Monday, June 30, 2008

"Old 7,900" near Crown Mountain

Mark Hertenstein glisades a steep pitch

Approaching the ridge line

A scenic descent beneath Crown Mountain
Crown Mountain in the Front southwest of Augusta is always a sure bet for a backcountry experience and classic Bob Marshall country scenery.
We headed there Sunday, but Crown wasn’t our goal.
Instead, it was the unnamed mountain south of Crown that I’ll call “Old 7,900” because its elevation is 7,900 feet. Its crest is on the northern boundary of the Scapegoat Wilderness.
Like crown, its north face is “crowned” with nearly impenetrable cliffs and gendarmes.
I had never studied it carefully until Sunday, and that wasn’t carefully enough.
We proceeded up the first break in the cliffs we encountered and had a hair-raising 1,300 feet climb.
Not only was it extremely steep, but the footing was made unstable as the ground had hardened after the snows had melted. Then the slide rock on the narrow canyons up slid --- lots of it. I caught one in the wrist protecting my head from a tumbling missile. This was a difficult, but beautiful route.
Along the way and back down we passed bouquets of fragrant alpine wildflowers. On the exposed limestone slopes we found the brilliant blue miniature Jones columbine. There were pink and white phlox and tons blue forget-me-nots.
On top we got a full panorama of the Scapegoat Wilderness Area, and much of the Bob Marshall to the north. Scapegoat Peak seemed right in our faces, only 5 air miles away. What a mighty massif!
To the extreme south and east there appears to be a tremendous amount of snow, a harbinger of fewer fires this summer?
This is the 20th anniversary of the Canyon Creek Fire that burned more than 250,000 acres in the Scapegoat and Front. Below us to the south and west were valleys of burned stick trees and brown ground that indicated the fire had been so hot it sterilized the area and it hasn’t recovered yet.
To the north is Crown Mountain, a giant wall of limestone and shale. It dominates that end of the Benchmark Road.
Directly to the west of Old 7900 is another peak attained by dropping to the saddle between the two. It rises another 150 feet or so above Old 7900.
As we dropped to that side we decided not to climb the adjacent peak. We were out of time.
We discovered a great, easy route down (which would have been the preferred and less terror-ridden way up).
It goes through a better break in the wall further west than the one we had chosen. It follows goat (or elk) trails all the way down.
There was the added benefit of lots of snow to glissade down.
It was more than 90 degrees in Great Falls, but cooler here; but not much cooler.
On the way back down to the Crown Mountain Trail on the Benchmark Road we encountered two hikers doing the Crown-Petty-Ford Creek loop.
I was surprised this prime hiking trail on this prime summer hiking day was so unused.
On top of the world with Scapegoat Peak behind me

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