|Elk Mountain (left) provides gorgeous backdrop for Flattop climbers|
|Birthday boy Ralph Thornton on way up with Little Dog and Summit mountains in the background|
|Thornton celebrates his 60th|
There’s not much ski-able snow around here, so when I got the call Saturday confirming that the Marias Pass area is one of those rare spots where there is some, it didn’t take much persuasion for me to go.
Of course there was another reason, Sunday was Ralph Thornton’s 60th birthday and a group of his friends and family, mostly members of the Glacier Mountaineering Society, was planning to ascend Flattop Mountain (elevation: 6,549 feet) in the Badger Two Medicine off the pass, to help him celebrate.
Some 23 folks turned out for the climb, done on snowshoes and backcountry skis.
We sipped champagne and munched on cream-filled chocolate zingers to fete Ralph on his 61st summit in 2006.
We were also rewarded by perfect snow on the north-facing slopes off the pass, and not much wind for the Rocky Mountain Front. Summit, Little Dog and Elk mountains on the southeastern edge of Glacier National Park were the visual backdrop.
In addition to Ralph’s birthday I was celebrating congressional passage of the bill permanently banning oil and gas development in the Front. Because it is attached to another spending bill, it is virtually assured of President Bush’s signature.
Bravo Sen. Max Baucus, who attached the rider. Bravo the many who have worked for the preservation of the Front such as Gene Sentz of Choteau.
We were treated to a Rocky Mountain Front sunrise as we drove from Great Falls to Marias Pass on Sunday morning. This mass of mountains that rise abruptly from the Great Plains was dappled in pinks, oranges and yellows that were offset by snow. There was prominent Walling Reef, Heart Butte and Feather Woman, Werner, Frazier and distant Ear Mountain.
The base north of Marias is about 2-2-1/2 feet of powder. The east face is nearly as good, but with a bit of a glaze on top. The west and south sides are wind-whipped and pretty bare. We encountered some rock on the west face of Flattop. It is about 1,300 feet to the top from Marias Pass.
The scenery is what makes this ski trip so special.
You are treated to incredible views of the south face of Little Dog and Summit peaks in Glacier Park.
I’m told that the Autumn Creek trail below these peaks near the Blacktail Hills is in good skiing shape, too.