Sunday, January 29, 2017

Snow quality stinks, Jefferson Creek, Gerry Lookout

Where the Gerry Lookout used to be located in Flathead National Forest above Nyack Creek
Yogo Peak in Little Belts on Upper Jefferson run (Gordon Whirry photo)
I did a couple of backcountry trips last week, a 10.5 miles ski in the Little Belts' Jefferson Creek headwaters and a snowshoe climb near Glacier Park to the site of the former Gerry Lookout above the Middle Fork of the Flathead River in the Nyack area.
I've know about the Jefferson Creek ski for about 40 years, but just never gotten around to doing it because it is on an old road all the way.  It begins just across U.S. 89 from the Silvercrest XC Ski Area on Forest Service Road 3328, the road that offers access to the Big Baldy Area.  At about 1.5 miles, there's a junction and you should stay left.  At 6.5 miles it intersects with the main Jefferson Creek Road as it heads up Chamberlain Creek.  Again, bear left and head down Jefferson Creek.
Neihart Mayor Steve Taylor suggested a mid-week ski because this year's crappy snow had been made manageable by snowmobile tracks.  We were able to kick and glide our way across this easy route on those tracks, minus the snowmobilers who were not around.
The trip offers nice views of open meadows, Neihart Baldy and Long peaks, and Big Baldy.  The bottom follows Jefferson Creek to U.S. 89.
You know you're at the right spot for Gerry Lookout when you see these signs:  FS Road 499, Mile Marker 168
I feel a bit silly that I had never done the Gerry Lookout, right off Highway 2 at Mile Marker 168.  You know you've got the right place if you see the "499" Forest Service Road Sign.  Otherwise, there are no other markers on the other side of a locked gate.
The lookout was taken down years ago and all that's left are wonderful views into Glacier Park and the Great Bear Wilderness.
It doesn't take much effort to get to the top ---- 1.89 miles, with an elevation gain of 940 feet.  It took me about two hours on snowshoes to gain the top and return.  Unfortunately, views were obscured by a heavy cloud cover.  I'm told there are terrific views of Glacier's St. Nicholas Peak matterhorn.
I wore snowshoes rather than skis because of wind crust and the trail has been hammered by snowshoe use, making skis impractical.
It reminded me that a high priority should be to explore the parallel drainages south of the Middle Fork in the Great Bear Wilderness.
The Upper Jefferson Creek (Gordon Whirry photo)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Bucking deep snow in Mortimer Gulch

The full moon sets above the Rocky Mountain Front alpine glow near Augusta 

The sun and clouds reminded me of a Van Gogh painting

Sawtooth Peak is the backdrop as Mark works his way up the snow field

Originally, I had planned to ski with Wayne's Wednesday crowd exploring a new route from Kings Hill to Jumping Creek in the Little Belts.
Instead, Mark Hertenstein looked at the size of his crowd and decided we wanted more of a wilderness experience and headed for the Front outside Augusta up the Sun River Canyon and up Mortimer Gulch that runs north from Gibson Reservoir.
The winds were howling out on the plains, bringing in a Chinook that was raising temperatures from where they had been stuck far below zero for most of the month.  We ended up skiing in 30 degree weather.
The attraction of Mortimer Gulch is that it is a gateway to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and offers breathtaking views of Castle Reef and Sawtooth Ridge and the high peaks of the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall wilderness areas to the south and west.
For some reason it was also shielded from the howling winds and we skied in relative calm.
The snow is considerably deeper in the Front than the Little Belts this season, a real twist from most snow seasons.
We had to break deep powder on our ski
We skied in two and three feet of powder that, for the most part, still hadn't set up with a good base, probably because the weather has been so fierce since early December.
So, we had the tedious and laborious task of breaking trail as we headed north up the gulch, above the Triple J Guest Ranch and toward the high point, which I've always called Mortimer Mountain.
We tried unsuccessfully to do some tele turns in some of the many open snowfields beneath the ridge to our west.  I ran into rock and bottomless powder that stalled my skis.  I couldn't get them to float.  There was some wind crust as well.
I figured we did about 6 miles roundtrip up and back and gained about 1,300 feet.
We were rewarded with peerless blue skies, tremendous alpine scenery and solitude.
We we able to drive just beyond the Triple J to a plowed out ranch gate and then hop on the powder that covered the road.
The road to the Sun River Canyon had drifted a bit in a couple of spots, but nothing my all wheel Toyota Rav 4 couldn't plow through.
The treat of the day was driving toward the canyon as the sun rose, casting the Front mountains in a spectacular alpine glow under a full moon.
We were very pleased we had turned back from the Little Belts ski scrum.
Up Mortimer Gulch toward Mortimer peak at its head

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Skiing on the frozen bottom of North Fork Teton River

Through the 2007 burn with high Teton Peaks as the backdrop

On the bottom beneath Mount Wright
This has been a weird backcountry ski season so far.
That partially explains why I'm so late in filing my first ski of the near year.
We also spent the Christmas holidays in California and couldn't ski.
The snow just refuses to set up and it has been bitterly cold since Dec. 6, not to mention a lack of snow in October and November.
There are only 13 inches on top of Showdown in the Little Belts, a veritable snow-basket, and more than 30 inches in the Front, but with a questionable base and a wind-glazed and hardened surface.
We skied Saturday doing a combination off-and on-trail hike on North Fork Teton just below Mount Wright beginning at the Teton Pass Ski Area with a turnaround at the Bob Marshall Wilderness boundary where the East Fork Teton comes in.  We skied down through an old burn to the creek, along the creek, right on the frozen river and then back on the old logging road betwen the West Fork and ski area.
We covered about 9 miles with an elevation gain and loss near 1,100 feet.  The scenery is beyond gorgeous here despite logging and the 2007 burn, with high peaks lining both sides of North Fork.
The best part of the ski was getting on the frozen North Fork, which had a skiable layer of snow on top of some thick ice, although it opened up into a flow in spots that we could ski around.
Despite 8 degree weather at the beginning of the trip it was glorious with blue skies and bright sunshine, warming into the teens.

On the logging road back to the ski area while losing daylight