Thursday, February 22, 2018

Bender, O'Brien runs in frigid weather

Tracking deep powder in Bender Creek meadow

Annie Taylor in the O'Brien Creek bottom

An example of the snow we broke on Bender Creek
The weather has been exceptionally cold and snowy the past couple of weeks and the skiing has been exceptionally good.
Last week we did a Wayne's Walk sans Wayne down O'Brien Creek and Wednesday, another one, again without Wayne over Bender Creek to Hoover Ridge and back.
I hadn't done O'Brien, a 7-mile course from Kings Hill Pass, for a couple of years because of poor snow conditions.  It was worth the wait as the snow was deep, with great base and all the snow bridges were in and the trail broken and set.  I was reminded how much I dislike the lower third of this trail, which is always hammered by our shared snowmobile users.  Wish there was a solution to this shared use.
It was minus 13 in town when we took off for Bender Creek, 10 miles east from Monarch up the Dry Fork of Belt Creek on Trail 731.
However, for the third day in a row the skies were bluebird, promising to give temperatures a lift later on, and lift they did.  It was 13 ABOVE at the trailhead, and once we got in the sunlight we basked in the radiant heat.
Bender can be great after a good snowfall and sufficient base that hasn't been hammered by snowshoes.
It appeared as though no one had broken Bender, and the four of us took turns plowing the two-and-a-half feet of powder that had hollow gaps in it.
The trail rises steadily, but dips significantly when it crosses the creek (on great snow bridges).
The trail is located in a tight valley that at about 1.8 miles opens to a gorgeous meadow.
Here the trail takes a 90 degree turn up and into the trees, a trail that can be difficult to find.  It then takes broad switchbacks through open tele slopes and lodgepole pines, eventually cresting Hoover Ridge, having climbed nearly 1,500 feet and traveling 2.6 miles from the start.
On the way back down we took advantage of some low angle tele slopes for a few turns before plunging back into the creek bottom, where a command of telemark turns is a must.  I wore a helmet and was glad I did.
The scenery in the Bender is particularly good in the open tele slopes looking north toward towering and snow-capped Mount Barker, just under 9,000 feet.
Other than that, I've skied in my neighborhood day after day in spite of bitter cold, cutting tracks between the Grandview development and the Mount Olivet Cemetery, with fabulous views of the Little Belts and Highwoods.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Deadman, Nugget, Flesher, Dr. Elton Adams

Wayne Phillips on the snowy Flesher Pass area CDT

Great snow on CDT
Despite not having posted the past several weeks, I've not been idle.
There have been a couple of trips on the Deadman run with a climb of King's Hill, a trip down the spectacular Nugget Creek, Trail's Day at Silver Crest winter sports area to assist fledgling skiers with a side trip to the top of Porphyry Peak and a tele down, and a lovely trip from Flesher Pass on the Continental Divide Trail toward Stemple Pass and back.  There was also an aborted trip to the Front, blocked on the Teton Road at Clary Coulee by unplowed and impassible snow.
The most unusual of these trips was Nugget Creek.
We've done this trip a couple of dozen times, climbing Porphyry and Mizpah peaks and skiing the ridgeline up and down to Milepost 23 on U.S. 89 in the Little Belts ---- a 10 mile run with 3,000 feet of elevation loss.
We've often struggled finding route toward the end of the ridge.
But this hike we found ourselves lost and circling back on ourselves not once but twice!
I've never inadvertently crossed my own tracks in 45 years of backcountry skiing.
There were four of us, all highly experienced skiers who had done this trip before.
Wayne Phillips, the trip leader and discoverer of this route, told us as we were going in that others had lost their way at this point.  I scoffed at this.
I was amazed it then happened to us.
We were in a total white-out and that may have had something to do with it.  The clouds enveloped us and snow began to furiously pelt us.  Our usual landmarks, small rises in the ridgeline, were no longer visible.
Other landmarks did not appear as we skied on, inadvertently and incorrectly adjusting our route.
We were all shocked to ski across our  own tracks.
We adjusted, skied confidently ahead, and crossed our tracks again!
We took compass and GPS measurements and were astounded that we had difficulty determining which way was south, the direction we had hoped to travel.
Eventually, Wayne suggested that I take my GPS away from the group about 100 yards and determine the direction it tracked.  That did show us where to go.
Wayne was not surprised this had happened to us, just that it had never happened before.
I was amazed and confused and realized that I had not been reading my GPS correctly.
So much for my pride in my ability to handle that fairly complicated gadget.
The snow this winter had been unbelievably good powder, particularly in the Little Belts, and deep, but full of heavy moisture on the Continental Divide.

R.I.P Elton Adams

Dexter Hale photo of Elton Adams ice climbing

The Great Falls climbing community lost one of its most distinguished climbers Feb. 4 .
Dr. Elton Adams, 74, fell to his death ice-climbing on Cataract Falls up Elk Creek on the flank of Steamboat Mountain Feb. 4.
Adams had introduced a generation of climbers to the sport of ice-climbing over the past 25 years, me included.
I climbed with Adams on these very falls in 1993, and did a Tribune feature story on ice-climbing then.
Adams was energetic and ethusiastic beyond his 74 years and always fun to talk to about his climbing adventures around the world, that included Aconcagua in South America and Kilimanjaro in Africa.  He was also a beloved physician at Benefis.
He was a force who will be missed.