Monday, February 01, 2010

Stemple to Flesher backcountry delight

Dave and Sandi Ashley head towards Mount Joy

Dave Ashley skis off Mount Joy

Equipment failure:  fixing Jim Heckel's binding
The Stemple to Flesher Pass is a classic Continental Divide Trail backcountry ski trip.
Give yourself a long day to do it although it runs less than 11 miles. The car-ferry wasn’t too onerous.
If someone hasn’t cut the trail in front of you you’ll find yourself doing a bit of route-finding; you’ve got to keep an eagle-eye for the dark slashes on the trees or divot in the trail.
If you want to do some telemark turns you could get carried away and never get out.
A group of five of us did this trip Sunday, a bit rusty on the route because we hadn’t been on this trip in years.
In the days of the long-length skinny “classic” skis and no skins this was a trip to be reckoned with because of its many ups and downs that required expert waxing.
Our upgraded backcountry equipment outfitted with short metal edged skis and plastic boots made the trip infinitely easier even though some of us hadn’t done it since our “younger” days.
We added another mile or so to the journey by going off trail at the beginning to climb Mount Joy and then telemarking through great powder and closely placed trees back down to the trail.
I love this trip because of the terrain’s variety. Yes, there’s lots of in-the-trees skiing that obstructs views, but there are some open-powder-slopes and great Continental Divide vistas. The thrill for me is skiing atop the Divide’s ridgeline with the choice of tele skiing down either side where the powder was the best. This is remote, wild country in the winter.
The temperature was a nippy 15 degrees when we started and a storm, the never really materialized, threatened. It had snowed a skiff over the past week. The snow was crusty where it was exposed to south facing slopes. In the trees and on the north and east faces it was about perfect.
The only glitch in the trip was about 3 miles in when Jim Heckel popped the binding on his right ski. Dave Ashley, a trained engineer, produced twine and the tools to gerry-rig Jim’s boot to his toe-piece. Heckel had an uncomfortable 8 miles out, but managed to keep right with us.
Along the way we plunged off slopes and through the trees for some satisfying turns.
About two miles west of Flesher Pass we began encountering increasing snowshoe tracks that widened and pocked the trail and in some instances scoured it, making it extremely icy, fast and unsafe.
There must have been quite a few snowshoers who had pounded the area.
It reminded me that at some point the backcountry skiers and snowshoers are going to have to come to a meeting of minds and create separate tracks, staying out of the other’s paths.
The trail was made extra special by the previous week’s heavy snowfall that left snow “ghosts” --- whitened trees resembling ghosts --- everywhere.
This is a trip I’ve neglected for years, but which I’ll return to more frequently in the future.

No comments: