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):

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

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

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

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

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:

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

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bob Marshall Prairie Reef Traverse Day 3 July 12 2014

Where two wilderness rivers come together, the West and South Forks of the Sun.
The final day of the Prairie Reef Traverse.

This was a leisurely day, marked by awakening in Pretty Prairie and hiking back to the South Fork trailhead, some seven miles away.

Click on link below for details of the trip:

Bob Marshall Prairie Reef Traverse Day 3 July 12 2014 | Garmin Adventures

Bob Marshall Prairie Reef Traverse Day 2 July 11 2014

A "selfie" on the Prairie Reef traverse.  That's the Chinese Wall behind me.
The second day of a three day traverse of Prairie Reef Mountain in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area.  This day details the 11 mile off-trail hike down the north ridge, and ridge scramble into into the Prairie Creek basin. This day was the high point of the trip with tremendous views into the Chinese Wall and beyond.  Lots of suffering this day.  It started in a shroud on the mountain-top that I waited out.  My original goal was to walk the ridge back to Bear Lake, but a large snow field stopped me.  Instead, I scrambled off the ridge on a goat trail and then followed elk trails for several hours until hitting a supposed Forest Service Trail down Prairie Creek.  It was a trail that was clearly not maintained since the 2007 Ahorn Fire.  I climbed over trees most of the afternoon and early evening, arriving in camp at Pretty Prairie after 8 p.m.  I had descended 5,400 feet. On the Forest Service "trail" I bumped into two separate, large herds of elks at enormous wallows. In this unvisited area the elk have overpopulated and trashed entire drainages.

Click on link below for details of the trip:

Bob Marshall Prairie Reef Traverse Day 2 July 11 2014 | Garmin Adventures

Bob Marshall Prairie Reef Traverse Day 1 July 10, 2014

The Prairie Reef Lookout in the middle of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.  I spent the night here
Beginning of a three day trip in the Bob Marshall highlighted by a traverse of Prairie Reef Mountain, the highest point in the Bob Marshall reached by trail.  This post highlights a 15.8 mile, 4,500 feet climb to the top of the lookout.  The next two posts detail the off-trail traverse down Prairie Creek to Pretty Prairie and the final post, the trip back to the South Fork trailhead.

Click on link for details of the trip:

Bob Marshall Prairie Reef Traverse Day 1 7-10-2014 | Garmin Adventures

Monday, July 07, 2014

Big Snowies Ice Caves Grandview Traverse July 6, 2014

In the large Ice Cave in the Big Snowies Wilderness Study Area
Ice caves, 12.8 mile traverse in the Big Snowy Mountains Wilderness Study Area Sunday.  The views were grand ---- from a Crystal Lake overlook to a myriad of mountain ranges visible from the 8,000 feet crest where Canada to Wyoming could be seen.  What a great way to cool off on a hot summer day!

For more detail and photos, click on this link:
Snowies Ice Caves Grandview Traverse 2014 7-6 | Garmin Adventures

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Glacier's Two Med: Cobalt Lake July 5, 2014

Katie at Cobalt Lake in Glacier.  The last mile of this 12 mile trek was snow covered and we made our way by kick-stepping
I hadn't done this hike since climbing Mount Rockwell more than 10 years ago.
It is quite simple when the conditions are right ---- hike along the South Trail on Middle Two Medicine Lake and head toward Rockwell Falls.   Cobalt Lake is another several miles beyond,  a round trip of 12 miles and an ascent of more than 2,000 feet.
This year the trail was covered with lots of snow for the final two miles of the hike, making the going difficult.  There were times I wondered if we would even make it.
We persevered and I'm glad we did.

For hike details, click on this link:  Glacier's Two Med: Cobalt Lake | Garmin Adventures

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Arrow, Lava peaks in Highwood Mountains --- off trail July 1, 2014

Wayne Phillips on Lava Peak in the Highwood Mountains on the way to Arrow Peak in the distance
I do this off-trail hike/climb about every other year.
We hit it just right on Tuesday, with wildflowers blooming in every direction and green beyond green.
We began from the Geyser side, about two miles inside the national forest boundary and followed a fairly direct ridge to the top, gaining more than 3,100 feet along the four mile length.
Coming back, we got off course and headed down a different ridge, through some fairly rough cliffs, which we were able to skirt.

For more photos and the technical aspects of this hike, click on this link:

Arrow, Lava peaks in Highwood Mountains --- off trail | Garmin Adventures

Katie climbs Mount Wright July 2 2014

Katie on top of Mount Wright with Bob Marshall Wilderness behind her
The views from Mount Wright and the wildflowers so incredible, I had to take Katie back to see them in all their glory.
She identified more than 80 varieties of flowers and did well reclimbing the mountain she hasn't been on top of in more than 10 years ---- a gain of more than 3,200 feet.
The air quality, affected by Canadian fires, lifted well enough that we could see across the Bob Marshall Wilderness and into Glacier Park.
However, looking back toward the Front and the Great Plains, the air was as foul as I've ever seen it --- it looked like Los Angeles in that direction.
This was the second day in a row that I climbed more than 3,000 feet and hiked in excess of 7 miles.
The conditioning is coming right along.

To see more photos and get the technical details of this hike, click on this link:

Katie climbs Mount Wright July 2 2014 | Garmin Adventures

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Mount Wright for conditioning and sheer beauty

Mount Wright still has plenty of snow

Mount Wright, at 8,875 feet elevation, never disappoints.

This is an annual climb I do to test my conditioning.  I think I passed again!

The day started with warmth, no wind and a clear, blue sky.

It ended with a thunderstorm and hail.

There is considerable snow this year, which is a good thing.

However, it did not block the trail and what little I had to walk through was easy.

I climb this for the views of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area and the Front.  The summit ridgeline, which reveals the Bob view takes about 2,700 feet in elevation gain to achieve, but it is really worth it.

Even though the day was cloudy, I could see into Glacier Park, and in the Bob, as far north as Great Northern peak in the Great Bear, and Silvertip, well to the west.

The alpine flowers were also a great treat, the forget-me-nots, Douglasia, stone crop and Jones columbine that spangled the hillsides and crested the ridge to the top.

Below, in the burn, it is still early, the snow has just left.

I expect this hike's wildflower beauty will reach its peak in the next two weeks as the alpine turf greens.

Looking across the Bob toward Pentagon Peak

Jones columbine


For more on this hike, please click on this link:

Mount Wright 6-24-2014 | Garmin Adventures

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Gates of Mountains Wilderness Refrigerator to Big Log Gulch

A look up Hunter's Gulch in Gates of Mountains Wilderness, part of a 17 mile hike Saturday through the heart of one of the original Wilderness Act areas designated by Act of Congress in 1964.  Click link below for more photos and description of this Montana Wilderness Association hike.

This is something new I'm trying with the Garmin BaseCamp GPS software.

Click on the link for  a brief look at the hike:

Gates of Mountains Wilderness Refrigerator to Big Log Gulch | Garmin Adventures

Monday, June 16, 2014

Potpourri of hikes: Hall Creek well site, Park Cafe demise, CDT at Rogers, West Glacier forests, Apikuni Falls

Alpine Forget-Me-Nots were in abundance atop Rogers Pass west of Great Falls on the Continental Divide Trail
We weren't sure we were even going to get out last weekend with the intermittent rain.
But, we applied the Wayne Phillips rule:  "don't make any decisions until you're at the trailhead," and had great hikes Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The highlight of the weekend had to be the Montana Wilderness Association hike to the proposed Hall Creek oil and gas wellsite in the Badger-Two Medicine, just south of Glacier Park.
The hike was led by East Glacier Park physician Kendall Flint and the new Glacier Two Medicine Alliance staff member Leann Falcon, a Blackfeet tribe member.
I've included a recent newspaper article about the controversial proposal (bottom of this post), so I won't go into much here, other than to say that the Badger Two Medicine is a sacred spot to the Blackfeet and the site leased by Sidney Longwell of Louisiana is on a Blackfeet ceremonial spot, where there have been sweats and smudges.
There is no road to this area, and it is in dense timber in an unlikely ridgetop spot, so you need to guide to find it. Flint and Falcon were those guides, who guided the route and explained the issues involved along the way.
Longwell is fighting to drill, now most particularly for natural gas, and a long drawn-out administrative and court case has been fought, with no short-term end in sight.
The ceremonial fire pit
We started on private land, the Rising Sun Ranch, although this area can be accessed by the nearby Forest Service Trail 140.  We hiked 6.7 miles, gaining and losing about 1,350 feet in elevation over moderate terrain. We were taken up a rough two track, supposedly no longer in use since the Forest Service ban on motorized vehicles there.  There was evidence of fresh use, though.
There are a couple of Hall Creek stream crossings along the route, which climbs to a grassy ridgetop full of wildflowers  (one of the best displays of Camas I had ever seen) that had only recently been dug up by bears.  We saw obvious grizzly tracks and scat.
Below this ridge are several beaver ponds where you would expect to see a moose (there were signs).
To the north, this area's backdrop is Glacier Park and Calf Robe and Summit mountains and the Lubec area of the park.
Flint assessing fresh grizzly tracks
There is no trail to the wellsite, but it can be identified by an opening in the dense tree cover.
Should a well be developed it would drastically alter the landscape because a road would be needed to haul in equipment, scarring the area.
What would happen to the abundant wildlife is not hard to guess.  Flint said grizzly expert Mike Madel told a Badger Two Med Alliance gathering that bears congregate in this area to den for the winter and then disperse.  There is a healthy elk population here, too.
This is lonely, windswept country that provides the solitude needed for the Blackfeet religious ceremonies.  Industrialization would change that. (See article at bottom of this post)
The Hall Creek well site hike route

West  Glacier hikes

We stopped at West Glacier on the way into the park and took the Johns Lake/McDonald Creek trail loop, and got exceptional views of a raging Sacred Dancing Waters stretch.
We searched for the Harlequin ducks we had seen before in a backwater, but they were nowhere to be seen.
It rained on us off and on, but more sprinkles than outbursts, and we didn't get very wet.
This being early in the season we didn't see many other folks willing to brave the wet and the cold.
Sacred Dancing Waters of McDonald Creek beneath Mount Edwards

We did not have the spectacular alpine flower show that bedazzled us earlier in the day at Rogers Pass, but enjoyed the tall hemlock, larch and cedar trees in this rain forest.  You walk in a forest canopy.
There is still a ton of snow in the mountains and it is crashing into the creeks below.

On the way out of West Glacier we stopped for supper at the Belton Chalet, where although the food is steeply priced, it is well worth it.
Katie under the canopy of the west side forest of larch, hemlock and cedar

Park Cafe demise/Many Glacier's Apikuni Falls

Katie at the foot of Apikuni Falls in Many Glacier
We concluded our trip on Sunday with a drive to Many Glacier via the Looking Glass Road from East Glacier Park.We stopped in St. Mary's to check out what had happened to the Park Cafe.To our dismay, there was little activity there --- just one diner --- and an idle wait-staff that told us that there would only be one selection of pie that day because the diner was out of flour!  We were both amazed and dumbstruck that his legendary eatery wouldn't have its assortment of pies.Yes, it was the Park Cafe, but nothing like the Park Cafe we had come to know and love over the years.Last fall, the long-time operators were forced out by the lease-holder, a Blackfeet tribal member who decided to run the place.If Sunday is any indication, this won't happen and I expect it to be out of business quickly.It appears as though a park legend is going to die.This is a concern up and down the east side of the park, where the Park Cafe is all the buzz.We took a great, short --- 1.6 mile --- hike to the Apikuni Falls at Many Glacier.  Lots of snow at the top.While the lodge is open, Swiftcurrent Motor Inn wasn't open yet and seemed busy training new staff under the leadership of Xanterra, which has taken over from Glacier Park Inc., as the concessionaire.

The Hall Creek gas well is proposed for the heavily timbered hillside in an area above the opening where there is snow.  It is also a sacred ceremonial spot for the Blackfeet

The AP article: Hall Creek well, April 5, 2014

GREAT FALLS — John Murray, tribal historic preservation officer for the Blackfeet Tribe, opposes oil and gas exploration in Badger-Two Medicine in Lewis and Clark National Forest, a wild area of Montana that’s home to grizzly bears and a place of worship for Blackfeet.
Sidney Longwell, of Louisiana, has held a permit to drill for natural gas in the Badger-Two Medicine for 21 years, but his efforts have been blocked. He contends he’s being unfairly treated by the government in not being allowed to proceed after decades of delay.
The two men and others with a stake in what’s known as the Hall Creek oil and gas exploration lease met face-to-face Thursday in Great Falls at a meeting called to work out their differences.
The Great Falls Tribune reports that at the conclusion of the four-and-a-half-hour meeting, Longwell and Murray, the central figures, shook hands, but they could find little common ground, with Murray speaking of the ethereal qualities of the area, frustrating Longwell, who sought on-the-ground solutions to bridge the divide.
“What do you want to do?” Murray said at one point.
“I want to be able to go in and drill,” Longwell said.
“And that’s where we’re at an impasse,” Murray said.
Can exploration occur in a way that does not harm the spiritual and cultural practices of the Blackfeet Tribe?
Longwell thinks it can. Not Murray.
Natural gas development on federal lands and revenue it raises, how to protect an environmentally sensitive area, the government’s lengthy review procedures and the spiritual practices of the Blackfeet are part of the discussion in the energy-versus-environment debate.
Longwell’s fight isn’t directly with Murray, but rather the U.S. Forest Service, which called the meeting and manages the surface where the lease sits. Badger-Two Medicine is designated as a Traditional Cultural District, a designation requiring extra review when “undertakings” are proposed, in this case a natural gas exploration well.
The designation was given because of the spiritual and cultural significance of the area to the Blackfeet Tribe. As a result, the Forest Service is required by the National Historic Preservation Act to designate consulting parties to discuss limiting potential impacts of development before it makes a final decision on Longwell’s permit.
Key parties
And Murray, as the tribal historic preservation officer, is a key consulting party. Longwell, as the drilling permit holder, is too.
“We just can’t get off ground zero for either one of us,” Murray said at one point. “It’s not a very nice situation for myself. It’s not the way I like to be, but it’s the way it is.”
“It’s time to get something done,” Longwell said, noting several presidents had come and gone since the lease was issued in 1982 and the permit to drill in 1991.
Most of the consulting parties were at the table at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center on Thursday, trying to work something out.
“I would encourage us to at least try to talk to each other,” said Mark Bodily, forest archaeologist and Heritage Program Manager for the Helena and Lewis and Clark National Forest.
Murray says the Badger-Two Medicine is one of the Blackfeet’s last cultural and religious bastions, a place where Blackfeet people find spiritual enlightenment as well as food and medicine.
It is the tribe’s duty, he said, to ensure that the traditional cultural district continues for future generations. Building a well pad and a road into the area would disrupt the area and the “Blackfeet knowledge system,” he said, which he said was difficult to explain to those unfamiliar with the tribe’s ways.
“We want to keep that alive,” he said.
Holding on
The Forest Service has placed a moratorium on new development on federal land along the Rocky Mountain Front, and the government has bought out existing lease holders, but Longwell has held on to his.
On Thursday, he pointed out that the cultural district designation does not prohibit development.
“Let’s please get to mitigation,” said Longwell, noting he traveled 2,100 miles from Louisiana to attend the meeting.
The cultural district first was created in 2002. At the time, it was about 89,000 acres. It was expanded in 2013 to 165,000 acres. The proposed well is located within the expanded district, another point of frustration for Solenex officials. Solonex is the company that would do the drilling.
The well is located between Hall and Box creeks and about a mile-and-a-half from the border from Glacier National Park. Longwell said it could end up being one of the best producing natural gas wells in the Lower 48. A portion of the revenue from the project, he noted, will benefit the federal treasury.
His proposal, he said, involves 20 acres out of 165,000.
“Let the tribe give permission to go ahead,” Longwell said. “We’re ready to honor their religious beliefs. That’s not a problem.”
“But I’d like for them to at least give us some consideration, too,” Longwell said.
“Thirty years is a drop in the bucket on how long we’ve been interconnected with that land,” Murray countered.
Murray said he was not willing to budge on his position that no drilling be allowed in the district, but he said the tribe would support an effort to pay Solenex for its lease, maybe through tax credits, or a trade allowing it to drill someplace outside of the district.
Directional drilling was raised as a possible way to lighten the impact, in which the well pad would be moved out of the cultural district.
Longwell’s attorney, Steve Lechner, raised concerns about further delays if that were to occur, and asked what that would do to the project’s timeline.
Forest Supervisor Bill Avey said he couldn’t give a timeline because litigation or other issues could come up.
Consulting parties left the meeting with the goal of coming up a list of potential adverse impacts that might harm the integrity of the cultural district. Murray was reluctant to share the nature of the tribe’s spiritual practices, but said he would speak with tribal elders.
Lechner said the company can’t come up with ways to mitigate the impacts on the characteristics of the district if they don’t know what those impacts are.
There’s no deadline to resolve the issue at this point, Bodily said.
Ultimately, it will be up to the consulting parties to decide whether they want to continue talking. And it will be up to the forest chief to make a decision on the permit. At some point, The Advisory Council on Historic Preservation may be asked to assist in the process.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Pioneer Ridge training hike

Wayne Phillips at the Pioneer Ridge trailhead
The Pioneer Ridge in the Little Belt Mountains runs 10 miles at just over 5,000 feet in elevation from the Belt Creek Ranger Station between Monarch and Neihart to 9,000 feet + Big Baldy.
It is a narrow ridge that rises steeply at its start and weaves its way between heavy forest and open parks in this range of rounded, forested peaks.
The open parks are garden spots of wildflowers of every kind.  We saw dozens of varieties on our hike there on Wednesday.
As my fellow climber Wayne Phillips and I condition ourselves for summer hikes and backpack trips, we're looking to set up a routine where we can quickly get 2,000-3,000 feet of elevation gain.
This ridge is just perfect.  It is less than a hour's drive from Great Falls (50 miles), and it is very scenic.
Wednesday we encountered rain showers off and on, but the sun poked its head out after every sprinkle.
We gained 2,600 feet, yet we didn't eat up an entire day.
Unfortunately, this trail is used heavily by motorcycles that are causing deep rutting and extensive erosion.
We've set  a weekly date for a training hike on this gorgeous ridge.

A variety of photos on our Pioneer Ridge training hike