Monday, June 28, 2004

Crystal Lake traverse


    I'm in the ice cave

    Katie at Grandview Point
    If there is a better all around day hike in northcentral Montana than the 11-mile Ice Caves-Grandview Ridge traverse in the Big Snowies above jade-colored Crystal Lake I’d like to know about it.
    I’ve always been in a hurry to hike to the top of the Big Snowies flat crest above the lake and had never made the time to walk the additional 1-3/4 miles to the ice caves.
    The trailhead for this hike is just to the east of the main campground, some 110 miles from Great Falls in the Snowies, just south and west of Lewistown.
    While the hike was the weekend’s highlight, there was so much else going on in northcentral Montana, what with Lewis and Clark Festival in Great Falls, Charley Pride’s concert, the parade and Art on the Levee in Fort Benton, the Western Days festivities in Lewistown, the Teton County Fair in Choteau and Augusta and Chinook rodeos.
    I had a hard time choosing from that kind of smorgasbord of fun.
    On Friday we went to the Garden Walk and were treated to some fantastic gardens around Great Falls.
    I was surprised to see that a couple of the gardens had koi (a kind of carp) ponds. There was also a bonus garden thrown into the mix.  Three adjacent houses in northeast Great Falls opened their yards to visitors.
    On Saturday it was off to the Farmer’s Market, which is as much of a social event as it is a shopping experience.  It was good to catch up with old friends while sampling the wares from farmers and artisans.
    Afterward, we took off for Fort Benton and that community’s celebrations. Fort Benton  has such a nice feel to it and there are enough crafts booths to make the annual trip interesting.
    While there I decided to try out the WIFI (wireless fidelity) capabilities of my new laptop computer. I surprised to find that Fort Benton had a number of connections to offer.
    That gave us the idea of seeing how many wireless connections we could find in Great Falls. We drove around the city with the laptop open and the connection on, and on nearly every block of downtown and along 10th Avenue South we found connections to tap into the Internet at high speeds!
    But back to the hike.
    There was a note at the trailhead warning hikers that the trail might not be suitable because there were three feet snowdrifts in spots encountered by hikers.  We decided to try anyway, and sure enough, at about 7,000 feet began coming across drifts on this north-facing slope.  We were able to sure ourselves with our hiking sticks and to stay atop most of the hard-packed snow. It is great to see this much snow in early summer after all the consecutive years of drought.
    When we hit the crest the scenery opened up and the wildflowers were resplendent. We were treated to the rare blue limestone columbine, tons of spring beauty, and clumps of alpine forget me nots.
    The trail was easy to follow because it was marked with large stone Cairns.
    Katie Myers, my girlfriend, found the Devil’s ice cave before me and was pretty wary of it because the steep snow at its mouth was hard and icy.  I kick stepped my way down the snow and into its large cavern.
    Another three-quarters of a mile and we hit the main ice cave that has two openings. We both kick stepped our way down the snow into the main cavern where we were treated to the sight of large pillars of ice and ice protrusions coming from the floor.
    We decided that instead of turning around we would traverse back to Crystal Lake by way of the Grandview Ridge, and it turned out to be a great decision.  From the top of West Peak junction, a mile west of the ice caves, the trail finding was challenging.  We found old silver metal markers nailed on the trees that were helpful and we followed them through the snow areas until we came to the narrow ridge itself, which proceeded downhill to the Grandview Point itself --- and its spire, the tallest spire in a canyon of spires.
    After reaching Grandview: Point the trail switchbacks down its face to the head of Crystal Lake.
    About the only complaint is that there were far too many switchbacks, which lengthened the hike.
    We passed many clusters of the pink fairslipper orchid, which were in full bloom.
    We’ve hiked in the Big Snowies a number of times --- Crystal Cascades, Greathouse Peak, Swimming Woman canyon, among others, and have never been disappointed.
    The hike confirmed for me that you can travel in any direction from Great Falls and within two hours be in remote, spectacular country.

1 comment:

Rick said...

Do you have any photos of Greathouse Peak?