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.

Weathering the Dark Days

Surviving winter for solar powered people takes some creativity

As a solar-powered being, it’s no surprise these short, dark days wear on my psyche. The cold is manageable. I’ve spent decades gathering gear and understanding how to stay warm. The snow is bearable to some degree; as long as travel isn’t required. There’s nothing to do about the dark, but to make the best of it.

Step into hygge-hood?

For the past several years, as winter approaches posts about the Danish tradition – actually lifestyle – of hygge litter social media. While this concept, which the closest explanation is the art of coziness, relaxation, and enjoying life, is appealing to many, it makes me twitch. I’m not a bundle up in a blanket, sip cocoa, and watch Netflix type of person. That sounds like a sick day.

What I do take advantage of during these long nights and short days are activities I should do, but often don’t when I’m up and running from dawn to the late dusk of the summer. When I pop out of bed between 4-5 a.m. (because I cannot stand just lying there ), I immediately turn on YouTube to watch Yoga with Adriene while I drink my powdered beet drink, or what I like to call, the blood of my enemies. After yoga it’s time for coffee.

Winter is tea time

Since being indoors more is inevitable at this time of the year when it’s well below zero and blowing 30 mph. And one of the best parts of winter is there is usually something brewing on the stove because I’m far less likely to walk out of the house allowing it to boil down to twiggy bits.

My chai tea addiction

The more aromatic option is a homemade chai tea that is stand-by throughout the season. This is a recipe I learned from Yoga with Adriene. It’s simple, warming, and uplifting even in the dark days. To 2 quarts of water, I add:

20 black pepper corns

16 cloves

4-5 cinnamon sticks

2 inch piece of ginger, washed and sliced into pieces

16 cardamom pods, slightly crushed

Typically, chai tea is flavored with honey and cream (or half and half), but it doesn’t have to be. The tea is delicious on its own, so I only occasionally dress it up with honey and sometimes both, if I’m feeling particularly indulgent. Truthfully, if I added honey and half and half to the amount I typically drink, there is no way to ski enough to burn off those calories!

Looking for cold-weather workouts

Enjoying cocoa at a snowshoe hike to Memorial Falls

But it’s not all sipping tea during the long, cold months. We have snowshoes, and I’m making a list of places to take the kids in our Nature Club, as well as working on some more challenging outings with the grown up girls. The first trek on my list is Porphyry Peak in the Little Belt Mountains. This lookout at the top of Showdown Ski Area is a beautiful place to visit during the summer, so I’m looking forward to seeing it blanketed with snow.

Exploring Lake McDonald

We also like to make at least one trip to the west side to Essex and West Glacier during the winter to take advantage of the remarkable skiing opportunities on Forest Service land, as well as in Glacier National Park. Depending on the snow conditions, it’s a toss up between snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, but it’s always a beautiful and quiet time to enjoy the area.

Soaking in the winter vibe

While we’re in the area, it would be ideal to pop down to White Sulphur Springs to soak in the world-class hot springs. One of my goals is to experience all of the hot springs in Montana, but at the moment White Sulphur is my favorite. They are clean, but with that wonderful sulphur smell (I actually like it), and have 3 pools of varying temperatures. Whether it’s a day trip for a couple of hours in the pools, or an overnight stay at the hotel, soaking is one of our all-time favorite wintertime activities.

New bindings for the cross-country skis

While snowshoeing can take you just about anywhere, I really enjoy cross-country skiing. Roughly 25 years ago, National Geographic Television bought me Bushwacker XT Trak cross-country skis geared to haul gear off-trail looking for mountain lions. They’re wider than traditional cross-country skis with a metal edge, making them handy for either breaking trail in deeper snow or cruising on a groomed course. When I had issues with the boot staying clipped into the binding during one of our first snowfalls this year (since it started at the end of September), I considered buying a new pair. Then I noticed the prices. Ouch. Plus, I really like these skis.

Thankfully, a friend recommended that I take them to Bighorn Outdoor Specialists where they could put on new bindings. By the end of the day, Chris had the skis ready to go. At the moment, I’m using my old boots, which I don’t love because my feet get cold regardless of how hard I’m working, so I am saving for a new pair. Now all we need is snow! (I can’t believe I’m saying about that.)

Taking winter a day at a time

The New Year’s first hike

I don’t hide that winter is my least favorite part of the year, and I fully admit that I regularly check prices to Phoenix. Even a long weekend in Arizona would help diminish the dark season blues. But I’m also determined to make the most of every day by focusing on the best of the indoor activities, along with kicking butt outdoors at every opportunity.

Weekend Winter Getaway

A couple of weeks ago friends invited us to join them a the Glacier Wilderness Resort near Essex where they own a timeshare week, and make a point to spend time there every winter. Even though I worked at the Izaak Walton Inn many moons ago, and have driven past the Glacier Wilderness Resort at least a thousand times, I had no idea it was such a lovely place to stay. The cabin was large and comfortable with pretty much everything you needed (except for food and such, of course). And the hot tub on the porch was a big hit with the boys. The Lodge has a nice little fitness room, pool table, and reading area. There’s even a swimming pool that’s kept at 95 degrees F. It’s truly everything you’d want, and it would be easy to spend a week without leaving the grounds. 

Shortly after we arrived, which involved driving in blizzard conditions over Marias Pass, we donned our snowshoes and headed out on the trails behind the cabins. A short walk took us to a beautiful waterfall where the bridge allowed us to walk close to the flowing water behind the snow. We continued a little bit farther, but the lure of opening birthday presents for our youngest got the better of him, and it didn’t take long before he wanted to go back. Even though it was a brief walk through the beautiful woods, the possibilities didn’t escape me. 

By the next morning the weather had improved so we decided to head to Apgar and Lake McDonald to snowshoe or ski on Going to the Sun Road.  The winter in Glacier is one of my favorite times to be there because it is a completely different world than the insane overcrowding during the summer. It was a popular place on that particular Sunday, but it was nothing compared to what the parking lot looks like in July. 

We parked at the end of the parking lot at Lake McDonald Lodge, where there is a great vault restroom you can use before you start your trek. (This is important stuff to know!) Our eldest and I put on our skis, despite the slick conditions. John started with snowshoes, but switched to skis. Even then, he was resistant, and his dad ended up pulling him with a ski pole for the entire 3 mile trip.  We went down to the bridge at the head of Lake McDonald where we grabbed a snack, and spotted a large whitefish in the water below. It was absolutely gorgeous blue-sky day, and I thought it was very interesting that our trip back to the car took half the time as it did to reach the bridge. 

Being outdoors at any time of the year refreshes the soul, but it’s especially rejuvenating in the middle of winter when outdoor recreation is often limited by inclement weather or shortened days. It was a fantastic opportunity to show the boys how beautiful it is, and how fun the winter can be.