January 9, 2011

Last Day of Winter Vacation

Being the last day of my winter vacation before heading back for another exciting semester at UAS, we decided that a trek in the woods was called for. We rose early with the sun, which is about 7:30 for first light these days,  ate some chow and slammed some coffee and hit the trail. Due to recent thawing and freezing cycles we decided to stay low in elevation to avoid potential avalanche dangers. This led us to go up Montana Creek trail just 5 minutes drive from our house. As usual we packed for every conceivable thing we could think of and hit the trail. When I was a kid we used to drive up the road in our old Landcruiser, but these days they have it blocked at the archery range. This first part is now open to recreational motor vehicles, but early on a Sunday morning there isn't a whole lot of snowmobiles on the trail. It was quiet and crisp, a balmy 17 degrees or so in this narrow valley. For those that don't know the area, this watershed is on the back side of Mt. McGinnis which is on the west side of the Mendenhall valley. Eventually the trail reaches Windfall lake and a cabin. Overall the elevation gain isn't much, but this is a very windy little creek, so it is estimated to be about 7 miles to the lake, one way. Due to short day light hours and what ended up being a very strenuous trail we only made it about 5 miles in, this of course means 5 miles back out. Very tired and a bit sore right now, ha ha ha. Here is a satellite image of the area and our roughly estimated route.

We got soooo  close! We just didn't have the time or the energy to go any further. Upon reaching the end of the first little leg on the old road we got some wonderful views of the back side of McGinnis.
As you can also see, Sarah was ready to go and full of that spunky attitude of hers, ha ha ha.
Looking down the creek, towards the sun.

 After this rest we headed up the trail. From here there were no more motor vehicles and the trail was very lightly used. We passed a family that were playing along side the creek and had reached a point they were not going past with the children. We plowed on ahead, making tracks in freshly fallen snow, no one had been this far in some time. About a mile or so in there is a bridge to cross the creek, this was a good chance to show the massive ice dams that we had been walking next too. During our last thaw a serious amount of water and ice moved down the valley, in places it was 2-3 feet thick and pushed up into piles even bigger.

Looking up river though it looked better so we decided to keep going, this is when the area started to get pretty treacherous.
We didn't seem to get lucky with the avalanche danger and crossed several small chutes, and two very large ones. These two required us to dig out foot holds and cross very carefully, Sarah wasn't so impressed with my attitude of adventure. Ha ha ha
This is the lessor scary of the two, the top is solid ice and under is about 2-3 feet of powder. Bit sketchy!

I wish I had gotten a shot of the really big washout, but I was just so glad to have gotten us both across safely both ways that I didn't think about it. Then after we returned to the old road part we were greeted with a nice sunset on McGinnis.
The left peak is Stroller White and right is McGinnis

Some time in the summer, not now, we are going to summit this and run the ridges! Yay!
Anyways, it was a fun hike, most of the area is so wooded and deep that I couldn't really get any good shots, but its the act of being there, not just the photo ops. As we headed to the truck I thought to take a picture of the snow that we had been walking on all day, it is very interesting what happens when the evaporating moisture freezes instantly!
Its hard to capture, but it looks like thousands of little mushrooms, each flat surface is a hexagon of crystals on a pedestal of ice, very cool