The chickadees can be heard calling out to potential mates with their mating call, the once pristine piles of snow in town have been reduced to hunks of dirty, gritty ice, and the snow line is visibly moving upward from the valley toward the mountain tops. For those willing to walk the ski season is far from over however. With the intense snow fall of March there is still a very, very deep snowpack in the high country. Getting there provides for some adventure however as you can see in the photo here.
Quality Bicycle Products supplied my favorite local shop, Bangtail Bikes with a couple demo snowbikes recently. Mike and I have taken them out on three separate occasions and put roughly fifteen miles on them.
The first rig is a Surly Pugsley:
The second rig is the newly released Salsa Mukluk:
Both rides are equipped with Surly tires. These tires are inflated to an amazingly low six p.s.i. of pressure and are sized at 3.8 in. (9.65 cm) wide. The flotation from these things is spectacular for riding on snow or sand.
It’s no doubt that a number of the readers of this blog are familiar with the Pugsley snowbike; probably having heard either directly or offhandedly in their use along “The Lost Coast”, Iditabike, or the Arrowhead 135. The Salsa Mukluk frameset is new and doesn’t yet have the same badass reputation as the Pugsley. Cyclists are stoked about it however because it differs from the Pugsley in that the wheels aren’t offset from center making for a slightly smoother turning action. Personally I don’t mind the offset because most of the usage of these bikes are at relatively slow speeds on highly-diverse terrain not making the offset as noticeable as it would be at speed on asphalt.
I first rode a Pugsley in 2009 while visiting family in Minnesota. My brother and I took them out for a trail ride in the popular mountain biking destination, Theodore Wirth Park in Minneapolis. The riding on a packed snow trail is excellent and rivals summertime singletrack riding. That evening after the trail riding we sessioned the bikes for a couple hours jibbing on snowbanks for a few hours.
This past weekend Mike and I took the Pugsley and Mukluk to the Chestnut Mountain trailhead near Bozeman and were able to ride them about 1.5 miles up the trail before the amount of foot traffic had lessened enough to not provide an adequate riding surface. Riding back down the 1.5 miles was exhilarating. There’s little scarier than having both front and rear disc brakes locked up as you and your bike slide left and right along a steep switchback section of trail.
- Gloves – spring touring
- Gloves – shell mits
- Hat – merino wool
- Hat – visor (condition dependent)
- Jacket – shell
- Jacket – puffy
- Pants – shell / softshell (weather dependent)
- Helmet – condition dependent
- Shirt – baselayer
- Boots – soft snowboard boots
- Socks – knee high
- Underwear – merino or polypro
- Sunglasses – shaded and clear lenses
- Tights – merino or polypro
- Snowboard – splitboard
- Binders – splitboard-specific
- Crampons – splitboard-specific
- Skins – splitboard-specific
- Poles – collapsible carbon fiber
- Straps – condition dependent
- Pin – extra binder pin
First Aid and Repair
- First Aid – wound care kit
- First Aid – splint
- First Aid – ace bandage
- Compass – adjustable declination
- Documents – I.D. / cash / credit
- Knife – small, light
- Info – maps and guidebook pages
- Whistle – on neck lanyard
- Tool – snowboard/binder repair tools
- Camera – digital camera (possibly use phone)
- Light – headlamp
- Watch – altimeter enabled watch
- Backpack – size is trip-length dependent
- Shovel – metal avalanche shovel
- Beacon – multi-antennae digital
- Saw – snow saw
- Rutsch Saw
- Probe – collapsible, lightweight
- Snow Study – slope meter, crystal cards, magnifier
- Stuff Sack
- Pad – foam pad
- Bivy – emergency bivy
- Firestarting – lighter, matches, firestarter
- Cordage – 40′ of spectra cord
- Mug/pot – titanium mug for emergency h20 boiling
You awake early. Before dawn. You sip steaming coffee from your mug then put it down to focus on gripping the steering wheel against the icy road. You and your partner exchange words of excitement about the upcoming day’s adventure as the sun’s rays begin to filter onto the landscape from over the mountains that fast approach. When you arrive your partner does jumping jacks to stay warm while you are finalizing your gear for the day’s adventure. All is ready. You both depart. The only sound is the creak of each others bindings and skins on snow.
You’ve both hiked this trail multiple times. Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall. But today is exceptional. Today you are the first to arrive. Today it will be your toil, your energy, that breaks the fresh track into the virgin snow. It will be your route choices that determine the skin track others will follow in the days to come. A smile crosses both your faces as you relish in this – which is both a chore and an honor.
The sun is now full in the sky as you approach the basin below the beautiful easterly face of the mountain you’ve set out to ski. Natural sluff avalanches are the only markings on it’s face, covered in a blanket of fresh snow. It is a canvas awaiting an artist to carve marks along it’s face. But first the artist must be sure all is safe and that making these marks will not anger the mountain. You and your partner discuss where is best to perform your research and begin to dig into the surface of the fresh snow. The results are superb. You feel confident the mountain will not reject your efforts and you continue your approach to the summit.
Your efforts until now have been moderate, you’ve broken trail with your skis but the going has been relatively easy. Now in front of you stands the summit push. The bid for the top which will require post-holing in thigh to armpit deep snow and requiring a heightening of efforts bordering on exhausting. It is a mere few hundred feet but it seems to take an hour. The wind blows from the West as you trudge upward. Upon reaching the top there is time for a quick photo, a discussion of a safe line downward and before you know it you are both into your equipment and the first one drops in. The snow is light and powdery up top with a slight windblown crust a few inches down. With each toeside turn you enter the whiteroom as a blast of powder fills the entirety of your vision. You reach the first safety zone and call to your partner to proceed. You watch quietly as he descends, a smile on your face as he too paints a line into the virgin canvas.
You’ve re-grouped and request your partner take first tracks on the next aspect. He obliges and sets off, laying a beautiful set of turns into the un-tracked slope. Once below and into a safe zone he whoops up at you – a sign it is your turn to drop into a line of such beauty that you are ecstatic to be so privileged. As you point your board downward it follows the fall line and you only swerve marginally – choosing instead to let gravity be your guide, and speed be your purpose. The smile that has formed on your face at the bottom can only be enlarged by the thought that you are setting out to transition to skin-mode, re-climb the line and ride it again.
The daylight will come to an end soon and civilization calls. Your partner has obligations and regardless of your excitement you both know your strength will fade and that you still have a four mile ski back to the car. Fortunately it is mostly downhill and you set out. There is another hundred or so vertical of powder to be enjoyed as you exit but it is mostly a tight line following the skin track. You move through it quickly and efficiently stopping only occasionally to make sure each other still making progress.
Arrival at the car is bittersweet. The day has been superb. You give each other high fives and hugs because it has been so superb. You don your puffy coats and pull your coffee thermoses out of your packs to sip the remaining warm sips from them as you wait for the windows on the Subaru to defrost. You are both smiling inside and out and are appreciative of each others company but mostly are appreciative of the landscape in which you live. It is beautiful. It is powerful. It is dangerous. You can find ways to dance with this partner that will exhaust your lungs and exhaust your muscles but all the while fulfill your soul.
The past three days my little neck of SW Montana has been getting slammed with new snow and high winds. The avalanche report was warning against wind-loading off ridgetops and was reporting the mountains immediately South of Bozeman had received an inch of snow water (approx. 16″ of snow). My buddy Taylor and I wanted to do some backcountry skiing but opted to visit a low-angle zone wherein we hoped to find some powdery slopes without wind slabs having formed. Taylor introduced me to a new zone I’d not even hiked in the summer months yet and that ended up being very safe yet super rewarding.
A two hour hike starting at the History Rock trailhead located in Hyalite Canyon of the Gallatin National Forest brought us through three large snowfields ranging in steepness in the low 30 degree range. These three fields were separated by short sections of tight trees. Upon reaching the “top” of the ridge we planned to ski we opted to lap the upper snowfield three times where we ended up being joined by two other groups. We were able to get fresh tracks down this section for all three laps even though by the end of our stay there were eight skiiers and four dogs there (including us).
The need to re-write the already spectacular trip report of this journey by friend and fellow Wilderness enthusiast Greg Seitz is hardly necessary so I’ll present you with a quick de-brief. If you’re a canoeing enthusiast or appreciate blogs with a flare for both the written word and photography be sure to click over and read Greg’s post, Once more to the river.
Greg looks at the info kiosk at Osceola Landing.
The St. Croix has a great riverside signage system.
Greg taking a break from paddling.
We lunched at “The Spot”.
I was visiting family in Minnesota for the past week and had a chance to get out with my brother who is an avid cyclist and photographer. We chose a night ride at Murphy Hanrehan Park Reserve located south of Minneapolis.
Scott was on a full-suspension Ventana and I borrowed his single-speed Salsa Selma, a fine specimen of a 29er constructed of scandium tubing with carbon seatstays. We both had high-powered HID light systems which worked well for the first seven miles until Scott’s pooped out. We opted to ride a dirt road back to the trailhead rather than cut our speed in half and try to ride with one light. All in all it was superb to get out for a ride with my brother.
If only I had more “on it” a couple weeks ago when we had a bit of early September snow I could have hiked up to the permanent snowfield located in the couloir of “The Great One”, found it covered in a couple inches of freshies, made some turns and been happy. But Mike and I had planned to go backpacking that weekend and we headed up to the base of Mount Blackmore instead and although it was a great camping trip I’m still kicking myself for not having gotten some snowboarding done.
A really terrible phone-cam photo of The Great One
It’s been on my life-list of goals to snowboard at least once per month for twelve consecutive months. This season I took a splitboarding trip to Pine Creek Lake in July and then went again in August. Having complete those two months I decided I might as well have a go at September as well.
I finished up my work day quickly, left the office, went home, gathered my gear, and drove to the trailhead arriving at 14:45. I set out at a full on speed pace gaining the ridge-top in under thirty minutes and arrived atop the couloir soon after. The couloir, although a permanent snowfield does melt out from the top, bottom, and sides. I had to down-climg a significant distance to reach the snowline.
Looking down The Great One in late September
While holding my board I sliced the edge of it into the snow and found the consistency to be icy and showing little signs of give. At this point in time I was worried I wouldn’t get to ride the line at all because I was solo and could not risk an uncontrolled, sliding fall to the rocks below. I opted to down-climb along the skiers-right edge of the snowfield along exposed rocks to a place where some remnants from the two-weeks-previous snowfall remained. From here I was able to strap into my board and make some sketchy heel edge slides through the snow-choked portion of the couloir.
It became obvious that the icy couloir was simply too hard for me to attain any purchase with the edge of my snowboard so I unstrapped and hobbled my way down the steep talus. I had managed to break one of my trekking poles by dropping off a small section of class III rock I needed to down-climb above so I was pretty unbalanced with my snowboard strapped to my pack and the looseness of the rock.
Broken carbon fiber trekking poles
I exited the couloir and found my way to the bottom of the basin wherein I was interested to find the remains of a crashed airplane. I had not seen this on my last trip as it had been covered in snow. I’ll need to look into the history of that as it’s not too often one encounters this sort of thing. I arrived back at the trailhead with a round-trip from car-to-car of about 2:40 which, given the slowness of my descent along the snow I feel is a pretty good time.
Summer snowboarding means muddy boots and board
Trip Route on EveryTrail.com