Thursday, February 7, 2019

Multi-day trip to Lick Creek yurts in McCall provides access to stellar backcountry skiing

Mike Erlebach on the shoulder of Beaver Dam Peak. Snow was rugged, but cool adventure.
(Courtesy Jim Pace) 
Chris Reino making tele turns in sweet sugar-like *pow* in the Burn Line area above the Lick Creek yurts. 
We had great weather for the duration of our trip, and great snow! Beaver Dam peak in the background.
L to R, Wendy, Jim Young and Steve at the top of the Burn Line, ready to make another run. 
Hi all,

I had the privilege of taking a 4-day backcountry ski trip to the Lick Creek yurts near McCall recently with a bunch of friends from Boise and McCall.

Timing-wise, we lucked out with a string of gorgeous bluebird days, a foot of fresh snow, and top-shelf food every day. We felt blessed amid the glory of all of those big mountain peaks lording above us, sometimes lit up by a brilliant sunrise or sunset.

"It was the high point of my winter," says my partner, Wendy Wilson.

"It's nice to ski soft powder in the sunshine," adds Mack Lyons of Boise. "There's an enormous amount of terrain to ski up there. I've been up there two times, and I can see why you keep going back."

"It's pretty amazing to step outside the yurt, jump into your skis and enjoy some of the best skiing in the world, right off the deck," adds Jim Young of Boise and McCall.

Beer-30 after our last full day of backcountry skiing ... 
On Day 1, picture Wendy, Mack, Jim and the rest of our group climbing up a skin trail to a spot snowcat driver Gregg Lawley calls "No Complaints," where there's some sweet north-facing fields of powder waiting below, just a 15-minute climb from the yurts. We de-skin and pick our own personal line of virgin snow through shin-high sugar. That brings a big smile and whoops of joy from everyone as they make perfect signatures in the snow.

After a few of those runs that afternoon, I looked at the slopes above and saw a lot of blank fields of snow below the peaks, and some that had been shredded by the guys who were there for several days before us. Still, it looked there'd be a ton of terrain we could ski close to the yurts for the next two days! Fun thing to ponder as we enjoyed some brewskis and wine on the deck in the waning hours of sunshine.

Playing cards in the evening after dinner. 
This was my fourth or fifth trip to the Lick Creek yurts over the last 10 years. The yurts are owned and operated by Payette Powder Guides. McCall skier, river guide and kayaker Marty Rood worked with the Payette National Forest to obtain a special use permit to provide guided backcountry ski trips and avalanche courses at Lick Creek. It sure is a great amenity to enjoy in the winter months! Marty also allows people to rent the yurts if they've gone with a guide before at Lick Creek and have at least a Level 1 avalanche certification. That's what we did.

As I've written before, yurt trips are a deluxe way to enjoy the mountains in the winter. Yurts typically are equipped with wood stoves to make things warm and cozy, bunks for sleeping, double-burner cook stoves, lanterns, pots and pans, plates and silverware, etc., everything you need to cook up a big feast. Marty also has a propane BBQ outside on the deck, a very nice touch. He even has fold up deck chairs available if they weather is nice.

Jim Young apres ski 
At Lick Creek, there's two yurts -- one of them is the cook yurt with a larger wood stove and cook stuff, and the second yurt is for extra sleeping space with a smaller wood stove. For our group of 8 people, half slept in the cook yurt, and half slept in the other one. There's also a very nice sauna building to enjoy after a day of sweating up and down the mountain. And of course, there's an outhouse and a pee tree.

The yurts are located at the top of Lick Creek Summit (elevation 6,700 feet), about 12.5 miles from the east side of McCall. You either pay $800 for a roundtrip snowcat ride to the yurts and back to town, or you can go in by snowmobile, if a bunch of the people in your party own or have access to 'biles. We did the snowcat route this time, with my old Tamarack friend Gregg Lawley at the helm. It takes about 2 hours to get to the yurts.

The snowcat provides several big benefits. You don't have to climb multiple miles with a heavy pack to reach the yurt, like you do at most yurts in Idaho. You can bring coolers full of food and drink, another benefit. No restrictions on bringing extra clothes to stay warm. So all of that is pretty deluxe! Our friend Jim Pace brought a two-up snowmobile to the yurts, just in case we might need it for an emergency, or to access more ski terrain nearby.

One of the big highlights for Wendy and me, along with most of our group, was to farm an area called "The Burn Line," above the yurts. The Burn Line was full of fabulous untracked snow. We skied it in the afternoon of Day 2 and a full day on Day 3, picking a new virgin line each run, while enjoying clear skies, almost no wind, and temperatures close to 30 degrees. Just about perfect!

Getting ready to take the snowcat into the yurts with Gregg Lawley.
L-R, Mike Erlebach, Deb Glazer, Mack Lyons, Steve, Chris Reino and Wendy.
On Day 3, Jim Pace went over to the north ridge of Beaver Dam Peak with Mack Lyons and Mike Erlebach of McCall to ski a chute or the bowl below the ridge. As they skinned up to the serrated ridge on the shoulder of the mountain, Erlebach said it was pretty obvious that the skiing would be marginal -- everything was breakable crust and windblown. But they thoroughly enjoyed the adventure.

"There's great opportunities for adventure skiing up there," Lyons says. "That was fun!"

I highly recommend booking some nights at the Lick Creek yurts with a group of your ski buddies, if you haven't done so already!

We've been blessed with a great winter so far with regular new doses of powder every week ... I hope you are getting out and getting your share of turns and grins in the *pow*!
- SS

Mike skiing the breakable crust below Beaver Dam Peak. 

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