Snowshoe Hike to Porphyry Lookout

In the winter everything looks different. Although I’ve visited the Porphyry Fire Lookout perched on the top of the slopes of the Showdown Ski Area in the Little Belt Mountains, I’ve never seen it in the winter since I prefer cross-country over the downhill sport. Determined to remedy this, I gave a shout out to my other adventurous friends and we made a day of it last Sunday.

As much as I am a summer person, with blue skies and no wind, glorious is a dull description of the conditions. Parking at the Kings Hill parking area at the top of the pass, we followed the closed road until we reached the Golden Goose, one of the mid-level ski hills at Showdown keeping to the right as we made our way up to a road that squirted around the back of the hill. Gaining roughly 1700 feet in a couple of miles cranks up the heart rate, but when you’re with excellent company, as we were that day, it goes quickly.

Happy ladies at Porphyry Lookout. Photo by Martina.

Hoarfrost covered the trees at the top creating a picture perfect winter wonderland as we headed past the lookout to the warming up at the top of the ski hill. We weren’t cold by any stretch of the imagination, but it felt good to sit in the snug building enjoying our lunches, homemade cookies packed to the top by Martina, along with hot cocoa purchased at the little cafe for some of the ladies. We spent close to an hour catching up and getting to know each other, as it was the first time we met for many of us, making it the perfect way to spend a Sunday.

The way down was much easier, and much quicker. We veered off the Golden Goose route taking the service road (which is the one typically open in the summer) to extend our trip since none of us wanted to be finished. And since we made it back to the vehicles in an hour, we decided to head to Memorial Falls a few miles down the road.

Memorial Falls, which is just outside of the former mining town of Neihart, is the go-to place for families with kids or for someone who wants a short hike with a big payoff at the end. It’s only 1/4 mile to the first falls, and an equal distance to the next ones. While we didn’t need snowshoes, micro spikes would have been very helpful as the trail was slick in a few spots. On the way back it was easier to sit and scoot – I called us the Memorial Falls Luge Team – rather than attempt to walk. But we all made it back without concussions or broken bones!

The week prior, my husband, sons, and I ventured into Memorial Falls finding them frozen over with the water running behind them looking like something out of a magical fairyland story. Seven days later, the falls were half melted. Winter is over, by any means, but the signs of spring are starting to peek through.

Besides having the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, the hike was special because of the company. Many of the ladies are fellow homeschool moms, one was a friend I hiked with over a year ago, and yet another was a wonderful woman I interviewed on the radio. I learned far more about her incredible character and impressive knowledge while we snowshoed than I ever did when we talked on the radio. A couple were friends of friends, but they instantly became part of the tribe. It struck me that in this world of negativity and quarreling spending a day pushing ourselves physically in this wintery landscape with positive, amazing women is exactly what we need to recharge our bodies… and our souls.

My peeps! Photo by Martina.

Cutting the Christmas tree

Kinnickinnik provides a food source throughout the winter.
Kinnickinnik provides a food source throughout the winter.

 

While it is undoubtedly easier to snag a Christmas tree in town, for the past couple of years we’ve headed to the mountains to cut one out of the National Forest. We usually don’t come home with a perfect specimen, but walking through the woods, throwing the stick for Luna, and enjoying hot cocoa all make it a memorable experience.

This year I hoped to head towards Sun Canyon outside of Augusta simply because I wanted to see if I could find the bighorn sheep, but with an impending snow storm on the horizon, we choose to go to our typical tree-hunting grounds near Monarch in the Little Belt mountains. Many of the roads in the area are well-maintained, especially if there is a missile silo along the route because the Air Force keeps it clear, so it was an easy drive to where the best trees are found. Compared to other years, it didn’t take us long to find a suitable specimen. We did see one that looked nice, but it had a bird’s nest tucked in near the truck so we left it for next year’s bird family.

After cutting our tree, we tagged it with the permit issued from the Forest Service. Typically, they cost a mere $5 for each tree, but this year we were able to obtain one for free since our eldest is in 4th grade and took part in the Every Kid in a Park campaign. This is a wonderful program geared to encourage more kids to explore the outdoors. After answering a few questions, they are given a pass for the national parks (an $80 value), plus the Forest Service granted them a Christmas tree permit, as well. He was pretty happy to pull out his card to receive our permit the other day.

Cutting the tree
Cutting the tree

Since our search didn’t take very long we drove up the road to park to allow Luna and the boys to play in the snow. And, of course, the hot cocoa had to come out to warm their hands from snowball fights.  It always tastes better when you drink it outside in the snow.

Cocoa tastes better outdoors
Cocoa tastes better outdoors

It was a quick trip this year, but it’s a mission accomplished. The tree is in the stand, and it’s adorned with lights. Now, as soon as the boys finish their schoolwork today, they’ll be able to decorate it. The Christmas season has officially begun.