Wednesday, January 23, 2013

A couple of old standbys: O'Brien and Deadman

In the wind-carved Deadman bowls last Saturday
We haven't had any good snowfall for about 10 days now.
Add that to an almost unrelenting wind and it means the backcountry skiing is getting pretty marginal.
Last Saturday and Sunday I went hunting for powder and found a bit on two favorite Little Belt runs ---- O'Brien Creek and Deadman Creek.
Both are in the 8 to 9 mile distance and can be done in less than three hours when you don't have to break heavy powder.
Avalanche debris field on North Peak in the Highwood Mountains
What I found Saturday on Deadman, which runs a long, exposed ridgeline, was wind-carved snow where it was exposed, and pretty good powder where the trees sheltered it.  Avalanche danger is growing because of a series of hoar frost layers and slabs sitting upon them.  We didn't dare ski over the sides into the wonderful bowls of snow there.  However, on the way out we altered our route and came down one of the Deadman drainages, cutting a half-hour and a couple of miles off our trip. I refer to this route as the "Phillips Cutoff Route" because it was developed by H. Wayne Phillips, who always seeks out new ways to do old routes.  Generally, the unbroken powder on the entire trip was heavy and deep.
That same day, a colleague encountered a couple of fields of avalanche debris in the nearby Highwoods on the steep parts of North Peak's east face.
A bluebird sky in the Little Belts Sunday
O'Brien Sunday, which had been skied fairly heavily, was a tad icy and fast and in spots, been hit by snowmobiles.  I expected to see more snow there than I found --- a couple of feet that didn't cover the willows.  However, the snow bridges are in pretty good shape.
Great Falls was trapped in an inversion that trapped cold air --- temperatures in the teens --- and gray skies.  Just south of Neihart on both days the sun was out, the sky a bluebird, cloudless wonder and temperatures near 30 degrees.
The snow on O'Brien Creek bottom Sunday

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