Thursday, January 26, 2023

La Nina's bounty: lots of skiing, shoeing, hiking --- 747, Deadman, Cadotte, South Ridge, Silvercrest, Buffalo Jump

 LaNina, that brings moisture from the Pacific, has really delivered this winter,  bringing warmer than usual temperatures in town, and some of the best snow I've seen in the mountains.

I've been getting out a couple of times a week, mainly in the Little Belts.  I feel like I'm commuting there.

I've now done 747 loop five times this season.   It just keeps getting prettier now that we've added the new, longer loop on this six mile trek. Each trip there's been more snow, enhancing the scenery and making this remote trail on the back side of Porphyry Peak harder to find.  It's such a nice workout, easy to reach and complete in a short day trip.

Subalpine Fir frosted after a snowfall

On the Blackfoot River willow bottom near Cadotte Creek

Snow ghosts that look like little bears

Big Baldy in the Little Belts dominates the horizon

A spring pumps water in pillows of snow

Katie working her way up the Deadman Trail ridge

The newest discovery has been the South Ridge trail, up Forest Service Road 3356, across the road from nearby Silvercrest.  We've stayed away from this trip because it gets heavy snowmobile traffic. We went on a cold, gray Tuesday and encountered only two snowmobilers and there was plenty of powder.  This climbs about 1,100 feet from US 89 four miles to the South Ridge between Big Baldy and Kings Hill mountains.  It affords nice view into the Jefferson Creek drainage, and access to the Deer Point trailhead and Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area.  There's tons of side logging roads and open parks if you're inclined to practice your tele turns.

I got back to Silvercrest for a short snowshoe with Wayne Phillips, and put those shoes back on for a trip on the Deadman trail.

One trip that didn't pan out so well was to Cadotte Creek south of Rogers Pass, where we didn't find really good snow and cut a backcountry ski trip there short.

And, for hiking we hit the Buffalo Jump on a clear, sunny day that afforded us amazing views in every direction, but particularly the Rocky Mountain Front.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

January "heat wave": four more trips --- 747, Silvercrest, Glacier

Laurie Lintner (left) and Katie Kotynski on Lower Two Medicine Lake at Glacier Park boundary

Rising Wolf Mountain in Glacier Park looms large over Lower Two Med Lke

Wayne Phillips tests his new knee at Silvercrest in Little Belts

Our January "heat wave" continues and we have taken full advantage with two 747 loop skis in the Little Belts, a couple of snowshoes at Silvercrest, and our first hike of the year in Glacier National Park.

It's not surprising that the Glacier Park trip was the highlight of this active week.

We were joined by Laurie Lintner of East Glacier Park, who proposed walking south shoreline of Lower Two Medicine Lake, which was covered in solid, walkable ice.  

Laurie has taken us on several off the beaten path trips in the Two Med area, and this was a dandy.

We accessed the shoreline on the Blackfeet Reservation through the Blackfeet campground at the foot of the dam on the Two Medicine River below the lake.  We walked in our spikes about three mile along the lakeshore crossing over to Glacier Park where open water make traveling further impossible.

Along the way we were fascinated by the various animal footprints on the lake.  We had been told that several days before someone had spotted a wolf on the lake.  We had no such luck.  We also checked out an aspen grove where Laurie pointed out elk had been eating the bark off trees.

The day was overcast, so things appeared to be in black and white.  Looming over us at the head of the lake was the valley's biggest mountain, Rising Wolf peak.

During this past week I skied the 6.2 mile 747 Porphyry Peak loop twice.  The snow was absolutely excellent and the sun was out, making those days ever more enjoyable.

Then, there was the delight of getting Wayne Phillips out for his first outdoors snow adventure since his July knee replacement.  We took him to Silvercrest on snowshoes to the overlook.  He was genuinely thrilled to be out, and to discover that despite his slow recovery, he could handle snowshoes.

Saturday, January 07, 2023

Falls Creek winter hike

Falls Creek

The Yak-Trax worked well in the crusted snow

The "minor" falls where we had lunch

Steamboat Mountain above the trailhead

The "Big" Falls Creek Falls

 I really do prefer cross country skiing in winter to hiking.

But, with this warm weather the snow has melted along the foothills of the Rocky Mountain Front, and been replaced with ice.

It was time for the Yak-Trax and hiking was possible on the fifth day of the year.

We settled on the relatively short hike to Falls Creek off the Dearborn River south of Augusta on the edge of the Scapegoat Wilderness.

It's just over a half-mile to the giant falls and another three-quarters of a mile to the smaller, yet beautiful lower falls.

There are numerous other small falls all along this creek.

We had an overcast day with virtually no wind.  The temperature was about 25 degrees.

The air was somewhat fouled by some slash burning going on across the creek where there are high-end recreation cabins.

We were not disappointed by either of the falls, although the red and green "Glacier" shales were muted by the overcast.

There were signs that many others had done this trail ahead of us, and there was an old set of cross country ski tracks.

We occasionally punched through snow, but there were many sections of the trail without snow.

We stopped for lunch at the smaller falls, and then went up the trail to where there is a major creek crossing, and there we turned around and headed back.  The creek was running quite high, possibly from the snow melt.

The trip took about 4.5 hours at a very leisurely pace.

Tuesday, January 03, 2023

A snowshoe, a hike, a backcountry ski brings in 2023

From the Silvercrest Snowshoe overlook, Mounts Neihart Baldy, Long, Big Baldy and Porphyry were in sight.

Mark Hertenstein pauses on our ski trip at the Blackfoot River near Cadotte Creek

Katie beneath the buffalo jump (pishkun)

I don't think I'll keep up this pace, but it was a great way to bring in the new year.

We snowshoed several miles at Silvercrest in the Little Belts on really good snow, about three inches of powder on a good base.

We hiked the rims at the First Peoples' Buffalo Jump State Park near Ulm, enjoying magnificent views of the snow-capped peaks of the Rocky Mountain Front, while finding Indian pictographs and walking through a prairie dog town.  The warm weather and winds had blown the snow away from this park, making hiking a great option.

The snow wasn't quite as good in the Rogers Pass area along the Continental Divide as it was in the Little Belts, so we explored a gulch near Cadotte Creek and skied along the Blackfoot River.   We dealt with winds and a minus 3 temperatures when we got started.  But it warmed up quickly.

I'm always impressed when I hike the buffalo jump park.  It is a terrific place to get a 360 degree view of the splendor of the Great Falls area, the massive buttes like Square and Crown, the Little Belts, the Adel Mountains, the Big Belts and the Highwoods, and of course, the Rocky Mountain Front.

Friday, December 30, 2022

A cold, white Ranch Creek ski to conclude 2022

An iconic image, Porphyry Lookout in winter above Showdown Ski Area

Gordon Whirry coming off Mizpah Peak

At the half-way point, the Mizpah shelter

Whirry ascends steep pitch one laborious sidestep after another

This ski trip will conclude an exceptionally active hiking and skiing season.

Our day was cold and clear, with temperatures at 15 degrees, colder in the trees and warmer in the bright sunlight that broke out around lunch break.

We were concerned that the post-Christmas warmup might have ruined the snow, but those concerns were erased by a couple inches of new powder that had fallen overnight.

We were lucky that someone had skied to about the half-way point at the Mizpah bowls, which gave us a nice track and a guide around the many downed trees and tangles.

About 30 percent of the trip was in powder that would occasionally collapse under our feet, but the other 70 percent was ideal snow.

The overnight snowfall made the 10-mile trip into a white, winter wonderland against a deep, blue sky.

The last couple of miles, where the snowmobile trail intersects with the cross country trail, was a tad rough unpleasant because the snowmobile tracks had been churned and frozen. 

There were lots of signs of big animals, probably elk and moose, which had been moving around.

I prefer the adjacent Nugget Creek route, but this ski trip was just fine.



Sunday, December 18, 2022

Something new in West Fork Teton

The trees are finally coming back from the 2007 fires

Hard to beat the Rocky Mountain Front scenery

We marked up the hillside with our tele turns

 A little experimenting went a long way on our ski in the West Fork Teton country this week.

Normally we ski to the bottom on the road from the Teton Pass Ski Area, and then to the Bob Marshall Wilderness Boundary.

This time, instead of dropping to the bottom, we tried old logging roads in the 2007 burn.

While we had to dodge some downed trees, we found some room to get in some telemark skiing in fairly safe terrain.

It was an ice cold, but clear and windy day, but worthwhile for the exceptional scenery we had at the foot of Mount Wright.

The area could use another foot of snow to make this spectacular, but it was good enough to deliver its potent message that there's still plenty of territory we haven't covered there.

Our trip coincided with the opening of the ski area this season and we climbed one of the bunny runs to test the turns and found a skiff of snow on top packed powder that had been groomed and was icy.

We'll probably be a while before getting another ski in as ultra cold weather moves in during the week before Christmas, with temperatures going down to the minus 30 area.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Ski and snowshoe trips in Little Belts

Katie, Suzie Taleff and Camille Consolvo at warming hut at Silvercrest

The snowshoe trail overlook outcrops at Silvercrest

Crossing the Deadman bowls on backcountry skis

We continue to get great snow in the Little Belts this early season and I took advantage of the powder on two trips over the past couple of weeks:  a back country ski to the Deadman bowls, and my first time snowshoeing at Silvercrest.

Along with all the snow, we've had considerable wind and the snow on the Deadman trip showed it.  There was some icing and crusting, but when we got to the bowls it was powdery enough that Gordon Whirry and I got a chance to do some turns.  We had a bluebird day that complimented pretty good snow when it wasn't exposed to the breezes.

My highlight trip was a snowshoe (of all things!) at Silvercrest with Katie and two other friends.

I'm always reluctant to get out on snowshoes because they are so clunky and slow moving compared to back country skis.  It usually feels like I'm plodding when I'd much rather be gliding.

Katie helps me get into the snowshoes and always offers encouraging words to get me to enjoy the sport.

The powder at Silvercrest was absolutely superb and deep. (I did wish I had my skis with me) I had never been on the snowshoe course and was blown away by its beauty.  Much of it was in the trees, but that opened up into gorgeous parks every so often.  At the end of the trip we climbed to an overlook marked by limestone outcrops with great views of Porphyry Peak and the Showdown ski hill.

The trip was enhanced by lightly falling snow.

One of the reasons it took me so long to try snowshoeing there was that Silvercrest had been developed by the Great Falls Cross Country Ski Club, which wanted to keep it skiing to the exclusion of snowshoeing.  I sided with the skiers.

Gerry and Chuck Jennings had the vision that the area could easily accommodate snowshoe trails. Until this trip I hadn't realized how right they were.

The ski and shoe paths cross each other only occasionally, and we saw no other skiers as we shoed.

Although I'm still not a fan of snowshoeing, I intend to return those Silvercrest trails for some more.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Best early snow in years

Mark Hertenstein pauses on the Mizpah Ridge

Gordon Whirry on the ridge

Mark heading back up after making tele turns in Mizpah bowls

My goodness, the snow has been wonderful.

Yes, it's been plenty cold, with temperatures dipping down to minus 15 in Great Falls in early November.

But, I can't remember the last time the snow was so good in the Little Belts.

In fact, it's been so good that Showdown Ski Area will open up two days after Thanksgiving, the first time it has done so in the past 20 years.  The target date had been Dec. 8.

Usually there's no snow base so early, but this year there's a good base from a heavy, wet snow and there's great powder on top of it.

Since that mid-October ski trip into the Belts, I've returned three more times going to the Mizpah Bowls, the ridge extending east above Weatherwax Creek, and a quick-hit to the ski area itself.

The Mizpah ski yesterday was particularly satisfying.

It was a bluebird day with no particular winds on the ridgeline, and new powder.

The only problem were the numerous trees down over the trail, making the going slow.

But, we were treated sparkling snow (a bit of hoarfrost) and untracked powder.

While the wind was blowing in Great Falls and temperatures rising to the 40s, it didn't get above 20 degrees on this trip.

Our trip above Weatherwax was on a cloudy day and the winds howled. We went up the Deadman Road and returned down a ridgeline from Kings Hill Peak.


Sunday, October 30, 2022

East is east and west is west: Cascadilla Creek

The Western Larch in full, Fall color near Essex

The Rocky Mountain Front in morning alpenglow near Dupuyer

The Cascadilla trail into the Great Bear was littered with cottonwood leaves

Katie at the Great Bear Wilderness boundary

 A trip to western Montana reminded us of the starkly different landscapes on both sides of the mountains. Clear, bold, alpenglow colors lit up the Rocky Mountain Front outside Great Falls on the east side. Just south of Glacier Park the brilliant yellows of the Western Larch in autumnal peak painted the forest.

We had set out to see the height of the larch colors, but on the way to the south end of Glacier Park we were stunned by the beauty of the Rocky Mountain Front as we passed by.

As much as I love the larch, the Front was even more of a spectacle.

Lucky for us, Katie's Marta Clark and her husband, David, who live in Pinnacle west of Essex, had planned a hike into the Great Bear Wilderness Area along the Cascadilla Creek trail that took us to the base of a snowy alpine cirque beneath Nyack Mountain.

This most pleasant trail begins on remnants of Old Highway 2 and then up an old logging road before disappearing just beyond the boundary into the Great Bear.  Part of the trail follows an electric powerline corridor.

What was particularly beautiful about this six-mile roundtrip hike were the many bright, yellow cottonwood leaves that littered the ground.  We gained 1,100 feet on this hike.  The trail, enclosed in larch, Doug Fir, hemlock, aspen and cottonwood, protected us from the high winds in the area.  There was an occasional view of the Glacier Park mountains to the north.

There's still plenty of fall color here in this Middle Fork of the Flathead River area.

The drive itself is breathtaking because of the colorful larch.

On the drive up we stopped at Freezout Lake near Fairfield, hoping to see some of the migrating swans and Arctic geese, but instead saw the vehicles of the many hunters who wanted to shoot them.  No birds for us!

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

First back country ski of the season

 Skiable snow came as easily this week as flipping a switch.

We went from beautiful, colorful, warm and windless Fall weather last week to a wintry blast of snow on Sunday and Monday.

In the old logging road

On a break.  That's the ski hill in the distance.

Neihart Baldy and Long Peak, hammered by snow

And, on Monday morning I went skiing for the first time this season in the Little Belt Mountains.

We went for only three hours and skied just over three miles, but the snow was a heavenly 8 inches or so of power.  Although it's rifle hunting season we were able to stay aware from the hunters.

We went across U.S. 89 from the Silvercrest turnoff up an old logging road that showed great views of Porphyry, Long and Niehart Baldy peaks and seas of fresh powder in the trees.

The ski was particularly significant for me because it allowed me to test where I'm at physically.  I think I'm ready for longer trips with my big goal being able to Nugget Creek this year.

While there has been lots of snow in the mountains and some in town as well, the trees lining Belt Creek retain their golden Fall color, and the trees in town are still hanging on.

Less than I week ago I was still climbing mountains in the Front with temperatures in the 70s.  I faced 20 degree temperatures and a windchill of minus 5 on Monday.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Steamboat (East): last gasp of autumnal color?

The Steamboat ridge

The top was a jumble of rocks making it difficult to decide which was the high point

There were lots of hungry bear roto-tills

The top of Steamboat East

The top of the Bear Den-Monitor ridge line across the Dearborn from Steamboat East

 The problem with keeping records of hikes and climbs is that as I get older I can see my decline vividly.

A case in point was an off-trail climb up Steamboat East from the Dearborn River.

It's something I've done numerous times over the years, the most recent being 2016.

This hike gains nearly 4,000 feet and covers 9.5 miles round trip.

I chose the hike thinking it was quick and easy.

Ten hours later I realized it was neither quick nor easy.

I chose the unofficial climber's trail that starts in a gully about a quarter mile from the forest boundary.

My thought was that the many students at the nearby Montana Wilderness Bible Camp had used this trace and it was improved.

I found that yes, indeed they had, but no, it was less than improved.  The heavy use had created a scree-on-hardpack situation in the steep sections beginning at about Mile 3 from the Dearborn trailhead.

In years past we had avoided this section by attaining a high ridge to the east, and negotiating an easy cliff band.

I was lured in by the climbers' cairns and more improved trail on the less steep part.

On the way up I avoided the first steep area by bushwhacking to the west and then back to the trail after it flattened, only to encounter an even steeper section.  Eventually, I reached the grassy slopes that lead to the summit cap, which was a large pile of limestone rubble, where I climbed three different summits to make sure I got the right peak.

The going was slow and it took 4-1/2 hours to reach the 8,297 feet summit. The views magnificent, if a bit hazy from distant wildfires.  The hike up Steamboat (West) Lookout, though a couple hundred feet higher, is an easier climb because it is all on good trail.

It took just as long to get down because I ended up negotiating the steep trail on my butt an inch at a time for substantial distance.

When I got down the sun had set behind the mountain and I had to use a headlamp with weak batteries to reach my car.

It had been a long time since I had walked out in the dark.

As I related the story to my wife, complaining about the time the hike took and difficulties with the steep trail, she said, "...that's because you're old!"

That deflated me.

But, it is true.

I can't assume that the hikes and climbs will be easy, even if I haven't let up on exercising and hikes.

The drive to the trailhead at the beginning of the day made up for my poor performance, though.

The Sun River cottonwoods and aspen trees were lit up in color.

We've had a most beautiful, prolonged Fall.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Two iconic Glacier hikes: Firebrand and Apgar Lookout

Crimson vegetation fringed our Apgar Lookout trail

Lake McDonald below Apgar Lookout

Firebrand Pass behind us

We had a color show like none other I've seen on our Firebrand hike

The aspen were in full glory on the Firebrand hike

 Such an extended period of un-windy, warm and glorious Fall weather!

We squeezed in two more Glacier hikes this week:  one to Firebrand Pass on the southeast side of the park, and Apgar Lookout on the southwest.

Lots of driving, but enjoyable driving because the Fall has been so beautiful.

On the east side the cottonwoods and aspen are in full glory.  On the west side the larch colors are just beginning to emerge. The aspen are mostly gone there, but the cottonwoods are golden.

The reds, orange and yellows on both Firebrand and Apgar just knocked our eyes out.

There was extremely light traffic on the 10-mile Firebrand hike --- only seven other people.

Apgar Lookout, above Lake McDonald, was more heavily traveled, but not unreasonable.  We were early hikers, so we saw only two parties on top.  There is still a lot of smoke in the air in the Flathead Valley, obscuring views.  On top we had more clear views of the Livingston Range into the park and I could see Lake McDonald and all the way to the Garden Wall fairly clearly.   The hike is 7.2 miles and about 1,900 feet of elevation gain.

The Firebrand country is one of my favorite spots because it is so remote and is one of those hikes that can be done quickly if you don't have much time.  Forest fire smoke also filled this valley.

Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Winifred, Rierdon, Waterton: elk, Fall colors (eastern larch)

Katie with the eastern larch in full color at Upper Rowe Lake at Waterton Park

This big bruiser stayed busy with his harem of 40 cows and fending off intruding young bulls at Slippery Ann in the Missouri River Breaks

On top the Rierdon Gulch Ridge

 My, this has been a busy time.

In the past 10 days we've been to Salt Lake City for Katie's son's wedding, traveled to the Missouri Breaks near Winifred to view the annual elk rut at Slippery Ann, ascended the Rierdon Ridge, and done three days in the Waterton Lake National Park and nearby Castle Mountain Provincial Park.

The new Astro Turf football field at Winifred High School, compliments of $40 million school project donated by Winifred native Norman Asborjnson

Slippery Ann-Winifred

The Slippery Ann trip has become an annual event.  This time we brought along several friends to enjoy the elk mating ritual along the Breaks, and we weren't disappointed. The herds were large, close and very noisy bugling.

Instead of camping, we traveled to nearby Winifred (population 163), an extremely isolated ag trade center to stay at the International House, an upscale hotel in this outpost.

We discovered why there's such a ritzy place there when we had a chance meeting with its out of state owner, Norman Asborjnson, a Tulsa heating and cooling magnate who grew up in Winifred.

He's shared his $500 million fortune with his hometown by giving it $40 million to overhaul its school of 110 pupils.

The upgrade includes an Astroturf football field, an airplane hangar with three planes to teach flying, and the highest tech instructional equipment available.

Asborjnson has been funding full ride scholarships to Winifred High School graduates for the past four years.

This stop was even more impressive than the impressive elk show.

On the way home we reveled in our central Montana trip, stopping at the ghost town and boot hill cemetery of Kendall in the North Mocassin Mountains, driving the highway between Hilger and Fort Benton, and enjoying the golden cottonwoods in that river town.

Gordon Whirry atop the Rierdon Ridge in the Rocky Mountain Front.  Ear Mountain in distance.

Rierdon Gulch Ridge

It was an odd summer for hiking without buddies Gordon Whirry and Mark Hertenstein.  But, we finally got together after my Slippery Ann trip and we headed for the fall colors in Rierdon Gulch in the Rocky Mountain Front on the South Fork Teton Road.

We had set out to do an out and back to the saddle between Rierdon and Slim gulches where the Bob Marshall Wilderness began.

But, I got seduced by the Rierdon Ridge about three miles into the hike, and we bushwhacked up to a 8,177 feet unnamed peak, a climb of 1,600 over less than a mile.

The suffering was worth it, though, for the remarkable views along that ridge line.

To the west there were Rocky and Baldy peaks, two of the highest in the Bob.  To the east, Ear Mountain;  north, the sweep of mountains all the way to Glacier Park; to the south, the Scapegoat country.

It was relatively clear and sunny with no wind, so we bathed in the sunlight.

We walked for some distance down the ridgeline back north above our trail below. It became a bushwhack.  It was very much unlike the ridge line to the south, which Gordon and I had done last year, an open, grassy walk.  We had hoped to drop back to the trail at a low point marked by an outcropping we had spied while hiking below.  Unfortunately, we missed that outcrop and started down prematurely and extremely steeply before reaching the trail as Rierdon Gulch began to run out of daylight.

We reached the trail by about 7 p.m., in time to watch the full, harvest moon rise.

As Mark would say, we left no daylight on the table.

Katie at Upper Rowe Lake in Waterton

A beaver dam at Castle Mountain Provincial Park near Pincher Creek, Alberta

Waterton and Castle Mountain Provincial Park

We had a pleasant visit with Laura and Barry Webster who ranch outside Mountain View, Alberta about 12 miles from Waterton Lakes National Park.

Laura is Katie's Canadian counterpart for a women's hiking group, and the two of them have coordinated hikes on both sides of the border.  

This trip was for Laura to show us the Barnaby Lakes in the Castle Mountain Provincial Park, immediately north of Waterton in the Canadian Rockies.  She also took us the the elk rutting grounds at Waterton near the Horse Stables on the Waterton flats where we saw the bulls with their harems in full rut.

Laura also suggested hiking to Upper Rowe Lake off the Cameron Lake Road in Waterton to view the east side (of the Continental Divide) larch.  We did that hike of just under 10 miles and enjoyed a spectacular display of that tree in full color.  It is a spindlier, smaller tree compared with the western larch on the west side of Glacier National Park, which we view annually in late October.  However, it was quite a treat to see these trees in their golden splendor.

We were impressed with the the lake, that sits in an amphitheater of high rocks between Rowe and Lineham peaks.  I had seen this lake from above when I did the Blakiston to Lineham ridge walk with Mark years ago.

The following day we started up the Barnaby ridge in Castle Mountain Park, a very steep climb, but had to turn back because of high winds.  This is a hike I'll want to return to.  The park is located west of Pincher Creek, an interesting crossroads shopping area where the horizons are dominated by wind generators pumping out lots of alternative electricity.  Castle Mountain Park was set aside by Alberta as a provincial park in 2017, and has a wilderness component and a large downhill ski area is on its flank.

We had amazing views of the Canadian Rockies from vantage points on our ill-fated ridge walk, and it opened me up to wanting to return.