Thursday, January 31, 2019

January becomes great snow month: trips at Front, CDT and Little Belts

Gorgeous, untracked powder above Swamp Creek west of Rogers Pass

High point above Cadotte Creek area

The snow was plentiful in January and I took full advantage with ski trips to the Rocky Mountain Front, Rogers Pass area and the Little Belt Mountains.
Of note was the a Jan. 20 trip to Cadotte Creek area just west of Rogers Pass.
We hit it on a glorious, sunny, but chill winter day, skiing a ridge above the creek's eastern-most tributary, Swamp Creek, and making a loop out of it by coming down the opposite ridge line.  What made this so special were the open, gentle ridgelines and fabulous views into the Continental Divide country near Rogers Pass.
We have skied many of the Cadotte area roads, but so many of them have been logged and aren't as aesthetically pleasing as this one.
The snow was a bit on the soft side, but we managed some long turns.
We'll be back to connect this ridge to others in the area.
Katie and I did a Montana Wilderness Association snowshoe hike up the Middle Fork of the Teton up the Teton Canyon on Jan. 23 and found pretty fair and skiable snow up that drainage.  We had high winds and lots of clouds.
We did another MWA snowshoe hike on Jan. 27 up McKee Coulee in the Little Belts just east of Monarch.  This is an area just off the Dry Fork Road marked by tall limestone spires.  After a couple of miles we ditched the hike and turned around as a snowstorm hit the area.
Then, on Jan. 30, Wayne's Wild Walks minus Wayne, skied to the Mizpah Bowls out and back and threw in a side trip of the Trail 747 loop around the back side of Porphyry Peak for a 10 miles outing that gained and lost more than 2,000 feet.  The snow was exceptionally consistent and good and deep where it hadn't been tracked.  Breaking trail was a vigorous activity.
We planned to do it the 747 part again on Friday, Feb. 1.
After lunch, the skies cleared, and the sun came out.
We did see a large avalanche slide on Mizpah's southern-most slope.
With all the snow the slopes are really dangerous.
On Mizpah Ridge

Mizpah Peak in Little Belts

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Welcoming in a New Year. Worries about snowpack already

Mark Hertenstein looks down on Sun River from ridge west above Hannan Gulch

Looking back up the gulch toward Grassy Mountain

This is why they call the mountain "Castle" Reef.  In the alpine glow.

I haven't posted for nearly two months, but that doesn't mean I wasn't out and about.
The holidays, travel and family concerns kept me busier than I wanted to be and I had to let this go.
In that period, there were several more ski trips in the Little Belts and travel to California, where we hiked on Christmas Day in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento and then HIKING (?!) in the Rocky Mountain Front in mid-January.
I'm getting very concerned about our lack of snow, particularly in the Rocky Mountain Front.
We took our backcountry skis to the Front on Saturday and ended up abandoning them for hiking boots.  We scaled ridge lines on both sides of Hannan Gulch and enjoyed tremendous views of the Sun Canyon area.
On Wednesday our Wayne's group broke the upper portions of O'Brien Creek and followed the feint tracks of someone who had skied the area before nine inches of powder had fallen.  When we hit it the sun had already softened it, requiring us to reapply glide waxes several times to prevent clumping.  Down below the Showdown hill, snow is sparse and not in good shape.
In California the drought persists.  I regularly visit Folsom Lake and have never seen the reservoir this low.  The fires were north of there in Paradise.  Sure hope they don't sweep up this pretty area.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Virtually the same trip

Frosted trees

Across the top

The overcast finally broke

Perfect skiing conditions
Wayne Phillips and I did virtually the same trip Sunday that Mark Hertenstein and I did the week previous, only we threw in a steep trip down the powerline.
We started off as though we were going to ski Deadman, went to the Deadman bowls and skied to their end, turned around, came back via the powerlines road and then down the powerline steeply to just above Highway 89.
We covered 6.8 miles and gained and lost about 1,200 feet.
The snow and temperature couldn't have been more perfect.  There were about 3 new inches on a base, with just a touch of wind-crust.  The temp stayed at about 18-20 degrees all day.  We went up as the low level threatening storm clouds blackened the sky in all directions.  The sun came out at the end of the day, adding to our enjoyment.
The new snow frosted the trees, adding to the aesthetics of the day.
We'll probably do this trip once again on Wednesday as Wayne's Weekly Walks continue after a two-month hiatus.
Our route

Monday, November 19, 2018

Backcountry ski season begins; snow is great!

Mark Hertenstein at the head of Deadman Creek after some turns

I'm at the head of Weatherwax bowls

Mark at the powerline
I guess because I'm always anxious for the backcountry ski season to begin I think I'm getting a late start every year.
I got out Sunday and skied up the road toward Deadman and at the top headed toward a sweet telemark spot in the Deadman Creek headwaters, taking a couple of turns before following the powerline above the Weatherwax bowls to Kings Hill and back down to the pass.
We had a beautiful, if windy day with temperatures in the low 20s.
We estimated the base at about 18 inches and already set up.
Across the road at Showdown Ski Area the groomers have been at work on Big Seven, but the runs to the south were tracked by powder enthusiasts.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Devil's Glen in Scapegoat Wilderness before the snow

Looking down on one of the Devil's Glen cascades

The key stretch of the Devil's Glen

On my way out the sun finally lit up the Steamboat bluffs
It's been a while since I hiked to Devil's Glen on the Dearborn River, an easy trek in this limestone canyon of translucent emerald waters and cascades beneath Steamboat and Monitor mountains.
The last time was before the Scapegoat Wilderness boundaries were expanded by Congress under the Heritage Act to include this scenic area.  I love the new Scapegoat Wilderness sign just beyond the Forest boundary.
It is a 2.5 miles hike one-way from a trailhead across the road from a Christian guest ranch and retreat center.
The land ownership in this area is as ugly as the area is beautiful.
It is near where neighbors fought over access issues and one murdered another.
A landowner closed off access to the Falls Creek roadless area several years ago.
The access to Devil's Glen is so tight that a thin one-mile trail from the parking area parallels a road cluttered with no trespassing signs.
There has been an encouraging development in the area, though.  The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation has negotiated a deal to buy access into Falls Creek and is raising money to that end.
I took off from Great Falls around 10 a.m.,and was back in town from my hike by 4 p.m.
The trailhead is a mere 72 miles from town by way of Augusta or Highway 200 cutoff to Bean Lake.
Of note, there was tree thinning for fire protection going on private property.  These folks are going to need it.
The debris piles from tree thinning

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Last shot at the larch: Apgar Lookout

Walking through a golden larch forest

A beautiful, easy trail to the top

The view of Lake McDonald and Stanton peak from the lookout

Pockets of larch untouched by the 2003 Roberts fire

Gorgeous golden larch along the trail
I was still recovering from the Ousel Peak climb on Saturday when Katie proposed to head back to golden larch country on the Middle Fork Flathead on Wednesday to climb Apgar Lookout near Glacier's west entrance.
We had climbed it once before in 2009 and I had climbed the Apgar mountain range highpoint with Wayne Phillips near Huckleberry Lookout in 2014, and we had backcountry skied to its foot in 2006.
But, maybe because there has been so much tree growth since the 2003 Roberts Fire there, I simply did not recognize the hike.
It is a nearly 2,000 feet climb over 3.6 miles on a trail that switchbacks comfortably to the top, offering amazing views of Lake McDonald to the East.
The larch were still in full color, but tinged in an orange pre-saging a loss of needles as winter nears.
It was fun to see how the Roberts Fire had hop-scotched the various ridge lines and even crest, leaving very tall larch and Doug Fir trees standing high above the uniform lodgepole and fir regrowth.  There were large swatches of untouched, older larch that broke up the new, green stands, creating a colorful palette.
Unfortunately, there were clouds and a thick haze that filled the valley near Columbia Falls that obscured our views.  I think it was the haze came from several large slash burns.  Katie's theory was that it came from forest fires in the area, still smoldering from their summer rampages. Probably a little of both.
It is terrific that we can get up in the morning, drive across the Continental Divide, and hike to a fire lookout in Glacier Park, and then return to Great Falls and enjoy a sun setting over our tawny-colored Great Plains resembling the Mongolian steppe and be home by 7 p.m. to watch the World Series.
What a great Fall day.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Can`t resist the larch: Ousel Peak in Great Bear

A view from top of Ousel Peak on Middle Fork Flathead with larch in full color

Harrison Lake in Glacier Park

Pyramid Peak from top of Ousel

St. Nicholas presides over the Nyack basin and a blaze of larch
Katie and her hiking group decided to climb Scalplock Mountain above Glacier Park's Izaak Walton Ranger District near Essex, so I went up the road another 20 miles and climbed Ousel Peak in the Great Bear Wilderness.
It is a 7.2 miles roundtrip climb with nearly 4,000 feet of elevation gain straight up from U.S. 2.   The Middle Fork Flathead where a park trail goes to Harrison Lake is across the highway from the trailhead.
This is the fourth time I've climbed this wonderful peak, which offers 360 views that include the southern part of Glacier Park to Logan Pass and south to the high peaks of the Bear, including Pyramid, and Grant.  Glacier's St. Nick matterhorn is very visible.
My intent was to take full advantage of the larch at the height of its color on a clear day where temperatures promised to warm into the 60s.
I didn't count on my starting time temperature of 28 degrees, a bit frosty for my taste.
The trail goes straight to the top with little let up, gaining about 1,200 feet per mile in deep larch, cottonwood,  birch and Doug fir forest.
Where the trail breaks out into the open the larch full presented itself.  It spangles the Glacier and Great Bear forests down to the Middle Fork.
Although this was a weekend and the weather ideal, I encountered no one else on this 6 hour trek.
The only problem was hard-pack snow for the final 650 feet of elevation gain.  The trail to the summit is north-facing and the thawing and freezing has left an icy veneer.  I left the trail and went into deep deadfall and timber to safely navigate the trip to and from the top.  On the top itself, it was clear.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Glacier's west side in a blaze of color

Middle Fork Flathead from Garry Lookout site

Alpine glow in Glacier Park from Polebridge Mercantile

Bowman Lake on a frosty pre-hike morning

Upper Quartz Lake Campground in Glacier

Bowman Lake with view of Rainbow Pek

The cottonwoods on Swan Lake
The larch are at the height of their gold/yellow splendor and not to be missed.
We took last weekend to enjoy the show, venturing to the west side for a stay in Polebridge at the Mercantile's cabins.
On the way there we stopped along the Middle Fork Flathead at mile marker 167 and did the short hike (3 miles round-trip) to the top of the former Garry Lookout site that offers great views into Glacier's south end and the Middle Fork, which is spangled in larch colors.  The elevation gain and loss is just under 1,000 feet.
The following day we did the 13-mile round trip Bowman-Quartz lakes loop that gains and loses about 2,700 feet.  This day-long hike begins along the south shore of Bowman Lake beneath Rainbow Peak, crosses the Cerulean Ridge and then drops down at mile 6 to Upper Quartz Lake.  It then heads south, passing Middle and Lower Quartz lakes before regaining the Cerulean Ridge and then dropping steeply on switchbacks to Bowman Lake.
Most of the hike is in deep larch forest with tons of blow down that has been laboriously cleared from the trail by Park Service crews.
On the way in it broke out of the forest canopy at the ridgeline, offering views of the three Quartz lakes and snow-covered Vulture Peak.
The view at the west end of Upper Quartz Lake at the backcountry campground is especially thrilling, looking toward Vulture and the forest lit up by the larch.
The cabins at Polebridge Merc are comfortable and clean, but the wood stove didn't have a damper and I roasted inside despite outside temperatures than fell to 15 degrees.
The Merc bakery and its huckleberry bearclaw pastry are legendary.
We had a meal a couple of miles south of there at a small resort that is readying to close for the season.
Along the road we got to see the dark, black grizzly that has been hanging out in a wild oats field for the past couple of weeks gorging on the grain.  He has been on a feeding frenzy in anticipation of the nearing winter.
Our weather was chilly and cold in the morning, but clear.  It warmed to about 50 degrees while we hiked.  It was very pleasant and at night the skies revealed a myriad of stars and the Milky Way.
It was a thrilling way to spend three days.
It was interesting to see that the east side of the Continental Divide had gotten considerably more early snow than the west side.  Usually it's the other way around.  The east side has really gotten hammered.  Hope it sticks around for a good ski base.
We decided to stay with the larch-color on the way home and came down by way of the North Fork Flathead to Columbia Falls and down through the Swan and Seeley Lake, enjoying stops in Swan Lake, Salmon Lake and finally the Sculpture Garden in Lincoln.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Colorado Mountain Lookout, Yellowstone and Teton parks

Colorado Mountain (right) on a ridgeline
Our route
The stone walk way at the top 

The top cairn with Black Mountain below 

Katie with ground cover and copious deadfall along the trail
 We finally got up Colorado Mountain Lookout (elevation: 7,217 feet) in the Lazyman Roadless Area in the Helena Lewis and Clark National Forest west of Helena on our weekly Wayne's Wednesday Walks this week.
This followed a four day trip to Salt Lake City with sidetrips to Teton and Yellowstone national parks on the way home.  The red aspen and dramatic landscapes are a must see in the Fall.
My wife and I got part way up on a Montana Wilderness Association snowshoe walk two years ago.
This time, despite tons of windfalls on the upper part of the trail, we got to the top, a 8.5 miles, 2,400 feet elevation gain and loss on a gorgeous Fall day.
The trail is largely unmarked, which I found remarkable given that there was once a major lookout cabin there, now long gone.  Unless you knew there was a trail there you couldn't find it. The trail is not marked on the Forest Service map.
A break at top
It begins behind the Moose Creek Ranger Station, four miles up a good, paved road on a well-marked Rimini exit on U.S. 12 about 7 miles west of Helena, just below McDonald Pass.  Historically, this area was a mining district and is now part of the Helena Ten Mile Creek drinking water system.
It immediately gains a ridge west, above Moose Creek, climbing 2 miles to another flat spot to the south, where the Colorado Mountain summit ridge begins.  It travels up another 2.25 miles and 1,000 feet from here through deadfalls splayed like pickup sticks across the trail, which had to be dodged.
The grassy, exposed and windy top offers a great 360 view of the Helena area;  the Big Belts, Gates of the Mountains, Elkhorns, Continental Divide country into the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall and even the Bridger Mountains.  We could see Chessman Reservoir below.  Almost on top of us were Red Mountain another almost 1,000 feet above us at 8,160 feet, and the Rimini ghost town, and Black Mountain at 7,148 below us as a twin peak.
We were sad to see the lookout was gone, with only remnants of the structure's footings remaining at the high point.
There is a rock pathway to a rock outcrop in the trees to the southeast that offered shelter from the wind.
My takeaways from the hike:  it's terrific to have a national forest roadless area so close to a major city;  it's too bad that there's so much diseased and down timber there, the trail could be better marked.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Rock art near Lewistown, more Front Fall colors

Damage from South Fork Teton flood below the destroyed Rierdon Gulch trailhead is evident 
The ground cover is Fall eye candy

The wall above Rierdon Gulch resembles the Chinese Wall

A look down the valley from the divide

You best follow these cairns to find the trail head across the South Fork Teton

An example of the erosion
We got in a couple of quick trips this week trying to stay ahead of the approaching bad (Fall) weather.
We hiked the Rierdon Gulch Trail to its divide above Slim Gulch in the Front, and visited the Bear Gulch Pictograph/Petroglyph Indian site southeast of Lewistown.
The groundcover in the Front continues at its height.  Oranges, reds, yellows and lime greens spangle the forest floor, the aspens run yellow, orange and red.  The cottonwoods are golden.
Rierdon Gulch, like the South Fork Teton it drains into, was hammered by the Spring floods.
It destroyed the trailhead and the Forest Service has done a great job rebuilding it.  Follow the cairns from the South Fork parking area to find the trailhead.
Rierdon, again like the South Fork, has been considerably widened, trees uprooted and knocked down, and the banks torn apart.
In the higher country the high snowpack and heavy rainfall, including that which we have been receiving in recent weeks, has left erosion marks and soil slumping.
Rierdon is otherwise this incredibly scenic, narrow valley lined by a long, massive, limestone ridge resembling the Chinese Wall in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
We hiked nearly 5.5 miles to a high divide above Slim Gulch that descends into the Deep Creek country that is in the Bob now.  We gained and lost 2,700 feet in the nearly 11 miles we walked.
Why Rierdon Gulch was left out bewilders me.
It is some of the wildest, most scenic landscape in the Front, of international quality, with its high limestone cliffs and sweeping views in all directions from any high point.

Examples of the pictographs

Ancient hand print

Our tour guide Ray Vodicka explains the drawings

Our group viewing the cliffs and wall markings

Bear Gulch Pictographs/Petroglyphs

I can't really count our trip to this ancient, sacred and scenic place as a "hike."
Our Wayne's Wednesday Walk hiking group traveled to this spot off the Forest Grove Road, some 30 miles southeast of Lewistown to take a tour.
It is something I had planned to do for a number of years, but hadn't taken the time.
It turned out to be an amazing trip for its scope and scenery.
There are some 2,000 Indian pictographs and petroglyphs, along with considerable tourist graffiti going back as far as 1824, when a "tourist" etched his name in this soft limestone.
It is said to be the largest such site on the Great Plains and used by Natives for at least 400 years, but probably longer.
Bear Gulch is a tightly enclosed valley surrounded by large limestone rimrocks.
Using ocher and chert Native peoples seeking spiritual healing or revelation painted and etched other-worldly symbols, animals and people into these rocks.
This area is in private ownership and any tour must be arranged ahead of time by contacting (406) 428 2185.
Our tour guide was Ray Vodicka, whose mother, Sally, owns the place.  Tours cost $17.50 per person.
Vodicka, in his early 40s, is passionate about the place and adds a lot to the enjoyment of the tour.