Sunday, September 12, 2004

Rocky Mountain traverse, high-pointing in the Bob

Rocky's "spikes"

Ascending the ridge line

Formations on the traverse down
At 9,390 feet, Rocky Mountain Peak is the highest point in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Ironically, it is one of the most accessible of the peaks in the Bob.
The approach to this monster is less than three miles, and the standard route is a Class 2 walk up.
The mountain is reached via Choteau and the South Fork of Teton River Road. The trailhead is the same as the Our Lake Trail.
On Saturday we decided we would try the more difficult route up the north ridge that runs up from Headquarters Pass. We had our sights on a long traverse that included climbing Rocky’s adjacent “twin” peak and then running that ridge east to just above the parking lot.
As has been the case most of this unusually wet summer, the weather started to turn and the winds began to gust, signaling an approaching front.
We could see the front moving in as we crested Headquarters Pass and got that thrilling view across the Bob Marshall to the Chinese Wall.
I hadn’t been on this route for more than 10 years and recalled that it involved working your way around sharply uplifted and jumbled outcroppings for more than 1,400 feet from the pass.
There are findable routes on both sides of the ridgeline, and the more daring can cling to near the top of the ridge if desired. With four in our party, all three approaches were tried.
With the gusty winds, I preferred to stay on the lee side, or east side of the mountain. From my earlier climb I recalled that you could avoid the mountains sharp up thrusts by taking fairly defined goat trails on that side. I’d advise to take the trails that are nearest the ridgeline to the trails below that cliff out.
It was much too windy to stay on top for long, so after a quick bite we worked our way down the long ridge to the east to a saddle below Rocky’s smaller twin. The views from the top of Rocky are exceptional. The high peaks of the Front spread out below you to the east (with the distant Sweetgrass Hills, Highwood Mountains, Little and Big Belts in view). To the north, Glacier can be seen. To the south, the Scapegoat country. To the West, all the way across the Bob to the Swan Range. It was fun to pick out some of the major sights of the Bob, including Pentagon and Prairie Reef peaks, the massive fire spotted Sun River Drainage, and of course, the Wall.
We lost about 700 feet to the saddle, and had to regain about 550 feet to the top of that other peak.
Continuing down that long, exposed ridge involved some immediate route finding through some substantial limestone cliffs, but we discovered that by bearing to the south a tad we could achieve the easier scree and then the long, gentle ridge line below us.
The weather moved in on us and we lost our views as the clouds enveloped the peaks.
We did see a large mountain goat on the cliffs below us as we approached the many caves and limestone formations on the ridge.
This area would be a cave-lover’s paradise. Everywhere we looked along this ridge we could see interesting caves and areas where water had eaten away at the limestone, leaving arches.
It began to rain and we hustled off the ridge and back onto the trail, just above the Our Lake cutoff trail.
We could look back on the towering mountain, some 3,400 feet above the valley floor with some satisfaction that we had walked its backbone despite the wind and rain.
On the way out along the Teton Road we were treated to a black bear that lumbered out of the brush toward the road. We backed up to take a better look, and we had a chance to exchange glances with the large animal that had fur with a slight honey colored tint.
A day well spent!

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