Sunday, August 06, 2006

Green Gulch-S. Fork Teton Loop

The ridge above Rierdon Gulch

The South Fork Teton wall

Cold, South Fork Teton
I love the rows of ridges running north to south that make up the Rocky Mountain Front.
I’m thinking of the ridges that end in perpendicular angles at the Sun River canyon, like Mortimer, Home, Hannan, Norwegian, and Blacktail gulches.
Or, the ridges that butt into the Teton River and its south fork like Rierdon, Green, Clary or Jones gulches.
I think a lot about hiking possibilities in the Front and wonder why folks don’t talk about the “classic” loop or point-to-point hikes there like they might about Glacier National Park where hikes like Siyeh Pass, Dawson-Pitimakin, or the Garden Wall to Many Glacier along the Hi-Line Trail are legendary.
The Glacier hikes are typically 12-15 miles long, enough to eat up a day and exhaust the hiker into an eating frenzy at one of the lodges.
So, I’ve begun putting together a list of “classic” trail hikes on the Front. My favorite is Blackleaf Canyon to Clary Coulee adjacent to Choteau Mountain.
I’ve been focusing on the South Fork of the Teton River country and over the years have done a 19 mile loop of Green and Rierdon gulches, connected by the North Fork of Deep Creek.
That’s why I went out Thursday to test the reasonableness of doing a similar loop up Green Gulch, along Deep Creek North Fork and back out the South Fork of the Teton Trail.
My report is that it is doable on a day hike. It is rugged and long and took me seven hours to finish. Whether it is reasonable, I leave that judgment up to others.
It covers about 18-19 miles and gains more than 3,600 feet in elevation. That’s an ambitious day hike!
It takes you into wild, reef spangled Bob Marshall-type country, but without all the horses.
Despite perfect high summer weather with temperatures in the high 70s and cloudless skies, I met no one on the trail.
I started at Green Gulch because the sun was out and bearing down and that trail, No. 127, offers shade most of the way. It is 8 miles to its junction with the North Fork of Deep Creek Trail No. 135. The Green Gulch Trail travels in the timber most of the way, breaking out into an occasional elk meadow that offers views of the high limestone ridge separating it from the South Fork. I spooked a couple of elk near one of these meadows.
While I had traveled the North Fork Trail east on a similar Green-Rierdon gulch traverse a couple of years ago, I had never taken the 1.5 mile piece west to the South Fork trail.
It is a very scenic trail that climbs rapidly, passing creeks that pass through limestone canyons. At one point the North Fork cascades into a waterfall. All the while, the high divide that connects South Peak to Rocky Mountain Peak hovers above the trail.
There is little sign that this trail gets much use. Despite the weeks of drought, the country still bears some green and the creeks and springs still flow.
The South Fork Trail extends all the way south to the South Fork of Deep Creek. From where I picked it up at Deep Creek North Fork I lost some elevation and more than regained it all, walking through meadows below the Rocky Mountain Peak ridgeline on the west and the unnamed limestone cliffs on the east.
At the high divide between the Teton and Deep creek drainages the high Teton peaks of the front spread out in front of you in their blond splendor.
The walk out is mostly through timber that opens up from time to time, revealing these peaks.
Once down to the road it is about a mile and a half back to Green Gulch along the South Fork Road.
I came away with a high appreciation for this country and wondering how long it will be before hikers realize they have in the Front the same kind of hiking that draws them to Glacier.

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