Sunday, August 07, 2005

Kiyo Crag traverse

Kiyo Crag mountain with Kiyo Crag Lake below

From the top of Kiyo Crag looking down on the lake

On the ridge line looking toward Half Dome peak
It had been more than a dozen years since I had ventured to the Palookaville trailhead in the Badger Two Medicine Wilderness Study Area near Heart Butte.
It is as tough a trailhead as there is to find in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, but worth the effort.
I miscalculated the time and effort it would take for this day hike: a traverse and climb of the Kiyo Crag ridgeline.
The road sign number doesn’t match the Forest Visitor’s map or the Bob Marshall Wilderness complex map’s number. Both show the road number as 9218. The road sign show 9128. Why the Forest Service leaves this sign up or doesn’t correct its maps mystifies me. I passed right by it the first time, driving nearly to East Glacier Park, before I realized the error and turned back.
The road is a pretty rough drive, too. I wouldn’t take my car in there in wet weather. The road is deeply rutted and rocky.
Here are the best directions I can come up with to find the trailhead: from Heart Butte take the Heart Butte-Browning Road north about 8 miles to Little Badger Creek. Just north of the creek there’s a road with a paved turnout coming in from the west. Take that about a mile-and-a-half where you’ll see a ranch house. There’s a dirt track road there with the brown Forest Service road sign No. 9128 on it. Follow that about 4.5 miles where it intersects with a short road that drops to the trailhead. You’ll find the Forest Service Trail No. 172. The road you just left continues to the top of Mount Baldy! It is used to service the electronics equipment on the mountaintop. Some attain the Kiyo Crag ridgeline by driving to it, rather than hiking to it as I did.
The trailhead is located in a place called “Palookaville.” I thought it might be named for the mythical comics boxing character Joe Palooka. The Forest Service history card file doesn’t give the derivation of the name. I’ve been told that Palookaville is a corruption of “Polackville,” named for a rancher of Polish descent.
The trail itself is not well marked to begin with. From the parking lot find a small path to your right and follow it across the creek and up a small rise. You’re on the trail.
To get to the ridgeline, I went up the trail through open grass-filled slopes for about a mile and then got off, heading up toward some ledges that run parallel to, and above the creek. I walked these ledges, aiming for a saddle between Baldy Mountain and the Kiyo ridge. I eventually happened on the Baldy Road, which took me to the saddle.
Then I had a magnificent stroll along the ridge at roughly 7,000 feet. I could see the alpine Kiyo Crag Lake below me 1,000 feet through limestone spires. It is an easy walk to the lake off a spur from the main Trail No. 172.
Kiyo Crag, which means “bear mountain” is white limestone and has that classic Bob Marshall Wilderness look you’d find in the Augusta area mountains; reefs rising to peaks, punctuated by ledges. While the topo maps I looked at didn’t indicate its height, my altimeter indicated it at just under 7,500 feet --- about 2,300 foot gain from the trailhead.
There is nothing hard about climbing this peak. It is a walkup, with the last 200 feet limestone talus.
Views from the top included the southeast end of Glacier Park, the Bob Marshall and Great Bear wilderness areas to the west, and the Great Plains over the Front to the east. I was able to pick out classic Glacier peaks like Rising Wolf, Summit, and Divide as well as Great Northern and Grant peaks in the Great Bear. The heart of the Badger-Two Medicine Wilderness Study Area lay at my feet. The Blackfeet Reservation pothole lakes dotted the prairie.
On top you realize that it wouldn’t be hard to continue on the ridgeline to the higher Half Dome Crag mountain. However, I was out of time and came down the steep talus east ridgeline, connected to a gentler north ridge and eventually gained the trail.


Anonymous said...

Hi Tom. Just found your blog. Great stuff. Curious if the boulders up by Kiyo Lake were big or tall enough to climb on??

Tom Kotynski said...

Not what you mean by climb. You can get up these large, limestone boulders, but they are sharp and could cut you up.