Saturday, September 18, 2021

The 45th Mount Helena Run, or should I say "walk"

At the Finish Line!!!

On a whim I participated in the 45th Mount Helena Run on Saturday ---- 5.6 miles and 1,348 elevation gain, up and back starting in downtown Helena.

I had helped organize the first of these runs, organized to save Mount Helena, some 45 years ago and routinely finished in the Top 10 runners.

On Saturday I hiked/jogged the route and finished in the Bottom 10.

I was the oldest participant in the run.

Time marches on!!

Friday, September 17, 2021

Late summer snowfall: the Front's "Grand Tour" --- Blackleaf to Clary Coulee

Camille Consolvo photographs the fresh snow that had fallen on Mount Frazier

The flank of Mount Werner

An old steam engine from the workings of the gas well above Muddy Creek Falls

A typical scene in the Blindhorse Canyon area beneath an unnamed peak

Camille Consolvo in an aspen grove lit up by Fall color

The view on our descent into Clary Coulee at the end of the hike

 We were greeted with late Summer snow on our 13-mile "Grand Tour," hike on the Rocky Mountain Front Thursday.

It dusted the ground at the Blackleaf Canyon and coated the north-facing mountain slopes, but didn't hit Choteau Mountain and we found dry conditions at our Clary Coulee conclusion.

This is a really tough hike logistically.  Since it is a point-to-point there needs to be cars on both ends unless you're fortunate enough to do a key exchange with hikers coming from both sides.

It is 26-miles between Clary Coulee, where we dropped a car, and Blackleaf Canyon, where we began the hike.

It was raining as we drove to Blackleaf and mud caked my wheel-wells and was thrown up onto my windshield.  When we stopped we used our hiking poles to free the debris from the wells.

We had to get an early start to do this hike, taking off before sunrise at 5:30 a.m., and I didn't get home until 8:30 p.m., after dark.

The drive up was harrowing because of the many deer.  I had a near miss with two deer just before we entered Choteau.  I discovered that my car's ABS system works beautifully.

On the Teton Canyon Road we were delighted to see about a dozen elk that (thankfully) had crossed the road before we approached.

I hadn't remembered much about this hike that I had last taken in 2003, except that in the Blindhorse Canyon we had to do a 200 feet steep Class 3 scramble to reach Trail 177 that leads to Clary Coulee.  Had we stayed on 153 all the way we would have taken Pamburn Creek that dead-ends on private land and taken the road back to the car.

It is interesting that earlier Forest Service maps had shown 153 and 177 intersecting.  The latest Bob Marshall Wilderness complex maps shows the gap at the steep canyon. There never has been a marker pointing to 177 from 153.  The National Geographic's Bob Marshall map shows a clear connection.

The 18-years since the last hike fogged my memory, and despite looking for the canyon, I overshot it by nearly a mile before I realized my mistake.

We should have backtracked.

Instead, I reasoned, we could get to 177 up another draw up the trail.

So, we thrashed around on a steep bushwhack, but did find some consolation in the beauty of that stretch of Pamburn, eventually arriving at the trail about 3-miles above our car.  We had lost about a mile and a half of 177.

But, we had enjoyed a tour of the Blindhorse drainage, an expansive grasslands that sits below several unnamed peaks just north of Choteau Mountain.  One of those peaks I'd love to see named for Choteau-native A.B. Guthrie, the author of the "Big Sky."  

The trail between Blackleaf and Blindhorse is in deep old-growth forest with trees more sizable than one usually encounters on the east side of the Rockies.  About 2.5 miles from Blackleaf on Muddy Creek there is the debris from an old natural gas well, and a couple of steam-engines.  This area has been overrun with cattle grazing, but has a beautiful campsite setting on the creek.

We passed an old trail just behind this site that we think leads to the head of Muddy Creek Falls and we made a mental note to return and check it out.

The Blindhorse area impressed all of us for its remote beauty beneath high peaks.

I had remembered that about 20 years ago this area had been targeted for oil and gas development and that there had been plans to drive semi-trucks into it.

Unimaginable now.

Thank goodness for all those who worked to preserve the Front and got those leases canceled and the Heritage Act passed.




Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Fall color on Blackleaf Divide hike

Below Mount Frazier's caves

The spirea's orange highlighted our trail

Mount Frazier is the monarch of the Blackleaf valley

The breath-taking Blackleaf canyon


Cresting the Blackleaf Divide

 The Blackleaf Divide hike is a nice go-to hike for scenery and exercise, particularly in the Fall.

The groundcover pops on the east slopes of the Rockies and it was popping Monday as I accompanied a few of Katie's Girls on a dayhike.

The hike is about 7.5 miles up and back, gaining about 1,800 feet to a pass between the Blackleaf and East Fork Teton drainages.  It goes through some of the nicest canyon scenery on the Front, where limestone walls rise 1,000 feet above Blackleaf Creek.  Mounts Frazier and Werner frame the hike.


Saturday, September 11, 2021

A week for Glacier: Siyeh, Piegan passes

Laurie Lintner below Siyeh Pass in a field of huckleberry bushes turned scarlet


Going to the Sun Mountain and its glacier on Tuesday's hike

Siyeh Peak is shrouded in smoke


The trail to Many from Piegan Pass was ablaze with Fall colors

A hillside of orange Mountain Ash

One of two massive mountain goats in the Mount Gould cliffs

 Lots of driving this week, but it has paid off handsomely with two spectacular trips to Glacier.

The park's ground cover is in full Fall color.  The hillsides are spangled with bright reds, oranges and yellows.  The aspen and cottonwoods are yellowing.

On Tuesday we did the 10.5 miles Siyeh Bend through Siyeh Pass to Sunrift Gorge point-to-point, followed by Friday's Siyeh Bend to the Many Glacier picnic area, 13.4 miles hike.

Tuesday's hike was on a (rare for this summer) picture perfect, clear day.  Friday, the wildfire smoke moved back in, along with a mild cold front.

The previous Saturday we had gone to Glacier's sister-park, Waterton Lakes, so we've had quite a dose of the area.

Tuesday was the first day this summer the park was free of its Going to the Sun Road reservation system.

By 8 a.m., when we reached the St. Mary gate cars were coming at us every which way.  People were enjoying their new freedom to enter the park without a ticket.  The parking spaces, particularly at the St. Mary-Virginia Falls hikes were full.  We were lucky to find spots at Sunrift and Siyeh Bend.  It was a mad house when we returned.

But our hike was sensational, and we were even treated to a sighting of two grizzlies on the ridge between Cracker and Matahpi peaks.

The trail was uncrowded and there were only a half dozen hikers at the pass where he stopped for snack.

Heading down toward Sunrift we were treated to a colorful display of huckleberry bushes in Fall regalia. 

I had been reluctant to do anything in the Many Glacier area this year because of road construction that has delayed traffic for more than an hour.

But friend Mike Dannells is sidelined from knee surgery and agreed to drop us off at Siyeh Bend on Friday and pick us up on the Many Glacier end.

Another reluctance on Friday was the thick smoke from California wildfires that had returned, choking the Glacier valleys.

Our motto is, "Go to the Trailhead," for planned hikes when weather makes a trip questionable.

Yes, there was thick smoke in the St. Mary valley, but as we approached Piegan Pass the smoke cleared somewhat and we could make out a feint blue in the sky and some mottled sunlight that illuminated the massive Garden Wall.

Like Tuesday, we saw a phalanx of cars at 8:30 a.m., despite the smoke.

The trail was something different, though.  About a half dozen folks were headed for Piegan, and only one other hiker appeared to be hiking down to Many, like us.  We didn't see another hiker until just past Morning Eagle Falls, when a lone woman on her way to the falls, came past us.

At the Grinnell Lake trail junction there was nothing but people, particularly those who were visiting after a boat ride on Lake Josephine.  We took side trips to the lake and hidden falls before our finale along Lakes Josephine and Swiftcurrent.

I had forgotten what a scenic trip this hike from Siyeh to Many was.  I hope to repeat it in the future.

A note on the trip along the Many Glacier Road ---- we lucked out with only one 10 minute construction wait.


Saturday, September 04, 2021

Oh, Canada! Finally back in Waterton

The new gender-neutral restrooms at the tourist boat dock

The new Visitor's Center

The black bear that created a "bear jam" on the Cameron Road


The Fall colors have begun!

The clouds put on a beautiful display all day

Cascades off Rowe Creek

Lower Rowe Lake

 One of the upsides of having been tested for Covid was that I could use a negative result within 72 hours to gain entry into Canada.

It was the first time in two years that we could venture north, and we headed straight for Waterton Lakes National Park, Glacier Park's sister in Alberta.

Chief Mountain port of entry won't open on either side of the border, so we had to use Carway/Port of Piegan, straight up US 89 north of Babb.  It adds about a half-hour to the drive each way.

We followed all protocols:  we had our two-Pfizer vaccine CDC verification card, our test results, passports, and an admission "ticket" acquired on the ArriveCanada IPhone app.

We arrived at Carway about 9 a.m., the only car in line and within two minutes were admitted to the country.

We had really missed our four or five visits a year to Canada during the pandemic.

This trip was a test of what it would take to enter the country.

The Delta variant is rampant in Alberta, but we didn't see much masking in Waterton.

What we did see was lots of change at the park.

We hadn't seen much of the park since the 2017 Kenow fire that burned much of the park.  There was so much deadfall and blowdown after the fire that the trails weren't fully cleared for the 2018 or 2019 seasons, and of course we couldn't go into Canada because of the pandemic in 2020.

We were able to drive up the Cameron Lake Road for the first time since 2017 and found the trailheads refurbished and we hiked the burned over Lower Rowe Lake Trail, which was in excellent condition.

Although there had been numerous fires in nearby British Columbia, the sky was a deep, clear blue with only a trace of haze.

The early fall colors were on full display in the orange and red spirea, the yellow dog bane and scarlet/purple huckleberries. 

I found that the burn opened up the vistas; Buchanan, Carthew, Custer and Crandell peaks unobstructed by foliage. 

Along the road we were treated to a unimpressed black bear that lumbered along obstructing delighted motorists.

In town we walked the Main Street, now turned into a pedestrian mall. I'm glad to see the vehicles gone.  Unlike Glacier Park, which has been mobbed by tourists, Waterton's visitation seems sparse by comparison.

The famous Kilmorey Lodge, which had burned, has been rebuilt in the same spot, but has not yet reopened.

There's a new visitor's center to replace the center that burned in the Kenow Fire, which hasn't opened yet.

The restrooms by the tour boat dock have been rebuilt and is now a fancy, modern gender-neutral spot --- very European.  I found myself slightly uncomfortable sharing the facilities with females, just like I did in France.

It was a long, enjoyable day of (re)discovery.  We left at 6 a.m., got back at 8:30 p.m., toured and hiked and lunched in Waterton, and drove 440 miles round trip.



Monday, August 30, 2021

A brush with Covid, a return to Glacier's Scenic Point

 

Part of the herd of 19 bighorn sheep ewes and lambs we encountered

The dogbane put on a yellow, colorful pre-Autumn show

Rising Wolf, above middle Two Med Lake, was as colorful as I've ever seen

Katie on "photograph rock" with Mount Helen in the background

One of the scenic "ghost" trees

I don't know anyone who has been more careful in dealing with the Covid pandemic:  we were vaccinated early, we mask and were careful not to have guests in our house for a year and a half.

But, we let our guard down and in August entertained vaccinated relatives in our house, thinking we were safe.

Not.

Two of our vaccinated guests came down with breakthrough Covid while here and one of them was hospitalized.

And....while we have tested negative on three occasions, we've had to go into a 14-day isolation in the event we'd spread the virus asymptomatically.

I'm not sure what to think.

Do we go back into the strict lockdown we practiced before the shots?  

We're now suspicious of everyone again.

In Montana we don't have contact tracing, less than 50 percent are vaccinated, and 90 percent of the folks are unmasked.  Our governor and lawmakers won't allow lockdowns or mandatory vaccinations.

Well, I guess we can still hike.  But do we go back to separately driving to trailheads when we want to hike with friends.  I'd wonder who they had been in contact with. I don't think you can trust anyone.

We've hiked several times during our isolation period, both in the Glacier Park area.  We hiked toward Flattop Mountain in the Badger Two Med one day and as the smoke cleared climbed Scenic Point in the Two Med, a favorite.

Hiking through the deadfall mess on the CDT below Flattop Mountain the Badger Two

There is still a lot of blowdown on the Flattop trail portion of the Continental Divide Trail that makes going rough.  I'd recommend walking the Pike Creek Road rather than taking the trail.

We had an absolutely clear, smoke-free sky in Two Med for Scenic Point.  The reds, greens, buff and browns in the mountains really popped.   There are some early fall colors starting and the berries, particularly the mountain ash, are a bright orange.

We encountered a herd of 19 bighorn ewes and lambs below the trail, highlighting our trip.

Surprisingly, there were very few hikers on this popular trail, some four parties going up and four coming down.

Fall is definitely in the air.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Petty-Crown Mountain traverse with bushwhack

 

The haze at the end of the hike shrouded Haystack Butte

Gordon Whirry on the bushwhack

Petty Creek

Gordon Whirry crossing Ford Creek on logs

Sunflowers lining the Benchmark Road point to Crown Mountain

The sky has been so deceiving this summer.

Looking out on the horizon in Great Falls there has been a pall of smoke with virtually no visibility.

But when we venture to the mountains that smoke seems to dissipate, if only into a veil of haze, and hiking is possible.

With this prolonged heat wave and drought, it's tough to decide when it's time to hike.

Sometimes you just have to go to the trailhead and decide whether it's worth breathing in the smoke and coping with the heat.

Saturday was such a day.

As we drove out to the Front it was as clear as it has been all summer.  There was blue sky!

We set out to do the Petty-Crown Mountain traverse that can begin on the Benchmark Road at the Double Falls Campground on Trail 244 or the Crown Mountain Trailhead on Whitewater Creek No. 270.  It's about a 10 mile roundtrip that gains and loses nearly 2,500 feet at the foot of Crown Mountain.

Crown Mountain, a beautiful Front peak is in view at various points along the hike as well as Haystack Butte.  It is possible to climb Crown Mountain has a sidetrip, if you have the energy.

We chose to begin the hike at Double Falls (also worth a side trip).  Once you've crossed a deep Ford Creek to get to the trailhead (there are logs and rocks in different spots) it's about 2.5 miles to the Petty Creek junction, at one point walking an open, grassy ridgeline.

 Then, our troubles began.

After crossing Petty Creek in an gorgeous meadow that would make a fabulous campsite, we followed the trail uphill and were presented with a path that split.  Instead of following the somewhat hidden Trail 232 sign to the right we followed a more obvious trail to the left, which although unmarked, had a clear path of cut logs.  We ignored the sign because we thought it led back to the creek bottom we had just emerged from.  

Mistake.  About an hour later we realized we were on a really good hunters' trail in the Canyon Creek burn we think connected with Forest Service Trail 238 from Jakie Creek.  When we realized our mistake, instead of turning around and retracing our steps we did a major bushwhack to pick up the Petty Creek trail.  We climbed over many dead trees and waded through endless buck brush.

It was then I realized that I had done something similar many years ago.

Advice:  follow the marked sign even if it goes against your instincts.

The rest of the hike was on routine trail that included about three more Petty Creek crossings until we reached  the No. 270 trail junction just below Crown Mountain .  I have to admit that it was a pull up Petty Creek and I was glad to travel downhill.

We enjoyed the many views along 270 and once we hit the Ford Creek bottom we had to walk about a mile back to our car at Double Falls.

This is a scenic and not a difficult hike if you follow the trail signs!




Saturday, July 31, 2021

A Glacier return: Dawson-Pitamakan and Belly backpack

My brother Dan working his way along the Dawson-Pitamakan alpine trail

Alpine lake view from Dawson-Pitamakan

Chief Mountain looms above Ninaki and Papoose adjacent peaks on the ridge line

A calm and hazy Slide Lake

Mount Cleveland, highest peak in Glacier, from Gable Pass trail to the Belly

Belly River Ranger Station

The Belly River

 With my brother in town from Indianapolis it meant a trip to Glacier Park, despite the smoke and crowds.

It turned out to be a good choice in spite of my reservations.

Yes, Glacier is teeming with people; our Two Medicine campground filled by 8:30 a.m., and we were lucky to get a spot.  Yes, there were hazy skies from the West's fires, but the Glacier skies were less smoke-filled than Great Falls'.

When we arrived in East Glacier Monday the air was so pure we immediately decided to do the Dawson-Pitamakan loop after setting up camp.  We hit the trail at 9:20 a.m., a late start.

I'm not sure what I was thinking, but instead of going from the Two Med Campground to the north shore I headed past the camp store and followed the south trail.  As we hit the Paradise Creek swinging bridge I realized my mistake --- that we had added more than 2 miles to the 18-mile hike that traverses Rising Wolf Mountain.

The day got hot and the sky hazy, but we were pleased that very few people had chosen this hike.  The last time we took it there were hordes of folks, some of them running, that detracted from the experience.  It was just perfect this time.

A very tired, and hot pair reached our campsite at 7:30 p.m., after hiking 21.5 miles.

On Tuesday my brother left after a walk along Ole Creek and some of Scalplock Mountain and I packed for a solo backpack trip out of the Chief Mountain boundary station.

My goal had been to check out whether a point-to-point 16-mile day trip to Gable Pass and down to the Belly and back via Lee Ridge was practical.

I concluded that it is not for this 73-year-old.

However, I did cover the ground for such a hike over two days and enjoyed a night in the Slide Lake backcountry campground as well.

I began my hike at the Lee Ridge trailhead a half mile south of the Chief Mountain trailhead.

The trail is in heavy timber for more than 4 miles, but when it breaks out into the open on the ridge line the views are comparable or better than Dawson-Pitamakan---- and I was the only one on trail hiking!

To the east and south is the Blackfeet's sacred Chief Mountain.  Directly ahead was Gable Peak.  To the north and west were Glacier's highest peak, Mount Cleveland, Miche Wabun and Bear mountains and the glorious Belly River valley.

Slide Lake trail descends south from a high point on Mile 6, on the Lee Ridge and over 2.5 miles loses 1,400 feet in elevation, traveling through rock slides and thick forest steeply to the lake, an impoundment of Otatso Creek created by rock slides off Yellow Mountain during some earthquake.

The creek flows from a couple of glaciers on the side of Seward Mountain.

The three space campground is set back in the trees, but the lake is very accessible by hikers' paths.

There is another way into this lake, straight up 7.4 miles of rough road from Highway 17 on the Blackfeet Reservation.  I walked this back after climbing Chief Mountain more than 20 years ago.  I don't recommend it;  it's rutted, rocky and in the trees, offering no vistas.

While I thought I had the camp to myself, about 8 p.m., five young backpackers wandered in, recent Westbury, MA high school grads taking a cross country trip before heading off to college.  They were a refreshing and lively group.  It was great to see other humans!

In the morning I had to turn around and ascend the 1,400 feet to the Lee Ridge high point and headed down the ridgeline to my next reserved campsite in the Belly River, the Gable Campground.  The views of the mountains on the north end of Glacier Park along the open ridge line were breathtaking. The trail, like the one to Slide Lake, was extremely steep.  As I descended, Mount Merritt, one of Glacier's six 10,000 foot peaks, came into view with its enormous Old Sun Glacier.  Unlike the Slide Lake Trail, this one had plenty of open views.

It was 2 p.m., when I reached my campsite and the air had begun to foul with smoke.  I had already covered 6 miles with 1,400 feet of elevation gain and 2,700 feet of loss.  I thought about my bed at home and the 6 miles to the trailhead and I went for it, although the remaining mileage meant climbing another 1,600 feet out in the heat.  

These last six miles is where I ran into many people descending into the Belly.

I reached my car at 6 p.m., having been on trail nearly 9 hours and having climbed more than 3,000 feet and having lost 2,700 feet.

I was beat.

My takeaway on this backpack trip is that there is still plenty of country in Glacier Park that is not crowded, in fact, empty, if you choose to find it hiking!


 


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Escaping the smoke to a busy Swan

Katie at the Mission Mountains Wilderness boundary

Glacier Lake in the Mission Mountains Wilderness

Huckleberries were ready

Katie crosses Glacier Creek

A nice cascade at the beginning of the hike

 I absolutely love the Swan valley, but doubt I'll go back during the summer again.

Highway 83 between Highway 200 and Glacier Park is now wall-to-wall campers, creating a long, slow traffic jam.  Highway 200 to Great Falls from that Swan Valley turnoff is pretty bad, too.

Now that I got that off my chest, we still had a wonderful time escaping the unhealthy wildfire smoke in Great Falls to breathe the less unhealthy smoke in the Swan Valley, spending a night at the Laughing Horse Lodge in Swan Lake, and taking a side hike to Glacier Lake in the Mission Mountain Wilderness, and a trip in a rented canoe on the Seeley Lake canoe trail.

It had been more than 25 years since I had been in the Missions, so I didn't remember much of the trail.  I had gone to Turquoise Lake then, bypassing a stop to Glacier Lake, so the Glacier Lake hike (3.4 miles roundtrip) was something new.

We had smoke, but still got some vistas from the lake toward Mountaineer Peak and the wonderful waterfalls into the lake.

We were also treated to mostly ripe huckleberries treats along the way.

The Laughing Horse is always a great experience.  Owner/Chef Kathleen is an engaging personality who has cultivated an amazing garden in the open space between the small cabins.  Her food is gourmet, and you can eat it outdoors, although you'll deal with the smoke.  It is less than a mile from the Swan Lake State Park public access, a lovely spot to swim or to walk along a beach trail. We enjoyed conversation with the Laughing Horse guests.

It was a nice break from being confined during these days of smoke and heat.

The long range forecast is for more.

I'm not a water person, but the canoe trip in what amounts to a slough from the Seeley Lake Ranger Station was interesting, although the weather was overcast and the air thick with smoke.