With no avalanche report to view and few skiers at all regularly in the range, the Tobacco Roots sit way under the radar. Last weekend, former Backcountry Magazine editor Drew Pogge enjoyed a sneaker storm that hit the Roots hard while mostly skipping over the Bridgers, Madisons, and Gallatins. Here’s his words and photo:
With spring temps and dry weather, we drove to within a half mile of the trailhead, and started our trip pulling a ski pulk loaded with beer and food on bare dirt. The trail quickly turned to snow and we arrived at the yurt just as winter returned–over the next four days, we recieved 18″ of new snow, right side up and perfectly shreddable. The occasion was my Dad’s 65th birthday, and this was his first yurt trip: what an awesome introduction to high livin’, with Simon and Lance along as well. We skied a few of the classics: PB Bowl, Flapjack, and on the last morning, the longest couloir off Branham (whatever it’s called). Thigh-deep blower was our reward, along with a pound of bacon back at the yurt. We were able to ski all the way to the cars, and actually had the pleasure of snow pluming over the hood all the way down the road (no stucks!). Faceshots in the truck are my new favorite thing. Thanks Kevin and Bell Lake, for delivering the perfect T-Root experience!
Tyler and friends enjoyed 3 days of carefree powder at Bell Lake last weekend, leaving us to do the cooking, cleaning, guiding, and portaging. I’ve renamed Kettle House’s 16oz Double Haul IPA the “Kevin Haul IPA.” Apparently 16 16oz tall boys DOES fit in a 42L Anarchist.
-photo courtesy Chris Moon 2013
Beautiful late February conditions at Bell Lake!
We skinned up to Bell yesterday on a portage mission to supply the weekend Avy 1 Course; the Potosi Road has a foot of snow on it, the campground, buried: ground clearance, 4×4, and snow tires were necessary. The sled run from the campground to the trailhead was smooth, the skin track up was good. Up at the lake, the wind appears to have effected just about every aspect; we dropped our heavy packs, full of food and supplies, filled the cooler and drybox, then made a fun run through “The Drain” on the “Little Baker Ridgeline” back to the skin track and out. Stability in the northfacing trees, usually a facet fest this time of year, was surprisingly good.
Scott getting it in The Backdoor:
There were no natural slides and the pack was pretty thick in places. There was some serious winup there on Saturday night/Sunday morning, and when we skied out everything had become a wind slab.
The pack was thick and consisted of several dense layers, with a very right-side-up structure. We got an ECT 28 Q2 and an ECT 17 Q1-2 on a graupel layer. There are several well settled wind layers. The weaknesses in the pack are not the persistent type: no major faceting or surface hoar layers yet.
We skied mostly in the trees, and it was really good! Beetlejuice is skiing like a champ.
So the yurt’s in again for the season. We had about 12 people and 14 dogs helping; it went pretty fast and was easy because for the first time in 4 seasons, there was no snow at the site mid-October! Crazy!
Soon though, the area will get dumped on and we can get on with skiing lines like this:
MBA has joined forces with the Montana Mountaineering Association to bring the first ever Ski Mountaineering Course to the Bell Lake Yurt! The 3 day, 2 night course will cost 500., and includes instruction, accommodations in the yurt, all meals including lunch and snacks on the hill, and all necessary climbing equipment.
Montana Mountaineering Association with Montana Backcountry Adventures
Bell Lake Yurt, Tobacco Root Mtns. May 6-8th 2011
•Introduce and provide participants with the skill-set needed to become competent and
self-reliant ski mountaineers by integrating technical mountaineering systems into skiing
in the spring condition setting.
•Overview of backcountry touring gear
•Overview of avalanche transceivers and search techniques
•Avalanche hazard and terrain recognition
•Skinning technique and track setting
•Route finding and selection
•Body temperature regulation
•Safe travel techniques: safe spot to safe spot, staggered start, buddy system, all at once
•Steep skiing techniques
•Booting with and without crampons
•Ascent techniques(whippet and short tool use)
•Overview of required gear for using a rope for ski descents
•Natural and Snow anchors
•Belay and rappel techniques
•Wet slide avalanche hazard recognition
• Backcountry touring equipment: Randonee, Telemark, Split-Board or Snowboard
with approach skis
• Avalanche transceiver
• Avalanche probe
• Sleeping bag
• Sleeping pad
• Sun screen and lip balm
• One liter water container
• Appropriate under, mid, and outer clothing layers for winter travel
Day by Day Objectives and Procedures:
•Skin into Bell Lake yurt (2-3 hours)
•Introduce skiing in the technical mountain environment
•Provide an introduction to skills and gear needed to conduct a safe and efficient ski
•Introduce terrain navigation, reading terrain, zones of safety on ascent /descent.
•Discuss adjusting ski boots for different modes of travel: ascent and descent
•Discuss choosing an appropriate pack and how to pack it
•Discuss choosing the best layering system for body temperature regulation
•Demonstrate skinning technique and use of heel lifters
•Demonstrate efficient kick turning technique
•Discuss route finding, avalanche terrain recognition, and safe travel
•Build on previous skills learned
•Introduction to alpine climbing and technical skiing practices
•Discuss the process of how a wet slide occurs and the contributing factors •Demonstrate
booting techniques and discuss how different boots react to this technique
•Discuss benefits and draw backs to using crampons
•Employ the use of crampons if it is a benefit
•Demonstrate systems for carrying skis an have students develop a system that they can
•Demonstrate and practice self-arrest with a ski pole and whip-it (ice axe if snowboarders
•Employ steep skiing techniques and instruction where necessary
•Ski a bunch
•Intro to rope work, protection, and anchors.
• Review and more practice of techniques
• Introduce rope work and skiing exposed terrain
• Put to use learned skills in technical environment
•Discuss various types of climbing hardware and choose what is appropriate for skiing
•Fit harnesses and teach (or review) knots and hitches
•Snow anchors for ski mountaineering
•Lowering, belay and rappelling techniques
•Utilizing snow and natural anchors, utilize a rope to safely access ski runs by either
lowering or rappelling
•Review any part of the program
•Ski Ski Ski
•Ski out to trail head
Call us at 406 995 3880 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up!
Our smoothest and fastest yet- we’re starting to get a hang of this!
Ian and I skied Bell Peak in zero viz. It looks like the snow will be around for a while…
Simon and co. returned to the Bell Lake Yurt this spring and experienced continued powder conditions and ongoing spring dumps!
Thanks for letting us spend a couple days in the yurt! Again it
qualifies as two of the best days of the year. On monday we skied the
two big couloirs on Branham in some of the best conditions we have
ever experienced. Approx 3 feet of snow fell in the storm on Friday
which settled into bomber spring pow by Monday and was not heavily
affected by the sun. Our two friends that came to join us that day were sitting
at the yurt and could hear us hooting and hollering all the way down
then witnessed us steaming into the apron at 40mph or so. Needless to
say, we will be dreaming of these two runs for years to come……
Justin, Josh, Mitch, and myself took advantage of the huge late season storm and enjoyed probably the best conditions of the year up at Bell Lake last weekend. Green Room, O’Farrell’s Theater, Flapjack, Beetlejuice, and Backdoor were all insanely deep!
Trip Report and Images from Dave & Posse:
We started our skin in on Thursday and almost immediately we were hit by a
windstorm. Probably 25-30 MPH headwinds with gusts that we had to brace
ourselves not to fall over from. About the time we hit the trail head it
started to snow. Not too long after that it started to snow at about 1″/hr.
No one had been up there since the last major snow so we broke trail all
the way up. There was about 8-12″ of pretty nice powdery snow on the
headwall. Needless to say we were glad to make it to the comfort of the Yurt.
We woke up on Friday with low expectations for the snow after the major
wind event the day before and our expectations were proven correct when we
hit the cirque. We went to a low angle E facing slope on the S side of the
cirque and dug a pit. There was about an inch of wind slab on top of
12-18″ of heavy dense slab on top of an ice crust from the 3 weeks of sun we had.
On Saturday we again woke up to a nice bluebird day. We got up and headed
to the N side of the cirque to try the conditions there. Things were
warming up nicely and softening the wind crust. We headed up on top of
one of the lower knobs and dug a pit. It was on a 28 degree S facing
slope and it failed while cutting the column. Needless to say none of us
felt like adventuring on to anything steep so we stayed on slopes less
than 30 degrees. We took several more runs on low angle terrain from some
of the more treed and sheltered knobs lower down in the cirque. Overall it was a really nice day to just be out enjoying the sun and snow.
Zach, Jayson, and David killed it at Bell Lake last weekend. Zach said: “We were thrilled with the skiing up there. Thanks for putting together such a sweet gig!”
Here’s his photos:
Here are a few images of the group out at the Bell Lake Yurt over 3/16/10-3/25/10, enjoying a nice foot of new snow;
Dave, Greg and Will met up the last week in February from Livingston, San Francisco, and Albuquerque and trekked into the Bell Lake Yurt for their annual backcountry trip. With only a dusting in Bozeman and Big Sky, I was stoked to see about a foot of new snow had fallen (last significant snowfall until this week) and we passed the previous group with all smiles. I was even more stoked to see that they hadn’t even touched Sugar Bowl. To end their first day into the yurt, we dug a pit at the top of Sugar Bowl and with still variable conditions, we took a conservative route down and enjoyed some incredible conditions. Thanks guys - hope to see you back next year.
Our apologies for lagging on the blog posts this year - we’ve been remiss in updating everybody on the epic conditions up at Bell Lake. We’ve had a slew of guests, new and returning, making the Bell Lake Yurt their home for a few nights this winter. Thanks to everybody who’ve made it out to enjoy the yurt!
Here are some images from our last group out over the weekend - Dave, Bill and crew enjoyed sunny skies with a foot of new snow;
Bell Lake, Montana
Fresh Powder Snow
Wave Wall, Bell Lake
Here’s a shot from our Avalanche Level 1 course held at the Bell Lake Yurt in January. We’ve got another 3 day, 2 night course scheduled March 10-12:
Avalanche Level 1 at the Bell Lake Yurt
A New Backcountry Yurt in Montana.
by Christina Erb
Last December, Montana Backcountry Adventures’ 450-square-foot canvas yurt—called the Bell Lake Yurt—was heli-dropped deep inside Montana’s 10,000-foot-plus Tobacco Root Mountains, an hour’s drive west of Bozeman. The rudimentary shelter, which can accommodate six skiers and two dogs, comes with cots (bring your own sleeping bag), a wood stove, a propane stove, cookware, and an outhouse a short walk from the wooden deck. The area’s nonmotorized-use rule means no snowmobiles and plenty of fresh lines. On nearby 9,698-foot Branham Peak, there are a half-dozen couloirs and the wide, powder-filled bowls of Bell Lake cirque. Park your car on South Willow Creek Road. From there, they’ll snowmobile you in (for an additional fee) three miles on a Forest Service road, and you’ll skin in the last two and a half miles over 1,700 vertical feet. Staying at the Bell Lake Yurt can be as cheap as $35 per person per day unguided (Level I avy certification required). Or pony up $500 each for a three-day guided, catered trip, where co-owner Andy Goggins will cook you locally raised, grass-fed beef tenderloin filets and, for breakfast, hot huckleberry flapjacks. [Open from mid-December to late June; skimba.com]
We went up to the yurt in June for a nice weekend of great snow skiing:
Driving the truck to the summer trailhead and hiking up to the snow level at the base of Long Mountain makes the approach to the Bell Lake Yurt easy this time of year.
Flapjacks at 8500ft are best with blueberries. Bob on spatula.
Winter wonderland in June for sure. 8′ probed at the top of Hob Nob.
The vis was pretty poor, but we enjoyed a peek at the blue skies and clouds below us through this sucker hole at the top of Bell Peak: Binger with shorts, The Old DB, and Andy, left to right.
“Peanut Butter Bowl” from Bell Lake.
Peering down “O’Farrell’s Theater” on skier’s left and “Flapjack” on skier’s right; a couple of worthy Bell Lake classics for sure.
Dirty Bob at the top of O’Farrell’s Theater, about to shred the gnar.
Gnar shredded: Andy in the crux.
Bob out on the apron, enjoying smooth corn-pow.
Looking up at “The Green Room” from Bell Lake.
More corn-pow on The Green Room.
The Green Room wave goes on forever. So nice.
Andy getting tubular.
Simon, Mike, Kent, Peter and Darren were out last weekend and caught some incredible blue-bird skies after the insane dumpage (+/- 4′+) that has blessed the T.Roots the past few weeks. Finally, some good turns off the superb north facing chutes of Branham Pk. Looks like skiing will hold up for a long, healthy corn harvest well into the spring season…
All Photos: Simon Peterson - Outside Bozeman
We skipped the pond skim and headed out to the yurt last weekend, expecting low vis and variable conditions. Instead, we woke Sunday morning to bluebird skies, cool temps, and calm winds. Stoked, we busted a move into the basin to shred the gnar. Working the East Wall, we ascended the massive Branham Peaks ridge and put in some amazing turns on a dreamy surface of blown-in pow on the northeast face of the Bell Lake Basin. While most aspects pinwheeled in the blazing sun, we got face shots. The Tobacco Roots are tall, tight, and steep, making perfect shelter for cold smoke even when it’s 60 in Bozeman. Pure magic.
On 3/30/09, the USDA NRCS Albro Lake Snotel, just north of Bell Lake, read a snow depth of 95.2 inches. On this same day, the Sacajawea NRCS Snotel in the Bridgers read 53.0 and the Lone Mountain NRCS Snotel read 73.0 inches.
Gotta love Miracle March!
Myself (Andy) and homies who grew up together in Missoula, taking our annual ski trip almost 10 years running, made it to the Bell Lake Yurt last weekend where we lucked out with a crazy storm. It dumped almost the entire time and mostly stuck to skiing the trees, but had good turns in Sugar Bowl and on the low-angle pitches above the lake. 12 mini-boxes of wine, 1 silver Patrone, and some sort of whisky (oh and some Mondavi wine somebody left behind - thanks) along with rounds of cards kept it entertaining in the down time. For most of the group being married with kids, or kids on the way, we’re not getting out 100 days/winter anymore, so this was a great taste of good old Montana backcountry that left everybody craving more despite the sore legs. Nice work: Hans, Ryan, ET, Byron, Lars, & Andy
Hans - Boosting Large
Slipper friendly route to the Long Drop Latrine is a bonus
Taking full advantage of the Propane Grill with BBQ Bison Short-Ribs
Matt, just back from his trip, writes: What a great trip! We did a lot of skiing after you left us. We checked out “Flapjack”, which was bulletproof and scary up top but better down in the bowl below. It was a great tour up to the top if nothing else! However, day four was where it was at. We skied the cornice rimmed alpine bowl in the south west corner of the basin and absolutely killed it! We put in eighteen lines and never crossed a track! We dubbed this run the “Peanut Butter Bowl”. I’ve attached a few stellar picks from the trip and we’d be stoked to see them on the blog or your flicker.
With all the food names emerging for the area, I’m guessing folks are eating well up at the yurt.
Here’s his photos:
Hob Knob, with Toffee Slot in the middle
Matt and Big Sky friends Matt, Izzy, Justin, and Monty booked the yurt for 4 nights. I came up to guide for day 1. It was sick. Scope the sweet shots:
two days of deep-pow lines...
staring down the gut of 'Flapjack' - 2'+ fresh, over 1,500' vert
Yesterdays Tracks = Motivation
Lance - Enjoying the White Room
Simon, Lance, Mike, Drew and myself had an unbelievable trip to the Bell Lake Yurt last week. Each day and each run kept getting better and better. We had consistent snowfall the first couple days with bluebird on Thursday, then more snow with zero wind on the summit of Thompson Pk, and another bluebird on Friday. Each day ended better than the last and each day we woke up a little earlier to get back out - ending with one of the best runs of the year. From beef tenderloin filet, to deep untracked lines, this was one of the best weeks I’ve had for a long time. Can’t wait to get back out!
Paul, part of the group who stayed in the yurt on the 31st, 1st, and 2nd, emailed us this yesterday: Just got down today from a great weekend, 3 stayed another night. Yurt is nice and big and comfortable. Cook stove was great. Water set up was really nice. We got a little new snow and had some fantastic skiing in both the north and south bowls as well as the run out slopes on the south shore.
Nice. Here’s some sweet shots of his trip:
Kene of Eye in the Sky Photography, was kind enough to pass on his stellar photos from his yurt trip back in Juneuary. Below are a couple beauties. See them all on our embedded Flickr account. Thanks for your visit Kene and crew!
Please enjoy these sick photos by Eliza Wiley of the Helena Independent Record from her yurt trip over the weekend. Her story is published here:
Thanks Eliza! Looks like you and the crew had a great time!
It snowed pretty good in the Tobacco Roots last Wednesday. We’ve got a snow stake in the works but haven’t had a chance to get it up there yet. This weekend brought the first official start to our season, with two separate groups staying back to back Friday through Tuesday. The funny thing is that they both booked under the same last name- a divorced couple had each separately assembled a backcountry group for a stay up at the yurt, all on the same weekend! In that same group, they also recognized a lone skier skinning from his car along the road when we passed him during the snowmobile tow (this was after the Black RMK 800 offered me and Josh’s pack a nice engine coolant bath) as an old friend and backcountry guru from Missoula. It’s really a wonder when you begin to realize how small the Montana ski community is.
A quick note on South Willow Creek Road: don’t drive it past the Potosi Campground! So far, every weekend I’ve been up I’ve seen someone stuck just past the campground. The road appears drivable, and is firm and bald in lots of places and generally nasty for snowmobiling and skiing, but underneath that wind/ice layer is nothing but sugar, which is plenty deep in spots. Many of the larger wind drifts are remnants of the huge October storm and still cover the road. The weight of a car (or a red Ford truck, or a big blue van) will easily punch through and find itself high centered in a huge hole. Which segways nice a discussion on ski conditions:
Andy guided on Saturday, dug a few pits, and kept it mellow. General conditions at Bell Lake are similar to observations being made in other parts of Southwest Montana: ground facets supporting a thick consolidated layer, a scenario built by a series of weird warming trends seen this season. No naturals were observed, though local Pony resident beta informs of a large slab avalanche that went on the Northwest face of Long Mountain, in the Granite Lake Basin, around Christmas. Wind, more than anything, has been the dominating factor in keeping the alpine from filling in like it should. Of course, all that blown snow has to land somewhere: one of Andy’s pits, dug in a protected area, measured 200cms deep.
Talking with others, there seems to be general agreement that while deep instability does exist on slopes with a decent snowpack depth, it is going to take some serious weight to trigger, while thin cover bony slopes offering the “facet garden” scenario offer greater risk for propagation, the subsequent “bridge of consolidation” being less supportive. And of course, wind slabs are also definitely worth worrying about.
In the end, we need the snow to start dumping in vertical rather than blowing in sideways. Hopefully February is the ticket. I’m looking forward to hear soon from the groups who have been up so far, and will definitely be posting any photos received from them. Big thanks to Josh, Holly, and Cary(sp) for offering up your water for the snowmobile and generally being great sports about the whole thing.
Here’s some more yurt photos:
There were those who doubted, those who never thought they’d see the first African American president elected and in office. But today we celebrate the realization of our full potential as Americans to make happen what we will with the hope for a better future. But more importantly, we celebrate the opening of the Bell Lake Yurt!!!
The yurt is up and operational, standing proud at 8500′ in the Tobacco Roots. It’s been a year-long effort and we here at Montana Backcountry Adventures are still letting the result of it all and the massive support of our community of volunteers and supporters to sink in.
It seemed from the beginning that the odds were stacked against us. On October 12, months before we had our Forest Service Permit in hand or permission to begin construction or firewood gathering, a massive snow storm pummeled the east side of the Roots, registering as much as 62″ at the Albro Lake Snowtel. By the time we had gained the right to alter forest service property, we were wallowing thigh-deep in snow at the site, with no way to run supplies up on anything other than skis. So the helicopter drop plan, a definitely more costly “Plan B” approach, was implemented for action December 1, our first official day.
By then, of course, the jetstream had set into an intense Westerly track that only let up less than a week ago, keeping the chopper grounded and us at home. We cursed mother nature with our hourly checks to the NOAA website, point-forecasted right to the yurt site, the weather report a Groundhog Day of wind. Occasionally, we’d see a break, and rush together a skeleton crew of volunteers for the day, plan a 5am start, call Mike at Carish Helicopter, and make the two hour drive from Bozeman, only to be slapped by 30mph gusts by the time we reached Norris.
When high pressure finally set in, and the winds calmed, we could feel the yurt gods smiling upon us. We made our move: Andy and Colter set out early to skin up to the site while Erica and I met Carish and crew in Potosi for the fly-in. Mike made a pass overhead, flew up to the site, and came back to Potosi. “They’re not up there yet,” he said, shaking his head. I was dumbfounded; the day had finally come- what had happened? I jumped in the chopper and we flew back up towards Bell Lake. Sure enough, the dudes were still 30 minutes away. On our way back, we spotted the broke-down snowmobile; it was amazing: they had ditched the dead sled and threw down a ferocious pace to meet the chopper for the drop at the site, still 5 miles and about 2000 vert away. It must have been a death slog- we barely had to wait down below, and got the yurt, foundation, pit toliet structure, sundries, and related equipment up in 7 cargo net loads. All went smooth as silk.
The foundation build was next, with Moonlight Basin Patrollers helping out. Kapus’ chainsaw finishing work and Scott’s cordless drill efforts brought backcountry carpentry to a new level, my jenky anchored tree-stumps-to 2″x6″ joist-to plywood floor system realized in full. We adventure-skied home in the dark with 1 headlamp between us.
The next morning Andy and I skinned back up to the site to finish the job. The folks at Colorado Yurt Company make a fine yurt that is well built and easy to erect. We were able to finish the framework by ourselves with a 6′ ladder, a cordless drill, and a few hand tools. Keen Sperry, VD, and friends Dave, Darin, and Chad showed up at about 4pm for their “shakedown cruise” yurt stay, and helped finish up. We were able to get the insulation, canvas, and wood stove installed just after dark. Andy and skied home again in the pitch black. This time we both had headlamps. We celebrated with beers and bagel dogs at the Pony Bar.
Huge thanks go out to our many volunteers who helped make the Bell Lake Yurt a reality: Brian Hisz, Erica Paradiso, Ericka Swenson, Colter Delin, Ryan Kapes, Scott Livingston, Keen Sperry, Victor DeLeo and crew, and Dave McCarson.
And big up also to our supporters: Doug Posdon, Sean McCleary, Rich Hohne, Leif Wickland, Jonathan Klein with the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest Service, Mike Harrelson, Jim Screnar, Lucia Stewart for her piece “Backcountry Paradise” in Winter Life Magazine, and of course, our friends and family.
Stay tuned for more photos…
A breezy bluebird Friday had us back up to the site for the final firewood push. Andy’s rocky skin approach paid off with some fresh turns on the return at about 8000. With 3 heads and 2 chainsaws, we pounded it out serious. MBA support team member Erica got crazy with the Stihl. No moose just Moose Drool this time, at the Pony Bar after. We’re ready for the fly-in.
The South Willow Creek Road is still drivable to the Bell Lake Trailhead, and recent temps are creeping the snow level up on the trail; Brian and I hiked in boots up to the site yesterday with chainsaws strapped to our backs. I opted for snowshoes, but didn’t put them on until the gate, about a half-mile below the site. We cut down a decent amount of standing deadwood. The wood is great: bone-dry with minimal rot. Most of the rounds are under a foot in diameter, and should make for easy splitting. Overall, I’d say there’s 8-10 very consolidated inches at 8500 feet right now, with quite a bit more just above the lake. That’s the general picture; detailed analysis shows a more complex composition, with some graupel, crust, and hoar. We’ll watch conditions closer as snow accumulates, but for now, we’ve got a yurt to build first.
Heading out at dusk on the road, we came around a sharp corner just below Potosi and almost hit a huge bull moose meandering his way up. He took a long look at the truck, then dipped into the creek below. Seeing him made our day.
We here at MBA plan to use this page to document our adventures in yurt outfitting. So we’ll be flying in the yurt to our site via chopper. Plan on upcoming photos and videos. It’s going to be insane. Also, we hope our yurt visitors will post up their photos and experiences up at Bell Lake, avy conditions, snowpack analysis, and stoke. Stay tuned…
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