Monday, July 05, 2004

Snow on the Fourth of July: Droulliard and Fields

On top Mount Fields

Looking at Mount Fields, which we would climb on July 4

Montanans take a perverse pride in their harsh and unpredictable weather and like to brag about it to their friends.
So permit me to tell my own Fourth of July weather story.
We decided we’d spend the long weekend in the Bob Marshall Wilderness in the Swift Dam area climbing Mounts Drewyer (Drouillard) and Field.
The area is located outside Dupuyer up a very good gravel road to the base of Walling Reef and Hurricane Ridge.
The hike into the wilderness entails following a nice trail around the south edge of the reservoir, an emerald draining the three forks of Birch Creek.
We packed in nine miles to the base of Mount Drewyer, spied a camp adjacent to Field Creek, and climbed the peak by way of its northeast ridge off the Middle Fork of Birch Creek.
This is completely empty country because most folks enter the Bob Marshall Wilderness by way of the North or South Forks of Birch Creek which connect to the west side of the Continental Divide. The Middle Fork deadends at the base of the Divide.
Drewyer was a lovely and uneventful climb of about 3,200 feet to the top, which afforded us gorgeous views of Mount Field across the valley to the north, and the Teton Country to the south and east. West up against us was the Continental Divide.
Since one of the purposes was to climb the last two of the five peaks named for members of the Lewis and Clark Corps of Discovery it was fun to spot all five --- Werner, Frazier, Patrick Gass, Field, and Drewyer, upon which we stood.
Although the weather was overcast, windy and a bit chill, we spent some time studying the possible routes for our climb of Field the next morning.
It was decided we would climb Field by way of the southwest ridge, first getting into Field Creek and if possible doing a clockwise ridgeline traverse of this massive mountain, which dominates the remote Middle Fork country.
When we got up on Sunday it was so overcast and the cloud layer was so thick we couldn’t see the tops of the mountains. And the cloud cover and eventual rain and then snow made the navigation even worse.
We proceeded up one of the Field Creek forks and worked our way around beautiful ledges, which in the spring would be large waterfalls.
We hoped to gain the ridge and begin our climb.
We found ourselves literally “up the creek” with a miscalculation and on a ridge that would lead us on a counterclockwise route instead. Below us was the creek we had been aiming for.
So we followed this spectacular ridge to what we thought would lead us to the main peak.
It had a very vertical face on it. Byron Wallis picked his way up this face and announced that it was “borderline.” It looked too difficult to down climb, and by now the route was quite wet and hazardous.
I figured I could follow Wallis if I could make one last pitch, and boosted myself to the top, despite losing a foothold on one foot when the loose rock ledge gave way. It slammed me into wall and I bruised a rib.
At this point, some 500 feet below the top, Mark Hertenstein and Stephany Porter decided that the pitch was too hazardous and turned back for camp, which turned into a afternoon-long traverse for them over the north and eastern flanks of this monstrous mountain in fog and rain.
The biggest problem facing Byron and myself was trying to find a mountain you couldn’t see, much the same problem that Hertenstein and Porter were dealing with in finding their way back to camp.
At one point I thought a snowfield above us was a part of the clouds that had descended upon us.
But with a map and compass we found the Mount Field summit and marker, but not before we heard bizarre buzzing, gurgling and hissing sounds on the ridgeline. Byron said he felt his skin tingling and we noticed that his hair was standing on end!
We were in the direct path of a lightning charge on the ridgeline and the only way out was to get off the top, and quickly --- which we did.
I had heard of mountaineers whose ice axes “sing” when in contact with this potentially lethal electrical field.
Then it started to snow --- yes, snow --- on the Fourth of July.
It eventually let up as we descended to a saddle above trail-less Lost Horse Creek to the west and decided the scree into that drainage looked more inviting than walking the electricity and cloud enshrouded ridge below us to the east.
The walk down Lost Horse was magical. I’ve never seen so many beautiful waterfalls.
We used snowfields and old elk trails to traverse around the southern flank of Mount Fields, arriving in camp around 6 p.m., for a night of rain.
It was a memorable Fourth of July --- with a snow story, and thankfully no fireworks despite our brush with mountaintop electricity.

1 comment:

david said...

Very, very cool. (sniff) I wish that it would snow down here in GF in July!