Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Hiking season begins in earnest; Square Butte, Windy Point, Mount Werner

Here I am enjoying the Mount Werner ridge line in the Front on Monday.
The spring weather is cooperating and I'm out in it hiking.
The past three days I've climbed Square Butte, Windy Point in the Highwoods and Mount Werner in the Rocky Mountain Front.
It was only the second time I climbed on Square Butte, a sort of icon for the Great Falls area that has a prominent place in Charlie Russell's paintings.
Through the Square Butte Canyon
We went with the Get Fit Great Falls organized National Trails Day event on Saturday.  The hike was so popular that it was split into two groups of about 20 hikers.
Brad Hamlett, the rancher and state senator who owns the access point, was gracious enough to permit the trespass.
On one occasion about six years ago Hamlett allowed me access to Square Butte, but we took a different route than the one offered Saturday.  The National Trails Day hike went up the "conventional" route that once was an old jeep trail on the south side of the butte that climbs about 1,000 feet to the top, passing through vast, high canyons of the volcanic rock that gives rise to the butte.
My previous visit had been on a gray winter day.
On Saturday it was partly sunny and relatively warm and the grass was yet ungrazed, sweeping in undulations in all directions.
A rattler offered some excitement to the hike
We wandered from south to east along the rim of the butte and enjoyed tremendous views of the Adels, Little and Big Belts, Highwoods mountains and glimpses of the Rocky Mountain Front with Caribou Peak on the Continental Divide most prominent.
Our excitement on the hike was a couple of rattlesnakes, one coiled but not threatening.  We also encountered a colorful bull snake.

Windy Point
Katie and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary Sunday in Fort Benton with a stay at the Grand Union Hotel, a gourmet supper, and a concert.
We headed for the Highwood Mountains in the morning Sunday for day hike, doing the Windy Point hike that gains roughly 1,500 feet over two miles, wending its way through spruce and lodgepole forests with open parks full of wildflowers.  The black hawthorn tree was in full flower.
Black Hawthorn in flower in the Highwoods
It was green, green, green.   There are wildflowers everywhere.
The Thain Creek Campground reconstruction is finally complete.  The campground had been closed for several years after a spring flood.
One of the benefits of the flood was that beavers moved into the Briggs Creek area above the campground, damming the creek and a moose has moved in.
Hikers told us that the moose has been making guest appearances in the campground.
We saw moose droppings on the trail.
A small section of the Windy Point trail has been reconstructed in the area where the the old trail had risen sharply to the ridge line.  Blow downs had clogged the old trail.
This new section is more gently contoured and pleasant to hike.

Mount Werner
Descending from Werner ridge line into Blackleaf Creek
On Monday we had set out to climb Choteau Mountain, but when we saw the gathering storm clouds, we changed plans and headed to the Blackleaf Canyon, with nothing more in mind that passing through it on a fossil hunt.
As we got into the canyon the sky cleared and we decided to hike to the divide that separates Blackleaf from the East Fork of the Teton River drainage --- a high divide at over 7,000 feet.
Jones Columbine amid the limestone.
Once through the canyon the scenery is dominated by Mount Frazier on the right hand and Mount Werner on the left, with Frazier being dominant.
There were wildflowers everywhere, with the purple clematis vine one of the most dominant.
The high alpine flowers are out, particularly the douglasia phlox and Jones (limestone) Columbine most prevalent.  We also saw bunches of forget-me-nots.
On the high divide we could see clearly into snow-covered Bob Marshall and decided we wanted a better look and worked our way up the Werner Ridge.
Werner is really a series of bumps on this ridge.
 The actual peak to the north and east is at 8,090 feet and is one foot less in height than the first "bump."
We hit that 8,091 feet peak and called it good, enjoying exceptional views all the way into Glacier Park where Mounts St. Nicholas and Stimson were clearly visible.  Mount Frazier to the northeast was grand, as was Mount Wright to the west.
Werner route .
We were pleases to see so much snow in the high country.
Because we found the Werner Ridge fairly knifey, we went to a saddle to the east and descended down a broad valley of scree --- a very scenic way down.
We had expected and hoped to see wildlife in this wild area, but caught not a glimpse.
I've finally put my skis up for the season and it appears to be a fine hiking season ahead, indeed.
Jim Heckel ascends Werner.  Bob Marshall Wilderness offers a backdrop.

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