Monday, February 04, 2013

A run down Ranch Creek

Mark Hertenstein pulls a turn in Ranch Creek bowls

Skiing down with one ski on and one ski off

The classic view atop the Mizpah bowls

An example of the deep snow we faced
We had set out Saturday for the strenuous High Porphyry/Nugget Creek run, but settled for Porphyry/Ranch  Creek after encountering heavy, untracked snow.
As much as two feet of snow fell in the Little Belts last week over several days.
It covered a sugary layer of hoar frost, making any thoughts of tele-playing unthinkable.
We had planned a straight-through on High Poprhyry, hoping to be safe on ridge lines and to enjoy predicted abundant sunshine and temperatures in the 30s.
Although we had four experienced backcountry skiers we quickly found ourselves in strenuous trail-breaking snow.
As we cruised along the top of the Mizpah bowls we could feel the snow settling onto that sugar layer, reminding us of the potential dangers and keeping us from being too tempted to drop over the side to tele.
The decision point comes about half-way into the 9 mile trip where there's the option of skiing into Ranch Creek and out or going up a series of small mountains we call "High Porphyry."  We started up, but two in our party didn't have climbing skins and found the snow-breaking and low angle climbing too time consuming.
At this point we decided for Ranch Creek and a reasonable return trip home rather than the potential for a trip in the dark.
It looks like resting, but it isn't.
Rather than taking the designated trail, we decided to do a few turns and go straight to the bottom of Ranch Creek, cutting off more than a mile.
What we didn't count on was the difficulty of during those turns in such heavy snow.
All of us did face-plants.
That meant taking off the skis just to stand.  Falling into the soft snow was like falling into wet concrete.
One in our party lost a ski after he took his off and ski went straight downhill several hundred feet before burying itself.
Luckily, it left a good trail to follow and Mark found it, dug it out and started back up hill.  Jim, who lost the ski, started down with one ski on and one off.
I was extremely nervous while we messed with the ski because we were sitting in an unstable bowl of snow and I wasn't anxious to get buried in an avalanche.
All ended well.
We found the Ranch Creek road and had an uneventful ski out.
We were surprised that the Forest Service had apparently declared the upper reaches of that road as off limits to snomobiles.
But, with the deep and heavy snow, we were glad when the snowmobile route appeared and we could ski out on snomo tracks.
Along the way we encountered a most unusual life-death struggle played out in the snow where a bird of prey had taken what must have been a mouse of mole, leaving wing-marks in the snow.
A large bird of prey had left its mark in the snow.

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