Monday, May 31, 2010

A hiking tuneup in Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area

Mark Hertenstein on top

Holter Lake comes into view

A gorgeous Sheep Creek bottom to hike in
After being cooped up in my car because of the Glacier snowstorm, I was itching to hike on Memorial Day.
Most of the mountains around Great Falls are loaded with snow, but Mark Hertenstein had noticed that the mountains between I-15 and Wolf Creek in the BLM Sleeping Giant Wilderness Study Area were pretty clear.
It is a 55 mile drive to Wolf Creek, where we got on the frontage road and went the other 5 miles to the Woodsiding Road approach. It was only another 3 miles to where Woodsiding and the Powerline Road merge and Woodsiding is gated (until June 14). The road to this spot was in great shape.
Sleeping Giant WSA has been around as a concept since the late 1970s. It is basically the heart of the old Oxbow Ranch, once owned by Gov. Tim Babcock. I had written about the proposal to make this a wilderness at that time.
There's a rough road from this point to the trailhead, another two miles or so, and about 1,500 feet in elevation gain to the ridgeline.
Then it is a gorgeous alpine walk from here on the connecting ridges of the area.
This area is directly west of Holter Lake and east of the Sieban Ranch flats off I-15.
The Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area is in full view, as well as the Missouri River below. On a clear day many mountain ranges come into view. To the south is the Elkhorn Mountain range, further to the west is the Continental Divide country around Stemple Pass and Great Divide Ski Area. The Belts, Adels and Rocky Mountain Front are all prominent. We could catch glimpses of the interior of the Scapegoat Wilderness Area and the Swan Range within the Bob Marshall Area.
On this ridge you feel like you're walking on the roof of Montana.
There were wildflower displays in every direction. Alpine flowers carpeted the trail.
We even found Indian Paintbrush in bloom.
Originally, our goal was to climb the Sleeping Giant's belly, but we abandoned that for a long loop that took us back down more than 2,000 feet to the valley floor, only to have to regain that elevation across the Sheep Creek drainage. We followed a rocky canyon back to the top.
We got in excess of 4,000 feet of elevation gain, and I could feel it.
All the while, we watched storms play in the distance, dropping wisps of moisture and enshrouding high points.
We encountered some snow, but nothing substantial. Likewise, although we had to don raingear twice, the squall passed through quickly.
Here's the BLM description of the area:
The Sleeping Giant formation is a well-known landmark, visible from Helena. The wilderness study area is comprised of about 11,000 acres of steep, irregular topography with elevations ranging from 3,600 to 6,800 feet. About half the area is forested. Twenty drainages dissect the area and provide solitude. Seven miles of ridgeline hiking routes offer spectacular panoramic views of the Rocky Mountains. A diversity of important wildlife species live here, including a thriving population of mountain goats that occupies the high outcroppings. Other common species include elk, black bear, bighorn sheep, mule deer, osprey, and golden eagles. About 40 primitive campsites are available along the Holter Lake shoreline. A portion of the Sleeping Giant area is also part of the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. Several deteriorating structures near the river evoke the lifestyles of early settlers.

I recommend early in the season or in the fall because this area has water only in the bottoms, and the hiking is on the ridgelines, and it gets hot here.
Here is a link to a map of the area:


Anonymous said...


I'm with a Boy Scout troop who want to take this hike to the summit. From what you could tell, is there a lot of elevation change up & down?

Out there with Tom said...

Yes, there is considerable up and down. I think if you reread the posting you'll see the variable elevations.
Let me know how you do....of course, after all this snow.

Anonymous said...

You stated that you abandoned the ridgeline route. Does the ridgeline route still have significant elevation changes?

We're planning for June, so hopefully the snow clears out by then!