Saturday, August 09, 2008

Sawtooth South Ridge High Point via east approach

A large cave in the limestone face of the plateau south of Sawtooth Ridge 
On top we found a cave opening, perhaps where the cave from the face exits?

The highest of the three 'tines' on the Sawtooth Ridge

I’ve walked the entire Sawtooth Mountain ridgeline, climbing all its peaks.
But until Friday I had never climbed to that ridgeline from the east.
Now I’m kicking myself for not having tried it before because going from that side made me explore the Sun River Game Range, a massive state elk management area adjacent to Sawtooth from the east.
During the winter elk from the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area migrate there in huge herds, one of the great sights on the Rocky Mountain Front.
I had always climbed Sawtooth from the west, south or north aspects.
Sawtooth contains three distinct “sawtooth” peaks on its north ridge and a gradually sloping high point on its north ridge, just across a precipitous gap from its south ridge.
We had set out for an exploratory climb of the south ridge with hopes of finding a way across the gap on the ridgeline. Well, my climbing partner Mark Hertenstein had that in mind.
I was impressed with the game range, which is pocked with small glacial lakes, lots of aspen groves and some slopes that rise steeply from the prairie.
We accessed the range from Augusta. The road is gravel and becomes rough in spots.
We passed by the headquarters building and a nice picnic area before swinging onto a spur road heading directly toward the Sawtooth’s south massif.
I’ve always considered Sawtooth the ultimate scenic backdrop to the city of Great Falls, visible from a number of overlooks. I can see these sawtooth points poking their heads up above Gore Hill while driving down 10th Avenue South on clear mornings on the way to work.
Our hiking access point proved to be near the range’s small inholding, the Norris Ranch, which is easy to skirt and prevent trespass.
We were very surprised to find a huge cave opening on the rocky face of the South Ridge.
Mark determined that it would take technical climbing protection to get up that face and into that hole. I watched from below as he became a speck at the base of this face below the hole.
Just in front of the wall is a large area that looks like a glacial moraine, built out of limestone debris. It looks like a moonscape and is very interesting.
Above this moonscape is an enormous limestone talus field that we crossed to the south where we discovered the break in the wall. It was an interesting slog up talus, scree and many ledges and through cliff bands to the top of the ridge.
The ridge was a great payoff, an easy walk to the 8,100 feet South Ridge high point where we could see across the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat and up the entire Front and across the Great Plains. The game range below us to the east reminded me of the topography on the Blackfeet Reservation because of the small lakes and stunted trees.
Mark then began to explore possible routes through the gap to the North Ridge and decided it might be better to save that climb for another trip. However, we think it can be reached from the scree fields from either the west or east sides of the gap.
We then turned around and had a pleasant down climb using the scree to make the trip quicker than the up-climb.
This was my second exploratory on Sawtooth this season.
No doubt the Sawtooth gap is next.

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