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

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Earning our turns ---- finally!

Mark Hertenstein doing tele turns on Speculation Saturday

A quick look over the side

What a difference 10 days have made for snow.
Although it was 57 degrees in Great Falls, with howling winds, and 35 degrees at Kings Hill Pass, the snow on Porphyry at the Showdown Ski Area couldn't have been better.
Just 10 days ago there was an windcrust and a thin layer of snow that was skiable, but too icy to manage.
On Saturday we skied in a somewhat heavy powder, making four runs down Speculation and two on Upper Quick Silver, gaining more than 2,100 feet and traveling over 6 miles.
As we drove home, we headed right into the weather front that within hours plunged Great Falls to zero and snow.
On Saturday morning it was snowing heavily and temperatures remained below zero all day.
The Rocky Mountain Front was scheduled to receive the heaviest snows.
No doubt, I'll be checking that out early next week.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

First backcountry ski of season

Wind-crusted early snow on top
While I was spending 10 days in Chicago, it got really cold here and snowed enough to entice to do my first backcountry ski of the 2014-15 season.
It was a beautiful day Wednesday with clear skies and temperatures in the low 20s at Kings Hill Pass in the Little Belt Mountains.
My trip was simple and quick, about 3.5 miles round trip and 800 feet gained and lost climbing up the Showdown Ski Area runs to the top of Porphyry Peak with an elevation of 8,186 feet.
There was about 9 inches on top and 5 inches most the way.
In the wind, the snow was crusted, and soft and faceted most elsewhere.
I got my first turns of the season.
It was minus 37 for a day here.
I'm glad I missed that.
Snow returns this weekend.

For maps, graph and more detail, click here: Porphyry Peak

Golden Goose was skiable, but you had to watch the small trees sticking out of the wind crust

The Porphyry Lookout on top

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Glacier before the storm in her finest larch color

The larch in full color along Glacier Park's Lake McDonald.
I had to get a last look at Glacier in her yellow-larch finery and took a swing through the Swan, the west side of the park, Essex and East Glacier Park Thursday and Friday.
The weather continues to be unseasonably warm, but that promises to end with a major winter storm predicted for Sunday.
On the way to the park on Thursday I stopped for a quick climb to the top of Rogers Pass and a look at the snow in the high country.  Only a week ago things were fairly dry.  Continental Divide Peaks like Caribou and off to the north, Rocky Mountain peak are now coated in white.
Then, I hit the Swan, stopping for breath-taking views of the larch along Salmon Lake and the state park.  Swan Lake was equally spangled.
Then, for a stop at Lake McDonald in Glacier Park, a drive on the inner road as far as it goes --- 6.5 miles from Fish Creek campground to Camas Creek in the heart of the Roberts Fire aftermath (2003).
At Fish Creek I stopped for the 1.8 mile hike to Rocky Point and the interpretive displays on the Roberts fire.
I remember that fire well, and even the Rampage fire that year, but had forgotten that 13 percent of the park or almost 150,000 acres had burned that year, the driest on record.
It was overcast, but the golden larch color still popped.
Then it was off to Essex, the Izack Walton Inn and dinner and finally to East Glacier Park, where I spent the night.
St. Nick from Scalplock Mountain lookout

A thermal layer covered the Middle Fork Flathead spangled in yellow larch

The high peaks of the Great Bear Wilderness to the south

Essex and the Middle Fork from the top of Scalplock
In the morning I had a great breakfast at the Two Medicine Grille, enjoying the company of waitress Laurie Littner, a fellow climber, and Rebecca Wright, the cook who is a Badger-Two Med enthusiast and Bob Marshall devotee.
I doubled back to Essex and hit the Scaplock Mountain Trail to do the 8.6 miles, elevation gain and loss of 3,305 feet to the top of the 6,919 foot peak.
The trail was carpeted in fallen larch needles and at about 6,250 feet I started to pick up snow, all the way to the top.
The skies cleared when I reached the top and I got glorious views the pointed Mount St. Nicholas directly to the northwest, the high peaks of the Great Bear Wilderness to the south and below a layer of clouds blanketing the Middle Fork Flathead River.
Scaplock lookout with St. Nick in the background
I saw only one other person on the mountain trail, just at the beginning, as I was finishing.
On the way home I detoured along the Heart Butte Road, getting great views of the Badger country to the west.

Link to Scalplock climb, click here:

Scalplock climb

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Quick trip to Yellowstone Park

Gibbon Falls

The standard harem shot in Mammoth

Norris Geyser Basin


In the Porcelin area of Norris
I took a quick, solo trip to Yellowstone Park this week to see the animals and enjoy the less crowded spaces.
I saw plenty of animals, particularly elk and bison, but also mountain goats and a large grizzly bear.
I had hoped to see a wolf, but did not.
The park was pretty empty.  I spent several hours in the Norris Geyser Basin, one of my favorite spots, and saw not a soul in the back basin and very few in the Porcelin portion of the basin.
There was only a dusting of snow on the high peaks, like Electric and Mount Holmes.
I stayed at the Mammoth Campground and there were plenty of empty spaces.
I went into the park by way of the Paradise Valley and Gardiner and left by West Yellowstone and the Gallatin Canyon.
It had been about 10 years since I had been in the Gallatin Canyon and was stunned by the second home growth, particularly in the Big Sky resort area.  The Ophir School has grown immensely and the Big Sky High School has appeared.  There was highway congestion from Big Sky all the way into Bozeman.
This was a great way to experience the park.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Enjoying the October "bonus"

Wayne Phillips on top the high point on Alice Mountains

Climbing the ridge line off trail

The view from our lunch spot below Alice Mountains high point --- across Falls Creek and Scapegoat Wilderness

The limestone cliffs above Alice Creek trail, along Continental Divide Trail
The weather has been so mild and clear that October has turned out to be a "bonus" month for hiking and climbing this year.
Sunday, I joined my wife and two of her friends on a climb of Mount Wright (elevation: 8,875 feet) in the Rocky Mountain Front, to enjoy the fabulous views across the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  It was my third time up this mountain this season, my wife's second.
The views on this nearly 8 mile hike did not disappoint.  They were so clear we could see deep into Glacier Park, and across the Bob to the Swan Range.
On Monday, it was a climb of the high point in the Alice Mountains, a sub-range on the Continental Divide Trail east and north of Lincoln, not far from the Lewis and Clark Pass.
It was a 10.1 miles hike up a mining road from the Alice Creek picnic area at the end of the Alice Creek Road converted to a Helena National Forest Trail No. 490, rising 3,000 feet to the 8,135 feet summit.
On the way up we cut switchbacks and went directly to the top on a ridge pointing at the summit.
On the way down we took this scenic road/trail all the way, adding 2 miles to the trip, and well worth it.
The views from the top of Alice high point were of the Falls Creek country, Caribou, Red, Scapegoat, Steamboat, Bear Den, Monitor peaks.

For details on the Alice Mountains hike click on this link:

Alice Mountains high point

Beth Thomas and Katie Kotynski attack the summit ridge

Coming off the top

Beth Thomas and Sarah, from Sweden, on the top of Mount Wright 

Back to the car

West Fork Teton, a wilderness stream

Sarah, in front of the first mountain she's ever climbed, Mount Wright