Friday, September 09, 2005

Two Front waterfalls

Muddy Creek Falls west of Bynum

Cataract Falls west of Augusta
Looking for satisfying and short hikes into the Rocky Mountain Front?
Try Muddy Creek Falls west of Bynum that spill out of the first canyon to the south of Blackleaf Canyon or Cataract Falls at the end of the Elk Creek Road near Augusta.
I did them both on Wednesday.
The 50-foot Muddy Creek Falls sit back in a slot canyon that resembles the kinds of falls one might see at Zion National Park in Utah.
There is no trail to this spectacle, but once you find the starting point, it is just a matter of following Muddy Creek about two miles to the slot. (see below for detailed instructions on how to get to the start-point).
I became alarmed when I saw no water in the creek near where I parked.
It has been an especially dry summer and I feared that the creek had dried up and that I had driven the 80+ miles and would miss the main event.
When I got within a half-mile of the destination, the water magically appeared in the creek and I could hear the falls roaring in the distance.
I’m a believer in trekking poles. I found them useful walking back and forth across the dry creek bed, and even more useful when I had to step across the water on unstable rock.
Make sure you take an extra layer of clothing with you. It can be quite cool and windy in the slot. Although it was in the high 80s I put on a jacket, and needed it while I ate my lunch.
I was amazed to see an extremely large rock wedged above the falls at the top of the slot. I tried to imagine how it got there and what it looked like above the falls. All I could see were more high mudstone walls. I spied a small, steep opening in the limestone several hundred feet below the falls on the south wall. I started up it and realized it might be possible to work your way to above the falls that way.
It took me about an hour to reach the falls from my car.
Since it was such I short hike and I was finished early, I decided to see another of the Front’s charming waterfalls, Cataract Falls up Elk Creek near Augusta.
As I headed south down U.S. 287 from Choteau, I could see the great plumes of the Hazard Lake fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area framing Castle Reef, Arsenic Peak and Sawtooth Mountain in front of it. The hot weather and high winds were stoking that wilderness blaze, which the Forest Service was letting burn. It made me recall that almost 17 years to the day the Canyon Creek fire of 1988 had escaped the Scapegoat Wilderness and had made a run down the very Elk Creek area I was planned to visit.
Hazard Lake fire in Bob Marshall
Elk Creek has plenty of water in it this year, and in contrast to that historic fire year, the grass is still green in many pastures there.
Cataract Falls is about a 5-minute hike.
Drive to the parking lot where the Elk Creek Road ends (about 16 miles from Augusta, six miles south of Road 434, 10 miles on a good gravel road that comes in from the west). Cross Elk Creek on some stones to keep your feet dry. Walk a few yards to a gate that protects a private cabin, and you’ll see the Cataract Falls trail sign. The hike is about a quarter-mile and is in the forest all the way. It is a tad uphill, but very moderate. You’ll hear the falls all the way.
They pour over a 50-foot shelf in wisps reminiscent of the kind of falls one sees on the Oregon coastal forests.
There’s a bench at the foot of the falls.
In winters past I’ve joined other ice enthusiasts and ice-climbed these falls when they had frozen.
In other summers I’ve climbed above the falls by ascending the wall to the east to get at the north flank of Steamboat Mountain.

HOW TO GET TO MUDDY CREEK FALLS: Out of Bynum travel up the Blackleaf Road 13.9 miles to the Blackleaf Wildlife Management Area road juncture. Turn left (south) and drive one mile to Blackleaf sign (you’ll know it by the white arrows). Turn left and proceed 1.4 miles. Turn right and go half-mile and turn right onto a two-track road. Another two-tenths of a mile and you’ll reach an arched gate. Travel 2.5 miles on this road to an obvious parking area where there’s a locked gate. Get out, go around the gate and within about 100 feet take the fork to the right and walk two miles to the falls along the creek bottom.


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