Sunday, February 13, 2005

Sawtooth ridge on the Front

Sawtooth North climb with Ralph Thornton, April and John Carr
I’m not sure whether to happy or sad about the fact that we were able to climb 8,135-foot northernmost peak of the Sawtooth Mountain ridge in the Rocky Mountain Front on a warm, cloudless Friday, Feb. 11.
It is so dry and warm that we’ve given up the backcountry skiing and have turned to climbing this winter.
The conditions were as good as many of our June and early July climbs.
There were patches of snow, but it was clear enough that we could have chosen any number of routes.
Sawtooth is THE major Front mountain visible from Great Falls. It is visible enough that you could say it is the backdrop to the city and representative of our scenery.
The climb offers some of the most spectacular, if not the most spectacular scenery in the Front. It was especially pretty on Friday because the Bob Marshall/Continental Divide peaks to the west were snowcapped and set against a deep blue sky.
Castle Reef, across the Sun River to the north, is a majestic hunk of rock that gets better looking the higher you climb. Gibson Reservoir, which impounds the emerald green waters of the north and south forks of the Sun River, comes into view. Once you reach the ridgeline, the Great Plains spread out like an ocean at your feet.
On the Sawtooth Ridge there are four “tines” or peaks. I’ve returned repeatedly to this north hump. The highest point is two more peaks south of the one we climbed, 44 feet higher, and a little trickier than the one we climbed.
The surest way to reach the top of north peak is to start at the Sun Canyon Lodge at Home Gulch, where the owners have always graciously allowed us to park.
There you’ll find tons of horse trails that make the start confusing. I generally cross the creek to the east of the main lodge, ascend a small rise and find a road/horse path that runs south to the base of the mountain. The Forest Service map indicates this is Trail 267. There are numerous ups and downs and the trail curves around two major coulees before dumping out onto the Agropyron Flats at the Sawtooth Ridge’s northwest flank, about four miles from the car.
Look up and you’ll see a number of parallel spines that run down from the top of the mountain.
You’ll also be able to view the mountaintop, which is a block with a nipple on top. That’s where you’ll find the northern cairn.
Once you reach the base of the block it is about 1,200 feet to the top. Follow the ridgeline up to the cliffs. You can get on the top of the ridge at this point if you like or follow the base of the cliffs around a bend looking for a crack that will get you on top. You’ll have to use your hands to reach the ridgeline through this crack.
Then it is a walk to the top where the ridge falls off to the east some 1,000 feet and is a tad precarious to the west, but nothing too tough.
On top you’ll be impressed by the size of the other three Sawtooth summits directly in front of you to the south.
All four members of our group, experienced Glacier Mountaineering Society members Ralph Thornton of Choteau, John and April Carr of Shelby, and myself, reached the top.
Thornton spied a faster way down from a saddle beneath the summit block, an elk trail that extended to a ridge that leads back to the lodge.
The steep hillside was generally clear of ice and snow where we walked and the elk trail, which paralleled others like it got us to that ridge.
We got out just as darkness fell.

It was a long day. We started walking at 10 a.m., and got out about 6:30 p.m., as it was getting dark. The climb was about 3,300 feet in elevation gain.
This climb is very satisfying because of fantastic views in all directions and because it is a good workout, but not too much.

1 comment:

Jim Heckel said...

I agree with your comments about good skiing that is very close off of Deadman. For the past two years, my friend Joe and I have trudged up to the top of the ridge and skiied the bowls you mentioned as well as coming straight back over the side of King's Hill toward the hiway (good tree skiing) and also down the power line trail.

You really should be aware that the skate skiing down and off of Divide Road is really good. The secret is (if you can) ski during the week very early. I was skate skiing off of Divide Road last Monday and saw no snowmobiles.

Jim Heckel