Tuesday, February 06, 2007

A graveyard and Harley Creek

We were surprised to find nice gravesites in such an out of the way place

Deep snow in this backcountry
I generally don’t seek out places frequented by the snowmobile crowd.
I made an exception of it last weekend on Harley Creek in the Little Belts, and I’m glad of it.
Mark Hertenstein and I discovered some nearby bowls for cross country telemark skiing.
We also stumbled onto Graveyard Creek where we were fascinated by some old graves behind some classy stone-faced summer homes.
Graveyard Creek is about a mile and a half from U.S. 89 up Harley Creek. It is immediately scenic, with heavy timber in a narrow canyon that occasionally opens up onto volcanic outcroppings.
The Harley Creek Road is blocked to car and truck traffic at Graveyard Creek. Snow machines and skiers are allowed.
We decided to explore Graveyard Creek, hoping to travel off-trail/road up the creek to Divide Road and back in a long loop, picking up Harley Creek at its head.
The 20-inches of snow was both a good and bad thing.
It was great to have new snow in the mountains. It was too heavy to make much progress.
We were stymied about a mile beyond the junction of Graveyard-Harley creeks at near the ridgeline. We wore ourselves out lifting the snow as we sank with each step to our knees. Our hard work was compounded by more igneous extrusions that we had to move carefully around or they would cut up our skis.
We stopped for lunch at our high perch and could see the head of Harley Creek on the southern flank of Belt Park. There were beautiful, open telemark slopes there.
After lunch we beat our way back down to the bottom of Graveyard Creek, stopping to examine the rusty-gated gravesites ---- there were a couple with what looked like children who had died in 1891 buried there ---- and the beautiful summer homes.
Then it was another couple of miles up the Harley Creek where the road begins a sharp ascent to the open slopes. We left the road and skied to the top of the closest ridge for some nice turns, down and out.
Had we the time and energy we could have skied on the opens slopes all day. The openness and south exposure made for thinner and more ski-able snow.
We were glad to see that snowmobiles had broken the deep snow down Harley Creek, making our return trip easier and faster.
The next day, Sunday, we bought a lift ticket at Showdown. Skiers had hammered the slopes there making them fast for backcountry telemark skiers.
It was an odd weekend of deep, heavy snow Saturday in the backcountry, and fast, packed powder on the downhill ski area slopes Sunday.
If we get some fresh snow on top of this base the skiing should be fantastic next weekend.

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