Thursday, October 20, 2005

Beaver-Willow Creek Road adventures

Middle Fork Beaver Creek country near Fairview Mountain

Snow-capped Sawtooth with fall colors

Sun River Canyon
The Willow-Beaver Creek Road on the Rocky Mountain Front west of Augusta provides an incredible array of hiking and climbing opportunities.
I daresay that this week you should add hunting as well. (Big game season begins Sunday).
Keep in mind though, that this 9-mile road is closed to vehicles Oct. 15-Dec. 1 to protect migrating elk from being too easy a target.
This is the road that connects the Sun River Canyon country to the Benchmark Road area.
It slices through a canyon extending from the Gibson Dam on the north to Girls Scouts Camp Scoutana on the south.
I’ve used it for access to hikes up the Lime Ridge and the Sawtooth Ridge. I’ve gained access to Willow Creek Falls and Fairview Mountain as well.
Recently I used it to climb an unnamed 8,018-foot peak that is connected on a ridgeline to Fairview Mountain. This climb opened my eyes to the possibilities of a high traverse from Fairview Mountain to Mount Allen in this region.
This past summer on a hike from Benchmark to Renshaw Lake I noticed Sheep Shed Mountain above the lake and made a mental note to return.
Sheep Shed is in the so-called “Patrick’s Basin” country of the Front, a seldom visited roadless area adjacent to Gibson Reservoir and reachable by walking from Willow Creek Falls to the head of Gibson Reservoir.
My goal recently was to try and reach Sheep Shed Mountain from the Beaver Creek Road.
To make a long story short, I didn’t reach Sheep Shed this way, but could have.
Instead, I found myself walking a part of the ridgeline toward Fairview, and enjoying the remarkable views it had to offer.
I accessed the ridge by hiking up the Middle Fork of Beaver Creek (on the road just beyond Sugar Loaf and the Stoner Place, but not as far north as Sawmill Flats). There are numerous game trails in this area and I followed them to a fence line, which kept me on a basic ridge.
I gained roughly 2,400 feet through lots of timber and an occasional opening. When I reached the limestone face, I found the climbing fairly straightforward and simple; easy Class 3 stuff.
On top I could look east and see the backsides of Sawtooth and Castle Reef mountains, two of the prettiest peaks on the front. To the north, the high Teton peaks country rose, as well as Mount Allen. To the west, the Renshaw Mountain country, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area beyond. To the south, the Scapegoat Wilderness all the way to Scapegoat peak, but with Sugarloaf Mountain dominating above the South Fork of the Sun River.
I saw lots of sign of elk, but didn’t see any.
I had driven up the Benchmark Road about 13 miles out of Augusta to reach the Willow-Beaver Creek Road. So, I came back by way of the Sun River Canyon, some 16 miles west of Augusta.
I was treated to fall’s colorful glory. The aspen, cottonwood and ground cover were at their height.
I stopped for a Coke at the Sun Canyon Lodge, which seemed active with bow hunters and other visitors. This is always an interesting diversion. It serves as a wildlife museum as well as a restaurant and resort because representations of the area’s wildlife are stuffed and mounted on the walls. You can eat a meal, ride a horse, catch a boat ride on Gibson Lake, or be guided on hunts, rides and pack trips from the lodge. There are camping spots as well as small cabins available, too.
I vowed to return to this road and traverse Fairview to Allen as soon as I can.

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