Thursday, February 04, 2016

Hoover Ridge traverse: Bender to Henn

A view from the Hoover Ridge top looking east toward Old Baldy

Perfect, if cold conditions for our trip

This 9-mile traverse travels up the Bender Creek valley to the Hoover Ridge top and over to Henn Creek, gaining and losing nearly 2,500 feet in the Little Belt Mountains south and east of Great Falls.
The ridge itself is heavily timbered and gentle to follow along a newly reconstructed and reconfigured Trail 736.  Our route was a blend of the old and new trails.
Along the way there are extraordinary open parks that make for good telemark turns and vistas of such mountains as Servoss and Barker to the west and north and the Big Baldy (over 9,000 feet) to the east.
While there are old roads and mining claims, this area maintains a wild character in the winter.
Our trip was icy cold to begin with; the temperature 7 below zero, which never rose above 18 degrees despite bright blue skies and radiant sunlight.
As we topped the final ridgeline we temporarily lost and regained the old trail and then lost it again and found ourselves steeply descending to the Henn/Ruby divide, finally coming out at the new Trail 736 trailhead.  Unfortunately, we didn't have the advantage of open tele slopes, but had to bushwhack around deadfall and brush and closely spaced trees.
Then it was two miles down a fast and sometimes the steep Henn Gulch road used by snowmobilers and skiers in the winter.
This area is accessed from Monarch by the Dry Fork/Hughesville Road, with Bender Creek about 9 miles from the turnoff, and good starting point.  On that road it is about a mile between Bender and Henn Gulch access points.
This was one in a series of Wayne's Wednesday Wild Walks, and conceived by Chuck Jennings, who has hiked sections of it in the summer.
For a map and more, CLICK HERE
The sun was welcomed after a minus 7 start
Chuck Jennings spending his turns off the Hoover Ridge

Finally reaching the Henn Road 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Middle Fork Judith River canyon in winter

Struggling up the road that is at the center of the area conflict

One of the many caves in the canyon of frozen water

Walking right up the bottom on the frozen river
I really enjoyed a snowshoe/hiking trip into the Middle Fork of the Judith Wilderness Study Area in the Little Belt Mountains south and east of Great Falls, Saturday.
The trip showed off the resource conflict that has prevented this area from inclusion in the National Wilderness System ---- mining claims and a road that criss-crosses the river numerous times to reach those claims, causing resource damage.
We were able to walk up a canyon of mudstone and limestone on frozen river and view the river from a point above it.
Unfortunately, we saw a sample of why the resource is threatened --- an ATV on the rutted road.
We covered nearly 6 miles, gaining just under 1,000 feet.
Mark Good, the Montana Wilderness Association Island Range Chapter staff director, explained his optimism that soon the road will be closed, new access built for the in-holdings, and this land designated wilderness.
In addition to the canyon spires, this land is remarkable for its numerous Ponderosa Pine trees, and caves.
This area isn't really a good candidate for skiing, and snowshoeing is marginal because of sparse snow.
I ended up taking off the snowshoes, and putting on Yak-Tracks over my boots.

For topo map of route, and more info, CLICK HERE
The MWA Island Range Chapter group

Sadly, we found what is causing so much damage in the area

Friday, January 29, 2016

Snow variations on Deadman run

Kick and glide across the open Deadman Ridge

Wayne's Wednesday Wild Walks old guys at work

Digging a pit to assess avalanche conditions
The expected huge winds never materialized, but the warm weather did, making snow conditions on the Deadman run in the Little Belts variable.
We had great powder snow at about 7,500 feet and above.  Below that line we ran into mashed potato snow that required me to apply glide wax twice to combat the clumped snow that clung to my skis.
This run starts at Kings Hill Pass, goes to a ridgeline to the east, traveling south to the creek bottom, covering 7 miles, gaining nearly 1,000 feet and losing 2,000 feet.
When the snow was good we could make great telemark turns.
When it was soft and heavy we had to make sure we didn't bury a ski and twist a knee.
This run has remarkable views of the Little and Big Belt mountain ranges, the Castles and the Crazies, with glimpses of the Elkhorns and Rocky Mountain Front.
Curious about Avalanche conditions we dug a snow pit and found pretty stable snow on a four foot base.  There was an unstable lawyer at about 15 inches from the top where new snow had yet to bind with older snow. There was a tad of sugar near the ground.

For more photos, and detailed map, CLICK HERE.

Working our way carefully over an avalanche chute

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

South Fork Waldron Lake

Arriving at the South Fork Waldron Lake

Time to adjust gear and have lunch
This is an old standard when the snow is great and there are no snowmobiles up the South Fork Waldron Creek near the Teton Pass Ski Resort on a developed snowmobile trail.
It rises 1,500 feet over nearly 6 miles to a shallow lake at the foot of a tremendous headwall in the Rocky Mountain Front.
This area is northwest of Choteau on the Teton River Road.
We hit it Wednesday after a couple of inches had fallen over the snomo tracks, recognizing that it would be fast on the way down, and hoping that we'd find better snow up at the lake.
Bingo!!!  Both were true.
Because it was mid-week, we saw no other parties, no snowmobiles.
It was 28 degrees when we started, but it must have been in the teens with a wind at the lake, causing us to do a quick lunch.
We had really worked the final mile of the trip, side-stepping for those of us not using skins, so turning around in really great, untracked powder for about 500 feet of downhill tele was thrilling.
Not so thrilling was traveling down the iced, narrow tracks below at breakneck speed.  I fell as many times on this stretch as I sometimes do an entire season.
This is primo Rocky Mountain Front country with high reefs and headwalls everywhere around us.
Yes, we wore avalanche gear, but we didn't need it.

Here's a route map, with photos and GPS data.

Click here for map, photos and GPS data

Friday, January 15, 2016

Nugget Creek

Lunch break and equipment adjustments

Out on the flat we were treated to magnificent vistas

Our merry band of Wayne's Wednesday Wild Walkers
Last year it was too warm, and we didn't get enough snow to do the Nugget Creek option from the High Porphyry-Ranch Creek backcountry ski trail in the Little Belts that begins at Kings Hill Pass.
At our Wayne's Wednesday Wild Walks we skied the nearly 10 mile point-to-point run that gained nearly 1,700 feet and lost nearly 3,000 feet during all the daylight hours, leaving no daylight on the table.
We found mostly good snow, although there was some crust and ice where the wind had hit it.
We also avoided avalanche conditions by skiing around the final high point, rather than over it as we usually do.
Earlier in the week we had broken trail on the lower stretch.
Makeshift binding repair
This is a rather complicated run, with most of it off trail and through trees.  We had to be careful to avoid a spot where the ridge splits away from Nugget Creek, something we were able to do with the help of Wayne Phillips' navigation skills.
We had some equipment failure when Jasmine Krotkov's ski binding broke.  But, she rigged a rope fix that got her out handily.
Once we had gotten out into the flat below the final high point, we all marveled at the tremendous views to the south and east, revealing the Big Belts' Mounts Edith and Baldy, and the high Crazy Mountains.  Of course, there was the magnificent scenery of the Little Belts around us.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Rogers Pass powder

Skiing just below the ridge line kept us out of the wind

Views of the Continental Divide Trail

Skiing across the top before heading down, we encountered snow ghosts
Once again, the winds howled on the Plains, so we headed to the West side at Rogers Pass for a ski near the Continental Divide Trail.
We found passable snow right off the pass and headed up a creek bottom directly south aiming for a ridge line below Rodgers Peak.
It had been a number of years since we had skied this bottom, and I don't remember it being so steep.  We skinned all the way, gaining nearly 1,300 feet, zig-zagging our way to the top. Near the top we reached an area that had been frosted by snow the night before, prettily flocking the trees.
On top, we skied the ridge line in the forest to stay out of the driving wind.
We were in a fairyland with the flocked trees, a bright, sunny day, and fabulous vistas in every direction;  to the north, Red Mountain the highest point in the Scapegoat, to the south, the Continental Divide Trail snaking its way, the mountains of southwestern Montana to the east and south, and the Lincoln country to the west.
After lunch and some time enjoying the scenery, we telemark skied directly down through the trees and back to the pass, encountering some steep and icy slopes at points, but also some buttery snow that was easy to cut.
I remain amazed that this country sees very few winter visitors.  It is about the same distance to this pass from Great Falls (65 miles), as the heavily used Kings Hill Pass in the Little Belts near Neihart.
We laid down the first tracks.
This CDT country is far more scenic.
We skinned up and proceeded up the stream bottom

Thursday, January 07, 2016

A warm and sunny Glacier Park ski: Lubec to East Glacier

The stars aligned for the ski trip this bright, sunny January morning

Enjoying a leisurely lunch in a sun-lit snow field

The route is pocked with stream crossings 
It was in the single digits when we started out from Great Falls, headed for East Glacier Park for our weekly Wayne's Wild Weekly Walk (hiking group for old guys).
I packed triple layers of clothing for the 9-mile ski from Lubec (False Summit) to near the Glacier Park Lodge.
When we started, the temperature was in the mid-20s, the skies clear, and the wind was calm.
We skied in shirtsleeves, without hats and slathered in suntan lotion.
We encountered some crusty snow at the beginning;  it had been warm enough to melt and freeze the surface in the open.
But, in the trees, we encountered almost perfect touring snow.
Although I prefer the 15.8 miles Marias Pass to East Glacier ski, this truncated version is a great alternative if you don't have the time (such as when there are short days).
We found many signs of wildlife, particularly moose.
The Park Service made the trip easier by putting in several new bridges, where in the past we had to negotiate many creek crossings on snow and ice bridges.
I've done this ski trip many times before, always dreading the last four mile of downhill when icy trail makes skiing treacherous.  Not so on this trip.  Perfection.
At the high point above Railroad Creek

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Getting some exercise at Mike Horse

Beautiful, open tele slopes

Our view of Red Mountain, largest peak in Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex at 9,411 feet

Readying for some turns
The wind blew hard on the east side, so we ventured west up the Mike Horse Mine Road just short of the old ARCO water treatment plant.
We crossed the creek and head up through the trees on a ridge line, careful not to rock up our skis.
We gained nearly 1,600 feet over almost 4 miles, enjoying spectacular views of the Scapegoat Wilderness Area's Red Mountain and the Continental Divide Trail and Rocky Mountain Front.
The snow had a pretty good base, but in the lower elevations there could have been more of it because we encountered rock.
Great place to ski, just an hour's drive from Great Falls, yet on the west side of the divide.  We were able to telemark down the slope where there weren't rocks.
Normally, this road, located a couple of miles west of Rogers Pass, is closed to accommodate reclamation work on ARCO's polluted Mike Horse Mine and Dam.  However, work must have been suspended for the winter, and we had no trouble with access.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Lots of backcountry skiing in plentiful, if base-less snow

Icicles on rock above Sacred Dancing Waters of McDonald Creek in Glacier Park

Katie, with buttresses of Mount Edwards in Glacier in background

Plowing through thigh-deep powder near Izaak Walton Inn
Since my last post a week ago, I've gotten in six more days of backcountry skiing and snowshoeing in the Little Belts, Rocky Mountain Front, Glacier Park and Essex areas.
Almost without exception, we've encountered lots of powder, but sitting atop a sugary base, which makes for tough trail breaking and high avalanche potential.  We're going to need a thaw, followed by cold weather and more snow for the base to consolidate.
The snow was particularly plentiful in the Essex area, where we skied on the groomed and ungroomed trails and roads around the Izaak Walton Inn, where we stayed.  One night we got about 18 inches of snow!  We didn't stop and ski it, but could see Marias Pass west of East Glacier Park had terrific snow.
Clearing windows after 18 inches of snow fell overnight at Essex
One ski trip of particular note was the Deadman Creek 7-miler in the Little Belts along a ridgeline south from Kings Hill Pass. There was about 2.5 to 3 feet of snow along this course on Trail No. 746, but it hadn't consolidated yet, and was a tough breaking job, somewhat like we had encountered last week on O'Brien Creek.  We found a small avalanche above the steep gulch on a bend of the road in the first mile, and snow "whoomphed" many times during this ski.  We took an alternate off-trail run to the Deadman Road in an old clearcut.
The snow had settled a bit better in the Front, where we did the North Fork Waldron Creek trail into the bowl below Mount Lockhart.  We followed my son's skin tracks in.  He climbed and boarded off Mount Lockhart that day.  We saw a small slab avalanche off the north facing ridgeline in the bowl.
What can you say about skiing in Glacier other than it was wonderful for the scenery in the Sacred Dancing Waters area along McDonald Creek on the West Side.
I did one other day of yo-yo skiing on an off day at Showdown, just ahead of the groomers, getting great turns on green slopes.
The weather has been pretty cold, with the warmest in the Essex area and coldest near King's Hill.

Click here for Deadman route map, more photos, description

Ahead of the groomer making turns at Showdown

In the North Fork Waldron Bowl in Front

Touring on Deadman run

A glimpse at some deep powder on Deadman Road

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A powdery O'Brien Creek Trail ready to go

A winter wonderland on O'Brien Creek Trail

A lovely snow-framed corridor

Jasmine Krotkov stabilizes a snow bridge across O'Brien Creek
I haven't posted for a couple of weeks, but I've been skiing a lot, mostly do the same area ---- Kings Hill, Porphyry and Trail 747 ---- over and over again for conditioning.
Here's to report that Wednesday a group of four of us on one of Wayne's Wednesday Walks, broke trail all the way down O'Brien Creek.  The snow bridges are questionable in a couple of spots, but Jasmine Krotkov shored them up with the shovel she brought along.
There's been plenty of snow --- about two feet of it in the last week or so --- but there's no base, so you sink to the ground and it's tough getting your tips back up.
It was a cold 10 degrees, and it snowed hard at time on this trip, but it was exquisitely beautiful winter scenery, the trees laden with snow and powder in all directions.

CLICK HERE for O'Brien Creek, map, photos, details

The ruins of an old cabin, once a lunch spot on the ski tour

Lunch time as we reached O'Brien Creek bottom