Thursday, November 21, 2019

Great early season snow accumulating

The Forest Service was trying to burn this green slash pile

Empty slopes on great snow 
Wayne Phillips takes a break on the top of the ski hill

New snow flocked trees along our route

Reaching the Trailhead 747 

Fabulous backcountry skiing 
The snow continues to pile up in the mountains, promising a great backcountry ski season.
Great Divide Ski Area near Helena has already been open for two weeks.
The snow groomer has been busy on Showdown Ski Area in the Little Belts.
I took some turns on the Showdown hill Wednesday on the way with our Wayne's Wednesday Walks group on the 5+ miles Trail 747 loop that begins at Kings Hill Pass, climbs to the top of Porphyry Peak, and then down the back side of the mountain on back to the pass via the O'Brien Creek Trail.
Our seniors-laden group of four guys smoked the traverse in 3 hours and 20 minutes, even stopping for lunch and a break.
The snow had a nice, but somewhat icy base topped by 2-3 inches of fresh snow.
The temperature was 20 degrees and the sky, though overcast, opened up with some sun when we hit the top of Porphyry.  I thought it was darn cold when we stopped.
It was really great to have the entire, large area to ourselves, although on the way up Porphyry, we encountered Forest Service crews trying to set large slash piles, harvested from the ski area, on fire.  It didn't seem as though they were having much success with the green timber.
We were all heartened by the great snow and our trip.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Car accident, cold and snow cancels Fall hiking

Looking down the old Poma Lift run before I did some turns
After more than a month on the sidelines, I finally got out Thursday for some skiing in the King's Hill area to test my conditioning after being injured in a car accident.
My wife and I were in Minneapolis with our 6-year-old grandson in the car when we got struck from behind by a large semi that pushed us into a bus on the 494 Interstate.  We are thankful that all the safety gear worked as intended;  the airbags deployed, the seatbelts restrained us, and the frame, while crunched between two large vehicles, held.
Our grandson suffered only a cut on his head from debris that flew inside the car, and my ribs and legs (from bracing on the brake) took a licking, but Katie's ribs, back and neck really took it as we were banged from the back and took a hit from the front.
Katie and I had our first-ever rides in an ambulance to an Edina, MN hospital where we were X-rayed and examined and Katie had a CAT scan.  Our little guy is having trouble coping with this accident, though.
After a night with Katie's daughter, we had to book a one-way plane ticket back to Great Falls.

The accident was the demise of our 2015 Chevrolet Traverse that had only 62,000 miles.
The past three weeks we've been in and out of doctors' offices, dealing with insurances, buying a new car, and coping with our injuries.  I'm healing more quickly than Katie, but find new aches and pains
The ski hill has pretty good early season snow
emerging almost every day.  Katie's injuries appear as though they will take much more time to heal.  The tendons that extend from my right calf to my ankle and my left-inner knee have been painful, and that calf feels as though it was whacked with a baseball bat.
I'm very thankful that we survived something so horrible.
I resumed walking almost immediately, but it took weeks before I felt I had recovered enough to try skiing.
We've been both cursed and blessed with snow and cold most of October.  In fact, this has been the snowiest October in history, with more than 3-feet having fallen.  That knocked out the usual mountain trips for color because, particularly on the east side, the color was brief and fleeting.  We felt fortunate to have been able to take one drive to the Seeley Lake area to see the Larch in color, a drive in our new car.
I didn't do too much Thursday, skiing about an hour up to the base of the Golden Goose run at Showdown Ski Area.  I did a few turns on the old Poma Lift run and felt pretty good about what I was able to do.  The tendon in my ankle pulled a bit, but I backed off when the pain started. 
The snow was quite good, though a bit icy, although this is quite early for skiing.  With the record snows, Great Divide Ski Area is opening its earliest, today, Nov. 9.
 I've got a way to go, but am hopeful this will be a good ski season yet.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Record snowfall+record cold=We're skiing Oct. 1!

White everywhere on our drive to the trailhead.

Our drive was on sometimes scary one-lane road

On the trail

The river far below 
Mark at lunch under the sun

We stopped for some turns in this area

The snowy Dearborn with colorful aspens
It has been only four months and eight days since our last backcountry ski trip, but up to 4 feet of snow in the Front and temperatures as low as a record 9 degrees in Great Falls (and a record 19.9 inches of snow) made skiing a logical choice on Tuesday.
And, the sky turned a bright blue and there was no wind.
That big, wet snow deposited a pretty good base.  I didn't hit bottom all day, although a couple of rocks did show up.
The earliest I remembered skiing was around Oct. 5.
Oct. 1 is some kind of record, too.
We headed up through Augusta to the Dearborn, hoping the roads had been plowed and we might try Falls Creek.
The ride up was pretty hairy, sometimes down to one lane with piles of snow making it impossible to pull over should another car coming in the other direction would want get by.  We were lucky there was only one car and there was space for it to pull over and let us by.
Even in the dead of winter I've rarely seen so much snow in the fields and on the peaks.  It was white in every direction.
When we got to Falls Creek the parking lot had not been plowed.  We hoped that there would be space somewhere near the Dearborn River Trailhead for us to pull over, or maybe even the Christian school and camp across the road.
To our surprise the lot had been cleared and then a truck came up behind us.
Kraig Lang, the retired Forest Service Wilderness Ranger, immediately got out and came over and we renewed our acquaintances.  He had led me and Mark Hertenstein on a hydrology survey through the Bob Marshall Wilderness some 13 years ago.
He said the big storm came in while he was back in a hunter's camp and he was returning to pick up his trucks.  Through the snow he crossed the Divide and had left his horses near Indian Meadows not far from Lincoln on the other side of the Divide.  He was exhausted from riding some 20 solid hours to get out.
We skied in only a couple miles, just beyond the Forest Service property line, but we took side trips to the lip of a couple of overlooks to admire the blue sky, the bright sun, the emerald water and the sparkling snows that accentuated the rugged Steamboat Mountain cliffs above us.  On the way back we stopped to do some of the season's first tele turns.  The deep snow made them sluggish.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Skirting Ear Mountain before the storm

Wayne at the high point

The aspen are just beginning to color

The Ear Mountain country above us

The mountain adjacent to Ear we call Ear Wax 
Ear Mountain

We're told that in the next 48 hours the mountains will get up to three feet of snow and we'll be braving temperatures no higher than in the 30s.
So our Wayne's Wednesday Walks group took advantage of bright sunny and blue skies to skirt the edge of Ear Mountain from the state game range west of Choteau on the Rocky Mountain Front.
This 7.5 miles (2,000 feet in elevation gain and loss) hike covered part of the northeast flank approach to the Ear Mountain climb, but proceeded west below the mountain on an old road, ultimately to a high point opposite Yeager Flats.
We were looking for Fall color and saw some, but not an overwhelming amount.  Fall appears to be late this year, but winter is right on its heels if you believe our forecast for the next five days.
This area is just south of the game range and north of the national forest on land that has been grazed hard and roaded this way and that.
Various trails and game trails come and go from every direction.  It appeared as though the road/trail had been recently bulldozed.
Wayne figured how to connect these disparate paths and deliver us to a high point that offered breathtaking views of the Front, with the Choteau Mountain country to the north and the Ear Mountain complex to the south.
We weren't far from the Nature Conservancy's Pine Butte property that we consider a grizzly bear preserve.
There was some thought that we might just walk through from the Game Range trailhead and parking area to the BLM Ear Mountain Trailhead on the South Fork Teton Road via Yeager Flats.
The visibility was so good that we were able to see the Sweetgrass Hills on the Canadian border to the north and east.
A humorous side note to the hike was the search for Peter Johnson's wallet that he had lost on an exploratory of this same hike last week.
No luck.
But, it was lucky that Wayne took us to this scenic spot on Wednesday.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Falls Creek on the first day of Fall

The biggest falls on the creek
We were surprised by the coloration of this outcropping

This part of the canyon had shales the same colors as those in Glacier Park

Mark Hertenstein above the second largest falls on the creek

The second largest falls on the creek

Spectacular colors on the hike

I returned to Falls Creek in the Front on the first day of Fall, hoping to see autumnal colors, and I wasn't disappointed.
Besides the colors, what made this trip special was the off-trail hiking near the water's edge that revealed so much more of what this roadless area and major tributary of the Dearborn River has to offer.
We hiked in a deep canyon, occasionally scrambling to high points where it narrowed and saw deep, emerald pools of water that certainly must be filled with fish.  There were open slopes of Yellowstone-like yellowish rock in some spots, and areas of red and green shale that evoked Glacier Park.  We got up close to two major waterfalls, and then climbed to the canyon rim when it narrowed too much to follow the river bank.
While we saw stands of golden and red/orange tinged aspen, there were other trees that Jack Frost hadn't touched yet.
After enjoying lunch at the upper big falls we headed uphill, looking for a high trail above the Forest Service Falls Creek trail and located it.  We figure it is probably an outfitter's trail.
Since Falls Creek access was reopened a couple of weeks ago, we could see that the area is getting good visitation.  We saw a half dozen other cars in the lot and were passed by a couple of guys on horses.
We figure that this area is ripe for hunters who haven't been in here the last 14 years.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

A summer-ending backpack into Glacier's Belly and Red Gap country

Gordon and Dan enjoy the views above Elizabeth Lake with Mount Merritt's Old Sun Glacier in view

The Eliabeth Lake Nymphs/Sirens lead Gordon and Dan in a yoga session

Gordon photographs Dawn Mist Falls on the South Fork of the Belly River

Dan crosses South Fork Belly on suspension bridge

The Belly River Ranger Station
Nataos Peak shines in the alpenglow above our Glenn Lake camp

A cold morning crossing of the Belly River with new snow on Mount Cleveland in background

The huckleberries in full color were too tasty to pass up on way to Red Gap Pass

A spectacular falls on Kennedy Creek below our Poia Lake camp

Brothers Tom and Dan at trip's end on Lake Sherburne
I haven't posted for a while, but it doesn't mean I haven't been active.
There have been several trips this September into the Little Belts, Highwoods, the Continental Divide Trail, Glacier and Waterton parks since my last post.  But I've written so much about all of these hikes in the past and nothing made any one of them stand out (although they were all worthwhile), so I didn't post.
What is worth writing about is the 5-day-50 miles plus backpack trip into Glacier National Park with my brother, Dan, from Indianapolis (formerly Chicago) and Gordon Whirry.
We had been excited about planning this trip because we finally got a permit for the Hi-Line Traverse, coveted backpack beginning and ending at Many Glacier that starts at the Ptarmigan Wall, with nights at Elizabeth Lake, Glenn Lake in the Belly, Stoney Indian Lake, Fifty Mountain and Granite Park before exiting through Swiftcurrent Pass and ending back at Many.
Dan had been applying for this trip for more than 10 years and badly wanted to do it.
Just prior to our trip, however, Granite campground was closed because a grizzly destroyed an outhouse.  Then the next possible go-to for the route was made unavailable when Flattop campground and access points between Logan Pass and Avalanche Lake were closed.  Another possible route ---- up from Waterton was also unavailable because Goat Haunt has been closed all summer and the boat won't drop off visitor from Canada.
Oh, well.
So, we put together an alternate trip that had us start at Many, go through Ptarmigan, camp at Elizabeth the first night, with two nights at Glenn Lake foot and a final night at Poia Lake after a 16 mile behemoth trek climbing 3,000 feet through Red Gap Pass.
We decided to chance that even though the forecast had high percentages for rain throughout the trip.
Lucky for us, the weather was sunny and clear for the first two days, although the wind howled all night on days two and three, and there was rain on days three and four and it was darn wet on day five.
We took a side trip on day 2, going several miles out of our way, to visit the Belly River Ranger Station and learn about the history of the area's first colorful ranger, Joe Cosley, who was notorious as a poacher, scofflaw and womanizer.  The female names of the lakes in the Belly country are no accident, they are Cosley's girlfriends, Elizabeth, Helen, Sue, Margaret, Janet, Frances to whom he had promised a diamond ring that he never produced, but had buried under an aspen tree bearing his carved name.  There were many of these trees, including a section of one preserved in the ranger station.  The cabin he built there more than 100 years ago is still in use at the ranger station as a storage shed. Cosley could never make the transition from a national forest ranger, who was allowed to trap and hunt in what became Glacier Park in 1910.  The creation of the park outlawed such practices, but he continued to trap and hunt anyway, until he was arrested and driven out as ranger.
This was my fourth time in the Belly country where the Belly River flows through a bottom dominated by some of the highest peaks in the park, including two of the 10,000-footers,  Mounts Merritt and Cleveland.
The last time I had been through Red Gap Pass was 35 years ago with my late friend Wayne Franks, when we did a route that went from Many Glacier through the Pass, with a stop at Elizabeth Head and back through the Ptarmigan Tunnel, climbing Mount Seward along the way.  However, I had made two previous traverses to the Pass from the Ptarmigan Tunnel, including one with J. Gordon Edwards, the legendary Glacier climbing pioneer and author of the "Climber's Guide to Glacier Park."
Ironically, as I had just explained the traverse to Dan and Gordon and as we approached Poia Lake on day 4, a group of Canadian women passed us on a day hike who had just done the pass and were on their way back to Many on what must have been a 20-mile day!  They also climbed Seward.
Our final night was a cold and rainy one, which made packing up a moist mess.  Poia was our least favorite camp site because it was tucked so far back in the trees without good views of the colorful lake.
We took the quickest way out, a 4.1 miles trek using the exceptionally steep Sherburne Cutoff Trail to the Many Glacier gate where our car was parked. 
We were charmed by the many young people we met along the trail and in campgrounds, especially two women we tagged as the "Elizabeth Lake Nymphs/Sirens," ---- "Bevvie the Free and Jill the Pill", who clicked their heels and led us in yoga stretching exercises on day 2.  We immediately missed these free spirits when they departed camp.
The alpine-glow sunrises and sunsets, the fantastic huckleberries and the climb to Red Gap, as well as the company of my two companions, were the highlights of this memorable trip.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Glacier's heavenly Hole in the Wall

Our group starting out in the rain at Bowman Lake

One of our sunsets at Boulder Head  
Katie near Boulder Pass

Mount Kinnerly pokes up its head at Boulder Pass 
Dave and Sandi at Lake Francis

Looking toward the end of Bowman Lake

We saw plenty of signs that autumn is on its way
I visited Glacier Park's spectacular Hole in the Wall for the first time in 18 years, camping there nearly 30 years since my first trip there.
This northwestern part of Glacier drains a number of good-size glacier that cascade hundreds of feet in wispy and thunderous drops over cliffs.
Katie and I and Helena friends Dave and Sandi Ashley spent five days, including four nights, in this North Fork Flathead section of the park.
We approached the hike from Bowman Lake, camping the first and fourth nights at its head.
In past visits I've approached Hole in the Wall from Waterton Lake National Park in Canada.
You get a significantly different feel from the Bowman Lake approach.  Half the hike is in deep forest and brush, the other half in high alpine terrain.  I prefer the alpine.
At the beginning the weather was horrid and we hiked in light rain the first day, and gloom and sprinkles the second day until the sun came out and stayed out for the rest of the trip.  We got thoroughly soaked both days.
The highlight of the trip was the high point, Boulder Pass at more than 7,400 feet, which gave us peeks at Kinnerly and Kintla peaks.  Kintla, one the six Glacier peaks over 10,000 feet was capped with new fallen snow from the precipitation, as was Mount Cleveland, the park's highest mountain in the distance to the east.
We reached that on Day 3 after a night at Hole in the Wall Campground, which is laced with waterfalls.  The trail to Boulder Pass is on high alpine ledges.
That same day we broke camp and descended from Brown's Pass to Lake Francis, where there is an isolated two-spot campground in the woods where we could see high waterfalls working their way down the massive cliffs into the lake.  I had camped here 30 years ago, but my memory tells me it was when there were camp spots right at the lake shore, not back and up in the woods.
We had an interesting night there when we were awakened by what we came to believe was an owl chasing some kind of critter that screeched and frightened us all.  We think the owl's wings slammed into our tent, but didn't knock it over.
The more than 1,000 feet of descent to Lake Francis from Brown's Pass featured more ripe huckleberries than any of us could eat.  The berries would explain why a couple of days earlier at Brown's Pass we spoke to hikers who had to use their bear spray when encountering bears.
Then, it was back to Bowman head and the campground.  On our first wet night we had been warned by a camping mother with three young boys that the mice had learned how to climb the food bag hanging ropes to get into food.  Unfortunately, we discovered first hand that what she said was true as mice had burrowed into our hang sack, ate through bags and left us mice droppings as a calling card.
Nonetheless, our second stay at Bowman head was dry, the night warm and the sunset spectacular.
On our fifth day we had a pleasant walk out along the lake and we were back at Polebridge a little after noon.
Although the weather turned nice, at Hole in the Wall we experienced a light frost.  Also, lots of ground cover had turned their falls colors.
Incidentally, this was the first backpack trip I had taken with Katie.
It worked out well.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Little Belts: Deer Point and Coyote peaks

Our long, grassy approach to Coyote Peak 
On Coyote peak looking toward Yogo and Baldy peaks

Annie Taylor found a tree with rocks in its branches and added some 
Near the trailhead a thunderhead was developing

I should know better by now.
During the summer it is tough to get me into the Little Belt Mountains with the Rocky Mountain Front and Continental Divide Trail country just as close with more dramatic scenery.
But when I am lured to the Little Belts I come away thinking that it is an amazing place full of wild-country adventures.
Such was the case on this week's Wayne's Wednesday Walks hike.
Wayne Phillips designed a 6.6 miles roundtrip hike that covered two peaks (Deer Point --- elevation: 8,150 feet, and Coyote Peak, elevaton: 7,990 feet)  and about 1,000 feet of gain and loss along lonely Trail No. 441.
This trailhead is reachable from a number of ways, but the easiest is from the Lone Grave turnoff at U.S. 89 (across from the Silvercrest winter sports recreation area) and driving up a pretty good dirt road (Road #3328) for about 5 miles as if you are going to the Big Baldy turnoff (Road #258 junction).  Instead of going to Big Baldy to the north, go south for a couple of miles.  The trailhead is not far past the better marked Hell Creek trailhead.
We started on what appears to be a trail that the Forest Service wants to discontinue because it has cut trees across most of the way.
A better trailhead (for the same destination) follows a good two track to a marked trailhead and the trail is lower, but parallels the old trail.  Both trails eventually come together below Deer Point.
These trails have been closed to motorcycles and are quiet and shaded.  There is a peace to hiking along them.
Both peaks break out into the open and offer grand views of Big Baldy and Yogo peaks and the vast Middle Fork of the Judith Wilderness Study Area to the east and below.  Deer Point has a rocky top, Coyote Peak is more scenic, reached through a large park of grass and wildflowers.  The long Kelly Mountain ridgeline comes into view from Coyote).
Although temperatures climbed into the mid-90s in Great Falls this day, we were at a relatively cool and comfortable 73 degrees, even out in the open.
Our route from Deer Point to Coyote peaks in the Little Belts