First Trip to New Area Provides Fun But with Harrowing Ride Home
Thank goodness Amber was driving; some of us couldn't even watch the road, the whiteout was so bad we couldn't see the ditches or center of the road. Amber had to rely on the rumble strip and reflector poles. But first, the beginning:
Katie almost canceled the trip due to bad roads indicated on the road report over Kings Hill Pass, but she decided we should go anyway but drive via Helena and Townsend, only about 15 minutes longer to the trailhead at Skidway campground and home of the former Skidway Peak ski hill.
It was a good choice as the roads were dry and clear until the last mile or so going into the former ski area. We had a stop in East Helena and arrived at the trailhead at 10 a.m. after leaving Great Falls at 7:30.
As we started on the trail, it appeared to be broken with both a snowshoe and ski track, so we had a fairly easy time for the first mile or so. Then the track became scarce and then disappeared altogether. We think people were doing a small loop through the campground area or up and back and not doing the entire loop.
By the time we reached the ridge, we needed a break, but the wind had picked up and the snow had started. We grabbed a quick bite and continued on. Katie had scouted ahead a bit, hoping to spot a blue diamond trail marker, but she climbed the Skidway hill instead and encouraged the others to do the same to claim a peak in the 2020 Peaks Challenge.
Then it was on to looking for the trail. Since there were no trees along the ridge, determining which direction the trail headed was near impossible as we didn't have our usual blue diamonds posted on trees to guide the way. We did see one trail, but it headed uphill. Katie didn't think that was the right direction, predicting it continued on to climb Grassy Mountain, so she took off on the downhill side and did spy a blue diamond--Whew! We were back on trail.
And the trail in this section in particular needed breaking. Amber followed by Roni did the brunt of the breaking, some of the snow knee deep.
The blue-diamond back-country markers were pretty easy to follow for the most part. In a few spots, we put up a piece of blue marking tape that Susan had brought along to help others in the future follow the correct way.
In the end, we were able to complete the entire loop of about five miles. By the time we reached the car, some of us were tired. Paula said it well, "I'm out of gas," which set up perfectly for a soak at White Sulphur Springs. By now, the snow was really coming down.
So Paula and Roni took in the warm waters (Roni had never been before), while Amber, Susan and Katie walked main street checking to see which restaurants were open on a Monday. They also stopped in to Red Ants Pants.
Then the group met back up and went to dinner. Roni had a bit of a reaction to the sulphur, so her skin was very red for a while. We ate at Bar 47, and had a great waiter who catered to us quite a bit. From blue-cheese burgers to wedge salads, we enjoyed our food. Could be we were just hungry after our hard trailbreaking.
We finished before 5 p.m. so we still had quite a bit of daylight left. Katie talked to Amber--the roads looked snow-packed and icy most of the way home. However, going through Helena would take even longer since we were in White Sulphur now.
Amber said she didn't mind driving in snow as long as it wasn't too icy. The road report indicated snow cover, but not black ice, so off we went--big mistake. The roads immediately started to get snow covered; then it was snowing so hard it was hard to see the road; then the mesmerizing flakes started in; plus the temperature really dropped, so the inside windows iced up, making visibility even worse. The whole time we wondered where the plows were. We didn't find the answer until we reached Armington Junction: Two were are the gravel area.
The entire drive until Armington Junction was white-knuckle for Amber but she handled it well. We took a brief stop at Bob's Bar, but other than that, she drove for one hour and a half on very bad roads. At Bob's we wondered if we should just get rooms for the night, but decided to carry on. We came across several stopped vehicles, one in the ditch with its read still in our lane. Amber had to stop quickly to avoid hitting it. It was a near miss. At this point, Paula mentioned her cabin by Sluice Boxes. Again, we wondered if we should give up on driving for the night, but we kept going.
Luckily, we made it back all in one piece and no going in the ditch. I don't think the GiG has ever had this scary of a ride before. We were so grateful for a great snowshoeing day with the gals that ended safely.