Back to Iceland, in winter

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Last time we traveled to Iceland, it was late summer and we got stranded in a snowstorm. Now, we’re going back – in winter.

Why? The country is beautiful, and spending most of two days waiting out the storm in a cold farmhouse resulted in us missing some areas and activities of interest.

We’ll be returning to the places we hurried through last time – Lake Mývatn and Akureyri – and also going to the Snæfellsness Peninsula, which wasn’t on our itinerary.

Why winter? I looked up flights on whim and ticket prices were low. And, really, it doesn’t seem like it could get much worse. We have plenty of experience driving in winter conditions in the Rockies, and on our previous trip it seemed to be the time of year the storm occurred that surprised many. We’re planning for short days and slow driving, and our SUV will have studded tires.

The one thing we didn’t consider when buying our plane tickets was the ongoing eruption of the Bárðarbunga caldera. The eruption, which began last summer, is the largest the country has seen in 200 years. The Holuhraun lava field now covers more than 84 square kilometers, or 32 square miles – the size of Manhattan. Fortunately, it hasn’t interfered with flights.

We still expect to get out this time, but instead of hiking boots we’ll be taking along cross-country skis and possibly snowshoes.

Spires and ice in Blodgett Canyon

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With its towering rocky spires, Blodgett Canyon is a geological highlight of the Bitterroot Mountains for summer visitors. In winter, however, it becomes a frozen wonderland.

And while it’s quite popular in warmer months, it seems hardly anyone goes there in the snow. On New Year’s Day, for example, we saw four other people, and passed only two of them on the trail.

When we arrived at the trailhead in the Bitterroot National Forest northwest of Hamilton, the temperature on the dashboard of our SUV read 1 degree. And while the sky was blue and the north rim of the canyon sunny, the south rim kept the creek bottom shaded.

In the first couple of miles, the trail parallels the creek upstream to the west, mostly through the trees above but also along its edge in a few spots.

Off the side of the trail, hoarfrost clung to the branches of shrubs. At a frozen bend in the creek, bigger crystals dotted the ice. At another bend farther up the trail, I was able to get an closer view of the intricate ice “flowers.”

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At 2 miles, the trail leaves the trees and rounds a boulder-filled bend. Here we could see across the canyon to a couple of ice climbers on a frozen cascade between Nez Perce and Shoshone spires on the north rim.

A short distance up the trail, we strapped on snowshoes and continued through the powder. Where it returns to the side of the cascading creek, we found icy pools – including one with a small frozen circle stuck in an eddy.

At about 3 miles, the trail crosses a bridge to the north bank of the creek, the canyon widens and a natural rock arch is visible on the south rim. A little more than a quarter mile farther, where the trail passes between a boulder field and a wide section of the creek, we stopped when the deep snow started to give the dogs trouble.

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On the way back down the canyon, with the shade rising up the north rim, we passed the only two people we would see on the trail all day.

Here are more photos of Blodgett Canyon.

Distance: About 6.5 miles round trip.

Trailhead: North of Hamilton, turn west off U.S. Highway 93 onto Bowman Road and drive three-quarters of a mile. Turn south on Ricketts Road and continue 2 miles. After Ricketts turns west, continue onto Blodgett Camp Road and follow it west, north and west again about 3.9 miles to the trailhead.

Welcome to Trails+Travels

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A new year, a new blog – welcome to Trails+Travels!

Really, this is a continuation of my old blog, Hike MT. I was beginning to feel it was too limiting both in its name, which easily could be changed, and in its design, which seemed less easy to alter considering it was a basic Blogger site.

So I got a domain and am starting anew. You’ll find hiking here still, and backpacking, car camping, road and trail running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing – and dogs. Mostly, it will feature Montana, but my wife Jen and I spend a lot of time exploring the American West and enjoy traveling the world when we can.

Join us on our adventures!