Participants: Michael Young, David & Julie Kahl
I have been leading this trip, almost every year, for over 20 years and this was the nicest conditions of any trip. Trips have ranged from breaking trail almost the entire way, in several feet of new snow -with help from the Bitterroot Ski Club, to walking out carrying our skis because of the icy, rutted, much tracked base at the lower end. One time, done in March, the last two miles were like skiing in the “mashed potatoes” of melting corn snow. Why I do the trip in January now. We met at Walmart, at 9:AM and put our gear in Michael’s car, and left our Tacoma at the Lee Cr. Campground. People had been driving in there and there were packed tracks going in, but unpacked snow covered areas to park. At Lolo Pass be put our boots on in the Visitor’s Center while Michael got a parking sticker. You should always be sure to sign their Visitor’s log books, as it is one of the factors in their funding. We left the parking lot a little before 10:30, it was probably around 14 degrees/-10C, and somewhat cloudy. The groomer had finally been able to get around and groom the entire trail system -they got stuck in a puddle on the Pack Cr. Loop last week, so the first mile/1.61k was on the newly groomed trail until we turned off onto the Lee Cr. Trail. It was a well packed 2 track, with a bit of new snow. Landmarks clicked off quickly, the Nee Me Poo Trail coming on to the trail, just before the MT/ID State boundary, 1/2 mile/0.8k back, then separating again. Michael remembered hiking on that trail last summer. Then we were down at the bridge/culvert over China Cr. where the climb over the face of a ridge coming off of Lee Ridge begins. The new snow was getting deeper, but we still had good tracks. It’s where this road turns north on the far side of the ridge that you get the best views down China Cr. towards Hwy 12 and the Crystal Amphitheater area on the other side. Must take a few pictures. Now it was the long approach to the Lee Cr. Saddle. When I had first skied here in the 1980’s these slopes had been newly clear cut and we had traversed them with avalanche awareness for slides to come down from above. Most of it is well treed now, but with this season’s unusual conditions I was watching again. Just before we got to the saddle, on the up-hill side, I noticed an area, adjacent to the road, that seemed to be unusually “flat” and had a lot of lumps and bumps under new snow. I studied it wondering if some one had tried to ski or snowshoe in it, causing the unevenness. I visually followed the slope up the hill and noticed a narrow, totally clear area, coming all the way down the slope from the blue sky above the ridge top. I’m thinking a slide. Most of the clouds had cleared off as we ate lunch at the Saddle, in maybe 4-5 inches/10.16-12.7cm of new snow. The tracks we had been following continued up from the saddle to what I presume is now the route folks take to the Wagon Mt. Trail. Down into Lee Cr. it was delightfully untracked. Perfect for going as fast or as slow as you want. You could just set your pace and “ride” your skis. It was untracked for like the next mile/1.61k, then we came to tree across the road that was easy to get across, but there was a single ski track on the other side. Still plenty of room to either ski in the track or off to the side on your own. Maybe another mile/1.61k and we came to another tree across the road that wasn’t easy to get across. Michael managed to get across side stepping, but David and I took our skis off. On the other side there were more ski trails than just the one. Here a party of three people came from behind us, and we let them get ahead. Even with all the tracks there was still plenty of new untracked snow to ski in. Then we reached a point where some moose had come up between the trails and left a rugged “trench,” now covered with new snow. We had room to ski on either side of it, but in separate places David and I tanged with it and fell. Getting down towards the bottom, now someone had driven part way up the road, adding tire tracks to the mess. The main set of tracks we were following sometimes wove down into them or into the moose trench. But we still had a few inches of new snow to ski in beside the tracks, if we wanted and skied the road edges literally down to the truck, managing to have avoided all of the heavily tracked and rutted areas just off the parking lot. Nice! The three people who had passed us were having lunch on their tailgate and due to the parking conditions decided to wait and see if we could get out before leaving. There was ice under the beaten tracks (that is 3 of our tires) and our right front tire had dropped down into a hole. They ended up pulling the Tacoma back out of the hole, we were grateful they had waited. Michael waited at Lee Cr. while David drove me down to the Hot Springs (1 mile/1.61 away) to get our room while they went back up to Lolo Pass get Michael’s car. A totally delightful day, all the way around.