Saturday, March 12, 2011

You can feel spring coming

Fabulous late winter snow at Mike Horse

Outcrop above us

That's Red Mountain on the horizon, Scapegoat Wilderness Area's highest peak
This has been a tough winter.
We kicked out the kinks on Porphyry Peak on Nov. 14 and here it is five months later and we've skied nearly every week since.
It has been a gloomy winter, which has led to its toughness.  It has been gloomy because it has snowed so much.  It has snowed so much that folks around here are talking about the big flood that's sure to come this spring.
I don't know about that yet because we're still in the snow.
However, it has been so warm and windy that the snow is finally disappearing in town and has gone from excellent winter conditions to spring thaw conditions in one short week.
We went looking for snow in the Continental Divide country between here and Lincoln between Rogers and Flesher Pass.
We returned to the Mike Horse/Meadow Creek country west of Rogers Pass for the first time in two years. This is the site of the monumental environmental disaster of the mid-1970s when a dam broke and spoilage from the Anaconda Co. mine spilled into the headwaters of the Blackfoot River.
Here it is 35 years later and their still cleaning up the mess.
About the only plus out of all that is that the reclamation company plows the Meadow Creek Road, making it easy to reach this high country.
We skied straight up the creek bottom, past an old cabin and onto a mining road before climbing the ridge some 1,600 feet to the Continental Divide.
As we passed the old cabin we stirred two old miners from the "White Hope Mine" who came out to check whether they wanted to let us trespass. They were still smarting from someone who had shot up their DC-9 cat/bulldozer during hunting season.  They also took a look at me and asked if I were a doctor or lawyer, indicating that I looked like the type who would wear a tie ---- which on doctors and lawyers 'choke off the brain.' When one of my friends disclosed that I was a reporter one of the miner said that I probably had worked for the Great Falls Tribune (which I had for 33 years) and as such was surely a 'Democrat' and wouldn't let me pass.  Thank goodness they reconsidered and we were on our way.
The snow was variable, with a glazed hardpack on the road that gave way to a heavier powder when we hit the trees. It became better the higher we skied.
At the Divide it returned to a hardpack glaze.
The views from the Divide was impressive.  The trail that snaked north past the Anaconda Hills had been windblown and scoured. It was clear, a contrast to the deep snow in the trees. We had a great 360 panorama that revealed the Scapegoat country to north and west, dominated by Red Mountain at over 9,400 feet is the highest point in the Bob Marshall complex.
We dropped quickly to the bottom through thick trees on a 34-36 degree slope. Since I had left my helmet in the car I didn't feel comfortable teleing through the tight trees and found myself traversing rather than dropping a knee and cutting sharp turns.
There is plenty of snow left.  It looks to be a great summer season of water ahead.
This seemed to be the first day of real spring skiing although spring is officially still nine days away.
The bright blue sky peeled away winter's gloom and was no doubt a harbinger of the new season ahead and signal that winter's days are numbered.

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