Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hoover Creek traverse on a smoky day

Streams were crossed and re-crossed

Fire season:  not much visibility
Staying out of the wildfires smoke is becoming more and more difficult.
The state seems engulfed in flame, and we’re getting smoke from the Idaho fires as well.
Originally, I had planned to head to Glacier for a couple of days of climbing.
But, I didn’t want to chance traveling that long distance for gray and muddied skies.
So, instead I thought I’d take a drive to the Little Belts to explore the Hoover Creek drainage located near Camp Rotary and the Belt Creek Ranger Station.
My goal was to do a loop hike up the North Fork of Hoover Creek and down the South Fork, a distance I estimate at near 15 miles.
This is a hike you don’t want to take in high water.
I counted 17 crossings in the first 1.5 miles to the point where the North and South forks come together.
The crossings in summer low water are made more pleasant by strategically placed crossing stones. Yet, there are still sketchy spots where you can get your boots wet.
Then, there are more crossings still as the North Fork climbs about 2,600 feet to the ridgeline above its source and the South Fork ascends to Pioneer Ridge, about 1,200 feet.
Here are the trails I used. I hopped on Trail 732 that goes up the Hoover Creek and then the North Fork. At the ridge I headed south along Trail 734 which crosses over to the Pioneer Ridge. The South Fork Trail is 735, accessed from 734.
The trails are marked pretty well with new trail signs, except for the South Fork Trail 735.
I got balled up at one of several old mining road and trail traces on the Pioneer Ridge where either I missed markers or there weren’t any there.
I turned off Pioneer Ridge, thinking it must be the South Fork trail, but then the trail disappeared at a saddle at about 6,800 feet, and search as I might, I couldn’t find it.
I bushwhacked down a ridge line through thick timber and dropped into the valley floor where (luckily) I discovered a good trail, which turned out to be 735.
I later figured out that the trail dropped straight to the valley floor from that saddle where I lost the trail.
For sure, I’m going to go back.
As for the traverse, the hike was quite scenic. Both North and South forks are in tight valleys and the trail meanders back and forth across the creek. I saw signs of bear, moose and elk on the floor. Both rise gradually for the first few miles after their confluence, but the North Fork takes a steep rise to the ridgeline, I figured about 1,500 feet in the last mile.
The views on the ridge are superb. Although there was considerable smoke, I could make out Big Baldy and the Butcherknife Ridge clearly to the east. Along the Pioneer Ridge I could make out Long and Neihart Baldy peaks to the south. My views to the west were obscured by smoke. There are high, grassy elk meadows on and below most ridgelines.
Too bad Pioneer Ridge is so chewed up old mining vehicle and motorcycle traffic. It is a direct line to Big Baldy, the highest peak in the Little Belts (elevation: 9,172 feet).
I’ll return to this lovely, mostly wild country another time to determine how I missed my South Fork turn, and to check out Hoover Ridge on Trail 736.

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