Monday, May 15, 2006

Route Creek Pass

A large waterfall spills from the headwaters of Middle Fork Teton below Route Creek Pass

Middle Fork Teton valley
The snow is coming out of the mountains fast.
Snow levels have dropped below 7,000 feet in the Rocky Mountain Front, leaving open plenty of great trails for hiking.
My trail of choice last week was the Route Creek Pass Trail No. 108 that takes off from the Cave Mountain campground on the Teton River Road northwest of Choteau.
It is a 2,000 foot gain to the pass that sits at the base of the second highest mountain on the Rocky Mountain Front --- Old Baldy (elevation: 9,156 feet).
The trail is a great approach to climbing Cave Mountain (elevation: 7,542 feet) as well.
My goal was to hike up as far as the snow would let me, which turned out to be about 6,600 feet, about 600 feet below the pass, roughly five miles up the trail. It would have been another mile to the pass.
I was after a photo of the waterfalls that spill below the pass into the Middle Fork of the Teton River.
From Cave Mountain campground the trail follows the Middle Fork to the pass.
It had been a good number of years since I had hiked this trail.
It rises about 1,500 feet the first give miles and about 600 feet the final mile to the pass, which is at the boundary of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area.
I had forgotten how spectacular the scenery is here.
High limestone peaks rise on both sides of the trail, which darts in and out of the forest and into the open.
I’ve been here more in the winter to enjoy the great powder.
But, my springtime journey was also a joy.
The aspen are just beginning to bud, and the grass is greening up. I found hillsides glacier lilies that had emerged from the recent thaw.
There were beaver dams below and on the trail I found fresh moose droppings.
I could tell that I was the first to the pass on the trail this spring because there were no footprints in the snow.
When the waterfall came into full view, I dropped down to a comfortable spot to eat my lunch and drink in the beauty of the scenery.
Snow patches hung off the walls on both sides of the falls and above it.
Old Baldy, covered in snow, gleamed in the sunlight above it.
I picked off the first two wood ticks of the season, surprised that I hadn’t had any earlier encounters with these pests.
Although there is significant snowmelt the water in the Middle Fork was running clear.
I guess I’m a slow learner, but there’s no doubt that these mountains should be used year ‘round.
Most hikers stay away at this time of year --- the “shoulder” season --- because they think there is too much snow to hike, but the snow is too poor to ski.
I’m finding that the lightweight snowshoes allow you use this season to full advantage. They’re small and handy to hang on a pack, and because they have claws that work like crampons, they are terrific for climbing.
If you don’t want the snow, stay below the 7,000 feet mark where there tons of trails are ready for hiking.

No comments: