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

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Back to Benchmark

A bull moose in velvet on the Benchmark Road beaver ponds
The drive to Benchmark might be the perfect day trip, whether you're hiking or not.
Yes, it's a long (32 miles west of Augusta), dusty, bumpy road, but there's hardly anything like it for what you'll see in the Front.
We had some spare time on Tuesday and after my wife finished teaching at 10:30 a.m., we headed up. We were back by 6:30 p.m., and enroute we saw a cow elk, a bull moose, two bald eagles, a pronghorn and some deer.
The fairy slippers (calypso) were everywhere
We also explored a waterfall, examined many varieties of wildflowers, and hiked the trail along the South Fork Sun River toward the Bob Marshall Wilderness Boundary. And....we had time for a lunch and a nap!
Not a bad day's drive.
This narrow road is between the Fairview Plateau and the Wood Creek Hogback, both inspiring alpine ridges with fingers of snow.  The Patrol Mountain ridge was particularly covered.  It passes alpine Wood Lake and many beaver ponds and meandering streams.
It was a short trip, but VERY sweet.

Top:  Patrol Mountain ridge;  middle:  the pack bridge over the South Fork Sun River; bottom:  Katie at Double Falls on Ford Creek

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Highwood Baldy via North Peak ridge

The hike, the scenery, the top, the flowers on the North Peak-Highwood Baldy climb
It would be hard to have a prettier, more temperate day for a climb in the Highwood Mountains, but it all came together on Sunday.
We've done this North Peak ridge several times before.  We save it for when the Highwoods are their greenest and the flowers the prettiest.  It was all that.
I knew we had picked the right day when after we had crested North Peak we looked down and saw a young bull elk and several blue birds skittering about.
This is a straight-forward climb ---- achieve North Peak from the Geyser side, a gain of nearly 1,500 feet, and then proceed along that ridgeline all the way back to Highwood Baldy (elevation: 7,625 feet).
The distance is 10.15 miles and the elevation gain and loss is in the neighborhood of 3,300 feet, a substantial day by any measure.
The only thing that could mar this climb is the development on the peak itself, a couple of broadcast transmitter towers and a road that comes up the Little Belt Creek Road from the south and west.
Because there is snow still drifted over part of the road, there was little sign that anyone had been this way yet.
The hike from the north, the Deer Creek route, is more robust, the 3,200 feet elevation gain done in about 3.5 miles.  It is a different experience than the ridge walk we took Sunday.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Crown Mountain triangle hike

Crown Mountain is still covered in snow
Normally, I would climb the peak.
Saturday it was different.
The Front is really loaded with snow, so it was time to revisit an old friend at a lower, more passable elevation.
I  re-hiked a classic Front "triangle" trails that begins on the Crown Mountain Trail No. 270 that wraps around the east flank of Crown Mountain, connecting to the Petty Creek Trail No. 232, and then back to my starting point at the Crown Mountain Trailhead via the Ford Creek Trail No. 244. It had been more than 10 years since I did this hike, although I did a variation of it on backcountry skis several years ago.
Ford Creek Double Falls
This trip begins by climbing a little more than 1,000 feet to that east flank where snow covered Crown and surrounding smaller peaks really show off. Then, it comes down quickly into the headwaters of Petty Creek that drains Crown, traveling through thick old-growth forest that finally opens to a glorious meadow, where the Ford Creek trail intersects.  The climb resumes to an open ridge surrounded by snowy peaks, ascending to a small saddle and finally, into Ford Creek itself.
The Crown (Whitewater) section had several patches of snow and one fairly sizable avalanche slide.  The Petty Creek section's upper section was fairly packed with snow and lots of deadfall.  Gosh, I wished the trail crew had been through.  There is a large section of cascades and the creek needs to be crossed and re-crossed several times.  I found good ways to cross without getting my feet wet.
The open meadow where the Ford Creek trail intersects was spangled by purple larkspur.
When I reached Ford Creek, it was raging and I didn't want to cross it.  So I moved upstream and to my great surprise found the vaunted Double Falls.  All these years I had mistaken several cascades downstream for Double Falls.  I sure felt foolish.  These are sizable falls and with spring runoff, they were roaring.
I worked my way uphill around the top of the falls an discovered a road and summer cabins and found my way back to my car.
My GPS indicated I had walked 9 miles and gained and lost some 2,100 feet of elevation.
Glacier lilies were the dominant flower, although there was a sizable population of fairy slippers (calypso) sprinkled throughout.  I was quite surprised by the numbers for this relatively rare and shade-loving plant.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Highwoods: three peaks and a plane crash site

Me, standing by the tail section of the military transport plane that crashed 64 years ago on South Peak in the Highwoods.
On the late evening of Feb. 8, 1950, a C54 military transport plane crashed into the east side of South Peak in the Highwood Mountains near Geyser, killing its three member crew.
On Saturday I got a first look at the wreckage,  64 years after the crash,  after a long ridge-walk that included climbing South, Middle and North peaks in that small mountain range east of Great Falls.
Dwight Smith, retired Air Force, is quite interested in military plane crashes and after a visit to the site, interested me.
I had been on the peak before, unaware of the crash some 100 feet below me while I stood on top.
My friend Wayne Phillips, who had been to the site with Smith, took me to the spot where we saw a football field sized area strewn with the wreckage that included recognizable tail and single wing sections.
According to Smith, the plane was being tested to fly the Berlin Airlift (1949-51) when the smaller C47 wasn't doing the job.
The C54, built by Douglas, is a pretty good-sized airplane that was capable of carrying up coal and other supplies to a West Berlin blockaded by Russians.
Although the crash site is very well preserved with lots to see, there is little evidence that many folks have been there recently.
It could be that many, like me, didn't know it was there.
It could be that it is tough to reach on public land, the way we did it.

Top: Wayne at crash site with wing section; next, the North Peak to Highwood Baldy ridge line; next, the snowfield coming off North Peak;  bottom: looking back toward South Peak on the way to Middle Peak
For us, it was a drive to Geyser, a trip up the road across the Highwoods, and then a substantial climb to the ridgeline and walk, climbing Middle (elevation: 7,074 feet) and South (elevation: 7,075 feet) peaks. We figured that after climbing North Peak (elevation: 6,943 feet)  as well, we had covered about a dozen miles and gained over 3,600 feet in elevation.
The new Spion Kop wind generators project is some 1,500 feet below the crash site.
It was an eerie, yet solemn experience, as we picked through the wreckage and thought of those three airmen who lost their lives there.
On a brighter note, the ridge walk was glorious.  There are many varieties of wildflowers in bloom, and the hillsides are as green as can be.
The following day my wife and I, and friends Kathy and Larry Meyer, walked along the Center Ridge Trail in the Highwoods above the North Fork of Highwood Creek and then drove the Thane Creek to Geyser Road across the range.
Besides the wildflowers and glorious spring weather, the most notable discovery was that a bear had been turning over large rocks in search of insects.  You don't see much evidence of bears in the Highwoods.
Our route Saturday.  The wreckage was just below the east face of South Peak

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Sleeping Giant: a climb to the belly

Sleeping Giant: we climbed the "belly".   The "nose" was about 1,000 feet below us when we reached it.
It's hard to believe that less than a week ago we were in Glacier, forced to use snowshoes to negotiate the 4 and 5 feet snow on the trails.  In fact, my wife is in Glacier right now shoeshoeing.
I was at Holter Lake Saturday enjoying a spectacular, warm and windless day of canoeing and a climb to the Sleeping Giant's belly (elevation:  6,794 feet), with a grand variety of alpine flowers.
Our goal had been to climb to the tip of the Giant's nose (elevation: 5,600 feet).  We were to put in at Big Log and canoe around the Missouri River oxbow and approach the "nose" directly from the lake --- a fairly simple and straight-forward climb.
But when we put in, we could see the "belly" and a very direct route before ever reaching the oxbow bends, and save a couple of miles of canoeing.

The draw of the climb was too much.
The water was calm and flat and easy to paddle.
The climb was pretty straight up.
We gained 3,600 feet in 4.7 miles.  When we hit the ridge line we encountered snow patches along a route that rose and fell.
I had been in this general areas before, having climbed to the belly some 20 years ago from the north.  The route we chose Saturday connects to the BLM's recommended route for the Sleeping Giant, a route that begins at Woodsiding near Wolf Creek.  This route would be more than 18 miles in length.  We had fallen short of our goal a couple of other times on that long route.
This is beautiful, high country always in sight of the oxbow, the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area, and once on top, deep into the Bob Marshall country.
This was a robust early season hike for me, and I felt it.