Monday, March 05, 2012

Wind turns Flesher to Rogers jaunt into an epic

Mark Hertenstein crests the first hill above Flesher Pass

Hertenstein leans into the uphill

There were aspects of winter wonderland

Lots of ups and downs, with the ups always seeming to be in front of us

At this point the bare slopes and trouble came into view
Make no mistake, the 12.8 mile backcountry ski trip between Flesher and Rogers Pass on the Continental Divide Trail is a tough trip.
There's about 2,500 feet of elevation gain, most of it lost in the last mile, along this roller coaster ride of a trail that offers spectacular views of the Rockies and Great Plains.
But what made the trip even harder on Sunday was an unrelenting wind that pushed snow off the the Divide for several stretches, knocking me over and keeping me off balance.  Forecasts called for up to 60 mph winds and I believe it.  Gusts were even greater and being exposed on a high ridgeline made things worse.
You know you're on the Continental Divide Trail when you see  this kind of trail marker.  Note the small amount of snow on the trail, which we skied on as we could.
This was the third time Mark Hertenstein and I covered this gorgeous stretch of the trail on a winter run.  We agreed that it would probably be our last.
We started at Flesher at 7:45 a.m., at first light and ended some 12 hours later at 7:45 p.m., well after dark.
Trail-finding is very difficult because deep snow covers the trail-blazes on trees.  As we did last year on an unsuccessful attempt at this trip we veered off about a third of the way into the journey before we corrected. We also wasted about a half-hour after taking a wrong turn on the Anaconda Hills, where we started down the ridge toward the Mike Horse Mine.
Once we got out of the wooded part of the trip we were exposed to the winds that never let up.  We had to take off our skis and walk on those parts of the trail that the wind had cleared of snow.  Much of the second half of the trip we followed small patches of snow that had been protected by the ridges of the path.  When there were large patches of snow, the wind carved it up and put "speed bumps" in our way, making it tough to proceed.
Abundant sunshine made the day more enjoyable because we could see clearly the spectacular scenery in all directions.
We reveled in the remote and wild feel of this stretch of the trail, almost certain that no one had traversed it this winter because of its rugged nature.
We hit the Rodgers Peak area high above Rogers Pass (yes, different spellings) just as the sun had set.
That meant we had to drop the final 1,700 feet of icy, tree covered trail in the dark.
Mark found a great route down.  Snow was soft in the trees, but the trees were too closely spaced to descend that way for too long.  We cut back and forth across the hard pack in a stream bottom until we finally reached the car at Rogers Pass.
Then it was back to Flesher and then home, a destination I finally reached exhausted  at 9:45 p.m.
Our Flesher Pass to Rogers Pass by the numbers.

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