Sunday, March 15, 2009

North flank of Porphyry Peak

H. Wayne Phillips on north flank tele runs off Porphyry Peak
Porphyry Peak in the Little Belt Mountains is a good size mountain at 8,196 feet.
It is the Showdown Ski Area hill, but it is much more to those of us who backcountry ski.
It is the beginning point for the O’Brien Creek run to Neihart to the north. Likewise, it is the starting point for Mizpah Bowls and Nugget Creek and Ranch Creek routes to the south.
In the past couple of years we’ve begun discovering the open country and consistent snow on the mountain’s north facing slopes, country that holds its snow longer than the rest of the mountain.
H. Wayne Phillips, as always the pioneering route finder in the Little Belts, is in love with the north facing bowls reached from the top of Porphyry.
So, it should come as no surprise that he’s been called upon to help find new ski trails for backcountry users who would like to extend their skiing beyond O’Brien-Deadman-Ranch Creek runs maintained by the Great Falls Cross Country Club.
What Wayne had in mind Saturday was a loop from Kings Hill Pass to Moose Creek Park and back to the pass staying on contours paralleling 7,500 to 7,900 feet.
The idea is an intermediate level route.
What he hadn’t anticipated, though, was finding an abandoned and well marked pack trail at that contour.
We accidentally happened upon the trail that lined up with his conceptual route.
Surprisingly, it hadn’t been hammered by snowmobiles, although it sits between snow machine routes.
The trail offers great access to the north facing open slopes that we used for a couple of telemark runs.
Some of those slopes are quite severe. Wayne estimated them at about 35 degrees that make them prone to avalanche.
We stayed on slopes in the 15-20 degree range and found the snow perfect, although we had to be mindful of the volcanic talus that occasionally threatened our skis’ bottoms.
This area offers amazing views of the north and east ends of the Little Belts, revealing Thunder, Neihart Baldy, Long, Big Baldy, and Yogo peaks.
Beneath, there is Divide Road and the head of Tenderfoot Creek.
We skied some groomed snowmobile trails, but they were not objectionable.
There is normally good snow in the Little Belts until June.
I know we’ll be back on Porphyry’s north flank several times between now and then.

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