Sunday, June 03, 2007

Lime Gulch to Home Gulch accidentally

Lime Gulch is lime green

Peter Johnson descending the steep elk ladder

Above Agropyron Flats

It should have been a perfect exploratory hike from Lime Gulch to Home Gulch in the Rocky Mountain Front Saturday.
The map shows a pretty straight 15-mile line between the two gulches.
What we didn’t expect was the complete absence of trail signs. That meant some confusion. However, we found our way back with a couple of detours.
Lime and Home gulches run parallel to one another behind the Sawtooth Ridge, one of the Great Falls horizon landmarks to the west in the Sun Canyon/Gibson Dam country.
My goal was to walk the 4 miles or so up Lime Gulch (and 1,100 foot gain), cut through the Cutrock canyon and then on to Home Gulch and the Sun Canyon Lodge.
The walk up Lime Gulch is quite spectacular. The gulch is flanked by high, limestone spires to the west and a tree covered limestone ridge to the east. At its head is a grassy saddle.
There were uncountable varieties of wildflowers along the way and the grass was a bright, almost Irish green. Patches of snow dotted the hillside below the western flanks.
As we crested the saddle we could see the Steamboat Ridge to the south and the high peaks of the Sun River country in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area to the north, dominated by Arsenic Peak.
We explored our way through Cutrock and I realized I had hiked this country before when I ascended the south Sawtooth Ridge.
I wanted to see something new, and was enticed by those fabulous views of the Bob.
So instead, we retraced our steps to the head of Cutreef Creek with a stroll down Norwegian Gulch as our destination, rather than Home Gulch.
Because cattle graze this country as well as elk, there are trails every which way. There are no trail markers, either.
We were fortunate to get to the east side of what was to become Cutreef Creek after wading through an elk wallow at its head.
The trail was quite good from there.
After about 5 miles of pleasant walking in the forest we finally broke out into the open on a gorgeous limestone hillside and began losing elevation where we crossed a creek.
Not far beyond we found vehicle tracks.
That was an immediate warning that we had descended down into the Sawmill Flats rather than Norwegian Gulch.
So we turned around, recrossed the creek and within a quarter mile found a good trail heading in the direction we needed to go.
This trail climbed steeply through the forest.
Since we were using the Bob Marshall complex map rather than a topo quad, we thought the trail would take us directly to Norwegian Gulch.
It took us to the ridgetop, which revealed Sawtooth ridge above Agropyron Flats, our original destination.
That left us in a dilemma.
Obviously, we had missed some kind of turn to Norwegian Gulch.
But, we were just above Home Gulch, for which we had originally set out.
We examined the ridge and found a great elk trail that went steeply down the ridge to Agropyron Flats.
It wasn’t too difficult to negotiate and before we knew it we were on the flats and the Sun Canyon Lodge, where we had parked our shuttled car was waiting.
The walk down the elk trail had been quite a thrill, and as we walked down Home Gulch we turned to admire our descent route with great satisfaction.
I had spied this route before while climbing Sawtooth and wondered if it was possible to negotiate.
Now I knew.
While I would have liked to walk Norwegian Gulch, this left me quite satisfied. But, I’m still curious how we missed our turnoff for the gulch.
That will be for another time.
When I got home and got ahold of a topo, I could see where we missed the turn and I could see the clearly marked elk trail not indicated on the Bob Marshall map.
This reminded me of the hundreds of exploratory hikes the Front holds for the curious.

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