Thursday, May 19, 2016

Prospect Peak, Wind Mountain on gorgeous spring days

Jasmine Krotkov took this photo of me on top Prospect Peak Wednesday
Wayne Phillips crosses a snowmelt choked Shonkin Creek

Up the ridge to Prospect Peak

On one of the many volcanic dikes

Flowers everywhere

Prospect Peak in Highwoods

This 9.4 miles off-trail climb to the top of Prospect Peak (elevation: 6,621 feet) in the Highwood Mountains was conceived by H. Wayne Phillips.
We started up Shonkin Creek, gained a high ridge line to the Peak, enjoying panoramic views of wildflower filled hillsides to the peak.
On the way down, it was on the ridge line all the way, a ridge that separated Shonkin and Kirby creeks.
While we were at the North end of this range, we had clear views of Highwood Baldy and Arrow peaks, as well as North, Middle and South peaks.
We ran into snow patches all along the hike, particularly at the top, which is really a large, narrow volcanic dike.
I climbed this peak years ago from North Highwood Creek, coming in from the west.


Wind Peak in Rocky Mountain Front

Me on top with Ear Mountain in background

Looking to the south from the top

Wind Mountain
This is a short, off-trail climb to the top of Wind Mountain (6,917 feet) that can be accomplished in under 4 hours that comes with some route-finding and scrambling.
This peak sits above the forks of the Teton River and its South Fork.  To find where to start, go up the South Fork Teton Road and about a mile beyond the Forest Service boundary sign look up for the mountain and saddle immediately to the west.
Start up, aiming for this saddle.  There are plenty of game trails to make the going easier.  Once at the saddle, the best advice is stay left.  There are several walls to be climbed and are most easily climbed on the ridge line to the left.  Once just below the summit cap, follow it on a pretty good game trail to the RIGHT and at the end of the cap there's an easy spot to scramble up.
Coming down, retrace your way through limestone scree, the same way you went up, but as you approach the saddle, start angling down, looking for great ski skating for the final 1,000 feet.
This is a 1.6 miles, 1,550 feet climb.
The 360 views are incredible ---- Ear to the southeast, Rocky, Baldy to the west, to the north the Jones Creek peaks, particularly Choteau Mountain.  To the east, the Great Plains;  look closely for Sweetgrass Hills, Highwoods and Little Belts.
On Tuesday, the wildflowers were beginning to emerge and the high peaks of the Front had pretty good snow, while where I was at, around 7,000 feet was clear enough to climb easily. wind!


Monday, May 16, 2016

Filling in some gaps in my education: a trip to Eastern Europe

One of the many Gothic cathedrals we saw.  This one in Vienna

The Parliament Building on the Pest side of Budapest on the Danube River in Hungary

The Wawel Castle and wall that dominates Krakow, Poland's skyline

Pierogies.  I had too many of these!

Living quarters at Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Poland

Prague in Czech Republic is hard to beat, but overrun by tourists

Katie at what remains of the Berlin Wall in Germany

Looking down from tower at palace in Cesty Krumlov in Czech Republic
I haven't posted for nearly a month because I took a 17 day trip to Eastern Europe, covering the countries of Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic.  We concentrated on history and culture and the bigger cities like Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, Warsaw, Berlin, Dresden and Prague, while touring the country side between these cities in perfect, warm Spring weather.
We didn't hike, although we saw nearly 2,000 miles of countryside and walked our legs off looking around.  The Tatra Mountains separating Slovakia and Poland were the only high mountains we saw.
We flew in and out of Calgary rather than Great Falls, cutting our fares in half ($750 roundtrip!).
I'm very overwhelmed by what we saw and experienced and it will take some time to sort it out.
The big takeaway was the rich culture of the area despite its war-wracked history.  In recent history cities like Warsaw, Dresden and Berlin were reduced to rubble during WWII, but have been beautifully restored.
Our trip was heavy acknowledging Jewish enclaves that had been destroyed by Nazis, and Soviet monuments attesting to Russian influence in Eastern Europe.
The local foods in these countries are simply horrible;  heavy meat-based, creamy sauces, dumplings.  The pastries, beers and wines sort of make up for the bad entrees.
We traveled in the off-season, but still found that most sites were overrun.  I can't imagine what the traffic must be like during the summer height of the season.
Country-by-country here are some of my observations:

Secular and sacred architecture in Vienna, Austria dominates the skyline
VIENNA, Austria:  I felt bathed in the cultures of grand architecture, classical music and history every moment I was there.  We took in Puccini's "Turandot," at the State Opera, toured many museums and churches --- the Belevedere Palace, the Shoenborn summer palace, and National Library and Museum stand out, went to a Lippizaner's exhibition, and another concert that featured Viennese composers in a grand palace --- a terrific ending to the tour.
This city is very easy to get around in, but watch out for aggressive drivers and don't expect to cross streets except at cross walks.
A major gap in my education emerged:  that Austria had been liberated after WWII.  In fact, it took until 1955 for the Soviets to let go.  We visited a major Soviet monument to that occupation.

Hungarian Parliament Building at night in Budapest
BUDAPEST, Hungary:  My greatest surprise.  It is an incredibly beautiful bi-city (Buda and Pest) that is separated by the Danube River.  On the steep banks of the river are amazing palaces, churches and of course, the Parliament Building, probably the most interesting single building we toured.  We floated the Danube one evening, enjoying the buildings on the banks all lit up. I would have liked to soak at one of the city's ancient hot springs, but we did climb hills, visit churches (St. Stephen's Cathedral).  We were there on May Day and saw an incredible air show where jets flew under the Chain Bridge.  This is a city I would like to revisit.  You can have the paprika spicing of all dishes, though.  The Sofitel Hotel at Chain Bridge was my favorite hotel on this trip.

Cobblestone and ancient buildings in Medieval Krakow
KRAKOW, Poland:  The drive through the countryside between Hungary and Poland is reminiscent of the low Appalachian foothills or even the bluffs of the Mississippi River, populated by hardwood trees.  We passed through Slovakia, an extremely rural and forested country as we approached the Tatra Mountains that separate Slovakia and Poland.  Krakow is the home of my grandmother's family, the Jaskulski's.  It is also an ancient, medieval, walled city of cobblestone streets, a large city square, and dominated by the Wawel Castle, which we toured during the May Day weekend celebrations. Here we encountered the Polish pierogi, what our tour guide liked to call a "Polish ravioli," a heavy dumpling filled with cheese, potatoes, mushrooms or meat.  By the time we left Poland I vowed never to have another, although I had eaten plenty of them growing up in Chicago.  Too heavy!!! We stopped by the 600 year-old Salt Mine outside Krakow, filled with statues made out of the salt, including a large church sanctuary.

Stalin's gift to Warsaw, the Palance of Culture
WARSAW, Poland:  Nothing could have prepared me for the muscularity of this Polish capital city that has been rebuilt since WWII.  We toured Stalin's gift to the city, the Palace of Culture, a 30 story skyscraper, scorned by Poles, but a major tourist destination.  I liked the modernistic Chopin Memorial in Lazienki Park, the Old Town Square, and was impressed with the new Holocaust Museum built on the site of the Jewish Ghetto.  The rebuilding of Warsaw is hard to imagine after the German devastation of the city, but it has been done nicely.

The "Black Madonna" at Czestochowa
Stops at Auschwitz and Czestochowa.  I was overwhelmed by both of these.  Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp where more than 1 million Jews were gassed and incinerated is a deeply emotional place to visit, where we saw the work camps, living quarters, gas chambers and incinerators.   This is a somber place.  We saw the adjacent Birkinau death camp.  The camps are major tourist destinations, but I didn't mind because this story needs to be imprinted on the minds of all humans.  At pretty Czestochowa we visited the church where Poland's venerated "Black Madonna," icon of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus are on display.  Mass was in session when we arrived and like many others we fell to our knees and traversed the sanctuary.  This was an image my parents displayed in my childhood home, so I was anxious to see it.

The Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany
BERLIN, Germany:  This was by far the most dynamic of the cities we visited.  Yes, it has been rebuilt since WWII,  but there are many new, modern buildings in the midst of grand and historic buildings.  The skyline is littered with booms from high cranes. The Reichtag has been rebuilt, but a futuristic dome added.  The Berlin Cathedral, one of the favorite churches on our tour, has been restored.  And of course, the Brandenburg Gate, who could resist this, or a stroll in the Tiergarten Park or Lindenstrasse avenue?  We toured the remains of the famous Berlin Wall, visited an East German apartment preserved as it was under Communism.  We also visited Checkpoint Charlie, the former Soviet/American sectors' boundary and two Soviet War memorials, underscoring for us the grim Soviet presence in Berlin and Eastern Europe for more than 40 years, but also reminding us that many Soviet soldiers died liberating Berlin from the Nazis.  I wasn't taken as much by the Holocaust memorial adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate.  I found the design almost disrespectful in its modernity and lack of emotion.

Dresden, Germany Opera House rebuilt after Allies destroyed it in WWII
DRESDEN, Germany:  We had a brief visit to this ancient city that had been bombed to smithereens by the Allies in retaliation for the Nazi blitz of London.  This city has been beautifully rebuilt and would make a three or four day stay in itself.  The stop on the way to Prague forced us to consider the barbarity of the bombing there.  We were impressed by the royal castle and the church and bustling square.  I would have liked to stopped for a performance at the ornate opera house, but ran out of time.

Infant of Prague Shrine in Prague, Czech Republic
PRAGUE, Czech Republic:  Home of another ancient city, magical for its castles, cobblestone streets, gardens, architecture and square.  We toured St. Vitus Cathedral, the Prague Castle, now seat of Czech government, and climbed the smaller version of Eiffel's Tower, designed by Eiffel himself. We spent much time wandering the narrow streets and visited the Shrine of the Infant of Prague, another icon from my childhood.  One evening we went on a cruise of the Moldau River that only accentuated the magical nature of this city.  I fear that Prague, of all the cities we visited, is in danger of being trashed by tourists.  We found ourselves fleeing some of the major landmarks to escape the hordes of people.  I hate to say it, but now that I've seen this magnificent city, I probably won't return.
On the way of Cesky Krumlov in the Bohemian countryside, we stopped for a tour of the Budweiser beer plant in Budojvice, where Budvar beer, not to be confused with America's Budweiser is brewed. There are historic trademark cases being fought in international courts over which company has the rights to the name Budweiser.  The Bohemian Budweiser is a Pilsner, although we drank a lager version on the tour.  The Czech people are inveterate beer drinkers who believe in the health benefits of beer.  Our young, athletic female tour guide, drank a beer with us while on the tour!

Katie at  Hlubok√° Castle where we stayed in Czech Republic
CESKY KRUMLOV:  Another Medieval town built around a castle, church and small town square.  We climbed to the top of the castle tower and toured vast gardens where we were treated to Bohemian folk dancing.  We stayed the night at the Hotel Stekl, actually part of the  Hlubok√° Castle, a magical place sitting high above the Moldau River and its surrounding countryside.  Our spacious suite overlooked all this.  The castle was surrounded by manicured gardens and a private forest of hardwood trees.  

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Woodsiding and Sleeping Giant WSA again

Descending the ridge line

Dwight Smith walks the ridge line

Lots of snow most of the last 1,500 feet of elevation
This was the second time in 10 days to hike one of the bumps in the ridge line of the Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area via an off trail ridge walk from Woodsiding Gulch just off the Frontage Road, seven miles south of Wolf Creek. We walked a slighltly different route this time, coming down from the top along the road, rather than cross country.
This was one of Wayne Wild Wilderness Walks and there were six of us old guys.
It was a glorious day, with clear skies and 360 views from the top that included the Continental Divide and Elkhorns, Big Belts, Adels, Flint Creeks and Rocky Mountain Front ranges.
The wildflowers were glorious, particular the pink Douglasia that clumped in disturbed areas of bright red argullite.
Last Thursday's snowstorm deposited considerable new snow that we had to punch through in the last 1,500 feet of elevation gain.
We walked roughly 9 miles and gained and lost more than 3,300 feet.
For topo map route, more photos and description, CLICK HERE

Ranger, a great companion, used the snow to keep cool

Dwight said he wouldn't go any farther without lunch

On top our "peak."  From left (back):  Gordon Whirry, Dwight Smith, Chuck Jennings.  In front with Ranger, Steve and Annie Taylor

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Prospecting for 'Gold'

On our way with West Butte in the background

On top

Gold Butte

Struggling up a steep talus slope for the final 800 feet
Gold Butte in the Sweetgrass Hills is a short climb of a Montana Island Range mountain nearly as interesting historically as it is as a climbing objective.
This mountain is in the middle of three prominent Sweetgrass Hills buttes north of Shelby, the other two West Butte and East Butte.  This is the most sharply pointed of the buttes.
While called "buttes" these have the prominence of mountains.  We gained 2,400 feet over 5 miles roundtrip, the last 800 feet on very steep talus slopes made easier by elk trails that criss-cross the face of this mountain.
Gold Butte mountain is reached most easily by two routes ---- from the former mining camp of Gold Butte or the Cameron Lake Reservoir.  This hike is from Gold Butte camp, where there is little evidence of the camp save a lone gravesite near the starting point or the gold mine itself and the dredge and dredging ponds.
15-year-old Jessie Rowe's 1902 gravesite
This camp is reached by going north from Shelby on Interstate 15 to the townsite of Oilmont, then 18 miles east to the Miners Gulch Road and then another 9 miles north to Gold Butte Road and 5 miles east, where to Eclipse Gulch, an obvious route to the base of the butte.
It is 2.4 miles and 2,000 feet to the top.  On top, the 360 views include the other two buttes, Glacier Park to Chief Mountain, the Rocky Mountain Front and the Cypress Hills in Canada.
I had done the Cameron Lake route 11 years ago.  It is .3 mile longer and 500 feet more in elevation gain.
The Gold Butte camp route is much easier.
We saw many wildflowers on this trip, a herd of deer, a prairie falcon, sandhill cranes and grouse.
The gravesite contains the body of 15 year-old Jessie Rowe, who died in 1902.  The grave is fenced and there is a good view of West Butte to the north.
It was obvious that other graves had been dug up and bodies moved to a site about a half mile to the north on a flat bench.
We also visited the site of the old gold mine; the mine shaft is boarded, but very visible.
Seeing the desolate grave of the teenager in this former bustling camp gave me a very lonely feeling.
For a topo map of route and other photos:CLICK HERE
Katie on top, with East Butte in the distance

Coming off the mountain

The old gold mine adit

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Spring ritual: Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area

Mark Hertenstein on the ridge line

Heading back to Spring Creek

The pink Douglasia alpine flower put on quite a show
This 8 mile hike into the Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area between Great Falls and Helena, involving about 3,000 feet of elevation gain has become an early spring ritual.
We don't climb the Giant's nose; that's a different approach the involves traveling from private land near the Sieben Ranch.
We entered this BLM area from the Woodsiding Road about 5 miles south of Wolf Creek.
The road is gated, so we gained a rocky ridge immediately south of the gate and used it to hike off-trail to the road to the Sleeping Giant trailhead.  From there we walked up the trail, really an old road, to a high point where we had 360 views of mountain ranges and Holter Lake.  We could see to the Continental Divide, Great Divide ski area, the Elkhorns, Big Belts, Flint Creek, Adels, Little Belts mountain ranges.
There was an incredible display of bright pink Douglasia alpine flowers and many others.  We descended directly down into a tributary of Spring Creek, climbing about 500 feet out of it to reach the ridge where we had began and then back to the car.
The area is marked by grass on the high, exposed ridgelines, and large Ponderosa pine trees.
Later in the season, when the snow is off the road, it can be driven to the trailhead if you havet high clearance and don't mind wrecking your car, or more easily to an area where horses are trailered.
This hike was largely off-trail because we wanted to have a backcountry experience....and did!

For a topo map of our hike, and other photos, CLICK HERE

Much of the area is marked by open, grassy slopes

The canyon walls of Spring Creek tributary

Sneak preview of Glacier Park

A large herd of elk on Two Dog Flats in Glacier

The road to Two Med Lake became our path because it was gated, but passable

Rising Wolf towers over the Two Med camp store

Sinopah dominates the head of Two Med Lake

The most photographed place in the park, Goose Island on St. Mary's Lake
Temperatures climbed into the high 70s and the skies cleared, so my wife and I shot up to Glacier for a couple of days to look around.
What we found were clear, gated roads for hiking that took us up St. Mary's Lake and Two Medicine Lake, where we found mostly bare ground and snow-capped mountains.  St. Mary's Lake was clear of ice, but Two Med had ice at its west end.
Particularly at Two Med I can see no reason why the gates aren't removed so more people could enjoy the area.  We hiked 4.1 miles from the park boundary on the road to the lake, where we then walked the south shore trail to Paradise Point, where we had a glorious picnic on the lake shore.  On the way back we stopped at Running Eagle Falls.  Along the way we saw lots of moose and wolf sign.  We encountered several people.  A backcountry skier on a mountain bike, and a couple on road bikes.  At the very least, the Park Service should open the road to the falls.
The St. Mary road is open to Rising Sun Campground, where it is gated.  We walked to the Goose Island photo overlook and beyond.  We were most interested to see the effects of the 2015 fires, and were pleased to find that the fire had burned in a mosaic, unlike the 2006 Red Eagle fire across the lake that burned white hot, scorching everything in sight and leaving few tree.
Visitors will have plenty to look at from the Going to the Sun Road as they assess the fire.
On the way back we passed Two Dog Flats and there was a herd of more than 60 elk grazing in full daylight.