Mountain High 

Another Montana Dark Season is putting the crimp on pre- and post-work adventure schedules, but for a select few, the short days that mark our winter solstice (Dec. 20–21) just don’t provide enough lightless opportunity.

These lovers of the dark should consider heading 150 miles to Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park (just over the Continental Divide past Butte) for a guided candlelight tour running Dec. 20, 21, 27 and 28.

As Montana’s first state park, the Caverns are widely considered to contain the most spectacular limestone features in the Northwest. The two-hour subterranean trip covers about two miles, although guests are encouraged to come fully prepared for a cold and snowy walk to the cave entrance. Reservations are required, and spots are filling up fast, so if you’re interested in this annual opportunity, call the park office (406) 287-3541 soon. The tour costs $15 for adults and $8 for children, with candles and lantern provided.

Meanwhile, as the snow continues to pile up top-side, the New Rocky Mountaineers are back in the schwing of things and looking to bring the masses face to face with their own mortality in Montana’s wilds. On Dec. 19, Chris Tenny (549-1796) will lead a thigh-buster up the southeast shoulder of Little St. Joe’s Peak in the Bitterroots. The gate has been locked down low, so participants (skiers? snowshoers? post-holers?) will push up along an on-again/off-again trail through majestic but thin whitebark pine stands until breaking into the open near the summit ridge. From here, views of the Bitterroot Batholith to the southwest will obliterate any leg fatigue you might have, and the long and lovely powder lines adjacent to your skin track will take you back to the car all too quickly. Participants should be fully prepared with winter survival gear and common sense, so call Tenny and start getting amped.

The next day, Dec. 20, NRM-er Tim Sharp (721-9458) will take willing backcountry skiers out to Black Bear Point, near Hamilton in the Sapphires. Sharp says to count on excellent intermediate-level meadow skiing, although the trip will head elsewhere if snow conditions dictate.

Sometimes even knowing where you’re going doesn’t help you find your destination. Consider, for instance, the diminutive “Deer Creek.” If you’re told to visit someone’s cabin on Deer Creek over the holidays, you’ll still have to narrow it down from the more than 40 Deer Creeks in the state.

There are also (at least) three “Holes in the Wall,” and yes, the Rocky Mountaineers will be heading up Fish Creek Sunday, Dec. 21 (there are at least 14 “Fish Creeks,” by the way) near Alberton to one of them, where the ski crew will hit a mellow and remote trail system for a day of ski touring. Call Jim Goss (822-5000) to get to the proper hole. (There are even two Rocky Mountaineers groups in the state—one’s a bit newer, and one’s a bit older, but that’s a whole other story.)

If the glory of launching cliffs, boofing waterfalls and pinching crimpers with your friends has you feeling empty and looking to add a bit of meaning to your endorphin schedule, consider helping out with the Montana Special Olympics. You’ll be assisting folks as they compete in a variety of winter sports, and you don’t even have to have winter sports skills to help. The 2004 Winter Special Olympics take place at Lost Trail on Jan. 27 and 28, so call volunteer coordinator Linda Fike at 3363-2570 to do your part.

On Dec. 20, look to catch the “Rail Demo” put on by local terrain park manicurists “Stunt Humps.” These fellas, in conjunction with Board of Missoula, are building rails and terrain parks for the rail-sliding masses at numerous ski areas this year, starting Saturday at Lost Trail. For what it’s worth, at press time a foot of snow has fallen there in the past 24 hours, so e-mail tvmountain@hotmail.com for more info.

Montana Snowbowl skiers have been appreciating an excellent early season on the slopes of Missoula’s backyard mountain, and at press time the ‘Bowl was reporting 38 inches on top, with 7 inches overnight. This is the last weekend they’re only open Fridays through Sundays, so take advantage of the pileup before it’s tracked out late this Friday.

Discovery Basin is still only 65 percent open, with a trace of new snow blanketing a 34-inch base, while Blacktail Mountain in Lakeside is reporting a 46-inch base with 2 inches of new snow. The two nearby Idaho resorts are shaping up nicely, with Lookout Pass sporting a 52-inch base and Silver Mountain a region-high 60 inches. Big Sky has recently faced the brunt of multiple storms, although they’re still reporting a mid-mountain base of 36 inches. Adjacent to Big Sky lies the first new destination ski resort to open in the U.S. in 20 years, Moonlight Basin, so skiers fed up with skiing Big Corp. might consider the new $39 area.

Backcountry skiers are delighting in the generous yet intermittent storms of the past week, but in some places the heavy snow has been deposited on dangerously unstable layers, so be sure to check the West Central Montana Avalanche Center’s website, (http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/lolo/avalanche/weekend.htm) before heading out for your weekend adventures. Prepare for the worst and ski like hell.

Send your outdoor play schedule to: photo@missoulanews.com.

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