Friday, March 27, 2009

March skiing

Friday March 27 I went cross country skiing with Joyce, Kendra and Greg. The end of March is getting late in the season to be skiing but there was still plenty of snow in the foothills where we skied. Which was... on the way to Jewel Basin in the Swan Range.

The snow was crunchy and a little slick but still decent for skiing. We had old ski tracks to follow and I found they were a touch narrow. At times I could feel the crunchy snow rub the sides of my shoes. When I wasn't in the tracks sometimes that worked well if I was able to make new tracks, and other times not so good as I skittered across the top of the hard snow that was wavy from drifting. The temperature this day barely got above freezing so the snow remained hard all day.

Even though it was near where Greg and Kendra live, they hadn't skied there. In the past they had just noticed cars with some skis parked along the road to Camp Misery. When we arrived there were no cars (after all this was a week day) and the parking area was a large lightly frozen water puddle. We didn't see tracks or an obvious place to ski to the south of the road so we drove onward. And upward.

The road went upward and had more and more snow as we continued onward. Pickups had driven this when the weather was warmer and the single lane road had wheel ruts. Joyce's car is a two-wheel drive and not so high, so we decided to turn around when we came to a small area with enough room to do so.

Back at the "water puddle" we checked the north side of the road and saw a gate and ski tracks. We got our skis on and away we went.

The area is state land that had been partially logged. We followed a large loop in a clockwise manner. The terrain was mainly flat with a few hills that we had to go down. Carefully, as the snow did not allow for snowplowing or steering.

Here part of the snow melted and I had to thread my way along this bank to get down to Greg and Kendra below.

Even though the old ski tracks did not go into side trails we went down a couple of them and discovered: dead ends.

Greg and Kendra's dog, Max, joined us. Max would also lead the way even though I skied in the lead and Greg and Kendra were further behind me.

For some strange reason we ran across several child toys along the way partially buried in the snow.

The 'return' part was south along the road and we decided to take a side trail (that had ski tracks) away from the road. This side trail led us around and back into the north side of the loop. We had to backtrack most of the way towards the road until we got to new growth where we had room to ski through the trees.  We made our own trail until we reconnected to the outer loop trail.

Along the way one of Joyce's ski poles broke. I suggested breaking a length of a dead branch and she used that to help her ski back to the car. Here Joyce is holding her good and bad ski poles in her right hand and the branch in her left.

We skied for two hours and twenty minutes so I estimate we had skied four miles.

After we finished skiing we returned to Greg and Kendra's home for a delicious meal of lasagna, sandwiches, humus and conversation.

Our skiing view of the Swan Range.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Camas Road ski

Sunday afternoon, March 8, Patti showed up at my door to ask if I wanted to go skiing with her. Even though it was snowing and blowing outside and somewhat storming, how could I say no?

I grabbed my skis and a few items and off we went in her four-wheel drive Suburu. The roads were snow covered and the traffic was light. East of Columbia Falls we encountered a brief whiteout condition as the strong winds blew lots of snow across the road.  Once we got through Badrock Canyon the wind subsided and we could see better.

We first stopped at a place, near the KOA campground, along Hwy 2 where Patti likes to ski. I am not sure if it was state or federal land but it had a trail looping though the trees. Two vehicles were parked at the entrance and we found fresh ski tracks and next to those, fresh snowshoe tracks. The vehicles were gone when we got back to Patti's car and in their place was a woman preparing to go skiing.

The loop took us less than 45 minutes and I estimate it was about 2 miles long.

We then headed to Glacier Park to ski on the Camas Road.

At the gate to Camas Road we found one set of ski tracks in the new snow. Patti and I skied to McGee Meadow and the tracks went beyond that so we assume the skier skied the entire distance from the North Fork Road to the gate, a distance of about 12 miles.

It was a long slog up to the top of Camas Road. This was all the further Patti had skied in the past but I encouraged her to ski to McGee Meadow. It is only six miles... one way.

I hadn't skied there from this direction so several times I thought it was "just around the bend" when it wasn't.

Along the way we had live trees and we had dead trees. These dead trees were from the Robert fire back in 2003.

We made it all the way to McGee Meadow. After talking a few photos of us with the meadow and mountains in the background we headed back to the car. I had snow over a good part of me as I had fallen over when getting ready to take Patti's photo.

Patti was ahead of me as I stopped to take photos along the way. During the long downhill she stopped and waited for me. In the twilight she had seen a large animal up ahead on the road. We had seen plenty of moose tracks earlier but Patti wanted to make sure it was not a bear who had woken up from a hibernation. I skied ahead to get a closer look. The animal saw us and heard Patti calling out warnings to me. It turned and went back into the trees from whence it came. When we got to where it had been the tracks appeared to be moose tracks. No bear. Patti was pleased as she hadn't brought her bear spray.

As we skied on we kept an eye out in case the moose came back out and charge us. It didn't.

Not to say it was quiet in the deep snow and under the moonlight. With the setting of the sun the temperature dropped. As we skied we could hear crack!... Crack!... CRACK! to our right in the trees. We looked and looked searching for the moose or a bear or whatever moving through the trees. Then nothing. Then more cracking sounds. What is it?! A bit later I heard the cracking sounds on our left. Eventually I decided the cracking sounds were the trees as the temperature quickly dropped. What else could it have been?

The moon rose NE over the mountains and Lake McDonald. So beautiful.

Okay, maybe my photo doesn't quite capture it. You had to be there.

Onward we skied. To keep warm and to get back to the car before it got too dark.

We did stay warm as we skied. But the dark caught up to us before we reached Patti's car.

Order of business (to be completed as quickly as possible!):
  1. take off our skis
  2. start the car
  3. turn the car's heater on
  4. toss the skis and stuff into the car
  5. take this photo
  6. jump into the car

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Strawberry Lake Road ski

Saturday, March 7 I skied with Joyce, Kendra, and Greg on forest service road 5390 that goes to the trail head for Strawberry Lake in the Jewel Basin. Apparently our jaunt to Bowman Lake earlier in the week didn't scare off Kendra and Greg from skiing with Joyce and I.

Kendra and Greg live a short distance from where we skied and know the area.

The forest service road is closed for the winter to vehicles which made it perfect for skiing. We had gotten a few inches of snow a few days earlier so we had fresh snow to ski on. The new snow depth wasn't much and the snow was slippery/fast in some areas. Also the road was not flat for the most part as much of it went consistently up, though at a mostly reasonable rate.

Along the way we saw a tree whose bark had been clawed off by a bear.

We met a young couple who were returning. The man was pulling a green plastic sled which was fully enclosed. A very young child - almost a baby - was inside and sleeping soundly. The man pulling the sled was getting a workout!

The young couple didn't go all the way to the end of the road as I noticed from their ski tracks they had turned around a half mile or so from the end when the road got steeper. We were then the only tracks as we continued on to the end.

Greg and Kendra brought their dog, Max, with us.

At the end of the road the trail to Strawberry Lake began with a simple bridge over a creek. I had been here once before in the 1990s when I hiked up to Strawberry Lake on this trail.

On the way back I did well skiing down the steeper sections and turns and only did one or two controlled crashes where I couldn't get turned correctly and at that speed was heading to go off the trail and into the trees.

Once I got to the less steep areas I was skiing slowly when I crashed. Sure, I make it down the steep sections and crash when it got easier. This fall has me tangled and my shoe came off the ski. Earlier that week I had fallen over and cracked the sole of my left shoe. Now the part of the sole from the crack under the ball of my foot to the front came off the shoe.

When I crashed I almost got run over as Joyce and Kendra were close behind me. I moved and they moved just enough that they got by. Greg ended up crashing.

Unlike the previous time where my right shoe's sole came off I wasn't unable to clip my shoe into the ski. The skis I was using were Bill's and they had a slightly different hold mechanism for the shoe and I couldn't pinch the front of my shoe into the ski.

I had two miles left to ski down hill.  I had no choice but to try to ski by placing my shoe on the ski without locking it in. In effect skiing on one and a half skis.

For the most part this worked. However when I encountered rough snow this would cause the ski to leave my foot. Then one time there was a patch of ground and my ski suddenly stopped while I kept going. *crash*

Other than the young couple we saw earlier the only other people we met was a guy on a snowmobile pulling another guy on skis up the road. Naturally I had to meet them when I was pretty much skiing on one ski. Thankfully I was able to stay to one side of the road as we passed each other.

I made it down the mountain but I tell you it was harder than skiing up!

I made it to the parking lot well before the others. How did that happen? "Watch out! Crazy guy on one ski coming through!"

While waiting for the others I noticed a car with a large bumper sticker on the driver's door. I liked the sticker though I wouldn't have placed it on my car door.

After we finished skiing we returned to Greg and Kendra's home to have a meal and chat. They had canned antelope they had made and this made excellent sandwiches along with brussel sprouts.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Bowman Lake ski

Monday, March 2, I skied to Bowman Lake with Joyce, her daughter Kendra, and Kendra's boyfriend, Greg. Sue Ann did not come along as she wasn't feeling well.

Since Bowman Lake is in the NW part of Glacier, and the distance from Columbia Falls to Polebridge (outside the park) is 35 miles on a rough gravel road, we left early. Joyce picked me up at 7:30 am and we met Kendra and Greg in Columbia Falls. We started skiing after 9 am.

A short distance south of Polebridge, as we were driving on the North Fork Road, through the thin pine trees we saw a large herd of elk mostly sitting and wintering in an open meadow on private property west of the road. The elk must have numbered 50 or so. Later that afternoon when we returned from our ski trip we saw the elk spread out in the meadow and trees eating.

We stopped at a rest area just outside the Park. When we got out of Joyce's car we discovered her right rear car tire was low. Greg and I changed the tire and we used the doughnut spare tire as a replacement. Joyce later found the flat tire had a small nail.

In the rest area along the north fork of the Flathead River were three men who had camped the previous night in their tents. The morning temperature wasn't bad as it was in the mid 20s, but they had a chilly night. They planned to cross country ski to the Big Meadow area on the road to Kintla Lake. I believe it is 4 miles one way.

When we started out we noticed a pair of skis and a backpack near the entrance gate. I didn't think much of it as I thought it belonged to one of the three men. I later learned it didn't.

The snow was good for skiing and the temperature was nice even without the sun. In fact we were happy not to have the sun as we were concerned it would make the snow too sticky for skiing. It wasn't long before we were shedding our coats and winter gear. I ended up skiing in just my shirt and pants and was plenty warm.

There were a number of ski and snowshoe tracks. Enough to follow but not so many as to mess up a good pair of ski tracks.

For about half the distance to Bowman Lake we skied through the open area where the 1988 fire burned the trees. The trees are coming back but it is slow going.

We saw lots of tracks including lots of wolf tracks. Big tracks. A few times we heard wolves howling briefly off in the distance here and there. Later a park ranger told us people camping at Bowman Lake the previous Saturday watched as five wolves chased a deer from the campground area out onto the lake ice. The wolves caught the deer a few miles out on the ice.

I am a stronger skier than the others and I reached the lake well before them. I decided to ski to the bridge over the creek's outlet from the lake. Beyond the bridge I stayed away from the open water but I skied onto the lake and over to the SE corner where the ranger house and boat houses are located.

Then further over to the east I saw a pole sticking out of the ice with a deer leg attached to the top. On the pole were a number of metal wires.

Having read the blog by the winter caretakers of the Many Glacier Hotel I realized this pole was for a study of wolverines. The short metal wires would catch the hair of any animal climbing the tall pole to reach the deer leg. I saw no sign of tracks in the snow or hair on the wires.

I skied out on the lake and found the strange object to be a large rock sticking up through the ice. The ice was covered with a thick layer of snow but every so often I could see the ice. I couldn't tell how thick the ice was but it seemed thick. It should have been as the weather had been pretty cold prior to my trip. However seeing long cracks every so often made me watchful and cautious.

I skied away from and around the open water as I headed back to the boat launch area. Joyce and my group began shouting for me as I was still out of sight around a bend on the lake. When I got back to them I discovered a park ranger was there. Those were his skis and backpack I saw at the gate. Sue Ann later ran into him in Columbia Falls and the ranger told her he was surprised to see skiers out so early.

The park ranger, along with another park ranger, were leading three secret service men on a back country camping trip. These secret service men had accompanied Laura Bush and her girlfriends a few years back when they visited Glacier as part of their annual get together at a national park. These secret service guys fell in love with Glacier and have come back yearly for a winter back county camping trip.

This day, a Monday, their goal was the head of the lake. Tuesday they would ski up to Brown Pass and camp. Beyond that the rangers would be returning while the secret service men planned to continue to Goat Haunt and then return south to the Sun Road and then to Lake McDonald.

This is a challenging route in the summer much less in winter and on skis.

These guys were friendly and in good humor. They stopped at the boat launch area to take a break from skiing and carrying their large backpacks before they continued on to their destination for the day. Joyce had questions and they showed their skis to her and us. They had alpine cross country skis and skins they would attach when climbing up to Brown Pass. One guy had a boot inside a boot and had to take both off to get to his sock. One agent said they got new better skis for this year's trip after last year's trip. Everything looked very nice and most likely were light weight and expensive.

One ranger and one agent looked so ruggedly handsome they could be models. I later learned the one ranger formerly did model. The one agent looked movie star handsome: over 6 foot tall and not a hair out of place. The other agents and ranger were solid but were people who could blend into a crowd. I am sure most women would swoon over these guys. I noticed Joyce sure asked the handsome agent plenty of questions about their trip. He towered over little Joyce.

The first ranger had mentioned that the others were secret service agents. None of us asked them about being a secret service agent. I don't know... maybe because they were on a great adventure and we had plenty to ask them about their trip, or maybe because the word "secret" made me less likely to ask them about their job.

These guys were all looking forward to their trip. Their main concern was the weather. Not of cold, but with warm. Rain was in the forecast. I later learned it rained Monday and Tuesday while the rangers were out there. I wonder how the agents fared as a cold front came through Wednesday night and Thursday and stormed and dropped lots of snow. The agents then mostly likely were high up on the trail between Goat Haunt and the Sun Road.

The two rangers are on the left.

After the rangers and agents left across the lake we left also. I was so torn... I wanted to join those guys on their adventure. Of course I couldn't as I had no backpack or back country equipment.

We weren't far from the lake when we met three men skiing to the lake. They, along with three others, were staying at the Wurtz forest service cabin further up the North Fork road towards Canada. One of them was from Choteau, Montana and I asked if he was "Ear Mountain" from the web site. No, but he knew who Ear Mountain was.

After chatting for a short while with the men we continued on. We met two women skiing to the lake. One was friendly and said "hi" back to me, the other noncommittal. Then at the top of a short hill were four more women. They waited for us to ski up the hill before they headed down. These must be the six women the guys said were staying at the Ben Rover Cabin (and another link to a cabin description is here) just outside the park near Polebridge. The six women were all attractive and appeared to be in their 30s to mid 40s). They said "hi" but seemed to be wanting to get to the lake and we didn't take time to chat.

A half hour from the lake I caught up to two young men. They had not been to the lake as they did not know how close they were. I and the others convinced them that since they had skied this far they had to turn around and go all the way to the lake. They took our advice.

The rangers told us about an elk calf carcass from a wolf kill a few days earlier. We missed it when we skied to the lake as we thought that ski tracks off the road were from people going to the bathroom. Greg did mention that he thought he smelled a dead animal when we skied in.

On the way out we watched for the carcass. I was in the lead. It was well after we passed the carcass and had gone down a big hill that Greg said he saw the carcass. He was well behind us at the time. He never shouted his find to us. Grrr!

Apparently the carcass was off the north side of the road where we had spotted the fur on the road when we stopped and studied it on the way to the lake. The fur looked to be cut and not torn. The fur was on the road on the south side and in our study of it we didn't look off the road to the north and see the carcass. And my sense of smell must be poor as I didn't smell anything.

And I don't know what was wrong with me as on the way out I missed seeing the fur again as I was busy checking the north side of the road for signs where ski tracks had gone off the road. I missed both the ski tracks and the fur - though I did find where someone had skied off the road to go to the bathroom. Yellow snow.

During our trip back to the car the snow was a bit stickier, but not too bad. It was sticky enough to help slow us down on the bigger hills which was nice. Especially as one big hill had a turn with a steep drop off on the outer side.

I never crashed on this trip until near the end when I stood to take a photo of a sign and I fell over. A simple fall and I ended up cracking the sole of my left shoe. Remember this as this factors in my next ski adventure.

We skied 12.6 miles (I skied 14 miles as I skied out on the lake and off the road on my way back to check out where a side road went (a gravel/sand area and a place for the Park to dump unused and broken tables and odds and ends)). Our total time was about 5 hours, or almost 2 and 1/2 mph (including our time at the lake). We are not speedy skiers.

I counted the number of people who had signed in at the entrance, and including us, I counted 19 total skiers.

On our drive back to Kalispell we saw a half dozen or more pickups and trailers on the side of the road gathering firewood. This area was the site of the Moose and Robert fires of 2002 and 2003. One can get a permit to gather firewood from the national forest. It is tough to cut down a tree and get it out to the road when it is cold and snow. I noticed that some men worked on steep hillsides where it was easier to roll the trees down to the road.

Either these men misjudged the amount of firewood they needed for the winter else they are trying to gather and sell firewood in order to make some money. Times are tough in the Valley as the unemployment rate is now 11.3%. And this number apparently doesn't count all the self employed or independent building contractors without jobs as being their own boss most can't collect unemployment and don't count in the numbers.

Anyway, here are a few more photos...

Photos of Bowman Creek. The mountains in photo 1 are those we see when we get to Bowman Lake.

Stop signs in the middle of nowhere.

Several views on the road to Bowman Lake.

This photo shows the remnants of the 1988 fire along the road to Bowman Lake. The Whitefish Range (outside the Park) is in the background.

Numa Lookout as seen from the boat launch at the foot of Bowman Lake.
It is a nice hike to, and a nice view from, the lookout.

During the drive home on the North Fork road I took these three photos of Huckleberry Mountain. I have not been to the top but I plan to hike up to that lookout this year.