First snow, part one

Maybe, for baseball players, it’s grass. Those days in the spring as snow heads down the gutters in the street and the brown mats of Montana town turf resurrect into something green and worth lying on. For fly fishers, those days when alpine lakes ice out. When trout that sat dormant all winter will hit the ugliest, rattiest fly flogged carelessly twenty feet from the shore. Perhaps for football fans the leaves in the streets around Kalispell, the lights glaring over the field, hearing the announcer’s PA halfway across town.

I don’t know about those things, but I’d guess they’re like the first snow for skiers. Snowflake. Flake. Flake out. It makes me think that maybe they might not show up. Skip town this winter in favor of somebody else without even so much as a texted goodbye. So they’re reassuring, the familiar feelings. These things are cold. They melt. I can catch them on my tongue, cliché only if you’ve lost touch with the purple-snowsuit-wearing kid in you. They swirl and travel in marvelous packs. Look, they’ve laid siege to the car, they’re an inch think on the thing, and it’s October 3rd.

Looking to do some late season Glacier climbing, a friend and I headed over to stay with family in East Glacier. Our first day  was spent around Logan Pass.

We rolled back into East Glacier and pondered our options. Renee had to make it back to work the day after, so the objective was to get good and tired. My uncle predicted that the weather would change, heading toward the first precip Glacier had seen in a few weeks. As it happened,  we witnessed the front moving in by walking through blow-down quality winds and snow squalls for the second half of the day.

After healthy portions of my aunt’s soup, we headed back to Kalispell. That’s when we found the car, and the rest day I was planning took its first serious hit. Arriving home my legs staged at coup d’etat on the urge to ski, so I didn’t set an alarm and woke up at 9am to blue skies. Two hours later, I was at the Sperry trailhead stowing the late start nonsense and my skis on my pack. About two miles towards Comeau Pass, the first glimpse of the alpine popped out of the trees, and the decision to go late and solo with angry quads made a lot more sense.

Then it showed up on the trail.

By the time I got to about 5500 feet, it was four inches.

By 6000, it was a foot, and I stopped to put skins and ski boots on.

Skins. Glide instead of step. Climbing risers. A summer on trails and talus relegates these things to a shelf in my head, and when they come back, it’s Christmas again. Heading up the trail towards Sperry Glacier, the early season asserted itself by way of rocks cruising just under my skins and creeks still flowing strong.

After some awkward crossings and dodging icicle fall on some overhanging cliffs, I made it around the cirque above Sperry Chalet. As we’d driven home the night before, wind had been drifting piles all over the trail. Skinning got harder as my Viciks punched a few feet into the windbuffed chalk. Though I’d been trying to ignore it, my watch also said that it was 3pm.  With the sunsets getting that much earlier and seven miles of trail to cover, going out in the dark alone seemed a bad idea.

A few drifted veins held a couple feet of snow. I changed into dry layers, flipped my boots to ski mode, and proceeded to make fifteen unimpressive but glorious jump turns down the off-angle fall line.

My late start meant it was time to turn around. Skiing the trail down proved an interesting challenge at the creek crossings and left its mark in my bases. At the trail junction, I switched back to my hiking boots and fired off my first bit of snow artistry for the year.

Walking out, lots of snow had melted, and the clouds that filled the valley while I’d been making turns opened over the lake. Wet, tired, and ready to take a day off, I drove home in that particular brand of smelly funk and satisfaction that can only reek of skiing.

hough currently in Seattle visiting friends, I’ll try to get up to the pass again before avie danger moves in, hence the part one. Hope it’s getting wintery in your corner of the world.

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