Sunday, January 17, 2010

Snowmobiling the Bighorns (Burgess Junction)

The story:
Paul, Marv and myself decided we needed to go check out the Bighorns this season. It is an easy trip from Minnesota and only involves a day of driving (12-13 hours). We loaded up and left central Mn at 6 a.m.

How we got there:
There are a few ways to get there. We decided that the fastest way would be to stay on I-94 through MN and all the way across North Dakota. At about 200 miles into Montana on I-94, we turned south on 47 in between Bighorn and Custer. This route will save you an hours time and 50 miles instead of going to Billings and then south on I-90. 47 south brings you to Hardin, MT. We then merged onto I-90 south into Wyoming. We took the Ranchester exit onto 14 towards Dayton. Dayton has a crazy little bar on mainstreet called the Crazy Woman Saloon where you can get a case of beer for your stay up in the mountain. We took off from the Crazy Woman up highway 14 that has around 20 switchbacks until the foot hills start to taper off. We drove 22 more miles until we arrived at Arrowhead Lodge. (Funny Story - We walked into the Crazy Woman and asked if they had off-sale liquor/beer. The young bartendar gave me a crazy look. I explained that I just wanted to buy some beer-to-go. In Wyoming, where I have lived before, apparently they call it a package-of-beer. So we got the stuff and we were on our way)

Where we stayed:
Arrowhead Lodge is 22 miles up the switchbacks from Dayton. It is a nice place with a saloon, place to eat and a nice motel built in 2000. The construction of buildings at Arrowhead is what you would expect if you have been to other wyoming get aways. The buildings are nice with noticeable flaws. We stayed in suite 105. There was plenty of room for the three of us and all of our gear. We also had enough food to survive for around 22 days :) We checked in that evening and they tried to persuade us to stay at bear lodge (up the road 3-4 miles). They informed us that they would be closing for 2 days because the mountain traffic was nearly non-existant. We decided to stay at Arrowhead and didn't mind one bit that we would be the only ones on the mountain for 3 days.

The trails are very well maintained in the Bighorns. I have snowmobiled with Rick (owner of the 3 lodges in the Bighorns) at another range in Wyoming and his complaint was the trails. I will say that he has the grooming under control in the Bighorns. We only use the trail to get to the next point where we will cut off and ride back country, so the trails aren't our main concern. Snow depth is.

Snow conditions:
The snow was scarce in the Bighorns this season. I have followed snotel for 7 years or so and the Bighorns always seem to have the least amount of snow out of any of the main sledding ranges in Wyoming. Snotel read 35 inches around Bald Mtn when we were there. It hadn't snowed for 2-3 weeks. We worked hard to find untracked snow. We were able to find good snow around Hunt Mtn, Freeze Out Point, Garden of the Gods, Burnt Mtn and Rooster Hill. The famous open meadows and bowls of the bighorns were tracked up, low on snow and hard as a rock. We ended up riding a lot of logged patches which isnt a bad thing. Just have to watch out for stumps in low snow conditions and never follow someone elses track. Overall, it was a good trip. We have been spoiled with deep snow in the other ranges that we ride so the low snow conditions were a bit of a disappointment. I would recommend the bighorns if you can get there after a good snowfall. There is lots of local traffic as well as traffic from MN, ND, SD. Backcountry areas are some of the most easy to access in Wyoming and therefore, the pow gets tracked up in a hurry.



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