Monday, July 28, 2008

A 'scratch --- itched'; Cutbank Creek to St. Mary's

Kirk Mattingly at Triple Divide Pass

Looking back up toward Split Mountain

Hollyhocks abound in 2006 Red Eagle Fire burn area

Mattingly was braver than me, crossing on this skinny tree
You can file this hike in the “Itch --- Scratched” category.
I’ve long been curious about the Red Eagle country between St. Mary’s and Triple Divide Pass. It’s a distance of almost 24 miles.
Since the 2006 fire in the Red Eagle country I’ve even been more curious. I wanted to see how the area is recovering, in addition to having a good look.
On Friday Kirk Mattingly and I set out from the Cutbank trailhead at 7 a.m. We arrived at the Red Eagle trailhead at 4:45 p.m., in the St. Mary’s valley.
While I had been to Red Eagle Lake from the St. Mary’s side and Triple Divide Pass from the Cutbank side, I had never seen the 9 miles in between.
Now my curiosity is satisfied and my feet are sore.
Some highlights of the trip:
· The Red Eagle side of the Triple Divide Pass was full of surprises including amazing high waterfalls that thread their way through bright red cliffs off the side of Split Mountain;
· While there are 3 suspension bridges enroute, I wasn’t prepared to wade a deep and rushing Hudson Bay Creek before it merges with Red Eagle Creek. Kirk gutted out a log that kept his feet dry. I didn’t have the nerve or the balance;
· We spooked a bull moose near one of the many fields of beargrass. This is a good year for this high country flower;
· The lower end of Red Eagle Creek reminded me and Kirk of the North Fork Sun River Country. The creek runs a beautiful translucent emerald in a burned over area;
· The burn country is bursting with flowers, particularly wild hollyhocks, showy daisy and monkey flower. There seems no doubt there is a recovery going on;
· There were very few people on this remote trail. We passed four backpackers coming in, and two at the head of Red Eagle Lake. There were 5 hikers. We were on trail nearly 10 hours.
· The trail was very overgrown with lush vegetation, however, the only new trees growing were aspen;
· The Triple Divide Pass country on both sides of the pass are worth a hike, although it is 7 miles up from Cutbank Creek trailhead and 17 miles up from the Red Eagle Trailhead.
· I got a chance to assess climbing routes on Medicine Owl and Split mountains and to get my first good look at Red Eagle Pass, once a thoroughfare for horse travel in the park, but obliterated and abandoned during World War II.
I’m delighted to have had a chance to see this remote country on this sparsely used trail.

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