Saturday, February 27, 2010

Belt Creek tributary spring-like exploratory

Mark Hertenstein works his way around Belt Creek ice columns 
An opening along the creek

We had occasional clear spots in the former clearcut
For years when I’ve driven to Kings Hill Pass in the Little Belts I’ve looked hard at a large unnamed drainage and canyon about two miles north of the Silvercrest turnoff on the west side of U. S. 89.
Until Saturday I had never explored it.
I can now report that it is a tough backcountry ski made tougher by our bottomless, baseless snow that was as mushy as mashed potatoes from the spring-like weather we’ve been having.
There are vehicle pullouts on U.S. 89 above and below the canyon, which is still tough to access because the snowplows pile the snow high, making the route finding to Belt Creek problematic.
We skied about a half mile up Belt Creek in deep snow and across numerous blow downs and precarious snow bridges to where we found the narrow canyon.
That was just an introduction to what was ahead --- innumerable blow downs, precarious snow bridges and base-less snow set on steep hillsides.
But the canyon would open up from time to time revealing vast pillows of unmarked snow that gleamed because of the deep blue sky and bright sun. The creek gurgled and bubbled beneath the viscous ice reminding Mark Hertenstein of a lava lamp. It was interesting to see the varieties of young and old trees along the creek bottom.
We gained very little elevation for some three miles or so of this slow skiing, finally having to forsake the bottom because the canyon became too narrow and the creek emerged from the ice.
We then gained nearly 1,000 feet through some of the roughest brush and blow down that I can recall having skied.
As we gained elevation I could see where we were ---- not far from Divide Road and O’Brien Park, with Kings Hill Pass in view to the south and east and Neihart Baldy, Long Peak and Big Baldy mountains gleaming with heavy, white snowpack against the bright blue sky. Our high point was just under 7,300 feet, meaning that we climbed only 900 feet on this ski.
The high point took us to the ridgeline north of the creek in what appeared to be an old clearcut, now populated by lodgepoles.
Then we took the ridgeline down through some widely spaced trees until the spacing became quite narrow and the skiing far more sketchy until we reached the bottom.
I’m glad we took this rigorous trip on this gorgeous day, but don’t think I’ll do it again.
It underscored for me how much wild country exists in the Little Belts. Yes, we could hear the snow machines in the distance occasionally, but for the most part we had this isolated, unvisited country to ourselves.

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