Friday, September 19, 2014

Fall colors break out: three days in Glacier, Great Bear

The Huckleberry Lookout Trail with huckleberry bushes in scarlet, fall color

Along the Apgar crest to the high point

Although officially "off trail," animals have maintained an old fire trail across the top of the Apgar crest
After a season-changing, yet summer snowfalls, the weather broke and warm temperatures returned, prompting a quick-hit trip to Glacier.
Originally, I had planned a Scapegoat trip to Flint Peak, but scrapped that when Wayne Phillips suggested accompanying him on a high point climb in Glacier Apgar Mountains on the park's southwest corner (above Lake McDonald).
I hadn't expected so abrupt a change to fall colors that I encountered.  The huckleberry bushes, still laden with what seems like a record berry crop, were a brilliant red.  The honeysuckle, mountain maples, aspen and birch were a psychedelic yellow and green.  The mountain ash were orange from berry to leaf.
It seems as though we hit the height of the fall color dead on, at least on the west side.
I started out earlier than Wayne and did a solo climb of Elk Peak on the park's southeast side ---- gaining over 3,300 feet over 7.3 miles on trail, which rises abruptly from the Fielding Cabin.
Unfortunately, smoke from California fires obscured the views not only on this climb, but my other two hikes on this trip.
This was my fourth time up Elk Mountain, a very enjoyable climb because of the remarkable views gotten from the summit of this former lookout site, particularly Mount St. Nicholas' giant shard.

For details of the hike, click on this link:

Elk Mountain climb

Wayne Phillips achieves another high point --- Apgar, 6,651 feet
That evening, after a wonderful meal at the Belton Chalet, we made camp at the Apgar Campground, and I was astounded to see that most of the 194 camping spots at this, the largest campground in Glacier, were mostly filled.  My goodness, this is mid-to-late September!  The smoke over Lake McDonald made for wonderful sunsets.
Wayne, who is trying to high point all of Montana mountain ranges, was making a second attempt at the unnamed Apgar high point at 6,651 feet.  He was blocked by deadfalls on an earlier more direct and shorter approach a couple of weeks ago.  His redesigned and successful route on Wednesday took us four miles up the Huckleberry Lookout trail to its ridgeline, where we got off trail and walked the Apgar crest the remaining three miles on what appeared to be a former fire trail, now maintained by animals, particularly grizzlies.
We saw so many signs of grizzlies ---- poop, diggings and even a den ---- that we were surprised we didn't see any bears.
The walk along the crest was glorious.  It was free of trees, offering great views in all directions.
We earned our peak, though, walking 15.6 miles and gaining over 5,000 feet of elevation along the way.

For details of the hike, click on this link:

Apgar Mountains high point

Fielding Cabin in Glacier Park's southeast corner

The view up Elk Peak

Mount St. Nicholas from Elk Peak summit
On Thursday, the smoke was so thick and rain threatened, so I drove to Polebridge to buy coffee and a bearclaw pastry from the Polebridge Mercantile, offering me a chance to ogle the amazing yellow aspens and cottonwoods that covered the hillsides and bottom-lands.
I was uncertain about a hike, so I headed by east along Highway 2.  I had considered going back by way of Going to the Sun Highway, but went south because I prefer the Middle Fork road for its wild, scenic nature and plethora of things to do.
Last winter I had rented Zip's Cabin from the Forest, .2 miles from the Great Bear Wilderness Area boundary, and when skiing up the Geifer Creek trail, had noticed the "Snake Loop Trail" sign about a mile up from the wilderness boundary.
I decided to give that 5 mile loop, which gains and loses about 1,500 feet, a try.
What a great decision!
This pleasant loop goes through deep forest, with openings that reveal the area's highpoint --- Baldhead Mountain to the south ---- and the peaks of Glacier Park, particularly Elk Mountain, to the north, in a traverse of this small mountain.
The trail is in desperate need of a maintenance crew.  The first mile of the loop had more than 20 deadfalls I had to step over, and the last mile, at the bottom of the a series of switchbacks, was so littered with blow downs, that I had difficulty reaching the trail.
Snake Loop trail marker in Great Bear Wilderness

For details of this hike click this link:

Snake Loop in Great Bear Wilderness

Monday, September 08, 2014

Celebrating Wilderness Act's 50th Birthday with two climbs in the Bob

The unnamed alpine lake just below Pyramid Peak (in the background)

Atop Pyramid Peak.  That's Pyramid Lake below
We celebrated the 50th Birthday of the Wilderness Act this past weekend with climbs of Pyramid (elevation: 8,309 feet) and Sunday (elevation: 8,170 feet) peaks in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area in the Swan Mountain Range east of Seeley Lake.
Ostensibly, we had traveled to Seeley for the Montana Wilderness Association's party celebrating this occasion, but got caught up on the climbing more than the more sedentary events.
However, we caught the Mission Mountain Wood Band concert Saturday night.
If you went on the associated hikes alone, as we did, you had one heck of a celebration.
We signed up for the Pyramid Pass hike (11 miles and about 2,000 feet elevation gain) on Saturday, joining a group of 20 other hikers.  The hike begins at a trailhead at the end of the Morrell Creek Road, accessed at the edge of Seeley. We had been on this road before to hike to Morrell Falls.
This is a lovely hike on a wide trail, an easy way into the Bob.
Along the way, we encountered two backpackers who were old Helena friends, Dave and Sandi Ashley, who were going into the area to enjoy a glorious pre-fall day.
We walked with them to a gorgeous and unnamed alpine lake below Pyramid Pass and the Peak, where they planned to camp.
Just seeing this lovely mountain gave me "peak fever," and after discussing the length of the stay there, I bolted for the peak, arriving on top an hour and 10 minutes later, which left me only 30 minutes to get back down at the agreed upon time.
I figured a more direct route down, aiming at Pyramid Lake on the Bob Marshall side of the pass, and got back 15 minutes late.  I enjoyed the route finding up and back, but must admit I didn't spend but a few moments on top, drinking in the view of the Bob Marshall to the east and the Mission Mountains across the valley to the west.
The race to get up and back expanded my day to 13.5 miles and 3,700 feet of elevation gain.
That speed-trip really tired me.
Everyone headed back down, stuffing themselves with the copious huckleberries along the length of the trail.
Nearing the top of Sunday Mountain on the Swan Crest
I enjoyed the organized hike up Sunday Mountain on Sunday even more.
The access is up the Morrell/Clearwater Road about a dozen miles north of Seeley.  It begins on the "Swan Crest Trail," really an old logging road that is being reclaimed into a hiking trail on the side of Mount Richmond.  The views of the Swan Crest itself, are outstanding.
In less than 2 miles there's a trail junction for an unofficial climber's trail up Sunday Mountain.  The final 1.3 miles or so, shoots up steeply some 1,600 feet, traveling through a couple of moderately exposed cliffs to the "pass" below Sunday Mountain.
It is a short walk to the top of this grassy topped peak.
It really seems as though the much higher adjacent and unnamed peak (and more difficult peak to climb) to the north should be the designated mountain, but hey, I'll take Sunday Peak as it is.
Katie working her way off Sunday Peak
The views of this end of the Bob are gorgeous, as well as the Mission Mountains to the west.
Our leader, Karen Pratt, explained the significance of the climb ---- to show off Grizzly Basin to the southwest below us that is one of the candidate areas for addition to the Bob Marshall in U.S. Jon Tester's wilderness and logging bill pending in Congress.
It has become very clear to me that the east and west entrances to the Bob Marshall are some of the most beautiful of the wilderness country, although they are not officially designated "wilderness."
I saw that on a recent trip through the Bob, when I was blown away by the Rocky Mountain Front on the east and the country to the west of the Swan Crest.
Happy 50th Birthday Wilderness Act!
Happy 50th Birthday Bob Marshall Wilderness!

Click on this link to see details of the Sunday Mountain climb: Sunday Mountain climb

I've circled Sunday Mountain to the north and Pyramid Peak to the south to give an idea about their relationship n the Swan Crest

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Summer's last hurrah ---- 5 days in Glacier

Glacier's Garden Wall above the Highline Trail in alpine glow
Our original plan was a quick stay at Glacier Park's Granite Park Chalet in advance of the Labor Day weekend.
However, my brother Dan and his wife, Kristin, from Chicago decided he would like to visit and hike in Glacier during the same time, so a 2-day trip turned into 5-days.
Much of the time the weather was quite unsettled.
Yet, we hiked to Firebrand Pass, went to Granite Park Chalet via the Highline Trail and then onto Swiftcurrent at Many Glacier, then did day trips with my brother, Dan, and his wife, Kristin in the St. Mary's and Two Medicine valleys.  I figure we were somewhere in the 45-50 mile range when it was all done.
Granite Park Chalet was a pleasant surprise.  I hadn't expected too much.
What we found was a warm and welcoming staff that knows how to get their guests to interact.
I was delighted to find that colleague Dave Byerly, a retired Lewistown newsman, was running the front desk, assisted by a crew of Calgarians and a Montana University System accountant.
Guests were from all over, although most had a Montana connection.
We had room that slept six in three bunkbeds on the top floor that faced out toward spectacular Heaven's Peak.  There was no electricity, nor heat ---- so we used headlamps and piled on three woolen blankets to keep warm when the temperature plunged into the 30s.
We had to bring our own food that prepared on rotation in a kitchen where hot water was provided.
At the Grinnell Glacier Overlook

Granite Park Chalet

Leaving the chalet

Readying the lookout for the winter, Buck, the ranger, is ready to leave for the season

Katie on top Swiftcurrent Peak with the Swiftcurrent Valley below her
The chalet, a remnant of the park's chalet-to-chalet travel system for the well-heeled, is one of two of these left, the other being Sperry near Lake McDonald.
Interesting day hikes fan out from this spot ---- Swiftcurrent Mountain Lookout, Grinnell Overlook, and Ahern Pass the most notable.
We did the Grinnell Overlook on the way in.  It had been at least 10 years since I had last stopped there on my way to a climb of Grinnell Peak.  On the way out we climbed Swiftcurrent Peak just in time to see Buck, the lookout ranger, battening down the wooden hatches over the lookout's windows.  He had his backpack ready and he was heading out for the season when he was finished.
I've done this lookout hike every year for the past 10 years.
The weather during the entire five day trip was very unsettled and a skiff of snow even fell at the very top of the peaks one of the nights.
A large bull moose near Red Rocks Falls in the Swiftcurrent Valley
We had exceptional luck seeing wildlife on this trip.  Perhaps, most significant was a large bull moose grazing near the the trail in the Red Rocks Falls area.  We saw three grizzlies and two black bears, various bands of bighorn sheep, eight mountain goats in a group, and a bull elk with his small harem of five cows.  One of the grizzlies, a sub-adult, gave us a start when we went to fetch water.  We forgot our bear spray, and of course this was the time a bear would choose to walk in our direction from out of nowhere.  He wasn't interested in us, though and went about his business away from us.
The two days of hiking with my brother and his wife included a walk in the clouds on the side of Mount Oberlin near Logan Pass, a glorious waterfalls hike (Bering, St. Mary, Virginia Falls) with a side trip to Sun Point, and a climb of Scenic Point in the Two Med.
My brother was particularly delighted with the Scenic Point hike, taking him up the Apistoki Valley to a small peak that offers exceptional views of Rising Wolf, Apistoki, Sinopah, and other peaks in the Two Med Valley.
Dan and Kristin Kotynski of Chicago atop Scenic Point

The descent in the Apistoki Valley

The "ghost" trees of a long ago fire added to the scenic beauty

Monday, August 25, 2014

Across the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area: East to West, 90-miles in 6 days

At the base of the Chinese Wall on Day 2
Thirty years ago I used a solo trip across the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area from Headquarters Pass to Holland Lake to sort out my life after my first marriage fell apart.
This past week I did that trip again, with some variation, as a celebration of how well those 30 years have turned out.
It was my third East to West trip across the Bob, one that I needed as an affirmation that at old age, 66 and counting, that I could still do something like this.
With friend Mark Hertenstein, we started out from the South Fork Teton Trailhead on Aug. 19, and came out 90 miles later at the Holland Lake Trailhead on Aug. 24.
On Day 1 we crossed Headquarters Pass and dropped into the North Fork of the Sun River, passed Gates Park and progressed through the 1988 burn to Rock Creek and a Miner's Creek camp:  Click on this link for map, photos and details:  First Day
On Day 2, we walked up Rock Creek to Larch Hill, past My Lake and to the Chinese Wall: Click on this link for map, photos and details: Day 2
On Day 3, we left the Chinese Wall down Burnt Creek to the White River Pass cutoff trail, camping just below the pass: Click on this link for map, photos and details: Day 3
On Day 4, we walked through the pass and down Molly Creek and the South Fork White River to the junction with the North Fork White River, down White River, crossed the fork and the river and then to the South Fork Flathead, which we crossed to camp: Click on this link for map, photos and details: Day 4
On Day 5, we slogged through steady rain from South Fork Flathead up Holbrook Creek to Pendant Cabin,  watching an interesting progression in forest types --- from burn to rain forest.  I found Scarface Mountain and its large, visible cave on its flank most interesting: Click on this link for map, photos and details: Day 5
On the Final Day, we went from Pendant Cabin to Holland Lake via the Pendant Lakes, Pendant Pass and down the spectacular trail to Holland Lake past Upper Holland Lake and too many waterfalls of many kinds to our car: Click on this link for map, photos and details: Final Day
We found the entry and exit points to the Bob, some of the most scenic parts of the hike, like the Front (above)
We knew going into this trip that the "change of weather" storm was on its way, and we walked right into it.  During this period Great Falls got more than 3 inches of rain, nearly a quarter of a yearly total.  I don't think this area got quite as much, but we had rain on Days 3, 4, and 5, with the most steady on Day 5.
Through luck and circumstance we were able to dry out and stay warm and dry at night and had a great trip.
No one could properly prepare for the mountains of mud we encountered on trails that had been gouged and muddied by packers' horse strings hauling dudes.
I am dismayed by the mess many of the horse camps are in.  Horse crap is everywhere.  There is considerable litter. Horses braid and widen trails and create new paths around downed trees. Grass is sheared to nubbings. I understand the need to deliver tourists to the backcountry, but wonder if large outfitter camps that I saw, like the one at the bottom of Holbrook Creek or at the forks of the White River, are in concert with the spirit of wilderness.
Miles of muddy trails, gouged by horse packs, made for miserable travel
There seemed to be a surprise around every corner.  I had seen the North Fork White River on previous trips, but had never seen the rest of the White River country.  I saw the rest, from top to bottom, on this trip;  the white rock, which gives this area its name, is ubiquitous.   It is in sharp contrast to the bright reds and greens  in the South Fork Flathead.  There were stretches of some of the biggest trees I've ever seen in the Bob.  Some areas were reminiscent of the redwoods.  The area below White River Pass to the north, in the Red Butte area, is as pretty as any Glacier Park.
This was my fourth time to the Chinese Wall, but it never fails to thrill.
I believe I finally found the "Trick Pass" to the top of the Wall to climb its high point, Cliff Mountain, but didn't have the time or energy check it through.
My biggest dread on this East-West trip are the river crossings, particularly the South Fork Flathead.  We had little trouble with the crotch deep (on little me) White River, but when we missed the designated crossing of the South Fork when we got disoriented, this caused me real grief.  We found an adequate crossing, but it was deep and swift and I was glad to be done with it.
Two Canadian Continental Divide through hikers at Rock Creek Cabin

A solo Walt Whitman look-alike appeared near Larch Hill Pass

Below White River Pass on the East side we found a wilderness paradise

Approaching White River Pass in fog and rain

Above the glorious White River

Crossing the White River near its junction with South Fork Flathead

Very large larch tree

One of the Pendant Lakes
As I discovered in previous Bob trips, many signs have been removed and there's lots of educated guess work to be done.  We lost a couple of hours wandering around between the White River and South
Fork because we took a bad turn.
Entering and exiting where we did, I remain as convinced as ever that the Rocky Mountain Front and the Swan Front portions abutting the Bob deserve wilderness designation.  I could not fathom what architects of the Bob were thinking when they left those portions out of wilderness designation.
The wilderness area was as empty as can be given that we traveled through a prime week in the best month of summer.
On the first day we saw two small pack strings going into Gates Park.
On the second day we encountered two young Canadian Continental Divide through-hikers who had started at Jasper National Park and were heading south to Mexico.  We met an elderly (73) bearded hiker near Larch Hill Pass, a former Missoula smokejumper now living in Bonners Ferry, who looked like the reincarnation of Walt Whitman.  We saw no one along the Chinese Wall the two days we took to cross it.
On the third day, we met two horsemen coming from the White River, just before dark.
We saw no one else on the fourth day.
It wasn't until late afternoon that we met two horse packers with four horses heading to the South Fork Flathead.
Huckleberries were plentiful, tasty and a time-waster

Horses, horses, horses seems to be the essence of the Bob experience for most
Around noon, after we had crested Pendant Pass and were descending to Upper Holland Lake, we met our crowds ---- several pack strings and dudes and three young day-runners from Missoula on a long loop jaunt.  As we neared Holland Lake there were two families.
In six days, three backpackers and horse strings at the beginnings and ends, that's not exactly what I'd call a crowd in this small slice of this immense outdoors spectacle.
I'm not sure Montanans know what a treasure they have in their backyard.
We made the 270 mile drive around to the South Fork Teton Trailhead to pick up Mark's car after we had completed our journey and found that the top 500 feet of Rocky Mountain Peak on the Front, had been plastered with snow!  We had endured lots of rain, but had dodged that bullet.

Views of Holland Lake and the snow-capped Mission Mountains put an exclamation mark on the end of the hike!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

A trip to the high point in the Flathead Alps in the Bob Marshall Wilderness

H. Wayne Phillips on the high point in the Flathead Alps, elevation 8,387.
H. Wayne Phillips, who will be 73 on Sept. 2,  is nearing the end of his quest to reach the summits of every mountain range in Montana, and he added the high point in the Flathead Alps this week in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
I accompanied him on this five day loop-trip that began and ended at the Benchmark trailhead.
It covered 48 miles and entailed gaining and losing 10,607 feet.
As there always is in a trip of this sort, there were surprises:  the massive beauty of Hoadley Reef and an exquisite campsite nearby, the complexity of climbing that Flathead Alps high point, the breadth of the 2007 Ahorn Fire that killed substantial old growth forest, and the grandeur of the Junction Mountain/Pearl Basin areas.
Wildflowers were at their apex ---- beargrass was everywhere.  Huckleberries were plentiful.  We were surprised that we saw no major wildlife.
Hoadley Reef stretches out behind me
We saw two runners in the first mile of the trip, a three-person trail crew clearing East Fork Ahorn for the first time in five years on the second day, and then no one else until we came out the West Fork Sun from Reef Creek on Wednesday.  It was a zoo from the West Fork pack bridge to Benchmark, with strings of horses coming in to do the Chinese Wall.  We saw three horses for every dude in one pack long string.  There were numerous trails in meadows in this stretch, a sharp contrast from earlier in our backpack where trails were sometimes hard to find.
We were mildly surprised and I admit, a bit disappointed, in the Pearl Basin, despite its impressive views of Twin Peaks.  We would have liked a campsite more like what we found at Hoadley.
But camping really wasn't what we were there for.  It was to climb the Flathead Alps high point at 8,387 feet.
Junction Mountain near Pearl Basin
Phillips, a retired forester, wildflower expert and alpinist, had carefully studied the maps and devised a route directly from Pearl Basin, first clearing the Lewis Range (Continental Divide) with a gain of about 1,400 feet, then dropping into Cayuse Creek, a tributary of the South Fork Flathead, and ascending a steep drainage for access to the Alps' ridgeline, climbing a slightly lower peak than the high point first, and negotiating a saddle to the tallest summit.
From the looks of it, there appears to be an easier route from a ridgeline that rises from the South Fork Flathead River, but that would have involved a long trip in from the Danaher or coming in from Holland Lake on the West Side.  We were East Side interlopers.
Unfortunately, once we dropped into Cayuse Creek, we had difficulty trying to establish which saddle we were looking for, and I got impatient and climbed for an elk trail that led us off course, but ultimately where we needed to go to reach the summit ridge.  It added about an hour and a half to the climb.
It was a beautiful walk along that ridge, looking at these monster and almost frightful looking mountains ---- rock thrust straight up.
West Fork Sun River
There was nothing difficult about hitting the top.
Phillips, by this time, figured out which saddle it was that we should have gone up and we aimed right for it.
It was a beautiful walk up and then down the saddle to Cayuse Creek.
Our trip back up would be on the goat trail that Phillips had found on the way to the peak.  It extended across the face of the mountain and most of the way down to Cayuse, adjacent to a large scree field.
But, a thunderstorm was brewing and we tried to wait it out.  When we thought it clear, we made a safe run for it.
We found a lovely camp on Reef Creek on our final night out, complete with a rushing stream in a shaded area, and only 9.5 miles from our car.

The end of our trip was spent dodging pack trains and horse muck on wide, braided trails

For trip detail, photos and charts, see these day-by-day links:

Day 1, click on link (to Hoadley Reef):

Benchmark to Hoadley

Day 2, click on link (to Pearl Basin):

Hoadley Reef to Pearl Basin

Day 3, click on link  (reaching the Flathead Alps' high point):

Climbing the Flathead Alps high point

Day 4, click on link (Reef Creek camp):

Pearl Basin to Reef Creek camp

Day 5, click on link (home by way of West Fork Sun):

Reef Creek camp to Benchmark

Thursday, July 31, 2014

High summer: Glacier and Waterton hikes

Mount Vimy looms above the Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta
Over the past week we've been enjoying a flurry of hikes in Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks.
My daughter was in town and we did the McDonald Creek/St. John Lake loop on the West side of Glacier and then the next day went to Many Glacier and did Ptarmigan Tunnel, a park classic.
Then we returned home and then back to Glacier's sister park, Waterton in southern Alberta, Canada, and hiked to Bertha Lake along the shores of Waterton Lake one day and then followed with Waterton's classic hike, the Carthew/Alderson 13 mile walk-through from Cameron Lake to the Waterton townsite.
The heat was absolutely blistering on all four days of hiking.
Ptarmigan lake below the Ptarmigan Tunnel headwall
We could not find a motel in St. Mary or Many Glacier areas for under $299 a night, so we went to Cardston, Alberta, 21 miles east of Waterton, where we found an inexpensive, but nice motel and an amazing summer stock musical theater.  We saw the "Scarlet Pimpernel," one night.  Mostly local talent performs, but they are outstanding.

For more detail on the Ptarmigan Tunnel hike, click here: Ptarmigan Tunnel

For more detail on the Carthew Alderson hike in Waterton, click here: Waterton's Carthew Alderson

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Ear Mountain Outstanding Area Trail July 22, 2014

My daughter, Leila, at Yeager Flats in BLM Ear Mountain Outstanding Area
Did a quick hit hike on the Ear Mountain Outstanding Area Trail Tuesday.  Roundtrip: 5.2 miles with about 1,200 feet of cumulative elevation gain and loss.

This area is truly outstanding because it presents hikers with the transitional zone between the prairie and the high country while the heart of the Rocky Mountain Front is always in sight:  Choteau, Ear, Wright, Cave and Wind mountains.

There were tons of wildflowers --- from Horse Mint to Indian Paint Brush and I saw white Harebells for the first time (they're usually lavender).

This area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management rather than the Forest Service, and the trail has been upgraded over the years to take out the guesswork from various game and horse trails that come into it.

Click on this link for more info, map, and photos from this hike:

Ear Mountain Outstanding Area Trail July 22, 2014 | Garmin Adventures

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Washboard Reef traverse July 19,2014

We climbed that unnamed 8,200 feet mountain, among others along the traverse
This off-trail 16-mile traverse has become an annual staple of my hiking repertoire.

It begins at the West Fork Teton trailhead (Mount Wright) northwest of Choteau and involves hiking to Teton Pass, getting off trail and walking the Bob Marshall boundary line across the Washboard Reef, climbing a series of small mountains with grand views of the Wrong Ridge directly to the west, and then dropping down to the Olney-Nesbit trail and back.

Much of the hike is in the 2007 Fool Creek burn, but the vegetation is coming back, particularly wildflowers. On this hike beargrass dominated whole drainages.

We chose a pretty tough day for this hike --- sustained winds on top were 50 mph with higher wind gusts, and our vistas were obscured by smoke from fires drifting over from Oregon and Washington.

Click on this link for more photos and hike details: 

Washboard Reef traverse July 19,2014 | Garmin Adventures

Friday, July 18, 2014

Patrol Mountain July 16, 2014

Coming off Patrol Mountain and into Honeymoon Basin
Patrol Mountain (8,015 feet), is an annual hike that we've done so many times that we've become friends with long-time lookout ranger Samsara Chapman.  Last week I visited her father, Mike Chapman, lookout ranger at Prairie Reef.

This is a really fun hike on a great trail that begins at the Benchmark campground and covers 11.3 miles and more than 2,900 feet cumulative elevation gain --- with 2,500 of it coming in the last 3 miles after wide and cold Straight Creek is waded (bring good water shoes).

We hiked this in extremely hot weather (it was during a 90s stretch in Great Falls) that was further marred by smoke coming in from Oregon and Washington state fires.

It seems ironic that we have to deal with smoke this summer since we've had such wet weather to this point.  There is still plenty of snow in the high country and it is beautifully green in the meadows.

My two left boots
This was a hike I almost didn't make.  As I was cleaning my car, I took out what I thought was an extra pair of boots.  What I was doing was actually taking out both of my right boots, leaving me with two left foot boots!  I still climbed the mountain, but in my sandals!

After the hike I had a flat front tire and we limped back home with a spare.

The day before this climb we went to Missoula and did a guided float of the Alberton Gorge, a first for me.  Katie hadn't floated it since college.

We cut over to Augusta and stayed at the Bunkhouse Hotel, an old two-story boarding house that is being refurbished.  We had a comfortable night.

Click on this link for more details and map:

Patrol Mountain July 16, 2014 | Garmin Adventures