Saturday, April 23, 2005

Sleeping Giant roadless area

Although the Sleeping Giant (Beartooth) Mountain (elevation: 6,792 feet) is on public land, access has always been a problem.
It has meant going through the hassle of finding the right Helena landowner to gain access to this landmark across Holter Lake from the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area.
It is part of a larger Bureau of Land Management roadless area that was considered and rejected as a wilderness area candidate.
BLM suggests a route up Sleeping Giant via access from Woodsiding Gulch Road about 8 miles south of Wolf Creek off the Prickly Pear Creek frontage road (at the Little Prickley Pear Creek fishing access site).
The dirt road is not too bad and winds its way to just below an unnamed 6,724-foot peak where it ends. A strong hiker can walk a ridgeline up and down to Sleeping Giant if you have the stamina.
Unfortunately, the road is gated during the winter until mid-May. I’ve always climbed Sleeping Giant in the spring before that time.
So, we decided to treat our hike Saturday as an “exploratory,” using the Woodsiding Road as a trail and going as far as we could in a day hike, scoping whether Sleeping Giant was practical from this approach.
Our hike was complicated by a few inches of snow that had fallen earlier in the week --- enough to cover our ankles and in spots go past our shins.
We were pleasantly surprised by the area’s beauty.
We gained 3,000 feet over about 4 miles to the top of 6,724.
If you’ve driven through the Wolf Creek Canyon on the way to Helena you know the rock there is stacked in layers of red, green and yellow. The area we chose to hike is to the east and above this canyon and full of these rocks, interspersed with Ponderosa pines and lovely open grass, looking much like the area above Rogers Pass.
The higher you go the more mountain ranges spring to view in the distance.
We could see the Adels, the Big and Little Belts, Gates of the Mountains, the Beartooth Game Range, the Rocky Mountain Front, Elkhorns, Flint Creek range west of the Divide, and the Great Divide ski hill. Off on the Great Plains the great laccolith buttes rose: Square, Crown, Haystack, and Birdtail.
Where there were breaks in the snow we could see the purple and yellow first wildflowers of early spring.
We determined fairly early in the hike that the snow and distance would keep us from climbing the Sleeping Giant itself, and that we would have to be satisfied with 6,724.
Satisfied we were!
We crawled across the tops of the bright colored cliffs and marveled at how steep and lovely these remote mountains are.
We caught glimpses of Holter Lake and the Missouri River to the north.
I realized that later in the season when the gate was opened we could have driven to the base of 6,724 and probably scrambled to Sleeping Giant’s broad chest, only 68 feet higher than we climbed Saturday.
But this “exploratory” had opened to us the innards of this roadless area that we had ignored in our pursuit of the Giant’s belly, lips and forehead in previous hikes.
It further confirmed the vast bounty of the Great Falls area: this hike is less than an hour’s drive from my front door.
I’ll be back!

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