Sunday, January 29, 2006

High Porphyry, high fun

Coaxing rover

Bill Labunetz

No tele turns for this canine
The High Porphyry backcountry ski is always a challenging 10-mile run, not only because there is considerable elevation gain and loss, but because there’s so much route-finding skills that come into play.
This is not an “official” run in the Little Belts as are the more well-known O’Brien Creek, Deadman and Ranch Creek trails are. Those are marked on the map and maintained by the Great Falls Cross Country Ski Club which clears trails and marks the path with blue diamonds.
High Porphyry covers the first four miles or so of the Ranch Creek run, but veers off trail and uphill into the forest just as Ranch Creek hooks to the west and an open ridgeline before plunging to a Forest Service logging road.
High Porphyry was plotted by retired Forest Service ecologist H. Wayne Phillips of Great Falls about 15 years ago, who thought it might be an interesting alternative to Ranch Creek, for those who like route-finding and wild country.
In fact, after climbing to the top of Porphyry and Mizpah peaks on the Ranch Creek trail, High Porphyry adds several considerable unnamed peaks along a ridgeline that runs slightly southeast from the Mizpah ridge. The trip ends at the old Forest Green resort.
The good, early snows have made High Porphyry a target for backcountry skiers this season. I know of four parties that have made the trip in the past 10 days, laying down easy to follow tracks.
Unfortunately, the warm weather and accompanying high Chinook winds have taken their toll on this route, leaving it with icy, spring conditions. We found the ridgelines in great shape but with an icy sheen on a trip last Thursday. The Mizpah bowls were skiable and I made a few tele turns there. However, the last 1,500 feet were miserable and treacherous, causing us to do wide, sweeping turns through the timbered hillsides and clear cuts, over the rock-hard snow. We did not linger to do turns in the high meadow below the final peak because the hillside was too glazed over.
Phillips is studying the possibility of better snow conditions on the Nugget Creek side of the end of this trip, slightly to the east.
That might be a pragmatic move in light of new owners of Forest Green.
We had a note on our car at the bottom at the resort that we were trespassing on private property by parking there.
A detour into either Nugget or Ranch Creek above that property line would avoid the trespassing problem.
I’ll keep you updated.

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