|Came and saw but did not conquer|
I bet you’re wondering why I'm writing on a Saturday afternoon. If you live in Bozeman, all you have to do is look out your window and you’ll know the answer. It’s 45+ degrees outside with grey skies and it has been drizzling rain on and off all day. My plan was to ski tour from the Chestnut Mountain trailhead to the Goose Creek trailhead. While I have skied Goose Creek often, I have never approached it from the opposite end. It seemed like a good objective, and I was keen on skiing something new.
People are fond of saying that any day in the mountains and on skis is a good day, but we all know not every day can be prefect. While today was far from being a bad day, it one of those days when the mountain won. It was not a crushing defeat by any means. No gear or body parts were broken or even damaged, and my ego made it through the outing unscathed. It was just one of those days when a goal to tackle a mountain was not met. Not that this is a contest, but if you’re keeping score, today I did not end up the victor.
Goose Creek is a backcountry ski spot close to town. It is an easy approach to the ridge, which offers skiing in a big meadow. The ridge continues towards the Chestnut Mountain trailhead and offers additional skiing in the trees and a few more meadows for those willing to spend the time finding them. While I have biked the ridge and skinned along a bit of it, I have never done the entire thing on skis.
By starting from the Chestnut Mountain trailhead, the skier is treated to 2,500+ feet of skinning over the first 4.5 miles. The traverse across the ridge back to Goose Creek, about two to three miles I estimated, has a few ups and downs but no major elevation changes until the meadow. Seeing as ski conditions weren’t great (Once again we’ve been plagued with little snow and warm temps), I thought it made sense to do the ski in this direction. As I saw it, it presented the chance to get in some good exercise and if conditions were bad, it would only be a short ski down a low-angle meadow towards the end.
As I packed for the ski the night before, I pictured clear skies, a lunch break with sunshine and great views, happy skiers doing laps in the meadow as I ended my tour, and an easy hitch back to my car. This was not to be.
Conditions were promising as I started skinning from the trailhead. Coverage was solid, which was good to know given the low elevation of the trailhead, and I was very pleased to see that the trail had received little traffic. About 20 minutes into the ski, it started to drizzle. Within a few minutes, I saw my soft shell jacket getting dotted with rain so I switched to my hard shell jacket hoping the rain would pass. It did stop for a bit but started up again in a few minutes. After a few more spells of rain and some strong wind, I decided to call it a day. The idea of doing the entire ski, by myself no less, in the drizzle and wind was becoming more unappealing with every step I took. I didn’t imagine too many people were skiing the meadow at Goose Creek so my chances for camaraderie with other skiers and an easy hitch back to my car were slim. And who wants to end a ski in the rain with a long walk down a lonely road hoping for a ride?
While my wish to ski new terrain and traverse the ridge were put on hold, it was still a good day. I got in three hours of exercise, now have a better feel for ski possibilities on Chestnut Mountain, and was able to spend time on my skis in the mountains. I saw only two parties along the way but lots of signs of moose (or was it elk?). A majestic bald eagle flew overhead at one point, seemingly un-phased by the bad weather. Chestnut Mountain might have won this time but a I do intend to go back and even the score. Stay tuned!
February 7, 2015 update: I (foolishly?) tried to traverse Chestnut Mountain today. I brought Rob Edwards along for the adventure hoping that having a partner would motivate me to push through despite the conditions. What was I thinking? It's hardly snowed since my last attempt and temperatures continued to be warm so it is little wonder the trail was a mess. Bare patches are starting to appear and the remaining snow has turned to solid ice! Unless the winter turns around and we have epic storms coupled with cooler weather, it looks like I'll have to put this tour on hold until next winter. Stay tuned once again.
January 9, 2016 update: Successfully traversed! Story here.