Winter Camping In Hyalite | March 25th & 26th

Back in early December we stumbled upon a small backcountry hut while touring in the Blackmore area. We dropped our packs and crawled through the snowy entrance to see what was inside. We were surprised to find some accommodations such as sleeping pads, a saw, a hatchet, pots, pans, and even a wood burning stove. Why the hell you'd want to drag a stove up a mountain is still a mystery but we were stoked on our discovery. As we sat in this small hut made of fallen branches, drinking some beer, we talked about how awesome it would be to camp out in it and be the first ones out in the morning to get some turns.

Well, fast forward to late March and this idea became a reality. The road into Hyalite Canyon is closed from April 1st to mid May so this was our last chance to make this trip happen. Chris, Charles, and I stuffed our biggest packs with what should have been a sled load's worth of supplies and set off for the hut on a Sunday afternoon. The weather in Bozeman was beautiful and it felt like early Spring. Blue skies, no wind, and temps in the mid 40's.

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As we drove up into the canyon the temps started to drop as expected. By the time we were on the trail, snow was steadily falling. The little sprinkle of snow became heavier and heavier and before we knew it, it was full-on-dumping. As great as some new snow was, we were starting to get exhausted by the weight of our packs and our clothes were becoming saturated. 

Finally we made our way up to the top of the trail and into the meadow below the east face of Blackmore. Our pace had slowed to a crawl and we were following tracks that were running parallel to where the hut was. The slope was steepening and I figured we must be above the hut's elevation. Grudgingly, I started breaking trail, heading in what I believed was the general direction of the hut. After a few more demanding minutes I reach the cliff at the edge of the ridge. I look up, then down. No hut. I wait for Chris and Charles to catch up and Chris and I accept that the hut is below us.

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At this point I look over at Charles and he's not doing so hot. I've gone on a few solid trips with Charles and he sometimes brings more stoke than necessary gear. Everything he was wearing was soaked and his hands were looking more blue than they should. He was starting to feel a little out of it so we knew it was important that we find the hut soon. Chris and I both agreed that it wasn't more than 20 yards from the edge of the cliff somewhere below us so we transitioned and began to descend through the trees.

Just as I was starting to get worried that we passed it somewhere along the way, I spotted the hut. I get out of my skis and go over to the entrance. Wait, was this the same entrance as last time? I try to squeeze in, no shot. I'm able to poke my head inside and there's a decent four foot wind drift about half way into the hut. Just great. While I didn't expect anyone else to be in the hut, I expected at least one other group to be as dumb as us and try to camp there at some point this season. I grab my shovel out of my pack and start digging. Chris and Charles join me shortly and Chris starts helping me with the digging while Charles tries to warm himself up. After what felt like too long, we dig out a decent enough trench to get our gear and Charles inside the hut and out of the snow. Looking at the wood stove, we could see the pipe went out to the side at the bottom of the hut instead of out from the top. Another project to start on. Chris and I grab our shovels again and go around to the side of the hut where the pipe must lead. There's gotta be at least six feet of snow blown up against the hut. At this point we're all pretty cold, tired, hungry, and thirsty, but there weren't too many options so we started digging again. From inside the hut, Charles would bang on the wall above the pipe to help us dig in the right spot. Again, after what felt like forever, we strike some metal. Holy shit, we actually found it. Whoever built it did a solid job and built the chimney with a little roof so there wasn't snow lodged inside of it at all. 

Feeling accomplished, Chris and I head back inside to help start a fire. Now we're really feeling worked. All I wanted was to sit down, cook some food, and feel warm and dry. Except these logs just won't catch. We're trying everything to start this with fire, lint, toilet paper, old business cards. I realize that backseat driving over Chris's shoulder doesn't help us in any way so I go back to shoveling out the entrance in the hopes it'll warm me up a little more. Suddenly I hear a crackling, I turn around and Chris got it. A little bit of inner caveman comes out of us as we let out a few hoots and hollers and exchange high fives. The hut starts warming up and we get our wet clothes off of us and hang them up on the nails and ropes above the stove. 

That fire got us out of the definite low point of the trip. We were, again, overly excited to be out in the woods and resumed our talks of how good the snow was going to be the next day. After some warm food and a little whiskey to wash it down, we stepped out of the hut to see that the snow had cleared and the full moon was lighting up the mountains enough to not need a headlamp. From the edge of the ridge we had a clear view of Elephant Mountain across the valley. The night was truly calm, with no wind howling or snow falling.

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We woke to clear skies and a calm breeze. After some breakfast we emerged from our warm sleeping bags and set out for a day of steep and deep skiing. Charles led the way on our first lap, clearly much more energetic than on yesterday's climb. We ascended up to the ridge to dig a pit and evaluate the snow. Lucky for us, the eastern aspect of Blackmore doesn't get too windy so the snow was stable, with the main concern being sluffing (loose, light snow, usually not enough to bury you but possible to knock you off your feet). 

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The first lap was short but sweet. With the snow being stable we were feeling ambitious and decided to go for the summit. When we made it up to the ridge we saw a solo skier nearing the top. I was shocked to see someone riding this level of terrain alone but I guess he must have felt confident by the other tracks on the slope since he was staying in between them. After admiring his turns it was time for us to head up. The wind had picked up on the ridge and the weather started to feel arctic. I also didn't anticipate boot packing up to the top so I failed to bring a daypack that had a ski carry. Slinging my skis over my shoulder made for some complicated climbing but finally we made it to the top.

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It was pretty rad being on top of Blackmore for the second time this season, once being in early November and the second being in late March. Our goal this time was a chute we'd been looking at every time we came up to Blackmore. We carefully navigated the mellow summit snowfield in order to land ourselves at the top of the chute. It might seem obvious but it's significantly more difficult to navigate while you're on top of the mountain than at the bottom. Looking down at the slope below me I felt halfway confident I was standing at the top of the chute. I knew that it was either that or I was going to ski a hanging snowfield. I dropped in and the snow was unreal. Some of the best turns I've taken all season without a doubt. As I'm nearing the bottom I start realizing that I in fact am on the hanging snowfield. Whoops! I cut across the slope, narrowly missing my own sluff that I set off (rookie mistake) and ski down the opening in the cliffs. I radio up and let Chris and Charles know where the cliff is and where the chute is and shoot some photos of them tearing it up on the way down.

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We exchange more high fives and look back up at one of the best runs any of us had all season. It's finally time to head home. We ascend one more time and ski the woods back down to the hut, load up our heavy packs again, and shred back to the car.

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