Sunday, November 28, 2004

Adel Mountains getaway

Climbing Mount Chisholm in Adels above the Hardy Bridge over the Missouri River 
Last day of the hunting season and the snow’s not quite right for cross-country skiing, so what’s a backcountry hound to do?
You don’t want to waste much time driving to high country that will probably yield lousy snow, and you don’t want to compete with hunters on this frantic day for the precious high country trails.
My climbing partner Mark Hertenstein suggested we give the nearby (35 miles via I-15 and the Frontage Road) Adel Mountains a try. Many consider the Adels to be part of the Big Belt range, but they aren’t.  They do flow into the Big Belts, but geologically they are quite different.  The Adels are a volcanic range, which sends out laccolith fingers in all directions south of the town of Cascade.
The majority is in private ownership, but there are fingers of public, mostly BLM lands that can be reached by the resourceful hiker.
One such place is Mount Chisholm, elevation 4,639 feet that rises above the Hardy Creek state fishing access site near the Hardy Bridge, in the Mountain Palace area.
From bottom to top is about 1,200 feet, nearly the same size as Mount Helena. The difference is that Chisholm rises straight up, and the summit ridge is a jumbled knife-edge.
The volcanic rock ranges in color from a gray to an almost purple, with reds and oranges mixed in. It is not as crumbly as some of the rock in the Rocky Mountain Front, but you need to be careful that you don’t tear it away as you grab your hand-holds.
We figured we wouldn’t get any competition from hunters here, and we didn’t, not encountering another person all day.
We chose a high Class 3 route (use of hands required!), while a couple of pitches at the top were exposed Class 4, meaning that any misstep would send us 500 feet down the sheer face of this pretty outcropping.
A fresh skiff of snow made the entire climb treacherous, particularly as the sun warmed it up and it began to melt and became super slippery.
The difficulties were balanced by the thrill of the immediately spectacular views of the Missouri River canyon below, the scenic silver-metal Hardy Bridge, and the higher snow-covered Adels and Big Belts in the distance.
From start to finish, with time to drink in the views, the hike took 2-1/2 hours and we were back in Great Falls before 1 p.m., on this bright sunny day!


Helena is always a wonderful place to visit for its history, scenery, and great little shops in the Last Chance Gulch downtown business district.
Although this was the first weekend of the Christmas shopping season, the downtown was virtually empty.  Several store clerks remarked that everyone was at “Wally’s World (Wal-Mart).
We stopped several art galleries, took a drive to the east side of town for a view of the Capitol and surrounding neighborhoods and then back to the Myrna Loy Theater, where we caught a showing of “Ray,” a well-done biography of singer Ray Charles.
Toi’s Thai restaurant was too crowded, so we ate at On Broadway before returning to Great Falls.
The short distance (less than two hours away) makes this a quick day trip.

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