Sunday, April 13, 2008

Spring fling---Flesher to Rogers

Just above Flesher Pass at beginning of trip

Mark Hertenstein will need to stay on thin strip of snow in this windblown section

A skiing paradise

Large cornices to be avoided

Barely enough snow at the end
Although it is a resource of national significance I think the Continental Divide Trail is an ignored Great Falls-area asset.
It is as close as Kings Hill Pass is to Great Falls, some 66 miles, and is accessible from the Helena area (McDonald Pass), the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Glacier National Park.
Most winters I love to ski the Stemple to Flesher portion of the pass. I didn’t make it this year, the first time in years.
Spring is a particularly good time to hit the CD Trail for skiing because in most places it is up high.
That’s what we did on Saturday, skiing the remote Flesher to Rogers passes stretch, some 12.2 miles officially, but actually much longer because of its many twists and turns.
For the most part we found snow, sometimes good snow. But there were several stretches where we had to take off our skis and walk because the area is west and south facing and gets lots of wind and sun.
We started from the Flesher side to make sure those southwest winds would be to our back.
We save this backcountry ski trip for the spring because it needs a long day to complete.
Five years ago we did it in 13 hours. Saturday we were in just under 12 hours. Those were 12 hours of pretty constant motion, although we did take a half-hour for lunch.
I think we could have trimmed at least an hour to an hour and a half if I hadn’t been so slow. I found myself having endurance and strength troubles about half-way through, and for the rest of the trip couldn’t get into the telemark stances I would need to make the trip more enjoyable.
When we started the snowpack was hard as rock, but we counted on it loosening up because we had an exceptionally clear bluebird day with temperatures that ranged from the 30s to the upper 40s all the way.
By the time we hit the best area to telemark, the snow had softened and it was heavenly gliding through the trees.
Although I was too tired to do telemark, the best slopes for that were in the Rogers Pass area in the trees to the west at the end of the trip.
This is a trip with numerous climbs and descents and where the ability to route find and read a map is essential.
It is unlike the Stemple to Flesher trip which is mostly on an old road.
The Flesher to Rogers trip covers areas where there are few signs of a trail, particularly in the first five or so miles.
Massive Red Mountain, more than 9,000 feet in elevation and the highest point in the Scapegoat Wilderness, dominates the horizon to the north and west. Its snow-covered slopes gleamed under the bright sun.
The west side of the mountains appear to have much more snow than the east side, which are pretty bare below 6,000 feet.
There is no shortage of open scenery on this trip. You can’t compare it to Stemple-Flesher, which is mostly in the trees.
It was interesting to see the hillsides of much of the Divide brown and bare except for the ribbon of white in the trail. We used that little bit of snow to our advantage.
I had underestimated the amount of energy I would have to expend on this trip, and am still a little jet-lagged from my return from Italy last weekend.
If you want a taxing and scenic trip, this is for you.
But know that spring is really upon us and it may be too late now.

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