|The culprit in action|
|A good omen at the start of a day hike|
|Two Med trail mess done by ATVs|
Perhaps a poster child is the South Fork of the Two Medicine River Trail No. 101 in the Badger Two Medicine Wilderness Study Area south of Marias Pass.
It’s like a different planet back there compared to the Autumn Creek area a mile away north of Highway 2 in Glacier National Park, where the landscape is pristine and the hiking trails intact.
I’ve never witnessed such large-scale, and growing, devastation of a public resource as the ATVs are wrecking on this so-called “trail,” which is wider than many roads elsewhere in the forest. Ruts are so deep that any amount of precipitation makes for giant ponds. The ATVs then try to skirt these mud holes by going around them, creating more ruts and future erosion. On a trip into the area Thursday I found that the “trail” had been so widened by this practice that it stranded trees, whose bases were being girdled.
How the federal government can justify such abuse is beyond me. I understand the concept of multiple use and support it, but I don’t grasp allowing uses that grow into abuse as is going on here.
At what point is the line drawn?
I can’t accept the notion of a sacrifice area just because mechanization has been allowed in the past.
From what I can see of this area, there are plenty of roads where these machines can be driven.
Why destroy a trail?
But, I digress from what I had set out to write about; the loop hike from Marias Pass up the South Fork of the Two Medicine River on Trail 101 and back to the pass by way of the Elkcalf Mountain Trail No. 137, which is part of the Continental Divide Trail.
This turned out to be a much longer hike than I had expected. I estimate it in the 16-18 mile range with lots of ups and downs and stream crossings.
I began at the Summit Campground and picked up the Trail No. 133 cut across trail that took me down to the South Fork. It climbs gradually out of the campground. You encounter the ATV ruts immediately. You pass the gas pipeline’s right of way ugly scar before entering the deep forest. It then starts to drop and there are junctions to the south with the Elkcalf Trail No. 137, and Trail No. 133.1, which comes up from below Marias Pass. The trail drops through the forest to the South Fork, which was shallow enough to walk across without it going over my boots. This is where you pick up Trail No. 101 along the bottom of the South Fork. During spring’s high water I could see the wade being challenging. Fall is definitely the time to do this hike.
The cottonwoods and aspen were in full color along the bottom, which opens and narrows along the five miles or so that I was on it. The river passed through several rock canyons and there were numerous little falls. Every time I turned north I got views of Summit and Little Dog mountains in Glacier Park. To the west the Elkcalf ridge dominated.
I crossed the river uncountable times.
I had originally set out to cut across to the Elkcalf Trail by way of a Trail No. 136, but couldn’t find it below or on top, although I looked hard for it. Having to take Trail No. 137 made my day longer, but it turned out to be worthwhile.
Although I enjoyed the river bottom, it was refreshing to finally reach a “real” trail when I got to No. 137. It narrowed down and was no longer rutted in any way. ATVs are banned here.
Then it was an up and down stroll across the flanks of Elkcalf Mountain for the rest of the hike.
The trail has been beautifully reconstructed in recent years and is in great shape.
While it is in deep forest most of the way, it is interesting because of the numerous creeks you drop in and out. Occasionally it opened up and offered tremendous views of the Two Medicine Ridge and river below.
As lovely as this trail is, I saw several disturbing things. First, there were some motorcycle tracks on this trail, which is closed to motorized vehicles except snowmobiles. Secondly, someone had removed or altered trail signs at critical junctions.
The most critical is a junction that leads to the top of Elkcalf Mountain. All signs were removed. Particularly because I couldn’t find Trail No. 136, I had to really think through which way to go as Trail No. 137 drops off sharply at this point. I followed it, hoping that I wasn’t heading down No. 136. Where the Pike Creek Trail No. 127 comes in, someone had carved a pointer in the sign going the wrong way. I figured that out and went down this trail to cut some distance off the hike back to the campground. The trailhead where Pike Creek trail comes out to the road is unmarked. It appeared that someone had started a campfire with the trail signs. All I could do is shake my head at all this mean-spiritedness. Finally, there are signs that motorcycles are encroaching on the Elkcalf part of the hike.
I’m not sure I would recommend the full loop to anyone for day hike, although it would make a nice backpack trip, especially along the river, where there are numerous good campsites.
I would hope that the Forest Service gets a handle on the ATV use in the area before the damage is irreversible.