Tuesday, June 17, 2008

A Highwoods loop on a most beautiful day

John Kranick revels in the Windy Mountain environs

Kranick crosses North Fork Highwood Creek
There’s no doubt we’ll look back on these past few days as some of the most beautiful days of the year.
Temperatures have been in the high 70s to low 80s and the sky has been bright blue.
There is little wind and everything is right with the world.
I was still a little sore from Saturday’s Cave Mountain climb, so I planned a mellow Highwoods trip with John Kranick, Jr., who comes over yearly from Seattle to visit his father and always puts time aside for hiking with me.
The loop hike, I figure in the 13-mile range, is a real Great Falls area classic.
It involves climbing Windy Peak (el: 5,998 feet) from Thain Creek and traversing to the North Fork of Highwood Creek ridgeline before dropping into the creek bottom.
Like the rest of northcentral Montana, the Highwood streams are as high as I’ve seen them in years.
Little Thain Creek, which one must cross some six times on the way to Windy Peak, requires some serious strategy to get across without getting feet wet (I failed on one of the crossings!). Highwood Creek and its forks are so high and turbulent that the Chouteau County road department was diverting overflow away from the road.
One of the reasons for the hike was to view the greenery and the wildflowers. The mountains are as green as I would imagine Ireland to be. The wildflowers are too numerous to count, and the same could be said for the varieties.
The trail climbs nearly 2,000 feet and then undulates 100-400 feet repeatedly. I figured we must have done about 3,000 feet of elevation gain and loss, which is a respectable day.
It is mainly a ridge walk once the initial elevation is gained.
On top of Windy Peak we could clearly see the Bearpaws to the north as well as the Little Rockies to the northeast. Of course, there was the Little Belts to the south, the Big Belts to the southwest and the Rocky Mountain Front on the full western horizon.
It was fun hiking with Kranick, who is a Great Falls High School grad and whom I met when he worked at the Great Falls Public Library many years ago.
He’s got great insights into how to live frugally and with some style in a place like Seattle that is outrageously expensive. He doesn’t own a car and shares my interest in urban living and the importance of keeping a city’s core vibrant and interesting.
Luckily we could do this hike before local ranchers put their cattle on this gem of an island mountain range. They graze here until fall.

No comments: