Sunday, February 21, 2010

Poverty Ridge exploratory

Mark Hertenstein skis in heavy powder toward Poverty Ridge

Over the past week the Little Belts received more than a foot of snow, and in pockets, some two feet.
It is that heavenly light powder that’s a dream to ski on.
We had been tipped that there was good skiing up Carpenter Creek, just north of Neihart, an area we had avoided because of high snowmobile activity.
After the grand snowfall we decided to take a look, snowmobiles or no.
We were richly rewarded for our efforts.
We didn’t see a snowmobile all day; didn’t even hear one.
The snow was abundant and we broke trail, sometimes over three feet of powder, for five solid hours before turning around to enjoy the downhill fruits of our labor.
Carpenter Creek drains the north slopes of Long and Neihart Baldy peaks and the south flanks of the long Pioneer Ridge that leads up to the highest point in the Little Belts, Big Baldy with an elevation of more than 9,200 feet.
Carpenter Creek was a hotbed of heavy metal mining when Cascade County was settled. The creek bottom is dotted with cabins, tailing ponds, and the detritus of the mining industry. But that gives this remote country a historic feel.
Saturday was an exploratory day and we didn’t know what we were getting into. We were told that if we got in before the snowmobilers there were good telemark slopes several miles up the road on the Pioneer Ridge side in a glade known as Lucy Park.
While skiing the gently sloping road we could see telemark possibilities in most directions.
We opted passing the Lucy Creek turnoff and just beyond assessed the clearcut slopes on the west face of Poverty Ridge. Although we didn’t set out to climb Poverty ridge to its high point, that’s what we ended up doing. We thought that might connect to Long Peak, one of our day’s targets.
The Poverty Ridge telemarking would have to wait until the way down.
What made the trip extremely difficult and tiring was the deep snow. We gained more than 2,500 feet and earned every step.
Poverty Ridge is crowned with some gorgeous granitic outcrops. Otherwise, it was tough to get good vistas in the dense tree cover of the ridgeline.
We reached the 7,850 feet level that we figured was the high point. Long Peak was another 700 feet up and we decided to forego a try.
A ski-through from Carpenter Creek to Long Peak and down to Jefferson Creek became a possibility for some future trip.
When we did get vistas where the trees parted we marveled at this country’s extreme beauty, the high, steep, timbered slopes above tight valleys, the open (potentially telemarkable parks) and the streams.
The telemark skiing back down was very good, although there were times our skis dived into very deep snow.
We skied back down two hours, giving us a very full day.
As a write this, I wish we had waited a day for Sunday, which was a clear, calm day, one of the prettiest of this year.
I am continually reminded that the Little Belt Mountains are a Great Falls-area treasure that we haven’t explored near enough.

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