Sunday, January 16, 2005

Winter's bear hug

The cold in Great Falls didn't stop Eric Newhouse or Mark Hertenstein from the O'Brien Creek run

When the phone rang Saturday morning, it was Mark Hertenstein telling me it was 28 below at his place on the West Hill below the airport, and questioning whether the planned run down O’Brien Creek made any sense.
It was Eric Newhouse’s idea, and I wanted to check with him before chucked the day and crawled back into bed.
Eric’s response was sunny when I called him. “Thirty-six below here,” he said cheerily from his Gannon Ranch abode on the Missouri River south of town. “You ready to go?” His enthusiasm was startling and determined and I had little choice but to call Hertenstein back and tell him the trip was on and that we’d gather in an hour.
Since the day after Christmas we’d been locked in a winter bear hug with no let-up. It had been so cold that the snow was fine and brittle and the snow hadn’t been accumulating, as it should.
It had been at least 30 below each of the last several nights in town and the daytime temperatures were in the minus 15 range for a high.
Yet, as counter-intuitive as it might seem, we knew that the cold air was trapped in this Missouri River valley we call home and just several miles away in the Little Belt Mountains the sun was shining and the temperatures in the teens, just fine for skiing.
That’s the beauty of living here. Don’t judge what’s going on in town. It might be dry and warm here, but there’s always snow up there. It might be cold beyond belief here, but warm enough to put on the skinny skis.
We did make a day of it, enjoying sunny skis, several inches of new powder and a sky so deep blue that it looked almost purple.
There was the added advantage that outdoors recreationists had wrongly guessed that it was too cold to play outside and the noisy-smelly snowmobiles were nowhere in sight or sound. I believe it was the first time I’ve done O’Brien Creek that we didn’t hear or see snowmobiles anywhere on the 7-mile run.
You can give me that kind of weather any day.
On Sunday the three-week cold spell broke and the overcast was accompanied by winds that started to blow out of the south and west. Temperatures spiked into the high 30s --- a regular heat wave.
I had to travel to Havre where temperatures were minus 9 when I got there. When I arrived back in Great Falls temperatures were 38 above.
Winter’s not over, but we’re getting a moderating break!

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