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

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