Saturday, June 27, 2020

Fairview, Petty Creek, Buffalo Lakes, Devil Creek, Daisy Dean, Alice Basin traverse

The most prominent of the Willow Creek Falls

On the way to the top of Fairview

The weather has become spectacular; sunny, clear and not too hot, and we've become manic, climbing Fairview Mountain in the Front, exploring the link between Smith Creek and Petty Creek, doing the Bison Lakes in the Badger Two Medicine, taking a short hike up Devil Lake Trail in the Great Bear Wilderness, doing the Daisy Dean Traverse in the Little Belts and climbing Daisy Peak, and doing the Alice Basin Traverse in the Continental Divide country.
I probably should throw in a couple of quick hikes in town on the River's Edge North Trail to the Great Falls lookout above Ryan Dam.
Perhaps the most outstanding of the sights has been the wildflower bloom.  The beargrass is out and I've never seen such a plentiful larkspur bloom.

Fairview Mountain (elevation:  8,248 feet)

On our way up to Fairview, above the Falls

The "girls" celebrate reaching the top

This is an annual trip, sometimes led for the Montana Wilderness Association.  We cancelled our led hike this year because of Covid, but met friends at the trailhead for the walk through Willow Creek Falls and on a ridge between the mountain and Fairview Plateau.
The day was overcast and with a slight breeze and the hike was easy and pleasant, an annual early summer favorite.  We did this on the first day of summer 2020.

Petty Creek connector

Finally, Petty Creek on the connector route.  Fabulous camp site

This is something I've been wanting to do for 20 years, but haven't found the time to accomplish.
It is the link between Smith Creek and the Crown Mountain trail.
It is a short hike of just about 2.5 miles one-way from Smith Creek on the Front.  It looks like an old road that is now an overgrown trail in the trees.  There are some great views of the mountains below Welcome Pass.
I was checking this out for a potential backpack trip this summer that would start and end at Smith Creek, going up through Welcome Pass and coming down from Crown Mountain via Petty Creek.
I was struck the resource intensive and industrial quality of the ranching operation in the Smith Creek drainage:  logging, roading, cattle.

Bison Lakes, Badger Two Med/Devil's Creek Great Bear

Katie on the Buffalo Lakes hike

Looking at one of the three Buffalo Lakes with Glacier in the background 

Although Glacier Park is shut down by Covid, we just had to see it, and also check out our favorite Glacier community --- East Glacier Park.
The Blackfeet aren't permitting non-residents to enter the Park on the East Side, extending this prohibition for the entire tourist season.  It should protect the Blackfeet, but it kills tourism and using the best park of the park this summer.  Businesses are boarded up, with the exceptions of the Whistle Stop Restaurant and Serranos.
We figured out the best way to see east side of the park would be to look into it from across U.S. 2 toward the north.
We scheduled a short hike into the swampy Buffalo Lakes, just over the Blackfeet border in the Badger Two Med country.  It offered tremendous views of the south end of the Park, as well as great views of the Badger in full floral display.
After a very satisfying hike, we checked out the Marias Pass entry into the Park for Autumn Creek, but discovered it closed.  Then it was on to the Ole Creek entrance on the Middle Fork Flathead, which was open, where we had a nice picnic.
Then we stopped at the Devil's Creek Campground in the Flathead National Forest on the edge of the Great Bear Wilderness and explored the trail into the wilderness from there.  It leads to high mountain lakes and high peaks.  We intend to return.

Daisy Dean traverse Little Belts
From atop Daisy Peak 

The "trail" through the Daisy Narrows

Wayne's Walks last year did some of this hike, with a particular emphasis on the Daisy Narrows, where the trail is a walk-through Daisy Creek for 150 feet or so, where the walls of a limestone canyon comes right down to the creek.  It is a most unusual trail.
It's 135-miles to the trailhead, not far from the Martinsdale turnoff on U.S. 12, between White Sulphur Springs and Harlowtown.
It is a pretty, rolling ranch country that melts into the low-slung, flat ridges of the Little Belts, with tremendous views of the Crazies and Bridgers.
A sampling of the ORV trail damage
The approach to the start of the Daisy Creek Trail is lots of deadfall timber and land that has been used hard by cattle and motorized vehicles.
Despite signs and fences, motorcycles have gone right down through the Narrows.
I left my shoes on through the Narrows and once I got through decided to do the loop around Daisy Peak (elevation: 7,781 feet), choosing the tight Mud Creek Canyon for my descent.
Instead of using the trail/road to climb the peak, I went right up the north face from Trail 619, using an overgrown road, littered with deadfall, to the top, passing through a crack in the north-facing stone cliff beneath the grassy mountain top.
The devastation of the road down to the the Mud Creek trail was beyond belief.  ORVs, motorcycles and jeeps have churned up the road, leaving an unsightly and environmentally damaged mess.
While I enjoyed the mountain top, the Narrows, and the serenity of Daisy Meadows and meadows in the Mud Creek, I was turned off enough by this damage so thoroughly that I'll never return.

Alice Basin traverse

On the cliff band 

A floral display
We had planned a climb of Steamboat Mountain in the Front, but when we reached the Elk Creek access road, it was closed because a rain storm had swamped it.
That left in a quandary about what to do.
We decided to drive through Rogers Pass and drop into the West side and do the Alice Basin Traverse, which ascends from a campground to the Continental Divide Trail. 
I hadn't done this wonderful loop since before the 2017 fire that burned more than 20,000 acres.
I recommend doing the hike clockwise, as we did Friday.  The trail begins through a metal gate heading west on what used to be an old mining road.  Luckily, environmentalists battled a proposed mine there and it went nowhere.
This part of the basin was entirely burned in that fire, but it opened up views of the Continental Divide and the area was filled with wildflowers, particularly fireweed.
It switchbacks 4.5 miles and 1,900 feet to its connection with the CDT, offering breathtaking views of a long band of cliffs.
Once on the CDT we walked along the top of these cliffs and even ascended a small Red Mountain, (elevation: 7,217 feet) along the way.  From there we could see more of the CDT toward the big Red Mountain, at 9,411 feet, the highest point in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.
Besides the cliffs, we were enthralled by the floral display. I've never seen so many purple larkspur in one spot!  The cliffs were covered by the yellow Wall Flower, from the mustard family. 
The hike descends to Lewis and Clark Pass, which the Corps of Discovery passed through in July 1806, with the help of local Indians.  The final two miles is in grass below the emerald Green Mountain.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Surprise! A delightful Crawford Creek

Gordon Whirry stops to get a shot of the Lady Slippers orchids
A field of cow parsnips that the bear had been feeding on

Wayne Phillips regales us with tales of Yellowstone Park 
Best I could do at a distance with my Smart Phone camera:  a honey colored black bear

Katie and her Glacier Girls regularly go into Crawford Creek on Trail 329 behind the Belt Creek Ranger Station in the Little Belts.
I've been there a couple of times and wasn't impressed:  to closed in and overgrown with a trail that was difficult to follow.
When Wayne Phillips suggested it as a substitute for the exposed Pioneer Ridge on a very windy day last week, I was not enthused and did not even bother to bring a camera, other than the one my Smart Phone had.
What a mistake!
Yes, it was still rough and overgrown and the trail a bit tough to follow.
But the creek was running high, the vegetation lush and the old-growth trees tall and round as you might find on the west side of the divide, flowers galore, and a cinnamon colored bear that had been lazily lounging in a field of cow parsnip, probably for days before we disturbed it across the creek and up a hillside.
That was exciting enough, but we also found big clusters of lady slipper orchids blooming and I discovered that I, and Katie's group had been traveling upstream beyond the barbed wire fence off-trail because the trail travels steeply uphill from there to a ridge top.
Because of my assumption I missed what would have been one of the better bear photos of the season as he didn't hear us approaching and he got up on his hind legs to take a look at us.
We could tell he had been there for a while because there were at least nine large piles of bear scat in the vicinity.
The trail isn't a long one, but from this point at about 1.2 miles, we hiked and climbed another 500 feet in elevation and another mile in distance to the top, where we stopped for lunch, and a chance to hear Wayne regale us with tales from Yellowstone Park.
The only possible downside of the hike were the numerous dead trees across the trail that impeded our hike.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

A week's worth: Highwoods Center Ridge, Grassy Mountain, Rogers again, River's Edge, Kings Hill, Mount Wright

One photo can't capture the immensity of the Bob Marshall Wilderness from the top of Mount Wright

Here in town, Crooked Falls is putting on quite a Springtime show 
The Highwoods are the place to go to enjoy Arrowleaf Balsamroot wildflowers in the Spring

Gordon Whirry at a saddle below Mount Wright
This was a week blessed by great hiking weather.
With friends we did the Highwoods Center Ridge loop trail, getting our feet wet on the four crossings of the North Fork; circled the Skidway cross country ski loop on the flank of Grassy Mountain outside White Sulphur Srpings in the Big Belts, taking in a short walk up Pioneer Ridge to check for Calypso orchids (they were there);  saw a profusion of chocolate lilies off Rogers Pass; enjoyed the water spilling over the dams and Crooked Falls on River's Edge Trail, counting more than 20 varieties of wildflowers on the North Shore trail; and capped off the week with a climb of Mount Wright in the Rocky Mountain Front.  Whew!
As much as I love Central Montana and its Island Ranges, the highlight was Mount Wright, one of the big mountains on the Front at just under 9,000 feet.
The views are the best on the Front, sweeping across the Bob Marshall Wilderness to the Swan Range and as far north as Glacier Park, the Sweetgrass Hills and Canada.
Our Center Ridge Highwoods loop

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

A week's worth: Highwood Baldy. Lionhead, Collar Peak, Rogers Pass

Katie in the Lionhead Peak saddle in a field of Arrowleaf

May ended on a warm and sunny note, with June beginning the same way.
I took full advantage with a climb of Highwood Baldy via North Peak, Collar Peak in the Judiths, Lionhead in the Birdtail management area and an alpine flower walk off Rogers Pass.

In the snowfields up North Peak
Approaching Highwood Baldy

Highwood Baldy via North Peak route

This is a lovely ridge walk that begins at the Highwood/Arrow Creek divide on the Geyser side of the Highwood Mountains.  It involves climbing an east-facing ridge from that divide up North Peak and walking a high, grassy ridge to the top of Highwood Baldy, the high point in the Highwood Mountains.
We were fortunate that the ridge was clear of snow, but there were plenty of large snow fields below the ridge.  The biscuit root, Pasque flower, shooting stars were abundant on the ridge.
I've skied to the top of North and Baldy peaks in the winter, and have done this route several times.
It is a longer walk than the traditional Deer Creek route from the north side of the peak.

Lionhead Peak in Birdtail area

One of the elk that let us approach
Lionhead is a long ridge across the road from Birdtail Peak in this newly opened Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks management area between Simms and Cascade.
The eye is naturally attracted to Birdtail peak, with its spikey top.
However, Lionhead has a much more traditional alpine look to it, with a rim and numerous cliffs.
What was so beautiful about this mountain were the fields of Arrowleaf Balsamroot.
Katie and I climbed up through fields of these on our way up the steep ridge.
On top it is a pleasant walk on a ridge.  We thought we were heading for the summit, but it turned out to be a false summit.  A short walk and an easy climb would have gotten us the top.
We were satisfied to have lunch on the ridge and watch a couple of young bull elk graze among the Arrowleafs.
We made a traverse of it by dropping to the valley floor on the side and rounding the bend through a cliffy canyon, and back.

Collar Peak Judith Mountains

Fairy slippers were most commonly seen flower on Collar Peak loop 
An opening on the trail

I accompanied Katie and a couple of her Girls in Glacier hikers for a climb of Collar Peak just outside Lewistown.
I wanted to complete a loop there that was blocked by snow a couple of weeks ago.
We had gone to our left then and reached the peak and turned around.
On Sunday I went to the right and got the peak, meeting the girls on top.  They continued on for the full 5-mile loop, and I turned around a accompanied them.
I liked this right-hand or counterclockwise version better than the clockwise version.  It was steeper in spots and had lovely openings for great views.  It also had more water, although the main stream was polluted by mine waste.
This is a perfect spring loop hike in a central Montana island mountain range.

Back at Rogers Pass for flowers

This was more of a social hike than anything else.  We met Mike Dannels and Camille Consolvo for a trip up the north side of Rogers Pass to view flowers, looking in particular for chocolate lilies.
Katie found a couple that hadn't opened yet.
Otherwise, the Forget-me-nots were out.
It was a lovely hike in the company of good friends, if socially distanced.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Wind Mountain: great early season climb

The view of the Rocky Mountain Peak complex from our lunch perch

Our goal was to climb Wind Mountain in the distance 
Gordon Whirry on the Wind Mountain summit cap

The South Fork of the Teton where we parked was running exceptionally clear

The stats
A climb of Wind Mountain (elevation: 6,917 feet) has become an early season mainstay climb.
The beauty of this relatively short summit between the forks of the Teton River in the Rocky Mountain Front is that it is not only a tuneup, but offers fantastic views of the Bob Marshall Wilderness country without a lot of effort.
Our climb Wednesday took off on the wrong foot, but as we were quickly reminded, sometimes a misdirection can open  whole new world of scenery.
The jumping off point for this off-trail climb is about a mile west of the Forest Service boundary.  You pick a spot and start up.
We didn't consult a map and we started way off course one drainage west of the best spot to go up.
Lucky for us, that route took us up the far west ridge of the large scree fields and we wound up just below an unscaleable promentory rock that is visible from most points of the Wind Mountain climb, but about 400 feet above the desired saddle from which to climb the peak.
The beauty of our mistake were the great view of Wind Mountain to the east.
We were also thrilled by the Rocky-Baldy complex of mountains, as well as the Ear Mountain ridges directly south.
There was lots of snow at about 7,500 feet on east facing slopes.  We had little snow patches on our walk.  No snow on the climb.
On this ridge we could also see into the main Teton drainage and Choteau Mountain and Mount Wright.
After a leisurely lunch, we descended steeply to the saddle directly below Wind and started up.
This is not a difficult climb from the saddle, but the route can be tricky and involves scrambling up a steep rock slide and maneuvering around a rock wall while doing a "veggie belay" with the small trees.
The top of the mountain is very narrow and it feels good to sit down on it rather than stand.
The views in all directions are outstanding, even to the Great Plains and its Island Ranges to the East.
Given the many alpine flowers I've experienced recently on hikes and climbs I was disappointed by the lack of floral display, although we did come on a couple patches of glacier lilies.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Highwoods: North and Middle peaks

Giant Spion Kop wind turbines are sprouting, marring the view shed of this rural area

The balanced rock below North Peak is a landmark 

The Pasque flowers were plentiful 
Snowfields below Middle Peak

Blow-down littered the route below North Peak

The Highwood Mountain Range, our Great Falls-area natural treasure, is as green as Ireland right now, with colorful flowers interspersed.  Now is the best time to see this Island Range.
At the suggestion of friend Gordon Whirry, I climbed North and Middle Peaks from the Geyser side on Memorial Day, managing to avoid the holiday crowds which I am sure swarmed the western part of the range in the Thain Creek are.
North Peak, 6,943 feet elevation and Middle Peak, 7,074 feet, are on a north-south ridge that also includes the highest peak in this range, Highwood Baldy, 7,670 feet.
This is an off-trail climb, but the ridge to the top of North Peak is easy to find from a divide between Highwood and Arrow creeks.  There is an ORV and cow path that goes along the ridge and veers to below the saddle between the two peaks.
If you choose to climb North Peak from that saddle, it is quite steep.  We ski it in the winter, and I don't know how we get up it.
There are a ton of dead trees littering the cow track.  I moved above them.  The beetle-killed trees in the Highwoods are blowing down and I can see a massive fire for this range in the future.
The view from the top of North Peak is slightly superior to that of the higher Middle Peak because from North you can see the Sweetgrass Hills.
Otherwise, I counted 10 mountain ranges that were in view:  Big and Little Belts, Highwoods, Snowies, Judiths, Moccasins, Bearspaws, Adels, Sweetgrass Hills, and Rocky Mountain Front.
There were large snow patches that were easy to skirt or walk through.
It is about a 500 foot descent to the saddle from the top of North Peak and another 700 feet up to the top of Middle Peak from there.
The wildflower show, particularly on Middle Peak was quite good, dominated by clusters of lavender Pasque flowers, and yellow biscuit root.  I think the flowers in the Front are more plentiful this year.
I drove up via the Spion Kop road, very well maintained because of its access to the missile silo, off Montana 200, west of Geyser.
Driving this way to the trailhead is 11 miles shorter than going through Geyser.
I found myself shocked and probably a little upset by the proliferation of wind turbines on the hillsides, a sort of visual pollution, and also a sort of industrialization of this very rural area.
After my hike I drove to Stanford and took the road to Square Butte and Geraldine and on to Fort Benton and then home, completing a traverse of the Highwoods.
This is a very scenic drive.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Tillinghast twice

Calypso orchids in bloom

A rare chocolate lily on the flank of Monarch Mountain 
Bighorn Mountain (Elevation: 7,874 feet)

Wayne Phillips on one of two Monarch Peak high points

Katie above Tillinghast Creek at flood level

One of the massive Ponderosa pines
The stats on our Monarch Mountain/Tillinghast trek
It had been years since I had hiked in the Tillinghast Creek area of the Little Belt Mountains, so long ago that I forgot much about it.
When Wayne Phillips suggested we hike there this week I jumped at.
Since I last had been in there a new trailhead had been constructed, offering exceptionally easy access.
When I had done this before I figured a way on by following public lands along section lines, and it involved going over a fence.
This time it was a 45 minute drive to the Belt Park Road south of Monarch and to a great trailhead not even a mile to the west.
On Thursday Wayne and I did a long loop that went from the trailhead to the junction with the Thunder Mountain trail and after a short lunch, straight up Monarch Mountain and then along that mountain's ridgeline before dropping back to the trail not far from our starting point.
The drop to the Thunder Mountain junction was just under 800 feet over about 3.1 miles.  We gained 1,000 feet in .7 miles straight up to a saddle on the Monument Mountain ridgeline.
On Saturday, Katie and I went from the trailhead along the trail to a point where we could drop straight down to the creek, where we had lunch and turned around.  We covered 4 miles roundtrip and gained and lost about 1,100 feet.
The scenery is dominated by towering Ponderosa pine trees and juniper bushes.  There's tons of deadfall littering the forest floor.  These are Ponderosas like you'd find in the Lincoln area, very surprising for a forest I'm used to seeing in lodgepole.
Tillinghast Creek is raging, and we did not attempt a crossing.
I'll do that later in the season when the snowmelt is gone and we can hike that Thunder Mountain trail, perhaps climbing Big Horn and Thunder mountains, the big boys in this area.
We had great views of those mountains much of the trip or whenever the trees opened up.
We were treated to some nice open, grassy areas, particularly the the bench not far from the Thunder Mountain Trail.   At the junction the high Belt Creek cliffs, much like those seen in Sluice Boxes State Park, are visible on the flank of Monarch Mountain.
On top, there were terrific views of Big Baldy, Long and Niehart Baldy peaks.  Belt Park was a massive, green oasis.
Tillinghast Creek was far below the trail and we caught only glimpses until we dropped to the bottom.
We were treated to a variety of alpine flowers, particularly Lady Slipper (Calypso) orchids, Shooting Stars, Bluebells, Holly Grape, and Fairy Belles.  On the hike up the side of Monarch Mountain I spied and photographed a chocolate lily, quite a find and visual treat.
Now that access has become so easy I plan to return regularly and might even try it in the winter on backcountry skis!