Monday, January 08, 2018

Just beyond the CDT: Cadotte Creek

Mark Hertenstein on the ridge top

Some of the elk that crossed our path

The ridge top was a winter wonderland
Over the past 10 years or so we've been doing tele turns in the area just west of Rogers Pass when the weather and snow are right.
Mainly we've skied First and Third gulches to the west of Highway 200 not far from the Meadow Creek Road, bypassing the much larger and inhabited Cadotte Creek that runs northeast toward Cadotte Pass on the Continental Divide Trail.
Mark Hertenstein suggested we give it a try Sunday and in doing so opened ourselves to a smorgasbord of  new skiing.  In the past we had avoided the area because of the private inholdings.
A parking area is plowed out where Cadotte Road meets Highway 200.
We did a 6-mile loop on Sunday, gaining about 1,600 feet, mostly off-trail, but on some logging roads.
This area has been extensively logged.
It holds snow well most of the time and there are terrific, vast areas for making turns.
Unfortunately, the wind and sun had hit this area during our recent Chinook, wind-hardening the snow.  We skinned immediately to the north and east and before long were on a ridge line above the East Fork of Cadotte Creek.
We noticed that there were a tremendous number of animal tracks and were soon treated to about a herd of about 30 elk that plowed their way through deep snow across our path.  It was quite a treat!
On top the sun came out briefly, turning the ridge top to a winter wonderland.  From here we were able to look around at the many trip possibilities before heading down through the trees to the East Fork, where we sked back to the Cadotte Road.  From there we explored a couple of logging roads for future reference and then got on a main logging road that took us back to Highway 200.
Surveying some tele slopes

Friday, January 05, 2018

Paine Gulch exploratory

Dry Gulch Ridge above Paine Gulch

Outcrops along the trail

Just above the Trail No. 737 trailhead off US 89
I know I've been up Paine Gulch in the past, but frankly, I don't remember it.
My wife and I took a lovely snowshoe up this gulch on Thursday covering a little more than two miles and gaining about 550 in elevation beneath some towering spires on this Little Belts Mountain hike.
The gulch is pretty hidden because a private inholding sits at its trailhead for Trail No. 737.
This was owned by the late geologist David Baker, a real character, and and expert and promoter of the Little Belts.
The Forest Service has established a trailhead to the south of his gated and posted property that can be hard to locate.  There's a brown Forest Service "TH" sign visible from U.S. 89.
The gulch is located just a little north of where the old Lazy Doe bar and restaurant was located.  Unfortunately, this landmark and eatery was torn down last year and it looks as though the place never existed.
There is a good public parking spot for your hike a couple of hundred yards north and west of the trailhead where there's a state historical sign on one of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles located in the area.
The trail skirts Baker's place and then climbs steadily above the tiny rivulet at the bottom of the gulch.  In about a mile the first of the large outcrops appear, an impressive sight.  There are also several side gulches to the north.
There are lots of downed trees and if you're cross country skiing be forewarned of steep, tight terrain where turns could be terrifying if there's ice.  A skier had been there ahead of us and before the most recent storm and left his faint tracks.  I'd recommend skins for up and down some of the tight spots.
We were on snowshoes and didn't have any trouble, except for one large tree across the path.
The forest is a combination of lodgepole, Doug Fir and Ponderosa pine.
At about 1.5 miles the trail breaks out in a flat, open area beneath the Dry Fork Ridge to the north and the back of Sun Mountain to the south.
Here the hillsides have been scorched in a summer wildfire and there are only small stands of live pines, juniper and aspens, but the scenery is positively thrilling.
The trail goes for another mile and a half or so.
This valley would be the perfect spot for climbing Sun or Servoss mountains or the Dry Fork Ridge.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Fabulous snow days in Little Belts

Porphyry Lookout on a spectacular bluebird Jan. 2

Flocked trees, perfect powder, gorgeous sky

Off in the distance the highest peak in the Little Belts, Big Baldy 
After a tele turn in Jumping Creek upper reaches

I followed New Year's skiing with Days 2 and 3 of 2018 in the Little Belts enjoying great weather and incredible powder.
On Tuesday I went solo up Porphyry Peak at the Showdown Ski Area, down Trail 727 to a snowmobile road and explored logging roads until I hooked up to the O'Brien Creek Trail and back to Kings Hill Pass.  The weather sparkled, bluebird skies and radiant heat despite 18 degree temperatures.
Wednesday our Wayne's group went up Porphyry and followed the Trail 747 ridge trail past the Mizpah bowls to U.S. 89 and Jumping Creek trailhead, a distance of 8.6 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,400 feet and a loss of 2,600 feet.  The weather was wintry, with snow falling along the ridge.  I was surprised when we hit rocky slopes beyond the Ranch Creek bowls, and then found extensive extant logging along the bottom two miles to the car.  The snow was otherwise excellent, but I think I'll pass on this run in the future. We found unstable snow conditions as it settled with "thunder" underneath our skis.  We saw considerable moose and elk sign on the ridges.
We had to re-learn the lesson we've so often encountered ---- separating on a trip.
There were five of us.  We set out independently for the top, two of us thinking the plan was to meet at Top Rock Cafe, where we we eat and regroup before the long ridge run.  We took the Prentiss Run up to the top.  The other three went around the back side road where the Porphyry Lookout is located.  They saw my tracks from the day before and kept on skiing, while the two of us sat at the cafe waiting for the group.  About a half hour into the wait we realized something was wrong, and went to check the ski tracks at the lookout area, some 500 feet from the cafe.  The tracks indicated the group had pushed on.  By the time we got ourselves together, we had waited for an hour on top, and we hurried along the trail, hoping to catch the group, which we did at the warming hut on Mizpah Peak.   Too many assumptions here.......
Our Jumping Creek route marked in brighter red

Monday, January 01, 2018

Beginning a Happy 2018 with Kings Hill summit climb; 29 below in Great Falls, 15 above Kings Hill

The best way to bring in a New Year

Trees flocked from the new snow

The view from the Kings Hill summit looking back at Showdown Ski Area
The weather was minus 29 at the house this morning that began the New Year 2018.
After a call to my Mother in Chicago to wish her a happy 92nd birthday, I began plotting how to bring the New Year in properly with a backcountry ski.
I decided to head to the Kings Hill area when I found that it would be about 15 degrees ABOVE zero, while it wouldn't get to zero in Great Falls.
My plan was for a short ski ---- from Kings Hill Pass in the Little Belts to the top of Kings Hill mountain and its 8,009 feet summit, about a 650 feet climb of just over a mile up.  I used the Deadman Road, skied across the top, and teled down the ridge back to the pass.
The snow was easy to handle because it had been hit by wind and settled, making trail-breaking no task at all.  In fact, there was a wind crust in spots.
It was 21 degrees in Monarch and about 8 above at the Belt turnoff.  As I neared where the old BarS restaurant was on the outskirts of Great Falls the temperature was minus 8 and stayed that way until I got home.
This has been a very cold Christmas stretch.  But, man, has it been beautiful.  Bright sunshine, sparkling snow.  This was like a Christmas the way I remembered them 40 years ago.
A young snowboarder shows me his "Powder Surfer" board that doesn't have bindings