Iíd like to say we skied into the Many Glacier valley over the weekend, but that would be a lie. We started out OK. After skirting a bulldozer that was plowing through the big drift at the Sherburne Dam, it was obvious the best route was going to be skiing the lake itself, rather than the road.
Winds were light when we started, but picked up in a hurry to about 20 mph. Still, the going was easy until we hit more ice than snow, so we bailed out to the road and ended up at the entrance station. The road had a ribbon of snow in the ditch, but was pretty much clear of snow all the way through Windy Flats, save for a big patch of snow just beyond the flats.
But about five miles in the snow disappeared entirely, even in the ditches ó a combination of wind and warm weather in the past few days had all but done it in. A week earlier and I suspect we would have been fine, but such is life. The snowpack in Many Glacier is about 85 percent of average, so bare spots were not exactly unexpected, especially on the road. (The snow in the trees was still quite deep ó up to your hips.)
We walked around sheepís curve, over a couple of drifts and then hit snow again.
The on-again, off-again ski situation was a pain, but if you didnít have skis to get around the drifts youíd be postholing up to your waist. All told it took about four hours to get into the valley proper. We set up camp near the Grinnell Glacier Trailhead, dug out the pit toilet and camped on about three feet of grainy snow.
If youíve never camped on snow hereís some real simple advice: Buy the best sleeping pad you can afford with a high R-value. Sleeping on the snow, even in a great sleeping bag, will suck the heat right out of your body. I also doubled up the sleeping bags, using an ultralight summer bag as a liner and then my moderate fall bag on top of that. This two-part system is not only warm, but if it gets too warm, you can always shed the second bag. Plus, it doesnít weigh as much as a single big winter bag. It never got that cold anyway ó the water bottles had just a skin of ice on them the next morning.
After supper we headed up the drainage to Fishercap Lake. Itís always fun to visit a place thatís usually busy with people thatís absolutely silent in the winter.
By now the snow was a good four feet deep and excellent skiing, with a firm base. But it was also getting dark so we headed back to camp and called it a day as the wind howled in the trees.
The next morning it was calm and perfect, but that wind had melted what little snow we skied the day before. We walked most of the way out, which, quite honestly, was a slog until we were able to drop down the lake again and make the last couple of miles on skis.
After a frigid February and a cold start to March the sun on the lake had it feeling more like 70 than the 40s it really was.
A couple skied past us on the other side of the lake and the woman was in a tank top ó a sure sign of spring.
ó Chris Peterson story and photos.