Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Hollowtop Mountain: Finally back to the Tobacco Roots

The Hollowtop ridgeline from Hollowtop Lake

Looking at the Tobacco Root Mountains from the Hollowtop summit

From the top, I could look down on the lakes I passed to get here
I renewed my love affair with the Tobacco Root Mountains Tuesday, after a more than 30 year hiatus.
When I lived in Helena, the Tobacco Roots, located between Butte and Bozeman and south of I-94, were a regular backpacking, climbing and fishing spot. I had memorable trips with my children there in the 1970s.
I was curious if I could do a day trip there and planned to climb Hollowtop Mountain (elevation 10,604 feet) from the east side.
It meant getting on the road by 5 a.m., that put me on the trail by 8 a.m.
I used the North Willow Trailhead, a couple of miles outside Pony, the scenic ghost town west of Harrison.
My route meant hiking up the trail to Hollowtop Lake, some 5 miles and 2,200 feet, and then using the south face of the east ridge to gain the additional 2,300 feet to the top. Along the way I passed the high-alpine Skytop and Deep lakes.
Because of my unfamiliarity with the route I floundered and probably added a couple of hours (and some misery) to the trip. For example, instead of walking around the head of Hollowtop Lake I crossed the outlet and got my boots wet. At Deep Lake, instead of walking across the outlet I got hung up in the large talus at the head of the lake and then struggled up some steep and densely vegetated slopes unnecessarily. On the summit cap, a 1,000 foot cliff, talus laden slope, I let the deep snow dissuade me from crossing over to an easy vegetated ramp to the top and got hung up in cliffs.
On the way down I corrected the mistakes of my ascent.
I had a very clear and cloudless day for the climb, although the wind was howling.
Walking the last 500 feet to the top I found my exhausted by what I thought was altitude, but upon reflection and conversation with my friend Wayne Phillips, I’m convinced now that I was weakened because I had failed to eat.
The exhaustion and the fact that I was running out of time dissuaded me from walking over and climbing Mount Jefferson, just a 300 feet in elevation down, away.
The Tobacco Roots are granitic range, a welcome change from our limestone and mudstones along the Front and in Glacier Park. The granite is a white/gray color that resembles the granite I found in the Sierras. There are also numerous high mountain lakes.
These mountains have been mined heavily, but the core remains true wilderness, if not in name, in fact.
I was saddened to see the many huge fire rings, particularly around Hollowtop Lake. Likewise, I didn’t like to see that motorized vehicles are allowed.
I figured I had walked some 15-17 miles and returned to home exhilarated rather than tired.

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