Saturday, March 24, 2018

Yellowstone: Wet, but skiing pretty good

Katie on Upper Gallatin River in Yellowstone

Katie and I at the Lee Metcalf Wilderness boundary up Bacon Creek in Yellowstone Park

Safely over a snow bridge over Bacon Creek in Yellowstone
We spent a couple of days at Big Sky Resort, guests of our Helena friends, Dave and Sandi Ashley, who have purchased a condo there.
We're not downhill skiers, so we didn't ski there, but the Ashleys took us about 25 miles south of Big Sky for some backcountry skiing in Yellowstone Park's northwest edge, where it abuts the Madison Mountains and the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, just off Highway 191.
It was a rain and snow spring mix  (afterall, this was our first ski of the new Spring) where we stayed, but the Ashleys chose skis in the upper reaches of the Gallatin River and Back Rind Creek into the Lee Metcalf, which are still very wintery.
There was plenty of snow, particularly on the upper Gallatin and we were able to pull turns in some moisture-laden white stuff.
Both areas offered low-angle telemark opportunities, but the kick and glide on the valley floor was superb.  There were several skiers, mostly on tour using Big Sky guiding services, on the Gallatin trip.  No one on Bacon Rind.
We went about 6 miles roundtrip both Thursday and Friday.
Most of my friends from Great Falls go to the extreme northeast corner of the park at Cooke City for their winter skiing.
This trip reminded me of what great scenery and opportunities abound in Yellowstone, and how easy they are to reach.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Glacier: An icy Marias Pass to East Glacier Park trip along Continental Divide Trail

The classic view of Little Dog and Summit mountains at Three Bears Lake near Marias Pass 

Into an scenic bottom

Our group framed by an aspen grove 

We passed many areas like this that tantalized with their telemark potential
This is a 15-mile point-to-point backcountry ski in Glacier National Park on the Continental Divide Trail from Marias Pass to the town of East Glacier Park.
It is one of my favorite backcountry skis for its breathtaking scenery and variety.
It is an all-day trip and route-finding is required because snow covers some trail markers.  I'd advise taking this trip after fresh powder.  It can be treacherous when  icy or after a rainfall.  There are about 2,000 feet of elevation gained and there are uncountable number of drainage crossings, requiring much up and down.  There are several robust climbs, such as to the top of Railroad Creek.  This means there are also substantial downhill runs, which can be tricky on icy trails.  The scenery is the incomparable Glacier scenery that starts at the foot of Summit and Little Dog mountains at Marias Pass.  There are open slopes that will tantalize the tele skier.
I've done this run every couple of years over the past 30 years, mainly with friends from East Glacier Park.
Unfortunately, Saturday we skied after a rainfall and the route was very icy and, I think, somewhat dangerous.

For a map and more detail, CLICK HERE

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Late winter sun in Glacier, Front

Old Man of the Hills  in the Front looms over a Dupuyer area ranch

Middle Two Med Lake in Glacier Park was below me as I skied

At the end of her shift at the Two Med Grill Laurie Lintner went for a workout on Looking Glass Road

This is how East Glacier Park looks.  Sears Motel is marooned by snow.
I could see this coming in the weather forecast for several days.
Everything aligned and off I went for a drive on U.S. 89 up the Front for a scenery tour and then on to East Glacier Park and a 9 mile out-and back ski on the Looking Glass Highway (to the Pass).
Although there was some fog in the morning, the weather cleared Tuesday and it was bluebird all day, with no wind and temperatures that rose from the high teens to the mid-50s.
On the way up to Glacier I made numerous stops for photos of the Front ---- Choteau, Guthrie, Old Man of the Hills, Walling Reef, Feather Woman, Round Butte, Half Dome, with the scenic ranches out on the Plains giving those mountains some perspective.
I had wondered about the snow totals and shape of the roads given the record winter.
I found the roads in pretty good condition, except in East Glacier and north of that town to Looking Glass.
There were snowplows out in force creating vast mounds and walls of snow. 
There was some concern about flash flooding, but I didn't see any indication of that.
There was snow up to and over the rooftops in East Glacier and higher mounds of snow at Marias Pass in the Burlington Northern parking lot than I had ever seen.
Laurie Lintner at the Two Med Grill told me the best bet was to try Looking Glass, and I'm glad I did.
It is also known as Montana Highway 49 and goes from East Glacier through a mountain pass to the Kiowa Junction on U.S. 89.   It is a shortcut from East Glacier to St. Mary. The road is blocked off in the winter because of the heavy snows.
The pass is four miles from where the road to Two Med Campground comes in.
The highway department plows a parking spot at this "Y."
Lintner said the scenery is beautiful on this run, and she is right.
It looks down on Lower Two Med Lake below Scenic Point, with Rising Wolf Mountain the dominant mountain at the flank of Middle Two Med Lake.  The Badger-Two Med is within view, as Mount Sinopah at the head of Middle Two Med.
The snow was not great, a three-inch wind crust on top of about four feet of packed snow, but it softened up with the heat of the day.  The road rises gently, some 250 feet per mile, for a total of just over 1,000 feet.
At the top of the pass I noticed a rough road to the west and took it another half mile or so, just short of the Park boundary, where the views were magnificent and I had lunch.
The road is not steep enough to make tele turns worthwhile, but it was an enjoyable run nonetheless.
Then back to Great Falls along the Front, watching the sun sink and cast shadows and colors over the Front.
What a day!

Sunday, March 11, 2018

CDT: Stemple to Flesher and then some

Steve Taylor (left) and Wayne Phillips do check on avalanche transceivors 

Rob Phillips kicks and glides.  That's Mount Joy in the background.

Remarkably large snow amounts hung from most trees 
The star of our show, 76-year-old Wayne Phillips who says this is his last Stemple Flesher trip

Each backcountry ski season there are several trips that are on my "must do" list.
The Continental Divide Trail's 11.5 miles Stemple Pass to Flesher Pass trip near Lincoln is always one of these.
I missed during last year's horrendous season.
We made up for it Saturday with a run that included an inadvertent side trip because the trail makers were very difficult to find because the snow is so deep they are covered or at least partially so.  Usually the markers ---- the upside-down slash on both sides of a tree ---- are at eye level or above (5 feet or so).  This year they were at our feet.
This is a difficult section of trail to follow because it winds through thick forest and across the face of mountains that rise to more than 7,000 feet.

The trail markers were buried in snow.  They are usually at eye level
Luckily I had with me my GPS and on it was the marked route we had taken in 2016.  We were able to see if we were varying from the trail or the route we had taken that year --- mostly.
We were also blessed with an exceptionally beautiful bluebird day and a skiff of fresh snow.  Temperatures were in the teens at the start, warming up to freezing during the trip.
We started early knowing that when the sun hit even cold snow it could radiate heat far in excess of the outside temperature and clump up our skis with wet, heavy snow that are nearly impossible to move.
We had some of that which was remedied by some scraping and glide wax.
We also had some wind-crust that sent us hurtling down the trail out of control.
But overall, the trip was marked by pretty good, if variable snow and magnificent views and tired skiers at the end of the day.
We skied nearly 2 more miles than was necessary by prematurely climbing to a high point thinking it was another high point we needed to scale to avoid an avalanche exposed side hill on the CDT trail.  Also, because we wandered around looking for the trail markers and at one point got way off trail.
One of the highlights of the trip was the performance of 76-year-old H. Wayne Phillips, a long-time skiing and hiking partner, who said this would be his last Stemple Flesher run.
Over the 10 hours and 40 minutes of hardcore skiing Wayne performed like a 25 year-old.
Truly impressive.

Take a look at trip route on topo map with more by clicking HERE

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Sunshine, bluebird skies make for snow mush on Jumping Creek

Gerry Jennings enjoys some downhill

The snow on the cabin is an example of our snowfall this winter 

Lots of stopping to scrape snow and reapply waxes

An example of the mush we went through when doing our tele-turns
I've never been much of a fan of the new Jumping Creek run that runs across the top of the Porphyry/Mizpah Ridge in the Little Belts and descends to Highway 89 near the Jumping Creek Campground.
I've done this twice as a ski and once as a hike and have encountered problems each time.
Our Wednesday trip was no different.
What promised to be a sun-filled day got ugly about half-way through this 8.5 mile backcountry ski as sun penetrated the snow, softening it and making skiing without snow-clumping nearly impossible.
There's about 1,700 feet of elevation gain on this trip and 2,700 feet of loss, which should have provided us with interesting terrain variation and plenty of tele-turns.
Instead, we spent too much time scraping snow, and re-waxing, while carrying around tons of weight on the bottom of our skis.
It made turns difficult in the mash-potato snow.
At points there was wind-glaze that made the downhill suicidal and lots of trees for a dangerous obstacle course.
The course was just fine to the Mizpah cabin, but difficult from there on.
The sunlight and blue skies compensated somewhat.  Also, the company, our retireds from the Wayne's Wednesday Walks group, with members ranging from 78 to 60.  Our two oldest members, Chuck and Gerry Jennings, 78 and 77 are absolute marvels.
The snow looked great, but that was deceptive.  Yes, we've had great amounts, but the base was uneven.
My feeling is you can get the same highlights by taking the same route to either Nugget or Ranch Creek runs.
Save yourself the bother from there.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

A CDT treat: backcountry ski Rogers Pass to Cadotte Pass

We are so blessed to be just an hour's drive from the Continental Divide Trail at Rogers Pass.
I was doubly-blessed Saturday to be able to ski that trail from Rogers to Cadotte Pass in deep powder on a bluebird day, with relatively light wind.
I've tried this a number of times before, but have always been blocked by high winds that strip the snow from the ridgeline and hardens any remainder to concrete.  That has meant that we have skied the Rogers Peak side many times.
The circumstances of the ski trip were fortuitous;  a dump of snow overnight that wasn't to be blown about.
We used the CDT from the pass, but had to scale a wall of snow plowed back by the Montana Department of Transportation, which has been doing a great job clearing the roads and passes this extremely snowy and cold winter.
We skinned to the top, veering from the trail to the south, topping a high point on the ridgeline above Cadotte Creek.  This offered amazing views to the Rocky Mountain Front, Red Mountain, the highest point in the Bob Marshall/Scapegoat/Great Bear wilderness complex, and the Great Plains.
We skied the rest of the day without skins, occasionally dropping off the ridge for tele turns in terrific powder.
We went as far as the high point just above Cadotte Pass, traveling 6.5 miles roundtrip and gaining and losing 2,100 feet of elevation when the tele stops are thrown in.
On the way back after several long tele runs, we veered to the south across a small streambed and found the best powder of the day on the shaded, steep and thinly timbered hillside.
My friend, Mark Hertenstein made turns to the bottom about 800 feet below, while my legs crapped out and but for a few stretches had to traverse rather than drop.  Guess I'm getting old and weak!
I'm not sure why the Rogers Pass area is not a mecca for backcountry skiers, like Marias Pass south of Glacier Park.
When it's not good at the pass we can usually find great skiing in Cadotte Creek on the westside a few miles south or up Meadow Creek where there's mine reclamation work going on and the road is plowed.