Sunday, September 21, 2008

Old Man of the Hills

A view from the Plains of our objective:  Old Man of the Hills

Interesting limestone on Washout Creek bottom

Up the steep ridgeline

Paul Cogswell near the top

An example of this amazing viewscape

Walling Reef in the background as we head down

Fall is nearing its peak along the Rocky Mountain Front, spangling the creek bottoms with outrageous color and yellow aspen in the high country.
I made it up the rugged North Fork of Dupuyer Creek trailhead twice this past week as I prepared for, and then lead a Glacier Mountaineering Society climb of Old Man of the Hills peak (elevation: 8,347 feet).
On Wednesday I was most concerned about finding and using the road to trailhead out of the town of Dupuyer. While doing that I played on Walling Reef (elevation: 7,925 feet) to the north. On Saturday I lead a group of eight GMS members to the top of Old Man of the Hills.
This is some of the prettiest country on the Front, a spot where the Bob Marshall Wilderness meets the Great Plains. The North Fork canyon is every bit as pretty as the Blackleaf Canyon to the south. The cliff bands on Walling and Old Man are certainly more impressive.
The access is just so poor that the area doesn’t get the traffic one would expect of such beauty.
The best way to describe the route to the trailhead is to go to Dupuyer, find the Dupuyer Creek Road in town. Travel west on this excellent gravel road 8 miles to the TR Memorial Ranch road. Head south on this road taking the left fork at the Boone and Crockett Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Ranch. It is about 2.5 miles of good gravel between the Dupuyer Road and next main thoroughfare road where you’ll see the “Watchable Wildlife” sign. Turn leftt here. Travel west another two miles of again, good gravel, and the road forks again. Take the right fork that drops right into a creek bottom and your first stream crossing. This is where the road gets really rough all the way to the trailhead, some four miles west and three more stream crossings and several gates. There’s a good parking area about 2 miles from the first stream crossing. If you value your car you’ll park here and walk in. If you drive all the way you’ll need a high clearance vehicle and four wheel.
I’ve climbed Old Man four times, but this was the first on this North Fork route. The traditional route is from the Blackleaf Canyon, up and over Volcano Reef, down into the South Fork Dupuyer and then up the south ridge of Old Man. The reason this is the traditional route is because it is so easy to drive into Blackleaf compared to the heinous last four miles of the North Fork route.
Steve Taylor helped me plan the North Fork route. He suggested going through and to the back of the canyon and to look for an obvious stream crossing. He suggested going upstream and ascending a couloir above it to a ridgeline that leads to the top.
We got into the streambed of Washout Creek and were so distracted by its beauty --- gorgeous fall colors, a tight canyon with interesting mudstone walls, and water that trickled into deep pools over small waterfalls --- that I missed that couloir.
That didn’t hurt us. We simply went upstream and picked up the ridgeline further upstream. Had we hit the couloir immediately we would have missed quite an autumnal show.
From here we ascended some 2,600 feet to the top, traveling through trees and then in the open on a tight ridgeline to the top.
I need to be reminded each year how amazing the scenery is in the Front. I spend considerable time in Glacier National Park and get intoxicated on that scenery.
Somehow the Front seems bigger than the Park. There are more mountains and march into horizons on three sides as far as the eye can see. Of course, the Great Plains slam into the Front on the fourth and east side.
Walling Reef really dominated the north horizon on this climb. It might be the most impressive mountain in the Front for its sheer blocky size.
To the west are the reefs of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area lined up in north-south horizontal rows.
The climb was a wake-up call not the neglect the Front.

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