Sunday, July 12, 2009

CD Trail, Monument Peak, Folk Festival

Katie at Monument Peak Lookout in Little Belts.  Larkspur abound.

Tons of Beargrass on Continental Divide Trail near Burned Point
My rule of thumb for alpine flowers is that they are at their height on Father’s Day weekend on the Rocky Mountain Front.
I’ll add another one. This weekend was the best I’ve ever seen for larkspur, that almost purple wildflower that was as abundant as any flower I’ve ever seen.
Alpine flowers weren’t too bad either.
And, this year looks like a banner year for beargrass.
It was an eventful long summer weekend.
On Friday Katie and I drove the Divide Road in the Little Belts and took the side road to the restored and historic lookout on Monument Peak.
That’s where we first happened upon the larkspur.
That drive between the Logging Creek Road and Neihart through the center of the Little Belts is as pretty as anything you’ll find. It rides high at about 7,000 feet. The road is quite good.
On Saturday it was off to Butte for the National Folk Festival.
What a treat that was.
It was free and an estimated 75,000 attended some great music sessions.
We heard mariachi band, a Chinese ensemble, another from Zimbabwe, a pretty good Jazz quartet and torch singer, while mingling with all the folks in historic Uptown Butte.
On Sunday Mark Hertenstein did an exploratory hike along the Continental Divide off Alice Creek not far from Lewis and Clark Pass just east of Lincoln.
You’ve read me rave about the Continental Divide Trail on this blog.
What more can I say about this thrilling high trail? It’s easily accessible from Great Falls and offers incredible backcountry and alpine experiences.
We got turned around from our original goal of seeing if we could climb Caribou Peak in a day trip from Alice Creek. We headed up Trail 440 toward the pass rather than Burned Point.
That added mileage and elevation gain and loss kept us from attaining what I think would have been an otherwise attainable goal.
I had forgotten about the Burned Point approach that would have been more direct.
It allowed us to scamper across the top of the limestone headwall and figure out where to pick up the East Fork Falls Creek Trail for future reference.
At Burned Point, instead of heading down the trail and completing the loop, we continued at least another mile to a mile and a half along the CD trail to where we thought we were in striking distance of Caribou.
However, it was getting late and storm clouds were rolling in.
Instead of turning around, we went off trail and descended a ridge that pointed us back directly at the Alice Creek parking/camping area.
We found a very good trail that looked like a packer’s trail.
It had been worked very hard by grizzlies, which churned the hillsides for several miles, turning up rocks and digging roots.
We saw many piles of bear scat, too.
To confirm our observations, we bumped into a Forest Service crew that was pruning white bark pine trees to make sure they were healthy, as they are a major source of grizzly food.
If you don’t want to chance a grizzly encounter, don’t take this off-trail route!
The views all along the way were spectacular.
We were a little concerned about some trail construction along this route that was straight up and down with no concern for what erosion will certainly follow.
I’m not sure what our elevation gain and loss was, but I’d estimate in the 3,600 feet range. Mileage was probably close to 14 miles.
We determined that the best route to Caribou would be to start straight up from the cattle guard at Alice Creek parking lot, and head up the south facing ridge that we had just descended.
It would be another 4 miles or so to the peak once the Continental Divide Trail was met.
The Continental Divide Trail always delivers!

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