Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Snowshoeing Lazyman Roadless Area

At the beginning of our hike we ran out of snow and it was off and on with snowshoes

Pretty typical scenery along the trail

A view of Red Mountain through trees and blow down

The bright red line to left was our route
If nothing else, the Montana Wilderness Association has succeeded in introducing folks to otherwise obscure federal roadless lands in national forests that could be considered for wilderness with its Wilderness Walks and Snowshoe Hikes programs.
It's particularly important as the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest is preparing its forest-wide plan that could stand as a management document for decades.
Although I had lived in Helena for eight years in the 1970s I didn't do much hiking and skiing in the area between the old mining camp of Rimini and McDonald Pass.
Until Sunday I hadn't been in the Rimini Area for about 35 years.
An MWA Snowshoe Walk into the Lazyman Roadless Area east and south of Rimini introduced me to that area.
We took a trail that started at the old Moose Creek ranger station, now a forest cabin rental.  The trail leads to the top of Colorado Mountain (7,217 feet) and offers access to Black Mountain (7,149 feet) and a loop along the Lazyman Ridge.
Our group of a dozen snowshoers, led by Doug and Sonia Powell of Helena, only went up a couple of miles and 1,200 feet in questionable and crusty snow, but it gave us a fine overview of this 11,608 acres roadless area that's only a few miles from a densely populated Helena.  It is also in the shadow of the large Red Mountain near Rimini.  Doug pointed out various access points and trails into the area and the adjacent Jericho Roadless Area across the road near the Moose Creek Campground/Picnic Area.
The Jericho area, 8,440 acres climbs north to McDonald Pass.
Unfortunately, the Forest Service is not recommending either of these areas for wilderness.
The Lazyman area is densely covered by timber, much of which has been killed by bark beetle and blown down.
Aside from great views of the Black Mountain area, unless you get off trail and high, the views are of this timbered trail.
It looks as though it gets high snowshoe use.
If there were sufficient snowfall it would be very skiable, too.
The Helena Lewis and Clark National Forest is taking comment on its plan through March 31.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Valentine's Day in Glacier

The Front really showed off.  That's Headquarters Pass, Rocky Mountain Peak.

Katie at Lake McDonald in Glacier Park
Katie and I had a wonderful and sweet day visiting Glacier Park on Tuesday.
We caught the sunrise alpine glow on the Rocky Mountain Front on the way up, stopped in East Glacier Park to visit friends and hear stories about the 6 feet of snow that fell there last week, went to the head of Lake McDonald for a hike to the falls on McDonald Creek, and stopped for a Valentine Dinner at the Log Cabin restaurant in Choteau.
Mountain Pine Motel was buried

Main Street East Glacier at Sears Motel


Monday, February 13, 2017

Rodgers Peak in wind and wind crust

Being blown around on top of Rodgers Peak on CDT

Taking shelter 
Coming off the top


Near the trailhead
Montana is a land of such extremes.
First, too little snow.  Now too much in the Front and Glacier back country.
I've been out three times in the last week, twice up to Rodgers Peak on the Continental Trail above Rogers Pass outside Lincoln, and once up to the Mizpah area south of Showdown.
I've been bucking lots of snow after some parts of the Front got over 5 FEET in three days about a week ago.
The Rogers Pass area didn't get near that amount, but there is enough up there to make breaking trail difficult.
Last Wednesday I skied the the trail and found great snow in which I could telemark, making the trip particularly fun.
Then I went back again Saturday, this time with to lead a Montana Wilderness Assocation Winter Walk of 11 snowshoers.
Between Wednesday and Saturday we got a massive chinook that melted the snow in Great Falls and hardened the snow at Rogers Pass.
My ski tracks were still there, but they weren't much help on the heavy wind crust on the trail.  I'm afraid our showshoers sank a foot or more with each step much of the way.
When we got to the top it was windblown and the wind was howling at more than 50 miles an hour, enough to make the top a short, cold stop.
We got nice views along the CDT and an occasional view of Red Mountain and Caribou Peak and the Front.
The sun came out and once we got back in the trees our trip down was quite pleasant.
We'll need more snow if this trail is to be enjoyed on skis later in the season!
As a side note:  Skiing is one heck of a lot easier than snow shoeing.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Snow quality stinks, Jefferson Creek, Gerry Lookout

Where the Gerry Lookout used to be located in Flathead National Forest above Nyack Creek
Yogo Peak in Little Belts on Upper Jefferson run (Gordon Whirry photo)
I did a couple of backcountry trips last week, a 10.5 miles ski in the Little Belts' Jefferson Creek headwaters and a snowshoe climb near Glacier Park to the site of the former Gerry Lookout above the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in the Nyack area.
I've know about the Jefferson Creek ski for about 40 years, but just never gotten around to doing it because it is on an old road all the way.  It begins just across U.S. 89 from the Silvercrest XC Ski Area on Forest Service Road 3328, the road that offers access to the Big Baldy Area.  At about 1.5 miles, there's a junction and you should stay left.  At 6.5 miles it intersects with the main Jefferson Creek Road as it heads up Chamberlain Creek.  Again, bear left and head down Jefferson Creek.
Neihart Mayor Steve Taylor suggested a mid-week ski because this year's crappy snow had been made manageable by snowmobile tracks.  We were able to kick and glide our way across this easy route on those tracks, minus the snowmobilers who were not around.
The trip offers nice views of open meadows, Neihart Baldy and Long peaks, and Big Baldy.  The bottom follows Jefferson Creek to U.S. 89.
You know you're at the right spot for Gerry Lookout when you see these signs:  FS Road 499, Mile Marker 168
I feel a bit silly that I had never done the Gerry Lookout, right off Highway 2 at Mile Marker 168.  You know you've got the right place if you see the "499" Forest Service Road Sign.  Otherwise, there are no other markers on the other side of a locked gate.
The lookout was taken down years ago and all that's left are wonderful views into Glacier Park and the Great Bear Wilderness.
It doesn't take much effort to get to the top ---- 1.89 miles, with an elevation gain of 940 feet.  It took me about two hours on snowshoes to gain the top and return.  Unfortunately, views were obscured by a heavy cloud cover.  I'm told there are terrific views of Glacier's St. Nicholas Peak matterhorn.
I wore snowshoes rather than skis because of wind crust and the trail has been hammered by snowshoe use, making skis impractical.
It reminded me that a high priority should be to explore the parallel drainages south of the Middle Fork in the Great Bear Wilderness.
The Upper Jefferson Creek (Gordon Whirry photo)


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Bucking deep snow in Mortimer Gulch

The full moon sets above the Rocky Mountain Front alpine glow near Augusta 

The sun and clouds reminded me of a Van Gogh painting

Sawtooth Peak is the backdrop as Mark works his way up the snow field

Originally, I had planned to ski with Wayne's Wednesday crowd exploring a new route from Kings Hill to Jumping Creek in the Little Belts.
Instead, Mark Hertenstein looked at the size of his crowd and decided we wanted more of a wilderness experience and headed for the Front outside Augusta up the Sun River Canyon and up Mortimer Gulch that runs north from Gibson Reservoir.
The winds were howling out on the plains, bringing in a Chinook that was raising temperatures from where they had been stuck far below zero for most of the month.  We ended up skiing in 30 degree weather.
The attraction of Mortimer Gulch is that it is a gateway to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and offers breathtaking views of Castle Reef and Sawtooth Ridge and the high peaks of the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall wilderness areas to the south and west.
For some reason it was also shielded from the howling winds and we skied in relative calm.
The snow is considerably deeper in the Front than the Little Belts this season, a real twist from most snow seasons.
We had to break deep powder on our ski
We skied in two and three feet of powder that, for the most part, still hadn't set up with a good base, probably because the weather has been so fierce since early December.
So, we had the tedious and laborious task of breaking trail as we headed north up the gulch, above the Triple J Guest Ranch and toward the high point, which I've always called Mortimer Mountain.
We tried unsuccessfully to do some tele turns in some of the many open snowfields beneath the ridge to our west.  I ran into rock and bottomless powder that stalled my skis.  I couldn't get them to float.  There was some wind crust as well.
I figured we did about 6 miles roundtrip up and back and gained about 1,300 feet.
We were rewarded with peerless blue skies, tremendous alpine scenery and solitude.
We we able to drive just beyond the Triple J to a plowed out ranch gate and then hop on the powder that covered the road.
The road to the Sun River Canyon had drifted a bit in a couple of spots, but nothing my all wheel Toyota Rav 4 couldn't plow through.
The treat of the day was driving toward the canyon as the sun rose, casting the Front mountains in a spectacular alpine glow under a full moon.
We were very pleased we had turned back from the Little Belts ski scrum.
Up Mortimer Gulch toward Mortimer peak at its head


Sunday, January 08, 2017



Skiing on the frozen bottom of North Fork Teton River

Through the 2007 burn with high Teton Peaks as the backdrop

On the bottom beneath Mount Wright
This has been a weird backcountry ski season so far.
That partially explains why I'm so late in filing my first ski of the near year.
We also spent the Christmas holidays in California and couldn't ski.
The snow just refuses to set up and it has been bitterly cold since Dec. 6, not to mention a lack of snow in October and November.
There are only 13 inches on top of Showdown in the Little Belts, a veritable snow-basket, and more than 30 inches in the Front, but with a questionable base and a wind-glazed and hardened surface.
We skied Saturday doing a combination off-and on-trail hike on North Fork Teton just below Mount Wright beginning at the Teton Pass Ski Area with a turnaround at the Bob Marshall Wilderness boundary where the East Fork Teton comes in.  We skied down through an old burn to the creek, along the creek, right on the frozen river and then back on the old logging road betwen the West Fork and ski area.
We covered about 9 miles with an elevation gain and loss near 1,100 feet.  The scenery is beyond gorgeous here despite logging and the 2007 burn, with high peaks lining both sides of North Fork.
The best part of the ski was getting on the frozen North Fork, which had a skiable layer of snow on top of some thick ice, although it opened up into a flow in spots that we could ski around.
Despite 8 degree weather at the beginning of the trip it was glorious with blue skies and bright sunshine, warming into the teens.

On the logging road back to the ski area while losing daylight

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Solstice in the Little Belts

Gordon Whirry shuffles past the Porphry Peak lookout

Lucky for us, we had marked this rarely used trail last fall, making the trip easier
Winter is "officially" here, although it has seemed like we've been it her clutches for several weeks now.
We got out on one of our "Wayne's" backcountry ski trips on the start of winter at Kings Hill, opting for the 4-mile Trail 747 loop that starts at the pass, climbs Porphyry Peak at Showdown, a half-mile south down the ridge on Trail 727 where it meets the Trail 747 cutoff trail that descends just under a mile to an old logging road that is a snowmobile trail in the winter.  A couple of miles down this road and it meets the O'Brien Creek backcountry ski trail.  It ascends about three-quarters mile to the Showdown Ski Area and then back to Kings Hill Pass.
It been almost violently cold for the past two weeks, with temperatures getting only as high as 10 degrees and as low as 27 below, only to be replaced by cold winds that have blown the snow around.
This was a relatively tough ski today because we had to break trail beyond the ski area and down to the snowmobile trail, where, luckily, tracks were laid, making our ski back somewhat easier.
Because of the cold, the snow hasn't set up yet and while there are a couple of feet of powder it hasn't consolidated, leaving it without a base.  That means sinking in the snow and fighting to get the skis back to the surface.
While it was blowing in the morning, the sun finally broke through around 11 a.m., and it was spectacularly sunny.
This is probably the last ski for 2016 with a Christmas Eve storm coming in.
I look forward to a great 2017!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Good snow at Teton Pass

Despite great snow at Teton Pass, we had it mostly to ourselves
We switched gears on Sunday, going to Teton Pass rather than King's Hill, because the snow is so much better along the Rocky Mountain Front than the Little Belts.
It was bone-chilling cold to the Teton Canyon where the temperatures jumped from minus 2 to more than 20 degrees.
While it wasn't snowing on the Great Plains, we got plenty of snow all day back in the mountains around Teton Pass Ski Area.
The only problem was that a good base hasn't set up yet in the backcountry and slogging through deep base-less powder was pretty tough.
After a little of that, we opted for the ski hill itself and did yo-yo tele runs for most of the four hours we were there, taking advantage of powder that hadn't been worn away by the omnipresent snowboarders.
I figure we skied in at least two feet of powder and temperatures reached as high as 26 degrees.
The big snow was expected to fall overnight.
In the meantime, as of this writing, another foot of snow fell in the Little Belts.  That usually snow-packed range really needed it.
Really frigid air continues here.  In the past week we've gotten to 11 degrees once, and wind chills have us well below zero.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Finally !!! Backcountry skiing

First tele turns of the season down former Poma Lift run at Showdown
I can't remember ever having to wait so long to begin my cross country ski season.
I finally got out Thursday, Dec. 8, but for only a short run.
Normally, we can get out as early as mid-October and surely in the month of November, except for this year, because of no snow.
We've been pinned down by ultra cold weather and I figured that a good soak at the White Sulphur Springs Spa would cure what ailed me (i.e., cabin fever).  So, I packed my ski gear in the car hoping the snow would be good enough for a quick run.
It was minus 3 at Kings Hill Pass when I got out of the car, where a Showdown cat was clearing the pass's parking area.
Showdown delayed its Dec. 9 opening for lack of snow and the area was a mess of groomer tracks, working what little snow has fallen.
There is about 8 inches on the pass, but no base.
I decided to try it anyway, and went as far as the former Poma Lift area and took two runs to about a 100 feet above the bottom when I hit too much rock.  Luckily I was wearing my rock skis.
I also went a little more than half way up Golden Goose, a Green run, before I decided skiing back down on the chopped up, thin snow would be suicidal.
It was still great to finally get out on skis and I hope enough snow falls in the next couple of days that the skiing will be better.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Exploratory on trail below Fairview Mountain

Walking up the Beaver-Willow Road beyond the closed gate with Sheep Shed Mountain above us 

Katie and Jaye at Lost Lake below Fairview Mountain
Grizzly paw prints on the road
Really, we should have been skiing, and this area would have been a pretty good spot if there were snow.
There was a skiff of the white stuff along the way, and it hung in the air.
This was a Wayne's Wednesday Wilderness Walk exploratory hike on Trail 210 that runs parallel to the Beaver-Willow Creek Road reached from the Benchmark Road and the old Camp Scoutana.
The trail runs along the base of Fairview Mountain.
It is about a 7 mile walk, but we made it into a 9.3 mile trek that gained and lost nearly 2,000 feet because we had difficulty finding trail.
We had four in our group start from the south near the Willow Creek Falls trailhead.  The other four of us (me included) were to start from the north and there was to be a key exchange.  In the end, only two made it all the way through.
We were hampered in trail-finding from the north end by the high-grade outfitter/hunting trails that bisected the main trail, misleading and confusing us.
We went off on a number of wild-goose chases before giving up.  On one of my exploratories I found what I thought to be the thru-trail, and turned back and we turned around.
When we were later reunited with the two who had come all the way through, we discovered that my tracks were within 100 yards of where the south group had stopped for lunch, and where two of those four also turned back.
We had two extra miles added each way because the gate on the road near Sugar Loaf was closed (for the winter).   It was a beautiful walk on the road though, because there was no traffic and there was a light amount of snow.  On the way back we found distinct grizzly bear tracks on the road (photo included on this adventure).
A highlight of the trip from the north to south was Lost Lake beneath Fairview Peak, a gorgeous opening in the thick Doug Fir forest.  The group coming up from the south encountered high wind and some trail-finding difficulties, too.
The entire area of high peaks on the southern end of the Rocky Mountain Front was quite beautiful in its alpine glory.


The "Xs" mark where the two cars were parked.  The gray line is where the group from the south started at the Willow Creek Falls trailhead area.  The group from the north parked at the "X" on the purple line and walked north, looping to the south.  Note the gap between the gray and purple lines and you'll see how close we came to connecting, before we turned around and headed back to the car.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mann Gulch traverse

Folded limestone above Meriwether Canyon

Looking down on the Missouri River near the Gates

Dave Ashley views a marker where one of the smokejumpers died


At the wilderness boundary near Willow Mountain
It shouldn't be this warm and clear at this time of year.
Here it is nearly mid-November and we're hiking, not skiing.
We took advantage of 60 degree weather and clear skies Saturday to traverse Mann Gulch in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness, the site of the 1949 forest fire tragedy that killed 13 Forest Service smokejumpers.
The spots where they died are marked with crosses and monuments in this remote site.
In the past it has been difficult to reach this site because the best trails are reached from the Missouri River, which means traveling by boat.
About five years ago retired smokejumpers built a nice trail from the Willow Creek side of the wilderness off the Beartooth Game Range.
Instead, Saturday, we headed up a hunter's trail on a gulch just west and a little south of where Willow Creek flows into Elkhorn Creek on the game range, bypassing the new trail.
It was a quick 2 miles and about 1,000 feet to the saddle above Mann Gulch, much quicker than the new trail or coming up from Meriwether Canyon or up Mann Gulch from the bottom.
We added a ridge walk from the saddle to where the trail plunges into Meriwether and then bushwhacked down to the Mann Gulch bottom before heading up to view the monuments.
We covered roughly 7.1 miles and gained nearly 2,700 feet on this hike.
For me, the highlight was walking the ridge between the saddle and where the trail headed down to Meriwether.  There are fantastic views of the limestone walls and ridges and Willow Mountain.  There are also great views of the river near the mythological "gates."
Although we enjoyed this summer-like day, we realize that we badly need snow.

Wayne's walk:

Earlier in the week our Wayne's Wild Walk took us on a little-used trail in the Little Belts, really a ridge trail across the top of Porphyry Peak, No. 747.  However, we only went from Jumping Creek trailhead to the Mizpah Bowls and back to our car to check out as a backcountry ski trip.  It most certainly is, from Kings Hill Pass back to Jumping Creek Trailhead, about 9 miles.

For more, a topo map of hike and additional photos:  CLICK HERE


On the ridge below Willow Mountain 
Sleeping Giant Mountain


Above the oxbow on the Missouri


Sunday, November 06, 2016

Many Glacier in late season

Katie at Apikuni Falls


Looking back at Swiftcurrent Peak from Fishercap Lake

Wilbur Creek Falls

Mount Wilbur, Iceberg Notch B-7 Pillar along the Garden Wall

Katie at Lake Josephine with Mount Gould in background
Usually we're backcountry skiing by now, so this late season trip to Many Glacier was a real treat.
It's bone dry here, warm and windy, with temperatures climbing into the 70s on the Great Plains.  There's some snow in the high country, but it is scant.
We did four short hikes in Glacier on Saturday on a day-trip:  Apikuni Falls, Fishercap Lake, Wilbur Creek Falls and Lake Josephine.
The sky was a brilliant, cloudless blue and of course, the park was virtually empty.
I've often felt that the park is wasted by keeping it open for only several months a year.  This is a good example of that.
The colors are gone, the leaves on the ground, and the place has a feel that winter is about to descend.
We drove to the park by way of Valier cutoff, and back down Highway 89.
The Rocky Mountain Front along the way was in spectacular array, knifing to the sky.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Trail work, larch, hoodoos again


Rampage Mountain pokes its head through the clouds in Glacier Park above Middle Fork 


Our Wednesday old guys hiking group clearing brush along Belt Creek north of Neihart


The larch in color at Swan Lake

Steve Taylor and Gordon Whirry clearing Trail 747 on the west flank of Porphyry Peak

We've been getting out, but I haven't been posting as frequently.
Our Wayne's Wednesday Walks redid the hoodoos at Rock City north of Valier last week, and this week did some trail work in the Little Belts.
The week before Katie and I took three days in the Flathead to see the height of the larch color and enjoy some down time at the Laughing Horse Lodge in Swan Lake.
The larch were particularly colorful and plentiful this year with the usual suspects ---- Salmon Lake near Seeley, Swan Lake, and the area around Essex the best.
We did a couple of short hikes in Glacier Park --- Fish Creek Campground to Rocky Point through the 2003 Roberts Burn, and along the Boundary Trail outside West Glacier.  The colors there were impressive as well.
Most of our group had not seen the hoodoos at Rock City and we did a bit more extensive walking than I had done previously, covering some of the bench on Birch Creek above where it comes into the Two Medicine River, and getting down to the Two Med itself.
Our trail work Wednesday was a result of a request from Neihart Mayor Steve Taylor, in cooperation with the Forest Service to start some initial work on Taylor's Dream --- a trail between Neihart and Monarch along Belt Creek.
Despite Highway 89 running alongside the creek we found the area gorgeous because of the granitic rock canyon walls, the fast rushing creek and the country it opens the hiker to.  Steve envisions it a great place to ski or snowshoe as well as hike.
We did a section between the Harley Creek Bridge and the Neihart Cemetery.
Lots of work to do here, folks.
Then, we drove some of the logging roads south and west of Porphyry Peak and ultimately took the road to the Trail 747 trailhead from the road.
We cleared brush and cut trees (Steve did), and hiked to the Porphyry ridgeline.
This trail has become a wintertime favorite for a backcountry ski loop including a climb to the top of Porphyry, down 747, down the road to the intersection with the O'Brien Creek Trail and back to our starting point,  Kings Hill Pass.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Doing Ear Mountain most directly

On our way up the northeast ridge line

Mary Stelling braces herself against the wind

The Ear Mountain cliffs just above us
I wanted to get on record the easy way to climb Ear Mountain.  Well, okay, a somewhat easy way.  This involves going to the state Fish, Wildlife and Parks parking area off the Bellview Road northwest of Choteau, accessed from the Teton River Road.
There's a good parking area and a gate across what used to be a road.  Get on the road and follow it until it crosses a small drainage (you'll see the steel culvert). This is a wood cutting area.  Start up the ridge and follow it to the base of the cliffs.  This is on the norheast side of the mountain.
This is as far as we went last week with our Wayne's Wednesday Group hikers because the wind was blowing so hard we thought it risky to go any further.
We went 3 miles up and gained 2,700 feet.
If doing the full climb, at the cliff base there is a great, but narrow goat trail that goes across the face of the mountain to a very obvious saddle to the west.  Carefully follow it to that point where the trail becomes more pronounced and goes to the back of the mountain.  Follow that good trail in the scree to where it stops at a large and steep gully full of talus.  This is the way up.  Follow it through the cliffs, about 200 feet of elevation, and it is an easy walk to this mountain's high point.
In years past the most popular way of climbing this mountain is from the BLM trailhead off the South Fork Teton Road. This involves lots of up and down and across the Yeager Flats.
The way I described is much simpler and direct.

Here is a topo of the route and more photos:  CLICK HERE

H. Wayne Phillips with Metis (Earwax) Mountain in background 
Descending the ridge line 
The group encounters snow