Posts from March 2009


Welcome Spring?
Posted March 30, 2009

This is my last post for the 2008-2009 season. I hope you've enjoyed my winter!

During the past week, when temperatures reached the 60s I saw bluebirds, meadowlarks, sandhill cranes and flocks of snow geese. It was pleasant hearing the meadowlarks singing on the prairie.

I used the past tense there because spring seems to have taken a spring vacation. We got enough snow last Thursday that I had to shovel my front walk. That's the first real shoveling I've done since mid January.

Then this past weekend we received another foot of snow blown into nice deep drifts. It was that wet heavy kind of snow. Drifts to three and four feet required quite a bit of effort to clear. Got that done Sunday evening and this morning I find I have a few more inches to move aside. And two more storms are forecast for Tuesday and Thursday this week.

So spring is definitely on Spring Vacation. But at least the backcountry skiing will be good for a while longer -- if I can just get out there to enjoy it.

Since my focus the rest of spring will be on backcountry skiing I have begun to prepare my skis for groomed trails for summer storage. Rather than repeat the description of the process here I'll point you to a post from March 2008 called Spring Cleaning and Summer Storage.

I hope you all have a great fun packed spring and summer. I'll be out doing my photography thing, camping, hiking, backpacking and climbing. If you'd like to keep track of my summer outings visit the ChoteauCam on my Ear Mountain Photography website.

I look forward to your visit to Ralph's Blog in early October 2009. See you then!


Skiing to the North Fork of the Teton
Posted March 26, 2009
What's This?

We spotted several of these interesting snow formations on our ski down to the North Fork of the Teton. They are fairly common on warm days. Do you know how they were formed?

I'll provide the answer at the end of this post.

The weather forecast for Sunday was iffy. Rain, wet snow and poor visibility was expected. Nevertheless April, Jen, Ron and I decided to explore part of the big Fool Creek burn north of the Teton Pass Ski Area.

This ski is different than most the we do because we start up high and ski downhill first. We then have to retrace our route and climb back uphill to the starting point.

The past several days had been quite warm but Saturday night was cold. This then formed a firm and icy crust on the snow which made for some quick downhill running. The day began to warm and the sun came out so the snow softened and the skiing improved.

The area north of the Teton Pass Ski Area was burned in 2007 by the Fool Creek fire. The scenery was still quite interesting. Dead burned trees stood everywhere but we still got good views of the surrounding terrain. Our ski began way up on the hills in the background of the photo above.


Jen and Ron at the North Fork Teton Cabin.

Down along the North Fork of the Teton River there is a cabin maintained by the Forest Service. It is available for rent but we stopped there only for lunch. It was warm and toasty in the sunshine.

Clouds began to roll in so we decided to head back up the hill. We got a little snow shower but soon the sun began to peak through the clouds again.

The ski back up is fairly flat until we passed the West Fork of the Teton (above left). After that it was mostly uphill.

And getting back to the round snow formations, the above photo might help interpret how they form. On warm days when the snow is wet and soft some snow or rocks will fall off a steep slope and begin rolling down the hill. More and more snow collects just like when we build a snow man. Eventually the roll gets so big it falls over like the one at the beginning of this post.

Flattop Mountain
Posted March 18, 2009

The sky was clear Friday morning and the rising sun lit up the mountains as I headed to Marias Pass for a ski/snowshoe trip to the summit of Flattop Mountain.


The Rocky Mountain Front near my home north of Choteau.

I arrived at Marias Pass on the south edge of Glacier National Park before the plows got to the parking area. Fearing that drifting snow would block the entrance while I was gone I left my pickup on the side of US 2 at the pass.

It was in the 20s and there was several inches of new powder. This made for an easy uphill ski to the end of the Pike Creek Road. A few snowmobilers had done some "grooming" as well. Up high, near the end of the road, the wind and warm temperatures of previous days had put a pretty good crust on the snow. I decided to snowshoe instead of ski up the remaining few hundred feet to the summit.

The snowshoes worked well keeping me near the top of the snow where there was powder and provided good grip on the icy sections. Before long I was approaching the summit.

On top the wind had been scoured the snow into fascinating patterns. Looking around there were pretty good views into Glacier National Park as well.


Looking northwest into Glacier National Park from the summit of Flattop Mountain. The peaks from Left to right are Elk Mountain, Sheep Mountain, Brave Dog Mountain and Little Dog Mountain.

The colder air on top soon began to creep in so I ducked off the summit for a quick luncheon. Then it was a quick snowshoe down to my skis and a good fast run down to the road.


Dancing Lady Ridge
Posted March 18, 2009

I met April and Gary in East Glacier on Sunday morning for a backcountry ski. It was windy and snowing pretty hard making for interesting travel toward Marias Pass. So we decided to ski the easier forested areas just at the edge of town.

There was plenty of snow that had a firm surface. Six inches of Powder on top made for some really good skiing.

We skied a trail that took as to and then right along the boundary of Glacier National Park. When we reached the Autumn Creek Trail we skied up that to its highest point on Dancing Lady Ridge. The uphill was fairly easy. The downhill run back to town was pure enjoyment. The snow was silky soft and while the temps were fairly warm the snow was not too sticky. Another great day in Montana.


Skiing the Middlefork of the Teton
Posted March 12, 2009

This time of year in Montana brings a lot of variety to winter play. Besides skiing the groomed track there is unlimited backcountry skiing and even some snowshoe possibilities.

I enjoyed a casual ski up the valley of the Middlefork of the Teton River west of Choteau, Montana. We'd had a bout with temperatures in the -20 range over the past week. Today though, it was warm (15 F) and sunny. Except for the relatively thin snow in a few places it was the perfect day to ski.


Cave Mountain above the confluence of the Middle and North Forks of the Teton River.

I parked near the unplowed road to the Cave Mountain campground. This is an easy ski with easy grades and nice views.


Looking up the Middlefork of the Teton River. On open sunny slopes like the one in the foreground the snow was thin.

Someone had recently skied the first couple of miles of the trail and some snow shoers had packed the base sometime before that. Where the snow was deep there was a good packed trail with 6 inches or so of fresh powder on top. In a few of the thin spots I felt my skis scrape rocks. I didn't like the idea of scratching the bases of my skis. It reminded me of a comment my daughter made once long ago, "If your skis have no scratches it just means your not skiing !"

The scenery was beautiful, the sun was warm and the light breeze kept me cool. A great way to spend the afternoon.

Feeling the firm base underneath I realized that the inevitable transition toward spring has begun. I'd better get out and enjoy as many opportunities to ski as I can because before long the snow will disappear. Then I'll have to take up hiking again.


A Snowshoe to Mount Brown Lookout
Posted March 12, 2009

A week after the Birkie I joined a group of folks from the Glacier Mountaineering Society on a trip up Mount Brown. You might recall that I did a hike up there late in November 2008. Conditions this time included much more snow and much better visibility.

The snow low in the McDonald Valley of Glacier National Park had been through a warm period which resulted in a firm base. On top of that was a bunch of fresh powder. The sky was blue and the temps were in the teens and twenties all day. On top of that there was no wind. What more could you ask for.

There were about 12 folks on the trip. This created a well packed snowshoe trail allowing us to reach the lookout in less than three and a half hours.


Rhonda making her way up through the deep snow on Mount Brown.

The higher we got the better the views became. By the time we approached the lookout everything was coated in snow. No matter which way you looked the view was tremendous.


The final ridge leading to the Mount Brown Lookout.


The 2009 BarneBirkie
Posted March 5, 2009

Almost 1,000 Barnebirkie Skiers ages 3-13 years old braved cold weather to participate in the 2009 Swiss Miss Barnebirkie. Skiers enjoyed a finish to a cheering crowd on Hayward's Main Street, cookies and Swiss Miss hot chocolate at the finish line. Congratulations Barnebirkie Skiers! There is no better way to describe the Barnebirkie than through photos. I hope you enjoy them.

This years BarneBirkie was a little shorter than originally planned. Event organizers, always concerned for the safety of the kids in this event, decided to not have the young skiers out on Lake Hayward while the wind chill values were well below zero. Skiers started on Market Place Avenue, skied around the Associated Bank and headed up Main Street.