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.

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