Sunday, February 03, 2008

Something old, something new

Eric Newhouse crosses an O'Brien Creek snow bridge

Mark Hertenstein breaks trail on Ruby Creek Road
It was a weekend for something old and something new in the backcountry.
We had a 8-mile fun run with friends down old, familiar O’Brien Creek in the Little Belt Mountains on Saturday.
On Sunday we returned to the Little Belts, this time to try something new. We climbed to the Hoover Ridge on an exploratory ski.
The Hoover Ridge trip was via the Ruby Creek Road that runs north and south and drops down into Dry Creek.
In recent years there hasn’t been consistent enough snow to do this trip.
We found about 2 feet of hardpack covered by about 5 inches of newer powder. The higher we climbed, the better the consistency of the snow.
Although the snow was good, it wasn’t as great as Saturday’s snow on O’Brien Creek, which was several feet deep covered by a new 8 inch cover of fresh powder.
We didn’t climb directly to the trailhead, but took an off trail route up through the timber when we reached 6,600 feet. We battled considerable doghair timber until reaching the Hoover Ridge trail just below the ridgeline. Then we followed the trail to the top, at about 7,500 feet to a lovely opening just perfect for telemark skiing.
The views from Hoover Ridge were remarkable, overlooking the many forks of Hoover Creek below us and facing toward Pioneer Ridge that leads to the highest point in the Little Belts, Old Baldy. Beyond Pioneer Ridge, Long and Neihart Baldy peaks.
After three runs over some windcrusted snow we turned around and headed back down the trail, which we took to the Ruby-Henn Gluch divide and then back down Ruby Creek to where we parked on Hoover Creek at the highway sand piles. The road is plowed to this spot from U.S. 89.
To reach this trailhead head for the Little Belts and just past the Camp Rotary cabins on the west, look for a Forest Service Road on the east side of the highway where you’ll find large, community dumpster. It is plowed another mile or to the sand piles.
It is a short ski to a gated cabin site. To the north is the Ruby Creek Road, which climbs, but at a reasonable grade.
We gained some 1,500 feet to our telemark turnaround site.
We had considered a loop hike that would have required us to cross and recross Hoover Creek, up the bottom from the cabin. When I started across a snow bridge, though, I broke it and fell into the creek loading up my skis with ice and a heavy layer of snow.
I plan to revisit this area and check out other snowbridges to see if a ski up the Hoover bottom is feasible.

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