Sunday, August 23, 2015

This and that from summer hikes: fire, fire, fire forces us to hike creatively

Near Sunrift Gorge, shot from the car.  No stopping allowed on Going to Sun Highway on east side
The Reynolds Fire aftermath
No, there's nothing wrong with the camera, it's smoke obscuring Glacier's Mount Sinopah at Two Med Lake

Fire and smoke-filled skies now dominate Montana's outdoors scene.
My brother's long-awaited motorcycle trip from Chicago to Glacier was ruined by the fires.
I've sucked it up and sucked in my share of smoke this summer, trying not to let the fires ruin my good time.
However, even a trip out of state --- to California and its Lassen Volcanic National Park --- was affected by smoke.  I did climb the volcano.  Not much of a big deal with just under 2,000 feet of elevation gained, but views were spoiled by the many fires going in the Golden Bear state.
Katie and I on top Mount Lassen volcano in northern California
I would recommend a trip to this park, north and east of Sacramento, for its unspoiled beauty, and hot sulphur springs, reminiscent of Yellowstone.  Not only is it in a gorgeous part of California with tall, dense trees and sparse population, but the park itself is virtually empty.  No Glacier-like lines here.
I've been struggling with a pulled calf muscle for the past six weeks and have returned to a several easy hikes to  keep in shape and stretch it out.
One of the hikes was to Headquarters Pass, one of the Front's treasures, which offers a great variety of high mountain views, looks to the Chinese Wall from its high point, and access to Rocky Mountain Peak, the tallest mountain in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
I was thrilled to see the Bob Marshall boundary sign had been moved within a half-mile of trailhead, a product of the passage of the Heritage Act, that added acreage to the Bob.
Wayne Phillips at new Bob Marshall Wilderness boundary sign, a half-mile from HQ Pass trailhead

Where the boundary sign used to be, at HQ Pass
It was disappointing that the iconic boundary sign at HQ Pass had been removed, though.  I would have left it as a reminder of the arbitrariness of wilderness boundaries and because it was so scenic.
My wife and I spent three days in Glacier Park this past week to get a look at what the fires have done there.
It was my first look at Going to the Sun Road after the Reynolds Fire, which burned on both sides of the road from Rising Sun Campground (the campground was incredibly saved) to just beyond the St. Mary/Virginia Falls trailhead.  The walk to St. Mary Falls has been forever changed, although I noticed that Virginia Falls foliage is unburned.  The fire will open some views and freak out lots of tourists who don't understand the need for fire.
After a quick shot to Logan Pass, we stayed put at Two Medicine and East Glacier Park, enjoying the culture of that quaint part of the park.
Most of the time, we could only see outlines of the mountains because the valley was so smoke-filled, mainly from the Thompson Fire in the Nyack area.  That fire will probably mean that I'll never fulfill one of my bucket list objectives --- the 36-mile Nyack-Coal Creek wilderness loop in the park.  I had planned it for this August, but the fire there, nearly 15,000 acres at this writing, won't lie down until hit by hard snow.
While there, the Bear Creek fire in the Great Bear Wilderness, across Highway 2 from the park's southern boundary, blew up and threatened to jump into the park and burn down the Izaak Walton Inn area.  Residents there are on moment's notice for evacuation.
Highway 2 from East to West Glacier was temporarily shut down, then opened Saturday with a lead car.  BN was protecting its railroad trestles in the area.
Meanwhile, smoke poured into central Montana and Great Falls from the Sucker Creek fire near Lincoln and smaller fires burning along the Front.  Large fires in Washington, Oregon and of course, California, added to this mess.
At Two Med we limited ourselves to short day hikes at the lake, going to Aster Park Overlook and Paradise Point one day, and then exploring the Two Medicine River above Running Eagle Falls (formerly Trick Falls).   At this time of the year, the river dives into the limestone for more than a mile, emerging in a gusher at the falls, and leaving a dry riverbed above it.  We hiked the rocky and colorful riverbed until it reappeared at another waterfalls upstream, where it descends into a sink hole.  This is an off-trail hike and most interesting.  The upstream waterfalls is gorgeous.
Where this smoke and fires leaves us is anyone's guess.
After a rainfall on Friday night, we're anticipating the return of hot weather and heavy-duty smoke for the full upcoming week.
I'm climbing the dry Two Med river bed

Where the Two Med River dives into a sink hole and disappears, showing up at Running Eagle Falls
Where the Two Med River emerges from the limestone as Running Eagle Falls

Katie walking the dry Two Med River bed

Friday, August 14, 2015

Bowl Mountain in Bob offers exceptional views

Packers with Bowl Mountain in the background

The Bowl Mountain wall to the west and below the peak
This is a 17-mile round trip hike to the top of Bowl Mountain (elevation: 8,217 feet) in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in the Flathead National Forest.
This is an area that got pounded by the 2007 fires and on the day of this hike it was filled with smoke again from fires burning around the state.
Originally, I had set out to hike to Teton Pass from the West Fork Teton, a distance of over 11 miles round-trip and about 2,000 feet elevation gain.
But, when I got to the pass and the Flathead National Forest's Bob Marshall Wilderness sign I couldn't help but keep going and Bowl Mountain was the handiest mountain.
This is an unaesthetic mountain in a burned over area ---- not selling points, right?
Looks were deceiving.
Ground cover is in color already
Even though smoke obscured my views, as I ascended this mountain --- only 1,600 feet from the Bowl valley trail --- I discovered I was surrounded by an intersection of reefs, mountains and ridgelines and Bowl was in the center of it.
Further, although the high point of Bowl is rounded it sits above a spectacular wall  below to the west that goes on for more than a mile.  At this intersection is the Corrugate Ridge, Washboard Reef, Porphyry Reef and the mountains of the Front.
Normally, when I hike to Teton Pass I continue on for a traverse of the Washboard Reef.  That traverse, with its several highpoints dominated the eastern view.
Most of the Teton Pass hike is now within the Bob Marshall on the Lewis and Clark Forest as part of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act, signed into law by President Obama last winter.

For map, elevation graph and more photos, CLICK HERE

Bowl Mountain ridge line

West flank of Corrugate Ridge to the east

Monday, August 10, 2015

25 years later, a return to Scapegoat Peak, but this time a traverse

On the traverse to the top of Scapegoat peak that sits above high cliffs that look like the Chinese Wall
A three day, 36 mile backpack trip that turned into a South to North traverse and climb of Scapegoat Peak  (elevation: 9,202 feet) in the Scapegoat Wilderness.
The trip started and returned via the Crown Mountain Trail west of Augusta to Straight Creek and then to the Green Fork, a 12.5 miles walk to our campsite at a shallow, unnamed lake below the Green Fork cutoff in a lush valley where several large waterfalls gushed from towering walls.
The second day is a walk across the cutoff along the Halfmoon Basin below the towering cliffs of the Scapegoat Masif.
I've been to the Chinese Wall and I can say the views here and the overall wilderness experience was far superior to the Chinese Wall.
We walked to the south end of the wall, some 3 miles across and up via the Scapegoat Mountain trail, where, seemingly, all hopes of climbing Scapegoat appeared to be dashed because of the impenetrability of the high cliffs.
Our campsite at an unnamed, shallow lake at the Green Fork Cutoff Trail
After lunch we tried an experiment:  ascending the cliffs about 1,000 feet tentatively along goat trails, always rising.  I must say this unprotected climbing was unnerving.
Once on top, it was an easy walk north in desolate alpine tundra to the base of Scapegoat, and then 700 feet up scree and then I went to the back where I had remembered a scree ramp to the top from when I had climbed this peak some 25 years ago.
The views from the top are exceptional, into the entire Bob Marshall complex as well as the Missions, the Great Plains and the handsome peaks of the Rocky Mountain Front.
We proceeded down to the north, knowing from previous climbs that we had to hit a break in the cliff band back to the Green Fork.  The only glitch is that I had remembered a climber's break just to the left of a waterfall, but the climber's trail we followed took us high along the cliff band to the east and then down a scree field to the trail.  This high trail is precarious.  Any misstep would result in disaster.  If you try it, be careful!
Strolling along the Scapegoat Massif in the Halfmoon Basin
I remember a low trail from the waterfall that was no trouble at all.  Twenty-five years can play tricks on your memory!  The next day we walked out.  Of course, the biggest highlight of the trip was Half Moon Basin and the incredible Scapegoat Massif.
However, I enjoyed the steep trail down Crown Creek immensely, despite it having burned three years ago.  It was resplendent with asters and fireweed.  There were plenty of signs of grizzlies; scat littered the trail.
I would not recommend this traverse to anyone who is not comfortable on precarious goat trails.  I would recommend the climb of Scapegoat from north to south and back, and I would try to locate the climber's trail adjacent to the waterfall rather than through the cliffs to the east.
Unfortunately, my batteries went out on my GPS on the way through the cliffs, so the route and distance is off in the map and charts.
It should add about 1,000 feet and another 2 miles to the trip.

For more on hike, map and chart, click here

A floral display of asters and fireweed on Crown Creek

A lonely snowfield below the peak 

A view from the top of Scapegoat Mountain

Looking down the Green Fork Valley where we were camped

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Fairview Mountain is aptly named

Dwight Smith atop Fairview Mountain in the Front

In the wildflowers below the great saddle

Dwight Smith on the summit ridge to Fairview Mountain

Heading down

Full view of Fairview Mountain

This is a relatively easy and simple mountain climb west of Augusta in the Rocky Mountain Front just off the Beaver Creek-Willow/Benchmark roads junction.
Yet, it offers a series of waterfalls, terrific views and wild country.
This was the fourth time I've climbed this mountain, but the first time on this easy route that I highly recommend.
This route is 8.5 miles long with about 3,100 feet in elevation gained, but the distance can be shaved by going up or coming down the mountain sooner than the saddle I recommend.
Fairview Mountain is visible on the Great Falls skyline, so it makes it ready target for climbing.
The climb involves taking the Willow Creek Falls Trail No. 204 just beyond the old Scoutana Girls Scout camp.
There are two fences at the parking area.  Duck under the one furthest to your left (south) and follow it to Willow Creek, staying away from the private road.  The trail is easy to pick up here.Walk up through the Willow Creek Falls and tight canyon on Fairview's southern flank.Just beyond the that southern end there is a creek bottom (sometimes dry in summer). Leave the trail and cross tje creek bed, looking up to the left where there is a ridge topped by a rocky crown.  Traverse this to a large snag about  250  above.  There is a good break in the wall here and the top can be gained.
On top, it is a simple and glorious walk through tall grass to a large saddle that is bare on its western flank.  There are numerous good game and cattle trails to follow to this swale.
Once there, proceed directly uphill another 700 feet to the summit ridge.
It is a glorious walk to the top ---- the southern-most high point --- along an exposed ridge.
The false (north) summits below are reachable from a low point on this ridge, an easy and worthwhile hike.
The 360 views from on top are remarkable ----- Scapegoat Wilderness to southwest, Bob Marshall Wilderness to west, Patrick's Basin and Teton high peaks of the Front to the north and east, and Sawtooth Mountain directly east.  Below you east and south is Haystack Butte and the island ranges of central Montana.
For route map, more photos and graph CLICK HERE

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Grandpa's Ridge near Benchmark, Shangri La in Glacier

On a ridge above Green Timber Creek

A look across the ridge heading north

On the ridge top above the Fairview Plateau with a glimpse of Haystack Butte
Grandpa's Ridge near Benchmark --- July 17, 2015

This ridge is immediately off the Benchmark Road west of Augusta, near Wood Lake between Lick and Mule creeks.  If approached from Willow Creek Falls on the east, it would be above the headwaters of Fairview Creek.  It is a 2-mile hunk of limestone that rises about 3,000 feet, but is nearly impossible to see from the Benchmark Road.  I saw it first when hiking between Willow Creek Falls and Fairview Creek, noticing the massive wall above me, and vowing to climb it. It may be easier to climb from Fairview Creek, but the hike would be much longer. We did it from the Benchmark Road from Lick Creek, reached the top, walked its length and then returned on a traverse down Mule Creek, before walking about a mile back to the beginning.  We gained and lost about 3,400 feet over 8.3 miles. The high point is about 8,143 feet and the ridge is pretty much at 8,000 feet all the way.  The route is fairly straight-forward:  begin at the Lick Creek Falls, gain a steep ridgeline to the southeast and stay with it to the top.  The top is fairly narrow and a bit broken, but can be negotiated by down-climbs on both sides of the ridge when obstacles are encountered. At the north end of the ridge drop diagonally toward ridgelines above Mule Creek where gorgeous, lush elk meadows are encountered sporadically most of the way down.  The 360 views from the top are amazing.  To the south and west is the Scapegoat  Wilderness, with its big peaks, Scapegoat, Flint, Observation, Triple Divide, Crown and Sugar Loaf dominating.  Further north, the Wood Creek Ridge (a fabulous off-trail ridge walk itself), the Patrol Mountain ridge, and further north Hoadley Reef and into the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Twin Peaks, the distant Swans, and Cliff Mountain and the Chinese Wall to the Far north.  Swinging a bit east, Slategoat, and the high Teton Peaks of the Front.  Just below, the Patrick Basin, recently added to the Bob, Allen, Sheep Shed, Fairview and its Plateau below, Castle Reef and Sawtooth, the Ford Creek Country, and Haystack, the Highwood, Little and Big Belt Mountains and finally the adjacent close-in peaks like Renshaw and Cyanide.  Wow!  It is quite a payoff for a relatively short and easy climb.  Unfortunately, this area did not make the cut to become part of the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act's wilderness.  It will be protected, however, as a Conservation Management Area.  This country is as good as anything I've seen in the Bob.
Grandpa's Ridge?  For want of another name we call it this because my climbing partner, Mark Hertenstein was expecting to become a grandfather for the first time within hours.  I already am one!

Click here for map, route, elevation chart, photos

Shangri La below Mount Wilbur, an off-trail climb in Glacier

Katie working her way up the cliff band into Shangri La

Katie in Shangri La!
Repeat of Shangri La in Glacier Park --- July 13, 2015

This is a repeat of a climb I did with a cousin two years ago.
My wife, Katie, wanted a taste of it and she did great!
This is an off-trail adventure on the north-facing flank of Mount Wilbur in Glacier National Park that takes the climber to a gorgeous lake in an alpine meadow and then down steeply into Iceberg Lake. A good climber's trail is picked up near Red Rocks Lake on the Swiftcurrent Trail that leads to the base of a steep band of cliffs drained by a creek fed by snow that is present most of the summer. There are several Class 3 moves at the beginning of this climb through the bands.  Once on top the cliffs, move toward the creek, follow it and it opens up into a beautiful, shallow lake below Wilbur's north face in an alpine meadow filled with colorful wildflowers. Proceed to a saddle west and above the lake and a trail climbs to a scree field above Iceberg Lake.
Our first look at Iceberg Lake from ridge above Shangri La.  We descended steep scree to Iceberg
The scree field slopes severely downhill, first through a band of cliffs.  When possible, move through the cliffs to the right where there is vegetation and a less severe scree chute.  The vegetation can be used to steady yourself. Once through the scree field, stay on this right-hand side chute and the downclimb becomes easier.  There will be one more small cliff band near the bottom, but the angle recedes and the downclimb to the lake is easy.  Pick up the Iceberg Trail here and back to Swiftcurrent Trailhead.

Click here for route map, elevation chart, more photos 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

Catching up: hikes in Front, Glacier

View from top of Henry looking back on ridge line and Medicine peak

Mount Henry from the west

Another view of Henry near the snow fields

The Appistoki valley to which I had to descend to end my climb
It's been family time with four of our five children, spouses and grandchild visiting, which has slowed my summer hiking a bit.
But I did mange to rehike Willow Creek Falls with my daughter, climb Patrol Mountain with my step-son and spend three days in Glacier, where I did the Mount Henry traverse from the Scenic Point Trail.
It has become increasingly smoky out there with fires burning in northern Saskatchewan and Alberta, Oregon and Washington states.  It is dreadfully dry on the west side of the divide. But it remains fairly green in the east side and I've even found patches of snow.  I'm not deceiving myself, though, and expect a fire season to ramp up here.
It was lookout ranger Samsara Chapman's first day on the job when we visited her on July 1 atop Patrol Mountain.  I think this is her 13th season there.  We saw her supply pack string coming off the mountain as we ascended.
It is always fun visiting with her, and although we were early, we were the second visitors of her season.
I hadn't done the Mount Henry traverse in more than 20 years, and discovered that age does matter.
The hike involves going up the Scenic Point Trail for about 3 miles and about 2,000 feet of elevation gain, a spot where many hikers take a break on their way to the peak, and going off trail toward Medicine Peak (elevation: 8,446 feet), which is the ridge line to Mount Henry (elevation: 8,847 feet),
Medicine looks much tougher to climb than it is.  Yes, it goes up steeply for about 1,500 feet to its rounded top, but the footing in forgiving scree is excellent.
The brilliant red-ridge walk to the base of Henry is glorious, offering tremendous views in every direction, with Summit and Little Dog peaks dominating to the south (with the Bob Marshall even further south).  The Two Med is directly below, and the Appistoki valley almost frighteningly below some 2,000 feet.  In the distance is the heart of Glacier National Park.
About 200 feet from the top of the mountain, a wall of broken rock confronts the hiker.  I wasn't up to negotiating that, so I continued west a few hundred feet, and slightly descended on pretty good animal/climber trails to a large gully.  The trail continued around the gully that drops steeply.  I had to think about it twice, but went down, and there I found two pretty good draws up the gully that had probably been waterfalls earlier in the season.  I got in the first one and started up steeply, moving back and forth between the draws until I reached some good scree right below the top, and went up easily.
Twenty years ago I went straight up, not giving it much thought.  Now that I'm  67 years old, the little draws in that gully made me wonder if it was worth it.  I know that I didn't want to go back down it, and because I was on a traverse, didn't have to.
The traverse to Appistoki peak was easy by comparison, just following the ridgeline, climbing two small peaks along the way. 
When I dropped into the saddle between Henry and Appistoki it was nearly 6:30 p.m., and while I had intended to climb Appistoki, a mere 500 feet from the saddle, I decided against.  I figured I had done that before and didn't need it.
I dropped off the saddle to the east and into the Appisotoki valley, which drains Henry and Appistoki and several large snowfields on Henry's massive red flank.
From there, it was a matter of dropping to the valley floor while working around three large cliff bands that create immense waterfalls.

It mean crossing and recrossing the creek, finally getting on an animal trail that intersects with the Scenic Point trail at about 6,000 feet at the dead white bark pine trees.
I think I enjoyed the walk along the valley floor as much as the ridge walk.  I was surrounded by enormous red walls, waterfalls, and isolation.  This was a true wilderness experience.
Unfortunately, I didn't drink enough water and severely dehydrated. 

Click here for map, more detail on Mt. Henry traverse

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Steamboat ridge traverse; Willow Falls to Fairview Creek

Figuring out what's next to get to the Steamboat ridge line
This has been quite a week.
I added two exceptional hikes/climbs in a week that included a quick backpack into Pretty Prairie in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area:  a Steamboat Mountain ridgeline traverse and a Montana Wilderness Association key exchange walk between Willow Creek Falls and Fairview Creek.
Both trips were in the Rocky Mountain Front west of August.

Steamboat Mountain ridge traverse

I love the Steamboat Mountain ridgeline.
There are views here that rival the Chinese Wall and you've got Scapegoat Mountain and its wall in views as you walk it.
I've done this traverse several ways, often starting at Elk Creek and dropping over to the Dearborn side on a point-to-point.
Getting to the top of the ridgeline is tricky if Steamboat Lookout Mountain isn't climbed first.
The trick is to start at the Elk Creek trailhead, ascend an old fire break trail above Cataract Falls and stay on the ridge between Bailey Basin and Cataract Creek.
Along the way you'll fight the debris from the 1988 Canyon Creek Fire, along with the tightly packed lodgepole pines that have regenerated the area.
Once through, there are two cliffs to navigate, the first being straight-forward and the second more problematic.  How the second is navigated will set the stage to reach the Steamboat peak ridge.
On Friday's climb we moved to the left (east), followed the base of the cliff, found an easy crack to ascend, and then followed an animal trail to the left to where we could climb to the top of the ridge.
In the past I've also gone to the right after climbing the crack and found a game trail at the base of the ridge and through scree to the top further west.
I definitely like the left (east) option, although if I were down climbing rather than up climbing the west option is easier to find at the top.
Once on the ridge it is very straight forward, a breathtaking walk that climbs three mountains along the way, with the lookout mountain at the end.  Along the way are thrilling views of the cliffs below to the northwest and the heart of the Scapegoat Wilderness nearby to the south and west.
At the mountain-top there's the trail, a 6-mile, more than 4,000 feet descent to the Elk Creek trailhead.
We climbed just under 5,000 feet and hiked 12.3 miles on this strenuous trek.

For more photo, route and elevation chart, Click here

Willow Creek to Fairview Creek key exchange

One of the Willow Creek Falls
This is a spectacular 9 mile hike between the Willow Creek Falls and the Fairview Creek trailhead on the Benchmark Road near the airstrip with a gain and loss of about 1,500 feet in elevation. (Ignore my distance and elevations on the chart because I did side trips that added distances).
Approaching from the Willow Creek Falls side, we passed through ranch land, grass, aspen groves and ascended to the falls on a narrow trail that hugged the limestone cliffs on the side of Fairview Mountain.
We passed a series of falls into an open, gorgeous, wildflower-strewn meadow rimmed by bright red rock before taking a sharp north bend and ascending to a pass strewn with igneous rocks, a signal of an intrusion, unusual for the Front.
At the pass we were at the headwaters of Fairview Creek, rimmed to the west by a massive limestone ridge that followed us for the remainder of the hike, and Renshaw Mountain to the north.
We hiked through lovely elk meadows, popping in and out of old growth forest, crossing and re-crossing Fairview Creek.
Unlike much of the Front and adjacent Bob Marshall Wilderness, this area was not ravaged by pine-beetle kill and the old forest was lush and green, as was the vegetation.
It reminded me of the Bob before the fires began raking it in the mid-1980s.

For more photo, route and elevation chart, Click here