Sunday, June 19, 2016

Steamboat East (not the lookout)

This is rugged, cliffy terrain
Steamboat East, the named mountain

A selfie on top

Because Steamboat East (elevation:  8,281 feet) doesn't have a trail to the top it doesn't get climbed nearly as often as Steamboat Lookout (elevation: 8,565) further west along this spectacular ridge line.
Steamboat East is a bit more difficult to climb because of the route-finding, and because of one 1,000 foot pitch at about mile 3.
But the views from the top are every bit as rewarding as the lookout views and make this a worthwhile climb.
I hiked nearly 12 miles and gained and lost almost 4,000 feet on this trip.
The climb begins at the Trail 206 parking lot.  This is one of the oddest trails in the forest because it cuts through private land and is a few feet adjacent to a private road to the Dearborn River crossing, at about a mile.  Why hikers can't use this road rather than this trail is beyond me.
The best route to the top begins just beyond the national forest boundary at mile 2.  It is just before reaching a visible drain pipe for an intermittent stream, which usually runs dry.  Sometimes this route is marked by rocks, but is difficult to pick out.  But, a few feet off trail there is a terrific climber's trail that is marked with cairns for about 2 miles, until it clears a high cliff.  I suspect that some expert from the nearby Wilderness Bible Camp has improved this trail and left the cairns.  I've done this hike numerous times over the years, but this route, which used to be a faint trace is vastly improved.
At about mile 3 the trail pitches steeply uphill for almost 1,000 feet, difficult to ascend, but almost impossible to descend in places.  On the way down I cut wide switchbacks, which though steep, helped some.
Once above the cliff the going is quite easy.  It runs through a large boulder field.  A small cliff blocks a direct route.  Go to the right on a game trail to cut around it and ascend it.
Lady Slippers were prevalent along my route

I've never seen so many spring beauties such as these that carpeted the area below the top
It is direct here through scrub forest and open fields to a saddle between the named peak (on the map) and a grassy, higher peak (by 30 feet) to the east.  I went up both.  Along the way I got great displays of spring beauty and lady slipper wildflowers.  On top, there were carpets of forget-me-nots.
From on top there are clear views of the ridge to Steamboat Lookout, one of the best ridge walks in our area, Scapegoat, the Continental Divide peaks (Caribou and Red) and snow-dappled peaks in every direction except far to the east, where there is the Great Plains.
Carpets of blue forget-me-not wildflowers
I'm always struck by the beauty of this area, but at the same time repelled by the landowners who have restricted access to public lands ----- there is a "no public access to trail" sign at Falls Creek.  This is also the area where Joseph Campbell shot his neighbor to death over simmering private property disputes.  This ugliness pervades the otherwise spectacular experience.

For more details, route map topo, CLICK HERE

The Dearborn, a real wilderness river

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A flurry of short trips

This gate has allowed the Sawmill Road to be reclaimed as Trail 730 in the Little Belts east of Monarch
The sandstone cliffs on the Milk River in Writing on Stone Provincial Park in Southern Alberta
The limestone ridges above Lime Gulch in the Front

The Running Rabbit trip really ran me down, and so I shifted gears to do more relaxing hikes.
On Sunday I did the Lime Gulch hike in the Front for the first time in nearly 20 years, on Monday an exploratory of Sawmill Gulch in the Little Belts on the Hughesville Road, and Tuesday I shot up to Alberta and walked in the hoodoos along the Milk River at Writing On Stone Provincial Park just north of the Sweetgrass Hills.
Here's a summary and some observations:

Lime Gulch

Lime Gulch was a lime green 
This is located in the Rocky Mountain Front west of Augusta on the Willow-Beaver Creek Road about 3 miles north of the Benchmark Road turnoff.  It is near the old Girls Scout Camp and sits across the road from Fairview Mountain.
It is a 7.2 miles roundtrip to the Cutreef divide on a pretty good trail that's marked from the road.  It travels between the Lime Ridge and an unnamed limestone ridge to the west.  It is open grass land most of the way, following a small stream.
This is obviously great elk country, although I didn't see any this day.
The trail gets very little use, despite its high scenic value.  It does get grazed by cattle.
The high Teton peaks, like Rocky and Baldy, are visible to the north once the divide is reached.  To the south it's Crown and Scapegoat mountains.

Sawmill Gulch off Dry Fork/Hughesville Road

Sawmill Creek was dry at the beginning and grew larger and stronger upstream
This Trail No. 730 in the Little Belts, 5 miles east of Monarch on the Dry Fork/Hughesville Road, is hard to find.  
It is an old road that has been blocked and is pretty much reclaimed as a little used hiking trail.  It lies below the west flank of Mount Barker, and it is possible to climb Mount Irene using this route.
It is not visible from the Dry Fork Road, and it is unsigned, and you have to cross private property to reach it, which isn't any problem.
The trail appears to be the rocky floor of a dried streambed until entering the trees, where there is a gate blocking motor vehicle access.  Then, for several miles before it peters out, it is a pleasant walk along the dry stream in a road bed, now overgrown with grass.
Then, within a mile the stream appears, and for the next couple of miles grows larger.  I'm told there are native cutthroat trout here.
The Forest Service has done a great job clearing deadfall from the trail.
A caution:  you have to ford the stream some 7 times before the trail runs out, but it isn't too difficult.
In several spots the trail opens into gorgeous, large meadows, but otherwise stays tucked in a narrow canyon.
I found moose and elk sign and a lady slipper wildflowers on this hike.
In the spring greenery it was gorgeous.

Writing on Stone Provincial (Alberta) Park

The hoodoos are cut in many odd sandstone shapes
This is a a gem of a (historical) park just over the Montana/Alberta border along the Milk River that is run by the province and advised by the Blackfoot Confederation.
It is about 150 miles from Great Falls (2.5 hours each way), and since I regularly travel that one way to get to Glacier, I figured what the heck.
The park derives its name from the Indian pictographs carved into the soft sandstones of the hoodoos.
It is located on river valley just north of West Butte in the Sweetgrass Hills.
The hoodoos line the Milk River rims for miles.
There is a good sized campground, a beach area, and hiking trails, as well as a backcountry without designated trails, but this area is accessible only by wading the river.
There are signs that indicate that river is used by floaters from Aiden to Del Bonita.
There are also signs asking visitors to be careful to look out for rattlesnakes, of which there are many.  I didn't see any on Tuesday when I went.
The visitor center is full of historical and archeological artifacts and interpretations of the park.
There is also a rebuilt Royal Canadian Mounted Police post, which I didn't visit.
The park has been nominated for a World Heritage Site Designation.
I walked the main trail, the Hoodoo Interpretive Trail, some 4.4 kilometers roundtrip and got splendid views of the park, the river, and the Sweetgrass Hills along the way.  The hoodoos are in many eerie shapes and one can see why the Blackfoot consider this a spiritual place.
There are two sites on the trail where the pictographs can be seen:  one depicting a beer, a bison and claws; and the other, a large battle scene, probably fought in the 1870s between the Blackfoot Confederacy, Crow, Cree and Gros Ventre tribes, the Blackfoot triumphant.
Unfortunately, over the years many have also carved initials and other things into the sandstone as well.
I plan to return for more exploration.
There is no entrance fee, but there are charges for camping.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

We'll call this Unamed Running Rabbit Peak!

Six of the seven furry buddies met us on top

On the unnamed summit

Approaching the top
This was a failed attempt at Running Rabbit Mountain in Glacier National Park (elevation: 7,674 feet).
We were weathered off by an approaching storm.  
However, we did reach the summit of an adjacent, sharp unnamed peak on the Running Rabit Ridge (elevation: 7,434 feet), which even had a Geodesic marker, that usually graces a summit. 
This was a bushwhack all the way from the Izaak Walton Ranger Station on a southwestern ridge that gained over 4,000 feet to the top over about 4 miles.  This is the ridge above Ole Creek.  
We descended on a southerly ridge adjacent to our ascent route.  The map that accompanies this does not include our down route. Our biggest obstacles were many downed trees and thick vegetation.
The forest floor was thick with deadfall
We were treated to a tremendous wildflower display in the occasional open meadows, particularly beargrass, arrowleaf, lupine, and orange paintbrush.  
The biggest treat of the day was reaching the top and being greeted by seven curious mountain goats (2 nannies, 4 yearlings and a newborn) that pranced on the snow and did acrobatics on the rocks below.  The yearlings were almost too curious about us and received sharp reprimands from mom. The scenery on this climb was stunning ---- the snowcapped Great Bear to the south and the southern end of Glacier Park to the North, dominated by big guy mountains like St. Nicholas, Stimson and Jackson.  
Below us was the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork of the Flathead, twisting and turning out of the wilderness in its emerald beauty along Highway 2.
For a topo map and more photos, CLICK HERE
Mark Hertenstein in a field of beargrass 
Looking down on the Middle Fork Flathead

Thursday, June 09, 2016

North Moccasin, Windy and Wright peaks

Approaching the final 300 feet to the top of the North Moccasins high point

Suffering on the way up

H. Wayne Phillips points out the many Central Montana mountain ranges from the Moccasins high point

Here are three small climbs taken over the past three days:

North Moccasins High Point

This was a 7 mile exploratory in the North Moccasin Mountains north of Lewistown to climb the high point in the range as part of Wayne's Wednesday Walks.  It meant going to the Kendall ghost town, which was the site of the Kendall Gold Mine, active into the 1980s and currently undergoing reclamation.  A rough road accessed through the Boy Scout Camp near the mine traverses most of the range, but for most folks, driving even a high clearance vehicle, getting to a spot above the mine will be plenty.  We hiked from there on the road, which rose and fell, sometimes very steeply to the grassy slope and the high point.  There are views of Central Montana's Island Ranges, including the Little Rockies, Judiths, Moccasins, Snowies, Little Belts, Highwoods and Bears Paw mountains, all the way to the Rocky Mountain Front.  I'm sure on a clearer day we could have seen the Sweetgrass Hills as well.  We were surprised that there appeared to be no cattle grazing, but acknowledged there is scant water. The high places were also devoid of aspens.  We were baffled why BLM had girdled and cut down many trees on ridge all the way to the top. There were many signs of off road and motorcycle abuse in the area, like hill climbs that scarred the landscape.

For more photos and good topographic map with route: CLICK HERE

Mount Wright and about the only snow on the peak

Looking north from the top toward Corrugate Ridge and Glacier in the distance

This chipmunk is the King of Mount Wright

Mount Wright

This is my annual late Spring trek up this 8,875 feet mountain in the Front northwest of Choteau to check my conditioning and see what the snow conditions are in the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex to the West.
I can report that the Jones Columbine wildflowers, along with the alpine Forget-Me-Not and Douglasia are out, the snow is sparse (I did not cross any snowfields), and I'm in pretty good shape.
The hike, on Tuesday, gained more than 3,200 feet over a 3.3 miles one way on a good Forest Service Trail.
The unearthly green of the Highwood Mountains

Windy Peak

I always try to get this hike in during the spring, just to enjoy the greenery of the Highwoods and the many wildflowers on display.
I also got some new lightweight hiking boots and wanted to try them out, and did so on Monday.
About 1,400 feet is gained over a 3 miles one way.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Glacier: Reynolds Burn, Scalplock, Appistoki Valley

The Reynolds Burn above St. Mary Falls

An interesting sky on Scalplock Peak

A crapper with a view on Scalplock.  St. Nick shard is prominent

Katie in Apistoki Valley
Katie and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary over the weekend in Glacier Park with three great hikes in crystal clear, if warm late Spring weather.
There's still some snow, but many peaks in the park are climbable, particularly in the southern end of the park.
On Friday we walked along the St. Mary River in the Reynolds Creek Burn from last summer, assessing how the fire affected the area.  We think the fire opened up some vistas and that will be an improvement.  On the down side, the area has lost much of its shade and will be blazing hot in the summer sun, where it was a nice, shady oasis before the burn.  There is plenty of greenery and flowers in the char and the colorful rocks along the trail, once hidden, are on display.  I liked what I saw.  We visited St. Mary and Virginia Falls on a side trip.
On Saturday we climbed Scalplock Mountain (elevation: 6,919 feet), a roundtrip of 4.6 miles and elevation gain of about 3,200 feet.  This was my sixth time up this wooded peak, located just north of Essex.  A trail to a fire lookout, on the National Register of Historic Places, is on top.  There are some 17 switchbacks to the top, which makes the elevation gain easier, if longer.  The payoff were the tremendous 360 views from the top of this relatively small peak:  the snow-capped Great Bear Wilderness Area high peaks to the south, Glacier in all other directions and the Wild and Scenic Middle Fork Flathead River snaking below.  The park's most famous pinnacle, St. Nicholas, is directly northwest.
Orange Indian Paintbrush

The beargrass seems early this year
The beargrass is already blooming along with numerous other wildflowers, most noticeably bright orange Indian Paintbrush.
On Sunday we ventured into the Appistoki Valley, a wide valley that drains the Mount Henry and Appistoki peaks headwalls above Two Medicine's Scenic Point trailhead.  We took the trail about a mile and 600 feet, where we headed off-trail for the valley.  There was plenty of snow to criss-cross the rushing creek and we stopped for lunch below a large waterfall.  This is really wild country.
My favorite girl with my favorite wildflower, plentiful camas

The Reynolds fire improved the views.  Trees once hid falls view from trail

Rising Wolf behind Katie

Katie at Scalplock Lookout near Essex in the Park

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Wolf Butte on Wayne's Wednesday Walk

Mike Dannells leads the charge

Mike Dannells and Darryl Stevens at the summit

Nora Gray and Gordon Whirry drop to their butts to descend

A sampling of the boulders

Our crew at the base:  left to right:  Gordon Whirry, Jasmine Krotkov, Wayne Phillips, Jim Heckel, Sue Taleff, Nora Gray and Darryl Stevens
A nearly 8 mile, 2,500 off-trail ascent of a granitic outcropping in the Little Belt Mountains up Lonetree Road southeast of Geyser.
Take the Lonetree Road south from U.S. 87 7-miles to the Forest Boundary, park the car, and look north for a trace of a road.  It is possible to take this trace to a saddle between Wolf Butte and Granite Peak, where you are at the base of the butte.
My advice is to go straight up the gut of the mountain, veering to the left when blocked.
Near the top angle sharply to the right across the base of the high cliffs and look for some small Doug Fir trees.  Behind these is the only route to the top of this mountain, across a narrow ridge with good hand and foot holds.
Traveling up the butte there are huge boulders, many of them upended at odd angles are encountered, as well as old decaying trees, which are easy to bypass.
On top the views go all the way to the Front on the west, Highwoods and Bearpaw Baldy and even the Little Rockies to the north and east, and of course, the Judiths, Mocassins, Snowies and the north end of the Little Belt Mountains.
The wildflowers were showing off, and the grass as spring green as it could be.

For a topo map with route, elevation chart and more photos, CLICK HERE

An old homested at the base of Wolf Butte

Wayne Phillips shows off the elk antler shed he found

Monday, May 30, 2016

See the alpine wildflowers on Rogers Pass NOW!!!

The blue Forget-Me-Not and pink Douglasia alpine flowers dominated the area around Rodgers Peak

Katie on top

Red Mountain to the north is still very snow-covered

We found caches of lady bugs clustered on the rocks at top

A bouquet of Forget-Me-Not flowers

Katie in a field of alpine flowers
The alpine wildflowers are in full bloom on top of Rogers Pass.  Don't miss this annual show.
Katie and I climbed Rogers Peak to the east of the pass on Sunday, gaining about 1,500 feet over 2 miles, and were treated to a floral display of blue Forget-Me-Nots, pink Douglasia, and Yellowstone Draba on a windy day.
The trail on both sides of the highway is the Continental Divide Trail, a real treasure for those of us living near it in Great Falls --- only an hour away!
On the east side it switchbacks to the top of a red-green arguilite peak where the Continental Divide snakes to the east and south through short, alpine grass and occasional outcrops.
Views from here are exceptional and include the highest point in the Scapegoat Wilderness:  Red Mountain to the northwest, the Front peaks like Caribou, and the buttes and foothills from the Plains and the Highwoods, Little Belts, Gates of the Mountains ranges.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day seems always stormy and it was no exception this year.  I didn't let that stop me from doing Pioneer Ridge to 7,000 feet.  I would have done the traverse to the north that we did Wednesday, but on my way down that ridge it started to snow pretty hard, the ground covered with white quickly and I got a bit wet, having to change layers several times.
I saw plenty of flowers, got a chance to spend some time enjoying the roaring Belt Creek near the Belt Creek Ranger Station, and stretched my legs --- getting about 2,000 feet of elevation over four miles round trip.
There are years I ski on this day, but I was satisfied with this wet hike.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

New climbing route on Arrow Peak in Highwoods

Arrow Peak summit cairn

Falls on North Fork Highwood Creek

The beavers have been at work on the creek

Nearing the summit

Lots of snow on top
Off-trail north ridge climb of Arrow Peak (elevation: 7,486 feet) in Highwood Mountains.
This involved walking up the North Fork Highwood Creek trail for 2.25 miles and attaining a ridge that leads to the summit.  The route was varied at about 5,500 feet by dropping 200 feet and regaining the elevation on a ridge to the east.
Some 3,700 feet of elevation was gained by this route.
The return trip moved to yet another low ridge to the east at 5,300 feet and dropping into a creek bottom where an abandoned trail led me directly to the North Fork Highwoods trail and back to the car.
About 10.2 miles roundtrip.
Because ridges emanate from the peak in several directions, there are numerous ways to climb and I've done four different approaches.
This was a new approach for me and not a bad one, although I think the route from the southwest (Geyser) is the most scenic, shortest (8 miles) and has the least elevation to gain (3,122 feet).  It is also the easiest to follow.
Nonetheless, I enjoyed the route-finding on this, using my GPS and discovering an abandoned trail system.
For topo map of route and more photos, CLICK HERE