The Belly has no Roof

Just back from a rather challenging wolverine research trip.  The east (Atlantic, though much of it drains into the Hudson) side of Glacier never fails to impress with how distinct it is when compared to the Pacific side where by fact of convenience I spend most of my time.  Drier and higher, with sparser vegetation and the consequent more abundant views and critters, the Atlantic side of the crown of the continent is also very windy.  Something merely noteworthy in summer, but dreadfully urgent in winter.

On our ski in the wind dictated our moves, though in a gentle fashion.  The first 400 meters of the closed highway in the park had been scoured clean such that they required walking, and a few other sections necessitated skiing in the ditch.  The initial miles of trail alternate between wind-protected evergreen, where we had soft powder, and bare, gnarled aspen, where we had the full range of wind-affect: from deepish powder to scratchy scour which easily held body weight.  The more open meadows as we approached the ranger station, our base for the three days, were subject to the full force and rippled with sastrugi cut to the inscrutable satisfaction of the various sage clumps, gullies, and the little venturis to which they give birth all winter, seemingly without pause.

As pictured above we had some sun that first day, and even when the wind gusted briefly to force 7 or perhaps 8, the sun and mild temps kept things rather pleasant.  The wind forces snow through the cracks in the patrol cabin door, and generally called into question the wisdom of first, building the ranger complex on the downwind fetch of the largest meadow in the valley, and second, putting the cabin door on the west side.  We had a cozy evening nonetheless, and went to sleep.  I woke up after a few hours when I rolled over and got a bit of turkish-ground spindrift in my face from a crack near the roof, but that died off as the night wore on.  In fact I woke up again a few hours later because I was too warm.

The warmth and quietude were explained when we woke up to snain.  The wind hadn’t slowed down.  It hadn’t really sped up either, just revved more consistently towards top speed.  We got the days work done, but it was cold and wet.  Really cold.  But things cooled off overnight, and wind dialed back a number of notches, and we had a nice fast crust to double pole and skate on as we headed out.  A road was closed due to drifting on the drive home, necessitating a detour, but on the whole we (especially Dan and I, who had the long mission Sunday) were pleased to have stuck our heads into the howling throat of winter and gotten back with only modest misery paid due.

The main ranger station building, almost a century old, has not done so well thus far this winter.

At some point between the last patrol in late November and the first wolverine team a few weeks ago, the roof blew off.  According to Dan, who works for the USGS, a gust of 119 miles per hour was recorded at Logan Pass on December 30th.  So while this winter hasn’t been snowy, it seems to have been windy.  Things were looking okay in the station on Saturday, with surprisingly minimal drifting.  The rain Sunday was more impactful, and our reports of dripping ceilings will hopefully speed temporary repairs.  Though the wind isn’t doing the choppers any favors.

Interestingly, 100 years ago the Belly was accessible via wagon road.  Today, we enact restrictions to preserve what little remoteness is left to the first world (construction crews using snowmachines to access the summer TH need a special waiver to do so), and have our helicopters foiled by weather patterns which change only over millenia.  It’s an incongruous thought, but one I find comforting.

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