Area to the town of Neihart, 8 miles and 2,000 feet in elevation loss away, passing through lodgepole forest, and following the creek through narrow canyons with rock outcrops.
The trail was in terrific shape Friday with plenty of powder and great snow bridges with which to cross and recross O'Brien Creek.
I was surprised to see that the road between the town of Neihart and the Neihart water treatment building had been plowed.  If that can be counted on and you have two cars to ferry, it would cut off about a half mile down a steep road that usually has been sanded and is strewn with small rocks.
I was by myself, parked the car at the Neihart highway department maintenance quonset and was quickly picked up hitchhiking by a snowmobiler heading for the pass.
Along the way I took my time, did some tele turns off Divide Road, and still finished the ski in 2 hours and 45 minutes in changeable weather with a temperature of about 25 on top and 40 at the bottom.

Here's some greater detail of the trip. Click here for O'Brien Creek

The area near Divide Road offers tele turn possibilities

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Jefferson Creek kicks off new year

Katie in deep powder along Jefferson Creek

A frosty Jefferson Creek follows the trail
In most years I don't spend much time on Jefferson Creek, not a trail, but a road that runs for about 5 miles along this stream in the Little Belts a couple of miles south of Neihart.
However, with the huge dumps of snow, Jefferson Creek turned out to be the perfect place to initiate the New Year.
Katie and I skied about 6.5 miles total, up and back along the creek on a gorgeous sun-spangled Jan. 1.  The terrain rose gently, picking up 560 feet of elevation.
The snow was packed fairly well and ran in two trails for a couple of miles, used by both skiers and snowshoers, and then narrowed down to a single cross country ski track.
Jefferson Creek runs through a canyon where rock outcrops come right down to the road.
The ultra-cold weather frosted the trees along the creek, adding to the beauty.
Although it was about 20 degrees, there were only two other skiers and three snow-shoe parties.
I've also included a photo from a telemark trip I took into the bowls north and east of the Weatherwax Creek bowls, where we found deep powder Dec. 20.
Pre-Christmas skiing in bowls northeast of Weatherwax Creek in Little Belts

Monday, December 15, 2014

Snow, just not as much as I want

My flocked "Christmas trees" on the Deadman run
We've had some decent snowfalls since my last post, but we've also had some stretches of warm and dry weather that is playing havoc in the backcountry.
I had a report from a friend yesterday that despite great snow at Teton Pass, the surrounding backcountry was only marginal.  It was my planned destination, but after the report I canceled.
Because it snowed this past weekend, I headed for the mountains Monday morning to check things out.
It is really strange;  good snow between Monarch and Neihart, but marginal snow at Kings Hill Pass and on the ridgelines.  There was another 2-4 inches on top of a hard base, but the wind had crusted it, making tele turns difficult.
I went up Deadman trail to the far end of the Deadman bowls, about 3 miles, and I fought that crust all the way.
Luckily, the skies opened up and it was quite beautiful.  It was bright blue and the snow glittered like jewels from the sunlight.  It is so fantastic to live on the east side of the mountains where this is a regular occurence.
I got out only once last week --- skiing up the hill, climbing Porphyry and going across to the Mizpah bowls.  The snow was good, but heavy.
Mizpah ridge

Mizpah cabin