Thursday, August 15, 2019

Our Lake to HQ with group of ten

At the high point.  That's Rocky Mountain Peak in the background

Katie on the way down to HQ Pass 
Looking down toward HQ Pass

The black bear that crossed our path below HQ
I've done this classic Our Lake to HQ Pass Front traverse many times, but never with as many hikers as we had for Wayne's Wednesday Walks this week.
In Wayne Phillips' absence, Steve Taylor led ten of us on this 8.3 miles, 2,800 feet gainer from one Front iconic spot to another, including a 8,600 feet unnamed peak and a challenging off-trail ascent and descent.
Taylor's route went from Our Lake on a good, but slightly exposed ramp I've used on previous traverses.  We didn't stop at the grassy saddle, opting instead for a leisurely lunch atop the unnamed limestone high point.
About half our group had never done this traverse and were thrilled by its challenge and the views of the lake and Big Baldy peak to the north and Rocky Mountain Peak to the south.  I was particularly gratified that my cousin, Mary Irene McCartney, from Owatonna, MN did this hike.  As a flatlander, she had never done an off-trail mountain-climb before.
I was disappointed that we failed to see any mountain goats at the lake or at the great basin below Rocky Mountain peak.  However, we were treated to a black bear who crossed our trail and despite being in close proximity appeared to be oblivious to our presence as he turned over rocks looking for insects.
It's still incredibly green from all the moisture we've gotten this year and the skies were relatively clear, increasingly rare as we've had annual big fire seasons.
We could very clearly see to the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Enjoying Lake O'Hara region in Canadian Rockies' Yoho National Park

Katie and me at McArthur Lake

My cousin Mary Irene McCartney captures Lake O'Hara from above

This was about the only wildlife we saw

Camille Consolvo works her way along the ledges above Lake O'Hara

I got to practice my Polish with these two Canadian emigres from Poland, Martin and Magda, now living in Vancouver
Katie shared with me one of her favorite places:  Yoho National Park's Lake O'Hara region in the Canadian Rockies in British Columbia this past week.
She has been there three times, which is unusual because it is a difficult place to get a reservation.
Realizing that there are environmentally fragile places, Parks Canada limits the access.
Katie had to call for five days to get us a three night reservation.  She used two phones and was assisted by four others who called on multiple phones.  At the park we heard the reservation horror stories of many others.
But once there you realize why there is such a great demand and why it needs protection.
The 9,000 feet-plus peaks, the numerous, large glaciers, the lakes with other-worldly deep blues and greens, the high mountain trail routes, the pristine nature of the place makes this an international destination.
The restrictions are so tight that once you reach the trailhead you unload your gear and get on a reserved bus and travel a bumpy road uphill for 11 kilometers to the campsite where you scramble for a choice spot.  There is a group gear and cooking area with public toilets.
The trailheads fan out from this spot.
This site sits above Lake O'Hara close by, a large deep emerald lake beneath Wiwaxy and Huber peaks and their glaciers.
Katie knows all the hikes in this area and favors MacArthur Lake, incredibly, larger than O'Hara, with its own peaks and glaciers and a hiking trail that climbs through cliffs that one must use hands on to climb.
Parks Canada staff reminds hikers to stay on trails to prevent erosion and any damage to the alpine turf that surrounds the lakes.
The trails, which lend themselves to loop hikes, are classified by signs that illustrate difficulty and include alpine routes with narrow ledges and steep drop-offs.  A well-conditioned hiker can traverse an entire cathedral-like basin on these alpine loops.
We were joined by my cousin Mary Irene McCartney of Owatonna, MN and Great Falls friends Mike Dannells and Camille Consolvo.
Katie had done the steep Wiwaxy Gap alpine route of 1,600 feet in 1.2 miles in the previous two years, but determined that it would be not worth our time because the rainy weather would have obscured our views.
We did a an alpine Oesa Lake route with several lakes and ledges that some of our party of five thought was the best hike they had ever taken.
One evening we also walked around Lake O'Hara.
The rain did dampen and shorten our trip.  The second night out it rained steadily and we decided to forgo a third night, opting to return to Great Falls.
Going through Canmore, the drive is 450 miles each way, a sizeable trip, but scenic all the way.
Katie said that she would like to do the Lodge or one of the cabins along O'Hara Lake some day, a pricey option.  Although that would be a First Class option with gourmet meals and special bus accommodations, it would cost about $1,000 per night!
I wasn't especially thrilled with the camping, where so many people are grouped into one spot sharing facilities, but I liked meeting people from so many foreign countries.
I guess I'm spoiled by Montana and expect to see wildlife, especially grizzlies for which this area is renowned and mountain goats, but alas, not a siting!
The Canadian Rockies are a World Heritage Site and the scenery is as good as anything I've seen in the Alps.
It reminded me that I should spend more time here, and if I had my life to live again, it would include many more trips here.
This trip reminded me that
Mike Dannells and Camille Consolvo are encouraged by Katie up ledges through a cliff to Lake McArthur

Monday, August 05, 2019

Honoring the 13 smokejumpers killed in Mann Gulch 70 years ago

Wayne Phillips waves a white flag in honor of the Miss Montana fire fighting plane

Miss Montana, which dropped the smoke jumpers 70 years ago, made several runs in their honor 
Peter Johnson walks past one of the spots where a smoke jumper died

A new fire at Flesher Pass is visible over the Sleeping Giant on our way out
Our Wayne's Wednesday Walks moved its weekly hike to Monday to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Mann Gulch Disaster in the Helena National Forest where 13 Forest Service smoke jumpers died on Aug. 5, 1949.
We've hiked in here several other times using Norman MacLean's "Young Men and Fire," that dissects the fire like a detective story.  The puzzle is how and where did two of the smoke jumpers climb to a ridge and through a cliff to safety while the others died.
The fire is famous not only as the worst smoke jumper tragedy up to that date, but also for the innovation by Wag Dodge, the fire boss, who back-lit a fire in the grass and stepped into the char, covered his face with a wet hankie and escaped death as the fire, having no fuel, jumped over him.  Despite his urging, the fire fighters refused to get into that safety zone and died.  His back-lighting is now standard forest fire fighting practice.
We waited in a saddle above where the smoke jumpers were dropped by an airplane now called the Miss Montana.  As part of a commemoration ceremony at the Meriwether Picnic Area in the Gates of the Mountains, the plane flew four times up and down the gulch as it had that fateful day. 
Gordon Whirry and I had scurried up a high point to the north and were amazed as the plane flew below us and and circled around beneath the nose of the Sleeping Giant and the Horseshoe Bend in the Missouri on its way to the gulch.
We were surprised by how few others hiked to this spot on this day.
There were about a dozen other hikers on a day that began cool and even spit some rain, but warmed up substantially into the 90s as we hiked out.
We used a great hunter's trail and some reckoning rather than the standard Jim Phillips Memorial Trail off Willow Creek Road on the Beartooth Game Range.  It cut off substantial distance and crossing Willow Creek wasn't difficult, but got one of my shoes wet.
Just as I was remarking to the others how blue and smokeless the sky was a wildfire blew up in the Flesher Pass area blowing smoke into the Holter Lake area.
Appropriate for such a day.
Part of our commemoration was an (Indian) sage grass smudge conducted by Wayne Phillips at the drop site.
Wayne also carried a large, white flag up and waved it as the plane flew by and as a guide to the spotter plane testing the route before Miss Montana made her run.
We went to the cliffs where Robert Sallee and Walt Rumsey had scurried to safety and Wayne told us that he had back-measured from the spot where one of the others who made it through the cliffs, but was burned below.  A cross and monument mark the spot.  He felt confident that he had located the spot in the dark-brown cliffs where the smoke jumpers had gotten to safety.
I had interviewed Sallee and Rumsey 40 years ago for the Great Falls Tribune on the fire's 30th anniversary, as well as Norman MacLean, who had brought them together to investigate how they got through the cliffs for his seminal book.
My, 40 years just flew by.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

High season in Glacier; thoughts on East Glacier Park

Bull moose in Fishercap Lake near Many Glacier has "deer" company

Alpine glow over Two Med's Mount Henry

Magenta Indian Paintbrush wildflowers in Preston Park

Our group in the beargrass below Siyeh Pass
We enjoyed a family trip to Glacier Park over a four day period, retracing old hikes, this time to include some Kansas in-laws of Katie's daughter, Beth.
Mark and Marcus Pruett, from Holton, KS, did so well I revoked their "Flatlander credentials."
I took them up Scenic Point and to Upper Two Med Lake in Two Medicine and then on the Siyeh Pass to Sunrift Gorge traverse off Going to the Sun Road.  On a separate day I threw in a walk around Two Med Lake.  We also did an evening trip to Many Glacier after the hikers had cleared out for the day.
I saw moose at Upper Two Med Lake, Fishercap Lake, and on the trail while circling Two Med Lake.  There were grizzly and black bears at various spots as well.
Most notably the wildflowers were outrageously copious and colorful.
We caught Preston Park below Mount Siyeh at its seasonal best with magenta Paintbrush, asters, buckwheat, beargrass, and much more.
Two days later I retraced the route, only this time in reverse and by myself.  It had been years since I had done this hike by starting at Sun Rift.  It is a bit more taxing doing it this way;  it is 3,600 feet elevation gain to the top, and 2,300 feet down to the Siyeh Bend.  You can see how the reverse would have been easier uphill.  I thought it better for me to gain more elevation and lose less because I've got a knee that acts up on steep downhill and two days earlier it gave me problems descending 3,600 feet.

East Glacier Park concerns

Of concern is a transitioning East Glacier Park, the charming village at the base of the Two Med Valley.  The Blackfeet tribe, on whose reservation it resides, has done a great job keeping it free of the franchise and commercial rot that infects the west side of the park.
However, there are some unsettling developments since the death of Terry Sherburne, the late owner of the Mountain Pine Motel (our favorite) nearly two years ago. The motel is being ably run by his nephew, but Terry and Doris, his mother who died not long after, were irreplaceable as community unifiers. First off, motel rates have spiked upward nearly putting them out of reach for us locals.  Kayak lists the average price for a motel is $220 per night, although Mountain Pine, Jacobson's and Sears are far less, but still expensive. Then Linda Chase tore down the old Whistle Stop Restaurant and the rebuild has been slower than she expected, leaving the town with one less place to eat.  She hopes to have it open the the final month of tourism season.  The Sears Motel, which has been in bad shape, sold and continues to decline.  Serrano's Mexican Restaurant also sold and the menu prices increased and offerings changed.  The large restaurant on Highway 2, formerly the Village Inn, simply did not open this year, placing additional pressure on the remaining eateries.  Brownie's and the Whistle Stop are no longer owned by the same owner.  Brownie's is now owned by Terry Chase, Linda Chase's step-son.   There seems to be fewer Rez dogs and no dominant dog like Fat Boy, the Cerulean Bear Dog, who died a number of years ago.
On the positive side there's still the Glacier Park Lodge, the elegant resort with expensive rooms, but excellent dining facilities. (Hint:  cheaper to eat in the lounge than dining room and the food is the same).
You can't go wrong at the Two Med Grille if you're looking for local flavor at a traditional diner.  It serves "Pies for Strength," the double butter crust specialties developed by the former owners of the St. Mary Park Cafe, and now baked at the excellent Rock and Roll Bakery down the street from the General Mercantile that also carries the baked goods and pastries.
I suppose I'm mourning the passing of characters like Sherburne and his mother and the sale of Serrano's and will have to get used to the change.  When I feared what happened to the Park Cafe a number of years ago when it sold in St. Mary  it brought those wonderful pies to East Glacier.  I eagerly await the reopening of the new and expanded Whistle Stop.
I pray that the charm of this funky place is not lost.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Father Time takes his toll: Lockhart Traverse

On the Lockhart Traverse ridge line

Mark surveys what he plans to climb

On the way up

Mark opts against climbing Lockhart for a rest instead

It had been10 years since I last did the Lockhart Traverse ---- the knife-ridge walk between Lockhart and Teton peaks above the North and South Forks of Waldron Creek in the Rocky Mountain Front.
I can't say I did it Monday, but I did gitve it a try.
I'm finding the difference between being 61 and 71-years-old is pronounced on the aging downside.
We had a stunning summer day with light winds, temperatures in the 60s and a cloudless sky for this hike along an 8,000 feet ridge.
I just wasn't up to the task.
We thrashed our way up the North Fork of Waldron Creek to the bowl below the ridge.  This "trail" is nearly impossible to find and follow beyond a mile.  We had as much trouble locating it coming down as going up.  Nature has almost thoroughly reclaimed this area whose old growth timber was cleared away by a logging sale.  Massive trees and dense vegetation block the hiker and make path finding nearly impossible.  By the end of the day my sore knees had trouble clearing the enormous windfalls.
When it came time to summit Mount Lockhart I quite about 100 feet from the top, feeling that I had been there and done that, and not wanting to subject myself to the Class 4 scramble.
We spent plenty of time in that area, probably dooming any plan to walk the entire traverse to Teton Peak.
After doing the ridge line above the North Fork bowl, we decided to call it quits and bailed off one of the unnamed peaks.  Our bushwhack to the bottom was quite precariously steep, made possible by the trees we used to arrest hurtling to the bottom.
I'm pretty sure this was my last time to this spectacular ridge line.
The red is our route Monday; the fushia is the full traverse; the yellow is the high ridge line

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Mount Wright on a blustery July 19

Various views from the Mount Wright summit
We've had an exceptionally wet and cold summer so far.
I'll take that over heat and smoke from forest fires any day.
I'm late this year doing my annual Mount Wright (8,875 feet) climb.  It's one of the biggest mountains on the Front, but is easy to climb because of a great trail from the West Fork of the Teton.  It goes up a little more than 3,400 feet over 3.6 miles.
I've always said it has the best views in the Rocky Mountain Front --- across the Bob to the Swan Range, north to Glacier Park, south to the Scapegoat, and east across the high peaks of the Front and the Great Plains beyond, including Island Ranges like the Highwoods and Sweetgrass Hills.
I climb it annually to gauge what kind of shape I'm in.  I'm three weeks late this year because I was so sick and because the month of June was eaten up by our trip to Spain.  I had tried to climb it two weeks ago, but got distracted when a Glacier Mountaineering Society group showed up at the trailhead and persuaded me to accompany them on the Washboard Reef Traverse instead.
The wind was blowing pretty hard and it was cold.
When I reached the halfway point --- at a grassy saddle --- I started to assess ways to bail, thinking it might be dangerous on top.
Then, the sun cleared the shadows away and off I went.
I stayed as much below the ridgeline as I could when I hit the summit cap to avoid the wind gusts.
I had to put on two additional layers of clothes because of the cold.
Gosh, what a July!
I didn't stay long on top, but still got my breath-taking views I love so much.
There were still quite a few alpine Forget-Me-Not flowers on top, and one lonely Jones columbine.  Along the trail there was a great showing of various vetch, blanket flowers, and a single blooming hollyhock.
I was not surprised on my descent to see my old friend Bill Cunningham climbing up.  Bill was solo, a credit to his 75 years of age.
What a treat!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

A climb for the "Forgotten Five"

Me on top Forgotten Five Peak (Gordon Whirry photo) 
Gordon Whirry enjoys views from the saddle

Walking the limestone knife-ridge 
Our descent above the 1931 Waldron burn

What we'd like to call "Forgotten Five Peak" in honor of the five firefighters killed in the 1931 fire

Our old guys hiking group, Wayne's Wild Wednesday Walks, has a decidedly Forest Service- firefighters bias with two of our members in that corps while in college.

We've been to Mann Gulch in the Gates of the Mountains country several times with Norman Maclean's "Young Men and Fire" in hand trying to figure out how several of the ill-fated smokejumpers in that Aug. 5, 1949 fire escaped death by running up hill through a break in the ridge to the other side. Thirteen died in that fire.

On Wednesday, with Charles Palmer's "Montana's Waldron Creek Fire," in our pack we explored the South Fork Waldron country near the Teton Pass Ski Area to understand how five firefighters died there Aug. 25, 1931.

While the Mann Gulch Fire is famous, the Waldron Creek fire is virtually forgotten.

Palmer has tried to put that right with his 2015 book that humanizes the tragedy and reveals the Forest Service liability for the deaths of these men who were blamed for their own deaths.

Palmer has seen to it that three of the men have new grave markers, found a fourth grave marker and has ascertained a fifth member is buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in the Chicago area.

Essentially, while the fire boss was attending to some other task, five firefighters broke off and ran downhill from a group of 25 others to attempt to put out what they thought was another spot fire and got trapped as it blew up and consumed them in this remote Teton Peak valley.

The five who died were: Charles Allen of Pittsburgh, PA; Herbert Novotny, 20, of Great Falls, MT; Harry Gunnerson (or Gunderson), 34, of Great Falls, MT; Ted Bierchen, 43, of Great Falls, MT; Frank Williamson, 24, of Great Falls, MT.  We stopped at the Choteau Cemetery and found the Gunnerson and Allen grave markers  that Palmer had provided.
The Gunnerson and Allen grave markers in the Choteau Cemetery 

Williamson grave in Great Falls Highland Cemetery 
Novotny grave in Great Falls' Highland Cemetery

While the Mann Gulch Fire is memorialized with markers where the jumpers fell, there's nothing in this South Fork drainage to indicate the 1931 tragedy.

Palmer has put up a cairn, which we looked for and could not find in this vast watershed that was burned in 1917 and 1931 and then logged. There is plentiful evidence of all those things.

To find the area drive the Teton Canyon road that leads to the ski area and about a mile before you get there there's a marked Trail 193 that rises and falls in just a little over a three-quarters of a-mile to the South Fork where snowmobilers have constructed a make-shift bridge of lodgepoles over the creek. About 100 steps beyond the creek to the left there's evidence of small trail. It appears to be an old Forest Service or outfitters' trail marked by cut logs. We followed this up for about a half-mile and then cut over to the ridge line to the east and the ascended this ridge on a manageable angle. Then, it was a simple walk along the ridge to a saddle above the valley. We climbed the small peak to the east and larger peak, the high point, at 7,853 feet to the west.

We hiked 2.5 miles and gained about 2,200 feet to gain the peak. Along the way on the ridge we encountered sink holes that looked like they could be cave entry-points.

Along the ridgeline the views became more impressive the higher up we climbed. Here you are in the heart of the world class scenery of the Rocky Mountain Front with views of Mounts Wright, Lockhart and Choteau peaks dominant. It was breath-taking to attain the saddle as the Bob Marshall Wilderness high point, Rocky Mountain Peak, Old Baldy and Ear mountains became visible.

It was only 160 feet to the top from the saddle along a broken knife ridge of sharp limestone.

It appears as though others had been there before us as there was a rock pile on top. We added a cairn of five stones to commemorate the fallen fire fighters.

We all agreed that for the amount of effort, 5 miles round trip and 2,300 feet of elevation gain and loss, we had received a lot of bang for our effort.

In addition, we had spent the day contemplating the sacrifice of these men during the Great Depression.

Like Palmer, we had a hard time trying to figure out what really went on or where the men had fallen.

We agreed with him that they were truly forgotten and wondered if it might be appropriate to name this peak in their honor as something like, "Forgotten Five Peak," perhaps putting a plaque on top with their names and a description of the fire.

I think it would be appropriate.
Our route is in the red

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

A quick trip up Glacier's Elk Peak

An alpine floral show on the trail 
Gordon Whirry on top

Looking down Ole Creek drainage 
The Fielding Cabin

I'm still trying to recover my strength and am testing myself on familiar peaks.
I abandoned a planned backpack trip into the Scapegoat Wilderness Monday and substituted a quick climb up Elk Peak (elevation: 7,835 feet)  on Glacier Park's southern boundary.
While the climb isn't particularly long at 7.3 miles roundtrip, it is particularly steep, with most of the 3,300 feet gain done in 2.5 miles.
The trail never seems to let up and is stingy with switchbacks.
I love this area of Glacier, immediately west of Marias Pass and just off Highway 2 across the road from the Geifer Creek turnoff into the Great Bear Wilderness.  If you want to do this hike, look for the Fielding Ranger Station in the Park accessed from this site.  The parking is tight, only three spaces at an angle.
The first .82 miles is on what appears to be an old railroad section that had been hlogged or burned.  There's a crossing of railroad tracks and a short search for the trailhead.
In less than a half mile there's the Fielding work station.  Just beyond the trail forks, with the right fork going up the mountain and the left fork to Ole Creek.  This is where the trail shoots straight up.
There are terrific views of the the Great Bear peaks, with Grant and Great Northern peaks especially prominent to the south.  You're high above Ole Creek, flanked by Running Rabbit and Scalplock (lookout) peaks.  To the east, Little Dog (connected by a ridge) and Summit mountains dominate the scenery above Marias Pass.  There are spectacular views across the Great Bear and Bob Marshall wilderness areas to the south.  The Two Med country with Rising Wolf and Flinsch peaks rise to the north.
On top there's debris from the former lookout cabin that has been torn down.
We were treated by a great floral display:  from the daisies near the trailhead to alpine lupine, miner's candle, buckwheat and silky Phacelia.
It is an easy climb, very accessible to those of us in Great Falls, where the climber gets a lot for the energy spent and free of the crowds in the developed Glacier portals.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Annual trip to Patrol Mountain

The Loomis couple on their way up to Patrol Mountain

There's still a spot of snow or two on the ridge

Samsara and Mark Chapman at the Patrol lookout cabin
There are several trips I try to take every year and Patrol Mountain, with its high perched fire patrol cabin is one of them.
Not only do I like to use it to check my conditioning, but I like to visit the lookout ranger there, Samsara Chapman Duffey, who is becoming a legend with her 23rd summer there.  I have had nice visits with her father and sister who have manned the Prairie Reef Lookout in the Bob Marshall Wilderness over the years as well.
Some years I miss here when she's taking a day off or I've arrived too soon.
On Friday I hit it exactly and got to visit with her and her husband, Mark Duffey, who had just finished fire fighting stint in Alaska for the Forest Service.
This was the first time I didn't get to visit with Rye, her adorable herd dog and fire lookout companion, who died at advanced age last year.
Sam always has interesting information about this area where the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall wilderness areas meet.  She told about a young grizzly who had visited down trail from the cabin and she showed me photo of a wolverine she took last year. 
Usually I am one of the first, if not the first visitors of the season.  This year she had already been there for two weeks and I was down the list.
It was an exceptionally beautiful and slightly hot day and the visibility was pretty good.
This 11.3 miles hike that gains and loses about 3,000 feet requires a cross back and forth of ice-cold and sometimes high Straight Creek.
This year the water wasn't particularly high or ice-cold.
The only other folks I met on the trail were the nice owners, the Loomis', of 2Js Food Store.
This couple had failed at a previous attempt at getting to the top, stopping at Honeymoon Basin a couple of years ago, but this time they made it for a visit with Samsara.
I've been doing this climb annually since 1981, so I figure this must have been my 38th time to the top.
Hope I can continue to add to that number!

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The highs and lows of Mount Brown in Sweet Grass Hills

Emerging from the opening in Devil's Chimney to the cave's large cavern

Readying to enter the cave

June Sprout at the base of the Mount Brown summit cap

West Butte in the distance

At the saddle between Mount Brown and Mount Royal

It seems as though the Sweet Grass Hills are becoming an annual habit.
We returned Tuesday to climb the high point in the East Butte sector of this isolated Island Mountain Range north of Chester along the Canadian border and explore the Devil's Chimney Cave along the way.
I had done it once before more than 10 years ago, but from a different aspect than we climbed Tuesday.
The really unusual thing was that I had been asked to lead a group of 17 women from Great Falls' (Girls in Glacier) and southern Alberta  (Women of Wonder) all-women's hiking groups on this off-trail route.
We got 15 of those women to the top, in addition to me and Gordon Whirry, who assisted.
We also encountered a very significant health issue with one of the two women who did not summit.
Almost right from the start of the hike this Alberta woman lagged and at the Devil's Chimney decided not to go to the top.
When we came down from the top 3 hours later she seemed ready to go and hiked for about a mile when she broke out in a sweat and could hardly proceed down the steeply pitched down-trail about another mile from the car.
It took us a couple of hours to get her to the car on that last mile.
We got a call the next day that she had had a heart attack in the car on the way back to Alberta and she is in the ICU in a Lethbridge hospital.
This woman was obviously not fit enough for this hike to begin with and showed up in inappropriate footwear ---- the flat, uncushioned running shoes with toe fittings ---- and we later found out she had had heart issues before and had taken a nitro pill and a muscle relaxant while we were climbing the mountain.
What a nightmare!
We were lucky to get her back to the car.  She was lucky to get to medical care in time.
This was an obvious case of someone who had not disclosed an important health issue to us, who had overestimated her conditioning, and hiked without the proper equipment.
She had put herself and the entire group in jeopardy.
Linda Evans raises the "Holy Grail" to celebrate the top of Mount Brown
But on the positive side, another of the Alberta women who has been suffering from advanced cancer, had Mount Brown on her "bucket list," and came ready and able to climb the mountain, covering the 9 miles and 3,100 feet of elevation gain and loss quite easily.  Last year I led the same groups up West Butte's high point so she could gain that peak, and my wife had assisted her in climbing Gold Butte, so she now has fulfilled her dream list of all three high-point summits.
Humorously, when we opened the summit register in an old ammo box, there was a silver chalice, which we are sure marks this high point as the "Holy Grail" of the Sweet Grass Hills.
All 19 of us successfully wiggled our way through the tight opening of Devil's Chimney to enter the large cavern for group photos.  Many had never been spelunking before and were thrilled.  The cavern is unusual because there are two openings at its top that allow daylight to stream into it.
We had a beautiful day with tall grasses, puffy clouds, and lots of wildflowers.
These lush hills shoot up from the dry plains on the Canadian border north of Shelby-Chester.
I had climbed Brown from a public access point at Whitlash previously, but we wanted to go into the interesting and large Devil's Chimney Cave, so we chose a route southeast of Mount Brown across private land on the Meissner Ranch, which graciously gave us permission.
The Mount Brown high point is in the trees without any views.  Four years ago we climbed Mount Royal, more prominent from Chester, using much the same route as Mount Brown.  The two mountains share a long, grassy saddle. Mount Royal is 40 feet lower than Brown, but offers better and open and sweeping views of the other Sweet Grass Hills and Great Plains.  Royal's disadvantage are the many electronic signal devices and a road.
Incidentally, above the grassy saddle on Mount Brown and on the ridgeline there is a rough and now unmaintained trace of a trail to the top.  You'll be stepping over and dodging many deadfalls, but it is a better route than trying to negotiate the unstable talus on either side of the ridge.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Going to Waterton to avoid the 4th

Enjoying the 4th of July Canadian-style in Waterton Lakes National Park

We had a wonderful supper at the Prince of Wales
Lupine and Sticky Geranium filled in the fields in front of Crandell Mountain
Waterton has a gadget at trailheads to scrape noxious weeds from your boots

Wild Day Lilies along the Wishbone Trail
It is becoming routine to get out of Great Falls for the 4th of July to avoid the firecrackers and cherry bombs that shake our neighborhood with noise.
It was especially sweet to get out of the country this year to avoid President Trump's military show in Washington, D.C.
We took off for Waterton National Park in the Canadian Rockies, Glacier's sister park, for the 4th and 5th, and had quiet evenings, relief from Trump and a wonderfully uncrowded world-class park to enjoy.
Waterton's visitation is obviously down because much of the park is off-limits since the 2017 Kenow Fire ravaged it, even destroying the visitor's center and making most trails too clogged with deadfall to hike comfortably.
We found lodging easily and good prices and near-empty restaurants and shops, although just several days earlier on Canada Days (July 1) we were told the town was hopping.
There's construction everywhere.
A new Kilmorey Lodge is being rebuilt on the site where it had been destroyed by fire. It will open next summer.
The new visitor's center is a couple of blocks north of the main street, an enormous facility that takes up several square blocks, and several old cabins have been knocked down along the lake, making way for new starter-mansions.  It is to open the summer of 2021.
The Bertha Lake and east shore trails are open, but the Cameron Lake and Red Rocks roads were closed while we were there.  You could walk them, though, and Red Rocks is supposed to be open to driving any day.
That's driving some Canadian traffic to Many Glacier in the U.S., and those trails are clogged and expected to be even more congested later in the summer.  At least the Park Service is putting up a sign near the Babb turnoff to let folks know if there are any parking spots in Many, so they don't make that long drive just to be caught in a traffic jam or turned around.
The Park Service is going to have to do something about the Many congestion soon.
We split our two nights between a bed and breakfast in Mountain View Alberta about 10 miles from Waterton the first night and then the Crandall Inn inside the park the second night.
There's a lot of country to explore in Waterton, even with the closed trails on the east side of the park.  We found the Wishbone Trail on the west side of Waterton Lake a very pleasant, if unchallenging, but scenic trail to hike.  It goes through a marsh and aspen groves and eventually hooks up to climbing routes of both Vimy and Sofa mountains.
We spent a morning reveling in the gorgeous wildflower blooms in the open grass country.  We were a little later than last year but enjoyed large patches of lupine.
While there are still boat rides on Waterton, they no longer let riders off at Goat Haunt because of last year's fire in the area.  But, you can arrange a boat trip to the exciting Crypt Lake trail.
And....there's always strolling along Waterton Lake in town or making a loop of it by taking in Crandall Falls.
Even without some of the legendary hikes off limits (Bear Hump, Akamina, Cameron Lake, Carthew-Alderson, Blakiston Peak, Lineham Ridge) you can choose to relax as we did this 4th.