Monday, July 31, 2006

Neihart Baldy: no angle of repose

On top Neihart Baldy

The old mining town of Neihart, far below
Neihart Baldy (elevation: 8,286 feet) seems like such an obvious peak to climb.
Its rugged beauty is visible from Great Falls. It’s accessible right from Main Street in the old mining camp of Neihart, only 57 miles from town in the Little Belt Mountains. It looms over the lower end of the O’Brien Creek cross country ski trail. And, it’s only 2,600 feet to the summit from the road.
Although I’ve driven right by it for almost 35 years, I hadn’t climbed it until Sunday. I had gotten close, though. I had climbed adjacent Long Peak (elevation: 8,589 feet) on skis several years ago, but decided to forego a climb of Neihart Baldy at that time.
I got quite a surprise on Sunday’s climb. It is a more difficult to climb than it looks.
At first glance it appears as though it is simply a matter of going straight up what looks like scree up its west face from Neihart.
That’s not scree on its slopes, it is very steep, large and unstable talus --- nearly 1,500 feet of it to the top. It continues along the entire summit ridgeline.
It’s not the kind of stuff you can grab a hold to brace yourself against the steepness. Each step is an act of faith more akin to getting on top of a skateboard that is likely to fly out from underneath your feet.
When Wallace Stegner wrote his book “Angle of Repose,” he didn’t have Neihart in mind. The mountain only looks like its rocks are in repose. They are still shifting and moving.
The first 1,100 feet of the climb is in the timber, however. The timber is broken by old mining diggings and roads. Some of the old mining artifacts are historical and interesting.
Once out of the timber and onto the talus, you must give your full attention to what you’re doing or you’ll break something in a fall or by bringing a rock down on yourself. There is no easy way to do this west face route. It’s one foot in front of the other and hope the rock doesn’t slip.
If you’re after this mountain I’d suggest a route through the timber from Jefferson Creek, the route I used in climbing Long Peak. Then you’ll encounter the talus for only a couple hundred feet at the top.
Long Peak is a short distance from the top of Baldy and another 300 feet in elevation gain. It is a worthwhile addition if you haven’t done it.
Neihart Baldy is marked by numerous stone cairns and the diggings of miners --- actually long trenches. It is something that couldn’t have been done by machine. It would have had to be done by hard, heavy, back-breaking work, stone-by-stone.
I enjoyed the views from this centrally located mountain. I could look straight down on the town of Neihart, up the O’Brien Creek trail, and adjacent Shorty Creek to the west. In the distance to the north are the limestone cliffs of the Belt Creek Canyon complex all the way to the Sluice Boxes. To the east are the high peaks like Barker, Big Baldy and Clendenin. To the south Highway 89 makes its way up to King’s Hill and the Showdown Ski Area. Further south, the Sandpoint country.
In the future if I do this peak it will up through the timber off Jefferson Creek.

1 comment:

Kip said...

Thanks for the information, I have wanted to climb these mountains and Big Baldy for a long time. Hopefully I will get to it this spring or summer.