Monday, April 10, 2006

Adel Mountains shoulder season stroll

Mark Hertenstein on the Adels approach

The Hardy Bridge below

Characteristic volcanic outcropping
The “shoulder season” is upon us.
Within a space of two days I was nursing blisters on my feet from spring skiing and a spring “tuneup” hike.
I was able to take advantage of that heavy, wet dump of snow early last week to enjoy one of the final days of the season at Great Divide Ski Area near Helena, pulling tele turns as I watched water accumulate in puddles in the parking lot.
Then on Sunday, two days later, I did a sweeping tour of the west side of the Adel Mountains south of Cascade.
There is plenty of backcountry snow left, albeit crusty and corn and quite warmed over, but the 60+ degree days made putting on my hiking boots a good decision.
There isn’t much public access to the Adel Mountains (some call these an extension of the Big Belts). If you’re going, it’s a good idea to call ahead for permission.
By studying the map we figured a good way in from the Hardy Bridge fishing access site by way of a BLM section on the flank of Mount Chisholm, 4,639 feet, which I’ve written about on this blog before.
We were just back for a survey hike in these low-slung, purple-red volcanic hills that also mark the Dearborn country.
We didn’t have a topo map with us, instead relying on an old section map. We could see there were several high spots worthy of consideration: Sugarloaf, 5,420 feet, Sawmill, 6,138 feet, and Ceceila, 6,142 feet.
Beyond Chisholm we walked ridges to the west, covering grassy hillsides, laccoliths, and even a spectacular exposed volcanic peak.
First, we thought we’d try Sugarloaf, but realized it was across the Andy Creek drainage and gave up that idea, and then we headed toward Sawmill, but the upper fork of Prewitt Creek blocked us there.
We’d have done a bit better for destination peaks if we had set out with a peak in mind and carried a topo map to chart our progress. We carried a BLM map that wasn’t in topo form.
After topping out at just 6,020 feet, we decided to drop down a ridgeline we thought would take us into Prewitt Creek. We miscalculated and wound up fighting brush and numerous stream crossings at the bottom of a Hardy Creek fork, instead --- way off course.
We eventually figured that out and climbed out of Hardy Creek up to a ridge above Prewitt Creek, and then back down to our car.
We figured we had walked more than 12 miles and gained more than 3,000 feet in elevation, a worthy spring tuneup hike!
Along the way we saw very healthy deer, much the better for their wintering, bright wildflowers, flox, buttercups, fritillary, and enjoyed great views from high points.
At 6,000 feet we could clearly see the Highwoods, Big and Little Belts, Sweetgrass Hills, Bearpaws and Elkhorn mountain ranges as well as the Rocky Mountain Front.
The Front was particularly spectacular because of the new snow. It was a bright, clear day, the sun gleamed in the distance.
It was a short 36 miles back to my house in Great Falls.
It made me wish there was more public access to these gorgeous little mountains, particularly in the spring when the creeks are running and the fire danger low.

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