Sunday, March 12, 2006

Looking for snow on Stemple

On top Mount Joy, looking toward Crater peak

Windblow Mount Joy snow sculptures surround Mark Hertenstein

Parts of Crater Mountain were swept clean of snow
We’re anxiously awaiting the annual snowstorms that pulse through the state each March.
While there’s fairly good snowpack on ridgelines, it’s starting to get questionable for backcountry skiing. In other words, spring skiing has arrived.
We traveled up to Stemple Pass near Lincoln Saturday hoping to take advantage of snow up high and found about four new inches on a hardpack.
Our destination was the high route to Crater Mountain via Joy peak, two bumps that rise about 700 feet above the cross country ski area trails.
Wind was whipping in from the east. The west-facing slopes had been hit pretty hard earlier in the week. The telemark conditions were a bit on the poor side.
That didn’t stop us from doing what we set out to do, and we were rewarded for it, finding some spots to do turns through a clear cut on Crater’s southeast flank.
We found that the wind had created “speed bumps,” ridges of snow on most of the trails. Wind had also whipped the snow off spots on the west face of Crater peak.
The wind had sculpted spectacular cornices on Crater’s ridgeline.
We decided to do some exploring and followed that ridgeline north for quite a distance examining lovely outcroppings of volcanic and sedimentary rock in the area. The rock here is brown, gold, green, red and gray. Part of the ridge is covered in rock that has been pulverized into a whitish powder that gives it a surreal quality.
After a nice lunch in a shelter of twisted pine, we telemarked our way back via the North Meadow Trail to the Stemple Pass parking lot.
The Stemple Pass cross country ski area is quite large with a variety of loops that suit skiers of all skill levels. It is a great jumping off spot for one of the region’s best tours --- the Stemple to Flesher Pass run, a 12-mile distance. The snow is quite consistently good, and the distance here is less than 100 miles from Great Falls by taking the Sieben exit on Interestate 15.

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