Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Connecting Shorty and O'Brien creeks

Cutting a path up Shorty Creek

Arriving at Moose Park

Yeah, that snow is deep
Just when I start complaining about how much space in the Little Belt Mountain the snowmobilers have compared to the cross country skiers, I take a trip that blows that claim out of the water.
I’ve written about the undeveloped Shorty Creek drainage and the oft-traveled O’Brien Creek run on many occasions.
I’ve often wondered if there was a way to link these trips, one which begins at Neihart (Shorty) and one that ends there (O’Brien).
Saturday, Mark Hertenstein and I set out to see if that was possible.
On a good snow day, with cooperative weather and enough daylight, we’re here to tell you it is.
We started out on the O’Brien Creek cabin road about 9:45 a.m., and got off trail at the same spot seven hours later, 4:45 p.m. Our food and water breaks were short on this trip we estimate in the 15 mile range.
Over this distance we climbed about 1,600 feet to the high point of 7,800 feet just above Lone Tree Park on Divide Road, losing the full amount on the way back.
Shorty Creek is an area broader in many spots than O’Brien Creek.
There is no “official” trail, but there are traces of trail along the bottom of it. The route seemed obvious.
It is reached by turning west up the first drainage immediately west of the O’Brien Creek water building.
The trail passes through a narrow, heavily forested canyon for more than two miles before breaking out into an open that reveals high ridges on both sides.
We re-entered the timber and stayed to the bottom for more than a mile to where the creek bed narrows and the trace of a trail peters out, climbing up to the top of the south side of the creek a couple of hundred feet, where we found an old logging road which took us straight to Divide Road, a short distance south of Rocking Chair Park, which should be your navigational marker.
For the next four miles we scooted down Divide Road on snowmobile tracks soaking in spectacular views of the head of Moose Creek and the backside of the Porphyry-Mizpah ridgeline.
We could see numerous potential telemark slopes on that ridgeline.
We passed a succession of beautiful, open parks --- Rocking Chair, Lone Tree, Moose, and O’Brien.
Yes, we did encounter snowmobiles at Lone Tree and Moose parks, but their numbers were not obnoxious, and the duration brief. I was glad we could ski on their tracks, because the fresh powder would have made going slow.
While we had the option of skiing the snowmobile track off Moose Creek back down O’Brien Creek, we decided instead to reach O’Brien Creek directly off O’Brien Park.
We were delighted to see that the O’Brien Creek headwaters were posted to snowmobiles, and we laid down fresh tracks in deep powder before reaching the cross country trail.
The snow in this area was remarkable for its soft-sculpting.
From here it was about 4.5 miles back to the water building and out.
As I skied away from this wild country I thought to myself how I had cheated myself by not doing more of this off-trail skiing in the Little Belts, instead of confining myself to the established trails, which we’ve done repeatedly.
I realize that it is our own fault if we run into snowmobiles and their tracks as we take the same runs time after time.
While we covered 15 miles on this exploratory trip I recognize that it is a smidgeon of this large mountain range and that there is still so much more to see.

1 comment:

Justin said...

Glad to see you finally admitting that there's enough room for all of us out there. As an avid motorized recreation enthusiast I usually stop by here to see what kind of bashing that I and my ilk are receiving, and of course to look at your stunning photographs and read the well worded accounts of your many adventures. I was happy to see you refer to the snowmobilers as "friendly", but I have to admit that I read your post fully expecting to find that you were being sarcastic. I was delighted to see that you weren't. There really is enough room for all of us, and if we only take the time to respect each other, even just a little bit, then I can't see any reason why we can't all coexist peacefully. When I'm riding my snowmobile, or my ATV, I always try to stop and talk to any nonmotorized recreationists that I happen across, (it doesn't happen very often, I find that most of the time the two groups chose seperate areas for obvious reasons), in order to foster better relations. If nothing else, it at least gives them time to get far enough away so that my noise and dust doesn't bother them too much. I try to encourage other riders to do the same, as do most responsible snowmobilers and off road riders. It's the small percentage of wahoos that we're both gunning for. I hope that any other riders you find are respectful as well, I don't like being hassled when I'm having fun and looking for solitude in the mountains, so I wouldn't wish any bad experiences onto you either. Keep up the good work Tom, I truly do enjoy your site.