Thursday, April 21, 2016

Woodsiding and Sleeping Giant WSA again

Descending the ridge line

Dwight Smith walks the ridge line

Lots of snow most of the last 1,500 feet of elevation
This was the second time in 10 days to hike one of the bumps in the ridge line of the Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area via an off trail ridge walk from Woodsiding Gulch just off the Frontage Road, seven miles south of Wolf Creek. We walked a slighltly different route this time, coming down from the top along the road, rather than cross country.
This was one of Wayne Wild Wilderness Walks and there were six of us old guys.
It was a glorious day, with clear skies and 360 views from the top that included the Continental Divide and Elkhorns, Big Belts, Adels, Flint Creeks and Rocky Mountain Front ranges.
The wildflowers were glorious, particular the pink Douglasia that clumped in disturbed areas of bright red argullite.
Last Thursday's snowstorm deposited considerable new snow that we had to punch through in the last 1,500 feet of elevation gain.
We walked roughly 9 miles and gained and lost more than 3,300 feet.
For topo map route, more photos and description, CLICK HERE

Ranger, a great companion, used the snow to keep cool

Dwight said he wouldn't go any farther without lunch

On top our "peak."  From left (back):  Gordon Whirry, Dwight Smith, Chuck Jennings.  In front with Ranger, Steve and Annie Taylor

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Prospecting for 'Gold'

On our way with West Butte in the background

On top

Gold Butte

Struggling up a steep talus slope for the final 800 feet
Gold Butte in the Sweetgrass Hills is a short climb of a Montana Island Range mountain nearly as interesting historically as it is as a climbing objective.
This mountain is in the middle of three prominent Sweetgrass Hills buttes north of Shelby, the other two West Butte and East Butte.  This is the most sharply pointed of the buttes.
While called "buttes" these have the prominence of mountains.  We gained 2,400 feet over 5 miles roundtrip, the last 800 feet on very steep talus slopes made easier by elk trails that criss-cross the face of this mountain.
Gold Butte mountain is reached most easily by two routes ---- from the former mining camp of Gold Butte or the Cameron Lake Reservoir.  This hike is from Gold Butte camp, where there is little evidence of the camp save a lone gravesite near the starting point or the gold mine itself and the dredge and dredging ponds.
15-year-old Jessie Rowe's 1902 gravesite
This camp is reached by going north from Shelby on Interstate 15 to the townsite of Oilmont, then 18 miles east to the Miners Gulch Road and then another 9 miles north to Gold Butte Road and 5 miles east, where to Eclipse Gulch, an obvious route to the base of the butte.
It is 2.4 miles and 2,000 feet to the top.  On top, the 360 views include the other two buttes, Glacier Park to Chief Mountain, the Rocky Mountain Front and the Cypress Hills in Canada.
I had done the Cameron Lake route 11 years ago.  It is .3 mile longer and 500 feet more in elevation gain.
The Gold Butte camp route is much easier.
We saw many wildflowers on this trip, a herd of deer, a prairie falcon, sandhill cranes and grouse.
The gravesite contains the body of 15 year-old Jessie Rowe, who died in 1902.  The grave is fenced and there is a good view of West Butte to the north.
It was obvious that other graves had been dug up and bodies moved to a site about a half mile to the north on a flat bench.
We also visited the site of the old gold mine; the mine shaft is boarded, but very visible.
Seeing the desolate grave of the teenager in this former bustling camp gave me a very lonely feeling.
For a topo map of route and other photos:CLICK HERE
Katie on top, with East Butte in the distance

Coming off the mountain

The old gold mine adit

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Spring ritual: Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area

Mark Hertenstein on the ridge line

Heading back to Spring Creek

The pink Douglasia alpine flower put on quite a show
This 8 mile hike into the Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area between Great Falls and Helena, involving about 3,000 feet of elevation gain has become an early spring ritual.
We don't climb the Giant's nose; that's a different approach the involves traveling from private land near the Sieben Ranch.
We entered this BLM area from the Woodsiding Road about 5 miles south of Wolf Creek.
The road is gated, so we gained a rocky ridge immediately south of the gate and used it to hike off-trail to the road to the Sleeping Giant trailhead.  From there we walked up the trail, really an old road, to a high point where we had 360 views of mountain ranges and Holter Lake.  We could see to the Continental Divide, Great Divide ski area, the Elkhorns, Big Belts, Flint Creek, Adels, Little Belts mountain ranges.
There was an incredible display of bright pink Douglasia alpine flowers and many others.  We descended directly down into a tributary of Spring Creek, climbing about 500 feet out of it to reach the ridge where we had began and then back to the car.
The area is marked by grass on the high, exposed ridgelines, and large Ponderosa pine trees.
Later in the season, when the snow is off the road, it can be driven to the trailhead if you havet high clearance and don't mind wrecking your car, or more easily to an area where horses are trailered.
This hike was largely off-trail because we wanted to have a backcountry experience....and did!

For a topo map of our hike, and other photos, CLICK HERE

Much of the area is marked by open, grassy slopes

The canyon walls of Spring Creek tributary

Sneak preview of Glacier Park

A large herd of elk on Two Dog Flats in Glacier

The road to Two Med Lake became our path because it was gated, but passable

Rising Wolf towers over the Two Med camp store

Sinopah dominates the head of Two Med Lake

The most photographed place in the park, Goose Island on St. Mary's Lake
Temperatures climbed into the high 70s and the skies cleared, so my wife and I shot up to Glacier for a couple of days to look around.
What we found were clear, gated roads for hiking that took us up St. Mary's Lake and Two Medicine Lake, where we found mostly bare ground and snow-capped mountains.  St. Mary's Lake was clear of ice, but Two Med had ice at its west end.
Particularly at Two Med I can see no reason why the gates aren't removed so more people could enjoy the area.  We hiked 4.1 miles from the park boundary on the road to the lake, where we then walked the south shore trail to Paradise Point, where we had a glorious picnic on the lake shore.  On the way back we stopped at Running Eagle Falls.  Along the way we saw lots of moose and wolf sign.  We encountered several people.  A backcountry skier on a mountain bike, and a couple on road bikes.  At the very least, the Park Service should open the road to the falls.
The St. Mary road is open to Rising Sun Campground, where it is gated.  We walked to the Goose Island photo overlook and beyond.  We were most interested to see the effects of the 2015 fires, and were pleased to find that the fire had burned in a mosaic, unlike the 2006 Red Eagle fire across the lake that burned white hot, scorching everything in sight and leaving few tree.
Visitors will have plenty to look at from the Going to the Sun Road as they assess the fire.
On the way back we passed Two Dog Flats and there was a herd of more than 60 elk grazing in full daylight.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Climbing Crown Butte between Cascade and Simms

A meterological phenomenon known as the "Chinook Arch," looms over Mimi Wolf like a flying saucer
Looking down one of the gullies

H. Wayne Phillips with Crown Butte in background
We were very conflicted for Wednesday's Wayne Walks.
About 7 inches of new snow had fallen in the Little Belts and it was tempting to go there and do some turns.
However, after Sunday's success with wildflowers on Mount Helena, despite very strong and sustained winds, we thought Crown Butte might be a better bet, put up our skis and tied on our hiking boots.
This is an easy climb on a laccolith located between the towns of Simms and Cascade on Nature Conservancy land.
Generally, it is a little more than a mile and 1,200 feet to the top of this "butte."  What you add is up to you.
We always try to sweep the perimeter of this area, looking down its precipitous cliffs and vying for great views of the southern Rocky Mountain Front, as far south as Red Mountain and north to Ear Mountain.  There are great views in all directions, including these unique buttes like Haystack, Birdtail, Shaw and Square buttes.
Gordon Whirry photos the scenery
The top consists of virgin prairie grass that sways in the ever-present breezes.
The road can be rough and it is not well marked coming from either directions, Simms or Cascade, but the Simms route is a little closer and easier.
There's a marked parking area on the butte's southeast flank and there is an unmarked hiker's trail that leads to the cliffs and the cleft that always entry to the top.
The winds beat us down, but the grasses that waved in the wind, the 360 views, and easy walking more than compensated.
We didn't find the alpine wildflower show we saw on Sunday, with only prairie smoke, phlox and fritillary in bloom on Crown.
For additional photos, a map and elevation chart:  CLICK HERE
The snow-capped Front in the distance

Another look at the Chinook Arch

The intriguing Birdtail Butte

Monday, April 04, 2016

Mount Helena, a hike rather than ski, with wildflowers already!

Cut Leaf Daisy


Katie on her way to the top

Pasque flower

It was 70 degrees Sunday and I didn't want to ski in the soup, so we headed to Helena for a quick hike up that city's Mount Helena.
We were not disappointed by what we found, despite the scores of times we've done this hike.
We found six different varieties of alpine wildflowers already in bloom on that mountain's flanks:  fritillary, phlox, Pasque flower, Cut Leaf Daisy, Douglasia, Buckwheat, and dandelion.
It is about 1,000 feet in elevation gain from the parking lot and the route we took covered 3.3 miles.
It was a great way to wake up the legs after a winter of considerable backcountry skiing.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

A quick, icy run down Deadman

Wind and hoar have flocked these trees on Deadman
The open slopes provide a photogenic moment

The open slopes above Deadman Creek
In the past week we've had two backcountry ski trips in the Little Belts where snow has been on the opposite end of extremes.
Last Saturday it was on the northeast end of the Weatherwax/Grendah Mountain ridge and the snow was the best of the season, several new inches on a cold, hard base.  On Wednesday it was the Deadman run and it was ice all the way.  I'm surprised we didn't break our necks!  We skied this nearly 7 mile run in just over 3 hours and were home by 1:30 p.m.!
Between Saturday and Wednesday lots of sun and wind hit this mountain range, hardening up the snow.
Saturday we had a ball doing some tele turns on far end of Weatherwax.
Lots of south and west facing slopes have begun to lose their snow.
This is the beginning of the end of skiing for this season.
Unless we get a significant new dump, I'm probably going to hang up the skis.
Generally, we start hiking about this time.
Maybe it's time.

For more photos, good map of Deadman run, CLICK HERE
The open slopes on the northeast end of Weatherwax bowls

H. Wayne Phillips enjoys the sunny, bright day at Weatherwax

Thursday, March 24, 2016

First ski of Spring: Nugget Creek

The traditional stop at the Mizpah cabin 
One of my favorite parts of the trip --- skiing across the Mizpah bowls
We encountered fog on the ridge line
The pattern continues:  great snow on the ridge lines, poor snow down below.
We did the High Porphyry/Nugget Creek run on Wednesday as part of Wayne's Wild Wednesday Walks group.  It had snowed several inches Tuesday and the temperatures were in the low 20s--- perfect!
We ran into fog on the ridge line, and there was an icy base below the new powder.
Wayne Phillips had tweaked this route to bypass the final hill climb, traversing it through a series of open, lovely meadows on the south side of the hill.
Skiing down the ridge line back to the car, a drop of nearly 3,000 feet, is always interesting, and the icy base made it more so Wednesday.  We had to be careful we didn't break our necks through the tight trees on icy slopes.
This is a classic Little Belts backcountry ski trip that starts at Showdown Ski Area, climbs to the top of Porphyry Peak, travels south along the Mizpah Ridge, veers to the east and drops down a long ridge line above Nugget  Creek to U.S. 89.
The trip is 9.4 miles long, gains 1,555 feet and loses more than 2,800 feet.  There is some tricky route-finding where ridges split.  The trick is to find the right one to avoid being drawn toward Ranch Creek.
For a look at the route and a map, CLICK HERE

Saturday, March 19, 2016

This winter's last ski trip

Logging has altered the landscape in the Stemple portion of this run, opening up the landscape

Poofy, spring clouds

What happens when you miscalculate

Larry Dolan of Helena captures the scenery
Goodbye winter!
We took our last trip of that season on Friday, traversing the Continental Divide from Stemple to Flesher passes south of Lincoln.
This 11.5 miles backcountry ski on the Continental Divide Trail tests trail-finding skills while offering fantastic touring and tele opportunities on one of America's premier destinations.
Over the course of this undulating trail some 2,200 feet are gained and 2,500 feet lost.
There are tremendous views of Red Mountain, at 9,411 feet, the highest point in the Scapegoat Wilderness Area and the Bob Marshall complex.
Because of high winds, the snow is shoved around in spots, leaving ridges and humps, and is stripped off the trail.
We encountered new snow, about 3-4 inches, on a hard base, and when it warmed up it clumped on the bottom of our skis, making the going extremely tough in spots.
Keep an eye open for trail-marking signs such as slashes and cut branches and cut logs.  It is easy to get off course.
On this tour we attempted to bypass an avalanche chute at mile 9.7 by climbing the ridge above it, only to discover cornices and exposed rock.
We cut below the ridge line by taking off our skis and walking around it.
At the end of the trip we went off-trail because there was no snow on the trail, staying on a ridge line and then dropping down to Flesher Pass, and the trip's end.
Because of the pine bark beetle damage the looks of Stemple Pass, where we started, has been altered by extensive logging.
We made a new friend on this trip, Larry Dolan, of Helena, a skinny-skier, who joined us at the pass serendipitously.  We marveled at how well he did with his flimsy gear.

For a map and more detail, CLICK HERE

It may have seemed as though I've been inactive this past month, but the fact is I've been traveling, with trips to Portland, Seattle and Billings.
Below is a photo of my wife, Katie, on the 4-T Trail in Portland a couple of weeks ago, marveling at the scenery:

Monday, February 22, 2016

Quick shot up Grendah and Kings Hill mountains in Little Belts

Reaching Grendah means following a lovely ridgeline most of the way

The wind was nature's snow sculptor

Near the top
This is a straight-forward climb of a 8,165 feet bump on the ridge, starting from Kings Hill Pass in the LIttle Belts Mountains.
Some 2,000 feet are gained and lost along the way of this 9 mile roundtrip.
Start at the pass, ski behind the Forest Service cabin looking for a Road 487 that serves as a cross country ski/snowmobile trail to the top of Kings Hill.  About a quarter mile up the road a lightly used snowmobile trail intersects.  Take this to the top and climb Kings Hill Peak (elevation: 8,008 feet) a few feet to the south of the ridge.  Ski north along the snomobile road to where it intersects with Road 8308.  This road can be used all the way to the top of the peak.  It stays on a ridge just north of the vast Weatherwax Creek bowls, and along the way great telemark ski terrain presents itself, mainly to the south.
There are great views of Yogo, Big Baldy, Coyote, Neihart and Long peaks in the distance.  To the west, Showdown Ski Area and Porphyry Peak.  There is a potential to bump into snowmobiles at any time, but eventually the trail narrows to a ridge line and it is yours on skis.
The geodesic marker at the mountain's top

For topo map and more photos, click here