Monday, December 19, 2005

A long run up Shorty Creek and Ranch Creek

In the remote Shorty Creek drainage

Shorty Creek opens up nicely
For most backcountry skiers the 7-mile O’Brien Creek run from Kings Hills in the Little Belt Mountains near Neihart is the ultimate experience.
It starts high and ends low, offering a downhill ride and gorgeous creek bottom scenery.
You know the trip is over when you hit the Neihart water treatment facility about three-quarters of a mile from U.S. 89 and the parking area at the Montana Department of Transportation storage shed.
In most years you hit a dip in the trail just before you come to the water plant.
Until recently I hadn’t given that much thought until Neihart Postmaster Jasmine Krotkov showed me that that little “dip” is the key to a great backcountry ski that rivals O’Brien Creek for beauty. That “dip” is Shorty Creek.
The drainage originates below Divide Road, some 3 miles and 1,500 feet above the water plant and features narrow canyons, open vistas and spectacular outcroppings of volcanic rock.
There is no trail, so it’s a matter of picking the best route up the bottom and through the trees.
It is a steady, but not unreasonable uphill pull from the bottom.
You’ll find the best entry point for this ski on the north side of Shorty Creek up a small hill and through some deep forest.
It passes through a tight canyon for about 1-1/2 miles before opening up into a broad valley that offers views of surrounding open hillsides.
After enjoying the open, the last part of the ski plunges into deep forest, where you’re forced to weave back and forth over snow bridges looking for openings along the creek. The general rule is to stay to the north side of the creek (your right) going up at first and as the trees become more dense, look for a bench on the south side of the creek.
There will be plenty of tree tangle in the last mile, which ultimately ends up on the Divide Road bench.
We’ve also done this ski downhill from Divide Road, reaching it from Johnston Creek right out of Neihart. This is a very steep way to reach the road and is hammered by snowmobiles.
It is quite the opposite of Shorty Creek, which unlike O’Brien Creek has no road, no powerlines, and this year, anyway, no snowmobile traffic and plenty of good snow.
Eric Newhouse and I broke trail up Shorty Creek last Friday on a cold and overcast winter day.
We went to about a half-mile below Divide Road and turned around an enjoyed a fast ride down and out.
With an additional 14 inches of snow on 4 feet of settled base, backcountry skiing in the Little Belt Mountains near Neihart was ideal last week.
Let’s hope this warm streak settles things up a bit before dumping more snow.
Mark Hertenstein floats down the ridgeline above Nugget Creek
On Sunday Mark Hertenstein, Bob Willits and I broke trail through the Porphyry-Ranch Creek run on a brutally cold, but stunningly bright and sunny morning where temperatures in the shade were minus 18 degrees.
We had set out to do the High Porphyry version, but opted for the more traditional run, instead.
Where that version presents itself, we started up, rethought it, and then dumped over the side for some icy telly turns into the Ranch Creek bottom below the clearcut.
Along the way we also enjoyed some superb telemark conditions in the Mizpah Bowls, taking advantage of that new snow on top of a rock-hard base. There was no evidence of any avalanche hazard, no “woomphing” or cracks in the snow surface.
Mizpah Bowls would have been the ideal spot to spend the entire day because while there we basked in bright sunlight that made it feel much warmer than it was.

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