Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Front: Headquarters Pass to Our Lake Traverse

Off-trail traverse begins in earnest

Enjoying the view of Our Lake before descent

Sue DellaRosa enjoys the scree skating

Evie Ugrin at the lake, finally!

The waterfall coming off the lake
I felt really sad when I left Glacier National Park Monday after a week’s climbing and hiking with the Glacier Mountaineering Society.
But, that sadness was quickly reversed Tuesday when I led a hike for the Cascade County Historical Society in the Rocky Mountain Front --- the Headquarters Pass to Our Lake Traverse.
I was a bit surprised, in spite of myself, that the Front held up so well when compared so close at hand with Glacier Park.
I thought I might be disappointed with the muted earth tones and whites of the Front after the bright reds, greens and yellow rocks of Glacier.
But, I wasn’t.
The Front jutting up sharply against the Great Plains, offered thrilling vistas in all directions.
Our Lake and Headquarters Pass are marquee Front destinations. Linking them with the traverse is better than putting a double dip on your favorite ice cream cone.
Dwight Smith of the historical society encouraged me to offer the hike for auction at last winter’s fundraiser. It was purchased by Evie Ugrin, who invited Nancy Cory and Sue DellaRosa. The four were fun hiking partners.
I had to reassess the hike’s difficulty while watching them work it through.
I now realize that it may be more taxing than I had thought.
It involves hiking to Headquarters Pass at the end of the South Fork Teton Road northwest of Choteau, some 3.5 miles and about 2,000 feet in elevation gain.
Then, the traverse begins around the west side of the mountain coming down from the north to the pass, gaining 600 feet in the process, and a mile in distance.
Finally, when a saddle between the pass and the lake is reached, hikers drop about 1,200 feet to Our Lake, the last 300 feet through steep, unstable scree before reaching a trail and the final 3.5 miles back to the parking area.
The crux for my group was the traverse from the pass to the saddle where we left the trail and scrambled, sometimes using our hands, side hilling a mountain of limestone talus at an angle of repose. The steep pitch, the lack of trail, and the instability of the rock unnerved my group. I had forgotten my own misgivings about such off-trail, backcountry scrambling many years ago. I felt badly at their discomfort.
However, some of those feelings were leavened as I watched these fledgling mountaineers gain confidence and enjoy the freedoms of scrambling, learning such techniques as skating the scree.
I was particularly delighted when they reached the saddle between these two well-known Front destinations and thrilled at the views of the lake, the Front, Old Baldy and the Bob Marshall Wilderness spread out before them.
Our trip was enhanced when we saw some 20 mountain goats, including kids, playing bellow us to the west of the pass, some frolicking on a snow patch.
The waterfalls that flow out of a spring at the base of the pass above the switchbacking trail, and the falls coming out of Our Lake were stunning.
Equally stunning were the wildflowers ---- fields of bright red Indian Paintbrush, yellow buttercups, and varieties of penstamin.
The hike reminded me of how fortunate we are to live in Great Falls where the Front is so handy and remains a robust skyline for the city.

No comments: