Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Nugget Creek option

Exploring a Nugget Creek route

Enjoying a long tele
I promised that a report on the backcountry possibilities of Nugget Creek in the Little Belts.
Here it is.
Retired forester H. Wayne Phillips, who pioneered the High Porphyry route, got to studying the maps and aerial photos in the Little Belts and declared that the Nugget Creek drainage, about four miles south of Kings Hill Pass, might be just the place for backcountry adventures.
It is particularly attractive now that access to the country behind Forest Green resort has been closed down by new owners.
Nugget Creek is the largest watershed just north of Forest Green.
There’s been some logging in there, and snowmobilers have discovered it, too.
But, the area is large enough that there’s plenty of chance for solitude, as we found on a recent trip there.
Another positive aspect is that open slopes for telemark skiing are easy to reach from U.S. 89.
Last Thursday I went into the head of Nugget Creek with Phillips on a route east of High Porphyry after the final peak is climbed. Our route followed the ridgeline where the vast, open slope opens up below the peak.
From the top of this slope we could see the ridgeline and open slopes as the ridge headed south and hooked a little east. It appears to be more heavily timbered than it is. Clearcuts dot this ridge as it slopes toward Nugget Creek.
At the top of the slope we enjoyed open telemark skiing.
To our surprise the ridge flattened out quickly after entering the timber before dropping off steeply at rock outcroppings above the clearcuts.
The powder snow was perfect!
We opted for an open ski on a southeast facing slope, quickly descending through the new, widely space trees, working our way down toward Nugget Creek.
Had we descended the east facing slope we would have been able to ski straight to our car parked on U.S. 89.
It was a route Phillips led a party on Sunday.
Instead, we worked our way across an open slope and dropped into a steep-sided Nugget Creek, out and then skied the snow along the side of the highway.
There’s no real need to use Forest Green now for High Porphyry with the Nugget Creek option. For those skiing off the slope south there are good snowmobile roads out to Ranch Creek.
With all the fresh powder (14 inches in the past week) I was able to get out Friday for a run down O’Brien Creek, and on Saturday for an exploration of the north and west slopes of Porphyry Peak.
We didn’t find much to draw us back to Porphyry in our hunt for open tele skiing.
We did take several long runs through the trees, though.
Once again, perfect powder.

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