Thursday, February 20, 2020

An easy ski on Grassy Mountain/Skidway on a bluebird winter day

At the end of the trip, Mount Edith to our north, came into its snow-capped view.  (Gordon Whirry photo)

Gordon Whirry from the top of the Grassy Mountain ridge

Gordon pulls some turns

The summer-like clouds on this cold day surprised us

The stats
Wayne Phillips is out of town and we didn't think we had enough interest in a backcountry ski for one of his Wednesday Walks, so Gordon Whirry and I did a trip without our usual crowd.
Originally, we thought a trip back to the great powder in the Front's Teton country would be our goal, but on quick reflection when I picked him up we redirected to the Skidway Campground in the Big Belt Mountains, about 20 miles south and east of White Sulphur Springs, for a short loop.
We reasoned the trip would give us something new and different with a look at all the snow piling up in the Island Ranges of Central Montana on a gorgeous bluebird day.
The day started super-cold, with temps as low as minus 5 in the Monarch canyon, but up to 15 above when we reached Skidway.
We were not disappointed.  The west side of the Highwoods, which was bare last week, is now filled in; there's more snow in the Little Belts, particularly with 57 inches in the past week at Rogers Pass; the views of the Baldy Peaks, Mount Edith and the Big Belts were breathtaking in white mantles; and the Castle and Crazy mountain ranges are also loaded with snow.
Skidway is the site of a former small ski area on Grassy Mountain just off the Deep Creek Canyon on U.S. 12.  The Montana Department of Transportation plows out a small parking area for skiers and snowshoers just off the highway.
While the snow was not as deep or good as the Little Belts or Front or Continental Divide country, it was still great.
Katie's Girls in Glacier group had been over the 3.8 miles circuit on snowshoes two days ahead of us and put down a pretty good track in the deepest snow, so we didn't have to break trail.  It was a tad slippery, so I put on skins to the top.
There are old-growth Doug Fir trees on this well-marked loop trail that goes through the campground at the end.
On the top of the ridge-line the views grew even more spectacular in every direction, enhanced by bluer than blue skies and poofy summer-like clouds. On top, the Grassy Mountain high point came into view, as well as the Elkhorn Mountains near Helena.
While a tad icy, I was able to pull a few turns on top, and near the campground it was tele heaven.
On the way back home we stopped at the Spa in White Sulphur and had an hour-long, unplanned soak in the hot springs pools, followed by a visit with the Spa's owner Gene Gudmundson.
We were back by 4:30 p.m., completing a perfect, if easy, day!
Gosh, it's great to live in northcentral Montana.
Our route

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