Friday, June 21, 2013

Ultima Thule.

The Clearwater delivered again as the undiscovered capital of late season snow. Drifts block the road at just 6400 feet and I saw up to 7 feet at 8000 feet. Like everywhere around here, last year the snow was deeper here and Tom Beal Park Road was blocked much lower in mid-June, but everything has been flushed out earlier this spring.

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Well, the Clearwaters aren’t completely undiscovered. I was huffing up the road early on Saturday when I heard machines approaching – it turned out to be two guys with skis strapped to their ATVs. The lead guy sort of apologized for the noise and stink. I went back on Sunday and from the ruts in the snow it looked like they had an awful time trying to get out.

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Were those 28 turns in upper Colt Killed Cirque the season’s last? Probably. It’s tempting to go on, and follow the snow northwards and uphill, but at some point that sort of skiing goes from fulfilling a goal to a search for a distant place which, as the Greeks said, is “beyond the borders of the known world”.

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Days on skis 2012-2013: 83.

Rocks thrown into the Clark Fork after skiing: too many to count.

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Second edition.

The Mountaineer reprinted my two hiking guides (or mini-guides, or guidelets). The price went up from $5 to $6.95 but the offset is a fresh design and color photos. Although the photos are not mine overall it's a much nicer looking book.

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These hikes grew out of the weekly hiking column that I wrote for The Mountaineer and The Guide when Laura and I lived in Waynesville. I think I put together the first guide -- Western North Carolina's 25 Best Hikes -- midway through the third hiking season, or when I had done about 60 weekly hikes. But since I kept on hiking -- I think I did some 110 hikes -- it was inevitable that almost as soon as the guide book came out I found hikes that were better than the aforementioned 25 "best". But -- there's a caveat. The best hikes I found in Western North Carolina were longer ones -- generally 17 miles or more, and although they were much higher quality hikes I doubt the book would be as sellable if the hikes described were 20 miles instead of a more manageable 5. (After the first guide came out, I was talking with Jay, who worked at Mast General Store, one day, trying to pitch the idea of "Western North Carolina's 25 Most Difficult One-day Hikes." "I don't think that would sell," he said.)

The second guide was easier and I probably would not change a thing -- Western North Carolina's 25 Best Easy Waterfall Hikes. There are far fewer waterfall hikes than there are non-waterfall hikes, so what I cataloged in the second guide was just about all there was. Anyway, it's fun to reread the descriptions of those earlier hikes. Those were some good times.

Hiking in the South was much different than hiking in Montana -- not that the hikes in North Carolina are not as good as those in Montana, but it's safe to say they are on different planes of existence. So just to keep it real, here's a picture of a baby wielding an ice axe:

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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The fat season.

At 5 a.m. downtown Missoula has a surprising amount of traffic: trucks pulling drift boats, minivans hauling campers, and Subarus loaded with skis, bikes, or kayaks (and sometimes all three). This is the fat season in Montana, when everything seems possible.

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(Central Missions from Red Butte on June 1: an interesting exploration that netted little skiing.)

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(Pushing off from just below the summit of St. Mary, rushing to duck morning storms moving in from the south.)

This year’s fat season began a few weeks ahead of last year’s, and a month or more ahead of the year before that. Warm spell early in April; little new snow through May.

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(Hoodoo Pass on June 8; last year the snow line was nearly 1,000 feet lower.)

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(Stateline Mountains.)

After looking at Illinois Peak all day Saturday I decided to have a go at it on Sunday – never mind the fact that I’ve only heard of one person skiing it before. A bust. I missed my alarm and slept until 5, was stopped by a fallen tree a mile from the summer trailhead, and somehow even though I spent hours gazing at the peak I failed to notice that the approach was entirely melted out and the mainline run would deposit a skier a mile or more from the approach trail.

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(Sleeping in meant I missed this guy.)

Driving down the canyon in the afternoon I was surprised to see a man pushing a lawn mower out of the forest. Turns out the guy’s family has an old mining claim there, long unproductive, but he likes to keep the ghost town around the claim tidied up. He led me into what he said was the jail, a stack of rocks sunk into the hillside (or the hillside has since grown around it).

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“The jail had room for two people,” he said. “So when a third came in, one of the first two had to be hung.”