Storm 1: Lava Mountain

Montana + Autumn = good chance of snow

Montana + Autumn = good chance of snow

Here’s a little picture story on the first of our snowy adventures…

After kicking back and relaxing over at Dan’s in Bozeman – and squeezing in a couple of short but sweet singletrack rides – we set off once more from Helena. Bt the way, thanks enormously to those who sent parcels or answered my music SOS and compiled new tunes – I’m loving them!

It had to happen some time. With weeks and weeks of sunshine in the bag, the forecast finally spelled doom and gloom. Sure enough, when we awoke from a night camping in a (closed) campsite, early morning drizzle was pooling in the potholes and giving the trail a lovely, tyre-sucking, tacky feel.

As we climbed in elevation, rain turned to snow, dusting the tops of the trees.

As we climbed in elevation, rain turned to snow, dusting the tops of the trees.

What should have been a lovely, fast forest track turned into mush and slime.

What should have been a lovely, fast forest track turned into mush and slime.

The scenery was stunning; the forest looked frozen in time.

The scenery was beautiful; the forest looked frozen in time.

There was a real fairytale feel.

A fairytale feel.

Onwards and upwards we climbed, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead...

Onwards and upwards we climbed, blissfully unaware of what lay ahead...

Then the snow started to fall, and a blanket of flat, blue light covered the land.

Then the snow started to fall, and a filter of flat, blue light fell across the land.

Still, here's Chris, still smiling. He'd invested in new gloves and boots in Helena, and was feeling toasty.

Here's Chris, still smiling.

The occasional truck stopped the snow from settling on the ground.

The occasional truck stopped the snow from settling on the ground.

The snow started to cling to everything - even the sides of the trees.

Elsewhere, it started to cling to everything - even the sides of the trees.

But it wasn't until we turned off the main forest road, onto a far narrower, steeper and rockier trail that the encountered our first drifts. As this trail was closed to all motor vehicles,  it's never cleared.

But it wasn't until we turned off the main forest road, onto a far narrower, steeper and rockier trail that the encountered our first snow drifts. As this trail was closed to all motor vehicles, the snow is left to gather.

Chris snakes his way through the trees, their branches dropping with snow.

Chris snakes his way through the trees, their branches dropping with snow.

Soon, the snow really began to fall...

Soon, it really began to fall...

... in fact, our path was rapidly becoming far from distinct.

... in fact, our path was rapidly becoming far from distinct.

Time to check the map.

Time to check the map, me thinks.

Robert, properly wrapped up in his ski mitts.

Robert, well wrapped up in his ski mitts.

We could have turned back, but we made the call to push on. I mean, how much further could it be?

At this point, we could have turned back, but made the call to push on. I mean, how much further could it be?

Then the snow got rather thick.

Then the snow got thicker, and the trail thinner.

... and the hill steeper and rockier.

... and the hill steeper and rockier.

Negotiating fallen trees added to the challenge.

Negotiating fallen trees added to the challenge.

There were still moments we could ride. But they were just that: moments.

There were still moments we could ride. But they were just that: moments.

The Santos Travelmaster. Shrugging off the snow with aplomb.

The Santos Travelmaster. Shrugging off the snow with aplomb.

Darkness was starting to fall. We knew we were on the right track, but there didn't seem an end in sight to the trail.

It was starting to get late. We knew we were on the right track, but there didn't seem an end in sight to the trail.

At last we reached the meadow at the top of the pass.

Finally, after a lot of pushing and shoving, we reached the meadow at the top of the pass.

The challenge was simple: stay on the bike.

Then the trail started to descend. In our semi-exhausted state, the challenge was simple: stay on the bike.

With just a handful of miles on the clock, we decided to pull over and camp, before it was pitch black.

It was tempting to try and push on to the forest road where our path would be clearer. But it was getting dark. With just a handful of miles on the clock, we decided to pull over and snow camp. The temperature plummeted. We didn't socialize much than evening...

A cold night ensued. Here's my boots in the morning, which had turned into ice blocks.

A cold night ensued. Here's my boots in the morning, which, like everything else, had turned into ice blocks.

And here's Robert, emerging from his cocoon.

And here's Robert, emerging from his cocoon.

We almost needed a shovel to dig out the bikes. All this time, the Rohloff hubs never skipped a beat. My V brakes froze, clogging up the wheels with snow, and Robert's mudguards wedged the bike to a standstill too. Chris's derailleurs had long gone...

We almost needed a shovel to dig out the bikes, encased as they were in snow. All this time, the Rohloff hubs never skipped a beat. However, my V brakes froze, clogging up the wheels with snow, and Robert's mudguards did their best to wedge the bike to a standstill too. Chris's derailleurs had long lost any sense of purpose...

I'd left my riding gloves in a bag outside, and they'd frozen in a kind of embrace.

I'd left my riding gloves in a bag outside, and they'd frozen in a kind of embrace.

Still, the next morning brought with it sunshine; fingers could at last defrost.

Still, the next morning brought with it sunshine; fingers could at last defrost.

Not quite axle deep, but not far from it. Did I mention that pushing a fully loaded bike is hard?

Not quite axle deep, but not far from it. Did I mention that pushing a fully loaded bike is hard? Very hard.

And a chance to get back on the bikes.

A chance to get back on the bikes.

Yey, back on the forest road again!

Yey, back on the forest road again!

Soon, the snow seemed a distant memory. Soon, the snow seemed a distant memory. We hurtled down a winding dirt track, past the remnants of old mines and remote cabins, startling elk as we dropped down in altitude.
The tiny hamlet of Basin.

The tiny hamlet of Basin.

Not too much going on here...

Not too much going on here...

Ride loaded: the way I like it.

Ride loaded: the way I like it. Sticker courtesy of the Adventure Cyling Org, who dreamt up this amazing route.

Proud to be American.

Basin: Proud to be American.

More rusty, junked cars than people, I think.,

More rusty, junked cars than people, I think.

Just like it says. Montana, Big Sky.

Just like it says. Montana, Big Sky.

From here, Chris hitched a lift to try and bring his mauled gear system back to life, while Robert and I rode the final 30 miles to Butte.

From here, Chris hitched a lift to try and bring his mauled gear system back to life, while Robert and I rode the final 30 miles to Butte.

A quiet forest road ran parallel to the highway for much of the way.

A quiet forest road ran parallel to the highway for much of the way.

Beautiful light up at Great Divide Crossing no 4, before one final, fast descent into Butte. And luxury! We treated ourselves to a motel for the night, my first in three months!

Beautiful light up at Great Divide Crossing no 4, before one final, fast descent into Butte. And luxury! We treated ourselves to a motel for the night, my first in three months!

15 thoughts on “Storm 1: Lava Mountain

  1. RichNYC

    The motel night is well deserved. Lava Mountain’s gotta be the worst place to catch a storm like that!!! Amazing pictures and great story-telling.

    Reply
  2. Katie

    Hi Cass, I remember that ride out of Butte, quite a tricky one in the baking heat let alone 3ft of snow! Basin was quite a strange place, we met a chap who had lots of guns (obviously) and pretended at being a cowboy at weekends! They had a cardboard cowboy set or something and shot at targets…very odd! Goodluck with the rest of the white stuff! Take care Katie x

    Reply
  3. Nick

    Wow, what an adventure. Great pics too bro!

    I went and got myself a lovely D300 and am having great fun learning how to use it. Looking at your photos, I’m wondering what lens are you using out there? Have you still got that 18-200mm? I was thinking of getting one but remembered there might be one to be had for a bargain from you 😉

    xNick

    Reply
  4. Chanah

    What an incredible indomitable spirit you all have! I’d pick you to be with in a natural disaster- you’re bad ass boys! be the thought of the sauna and hot tub at my place are pretty alluring right now- hope you can still make the visit Cass.

    Reply
  5. bridgetsbikeblog

    Yikes Cass! This beats the socks off our swedish mid winter ride! Loving these photo stories…. Back behind the desk. Planning India 2 for next year already.
    look forward to the next update.
    Bridget

    Reply
    1. otbiking Post author

      glad you liked n india so much – I know why!
      actually, camping in the snow brought back memories of sweden, walking because toes were too cold, and loitering in groceries to warm up. A crazy trip!

      Reply
  6. Tom Robertson

    Hey Cass, I’ve been loving the photos. And wow….the snow is awesome! I figured that you were getting snowed on, I just didn’t realize how much. That is amazing! Hope you keep on making it through. Here in Missoula we went from Summer to Winter…skipping fall it seems like. Stay warm and safe travels. Tom

    Reply
  7. Liv

    Hey Cass – this latest story confirms my suspicions about your sick and twisted mind….you try to hide it but I know that you have stuggled to contain your glee as you recount these icy horrors!

    Looks brilliant I have to say. Maybe it’s just my upbringing – that British infatuation with crunchy snow (up there with toilet humour), which makes me jealous. I too have been torturing myself a little, immersed in chilly Irish seas reminding my arms about pain and trying to catch up for lost time with each wave that rolled in. Food for the soul.

    Early November probably Mexico. Looks like you’ll be playing further north but if not then lets hook up, for a bit of shark baiting.

    Go easy on the others

    xx

    Reply
  8. Rosal

    A world away from here in Darfur!!! Amazing pics – I had flashbacks to Kyrgyzstan, Issyk Kol, 10pm, loads of swearing and dragging the tandem across the icy slush when we took that ‘shortcut’! ha :)

    Reply
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