Sunday, May 05, 2013

It's May but there's still plenty of snow in the high country

Our Lake is still snow-covered.  Mark Hertenstein photo
It may have been 70 degrees in Great Falls, but there was plenty of good, deep snow in the mountains to play in this weekend.
Katie and I took an exploratory drive Saturday to the Helmville turnoff on Montana 200 west of Lincoln after climbing the Continental Divide Trail east of Rogers Pass.
Katie on Continental Divide Trail above Rogers Pass
 I had been down this road many times before but had never taken a look at Helmville.  Glad we did Saturday because we ran into a pretty good size herd of elk grazing just on the town's outskirts and got to see them run across the highway and up into the hills near Nevada Mountain.
It was fairly blustery on the Continental Divide Trail, but we got to see a number of wildflowers, including douglasia and phlox. There was patchy snow at about 6,000 feet.
The road from Montana 200 to Avon is quite beautiful and starting to green up.
Missouri River view from Tower Rock State Park
After a quick stop in Helena for lunch we headed for Tower Rock State Park and climbed to that divide where we saw many more wildflowers and got breathtaking views of the Missouri River bending below us.  We were also treated to six curious mule deer that enjoyed looking at us as much as we enjoyed looking at them.
It sprinkled off and on most of the day.
Sunday it was entirely different.
Temperatures soared, the skies cleared and there was scant wind.
Originally, we had planned to try to climb Big Baldy in the Little Belts from Snow Creek, but the highway work at Raynesford and a long detour caused us to rethink our plans.
We headed to the Rocky Mountain Front for an exploratory to see if we could reach Our Lake this early in the season.
There's a ton of snow in the Rocky Mountain Peak/Our Lake/Baldy area.
The snow was pretty icy when we started, so we left our skis in the car and headed up on snow shoes ---- BIG MISTAKE!!!
This would have been a pretty reasonable trip on cross country skis and skins.
Snow shoes were just too plodding.
It felt as though we had buckets on our feet as we worked our way up.
The snow softened beautifully during the day and the further we went, the more we regretted not taking skis.
We didn't get to the lake itself.
The steep headwall of snow and ice was just too formidable.
Mark ascending headwall to take a peek at Our Lake
At the lake elevation level we encountered a slide area and I didn't feel like the risk of climbing diagonally across it to reach the lake itself.
Mark decided to climb straight up a couple hundred more feet and across a more narrow part of the chute and got to a point with clear views of the lake.
The only other touchy point was where the trail goes across a rock slide area near a large waterfall.
We ascended it steeply from the bottom off trail.  On the way back we went above the trail and dropped to it.  It caused me some heartburn thinking about possibly slipping and falling down that chute.
Rocky Mountain peak on a gorgeous May 5, 2013

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