Sunday, January 09, 2005

High Porphyry

In the High Porphyry tele slopes
The High Porphyry option on the Porphyry-Ranch Creek backcountry cross-country ski run in the Little Belt Mountains offers a wild, isolated trip with good telemark opportunities.
The Porphyry-Ranch Creek trail was developed and has been maintained by the Great Falls Cross Country Club for the past 25 years.
It involves a Kings Hill Pass start, skiing through the Showdown, up Golden Goose to the top of Porphyry Peak, past the lookout and then following the ridge south above the Mizpah bowls, continuing south to above the Ranch Creek clearcut and then out down the logging road to U.S. 89 --- about 11 miles. Its difficulties are skiing the 1,000 feet to the top from the pass to begin, and then negotiating the sometimes treacherous clearcut to the road, where it can be an icy two miles back to the car.
It is a wonderful daylong trip.
A number of years ago retired forester H. Wayne Phillips began to study aerial photos of the area and determined that instead of dropping to the clearcut and the road below, a more isolated and pristine trip might be to stay on top of a ridge running southeast and parallel to the Ranch Creek logging road.
The High Porphyry ridge is picked up just beyond the Mizpah bowls and before you break out onto the open ridge that leads to the Ranch Creek clearcut.
Skin up and ascend the ridge and gain about 500 feet over about three-quarters of a mile before you come out into the open. If it is clear enough look to your right at about 2 ‘o clock you’ll see a small timbered peak with a snowfield. That’s where you’re headed by way of a ridge below you to your right through the trees.
You can reach the ridge by telemark skiing through some nice powder and angling to the trees.
For the next mile you’ll ski a tight ridgeline through some thick timber, ascending gently until you reach an open area. Many like to skin up here again.
Climb, angling a bit to your right and you should be able to cross below some exposed talus and head into the trees. Continue climbing up gradually to your right to get to the top. It is about 150 feet above the talus.
Ski the flat, timbered top south where it opens up into a magnificent open slope at just the right angle to practice gentle telemark turns. In the distance you can see the high peaks of the East Belts ---- Baldy and Edith and the Crazy Mountains. This is some of the best scenery in the Little Belts.
There are several other more difficult telemark hills where you may want to linger.
From here the route finding gets a little tricky.
Follow the slope down to where you get into the trees and begin looking for the remnants of an old road. When you see slashes on the trees you know you have found it.
This is one of the most difficult parts of the trip for many because the trail drops steeply and there isn’t much room to traverse or turn. It is often windswept and icy and treacherous. Take your time in here. It drops about a half mile into an open area.
There are several ways you can go from here. The standard route is to take a sharp right turn and look for an old logging road, which takes you into an old clearcut. I would recommend this to a first-time traveler. Once you reach the clearcut it is a matter of getting to the bottom of it, a drop of about 300 feet. When the conditions are right and powder good, this is a great place to do telemark turns. Look sharp when at the top of the clearcut and you can spot bright red marks on two trees that signal a snowmobile trail. Aim for these marks and then it is a matter of skiing directly out along a creek bottom to Forest Green resort.
On Saturday, after we reached the end of the steep road, instead of turning right, we headed straight down, encountered a clearcut, proceeded through the woods and found ourselves at the top of the old Forest Green ski run.
It was just a matter of telemarking down that run and out.
When the weather and snow conditions are right, we normally linger in the Mizpah bowls, which drop as much as 500 feet in spots. However we encountered hard pack and crusty snow and decided to forego playing there. The bowls are a great place to practice and learn telly technique. There is also a warming cabin there.
Unfortunately, as I’ve discovered this year on the O’Brien and Deadman creek trails, snowmobilers have extended their reach.
We found that snowmobilers covered most of the Ranch Creek trail and a portion of High Porphyry. It was the first time I’ve seen this.
However, this is quite a distance even for machines and I would hope this experience is an isolated one.

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