Saturday, June 23, 2012

Teton Pass-Washboard Reef traverse

The backdrop on the traverse was the Wrong Ridge just across the valley
I've entered the Bob Marshall a couple of times from the Washboard Reef and each time I've looked across a broad ridge that leads to Teton Pass wondering how it would be to walk across it.
Friday I found out, doing the traverse from Teton to Washboard.
It is a long day hike --- about 17 miles--- with some 5,000 feet of elevation gained.
Taking advantage of snow for "skiing"
We found considerable snow, enough that at one point I almost turned around because I questioned the footing on the ridge's high point.  Enormous cornices still hang off the east and north facing slopes of the ridge line.
The views on this ridge are remarkable.
We were facing the spectacular Wrong Ridge just across the valley.  It looks like something that was chunked off the Chinese Wall.  Pentagon and Silver Tip peaks dominated the western horizon.  We could see Stimson, Flinsch and Rising Wolf peaks in Glacier National Park.  To our east and north were Lockhart and Wright peaks, the big boys in the neighborhood.  To the south, Baldy, Ear, Rocky.
Unlike last week where I had to deal with some high Class 4 pitches of rock, this was straight Class 2 and a small amount of Class 3 walking.
The first third of the hike is the trail to Teton Pass up the West Fork of the Teton, Trail No. 114, which rises about 1,600 feet through fire and timber to a forested pass where Teton County meets Flathead County above the Bowl Creek country of the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Wilderness sign at Teton Pass buried in snow
Then, the off-trail climbing begins on a 5-mile ridge that crosses six "peaks" (in succession) of 7,730 feet, 8,250 (the high point) feet, 8093 feet, 8016 feet, 7893 feet, and 7,984 feet where it meets the Washboard Reef/Wrong Creek Trail No. 117.  All of this is on the Continental Divide.
The final 6 miles is down the Washboard-Olney Creek Trail No. 117 as it merges back into Trail No. 114 and back to the West Fork trailhead.
Mark Hertenstein described the trail to the Teton Pass as like "walking the Appalachian Trail" because it was in the timber most the way.  It hadn't been cleared yet by a trail crew and we saw grizzly, elk, moose, deer and mountain goat tracks in the copious mud in this stretch.
His adjective for the ridge walk was "Glacieresque" which is some compliment that I can't disagree with.
The only problem I encountered the entire walk was on the side of the high point where a large snow drift hung from its top down about 250 feet.  Hertenstein found a good route where he could kick steps in the relatively stable snow for about 75 feet until he could reach more stable, exposed rock and walkable scree.
The ridge was carpeted in pink Douglasia and blue Forget-Me-Not flowers that created rock gardens in the limestone.  I'm glad we didn't experience a predicted thunderstorm because the ridge was pocked with evidence of multiple lightning-strike-caused small fires.  This ridge is a lightning target.
At 8,250 feet, this is the unnamed high point on the ridge
The day that had begun overcast turned bright blue on us and made the ridge walk all that much more glorious.
Enormous cornices of snow hung beneath the ridge line all the way, forecasting stable stream flows for the rest of the summer.  There were also vast fields of snow that Hertenstein could not resist "skiing."
The trail back down Washboard Reef is not evident or easy to find.  Hertenstein discovered it with his GPS, while I was perusing my topo maps.
A cascade above Olney Creek off Washboard Reef
The first half-mile of the trail down the reef loses considerable altitude quickly and it was covered by a large drift, which we glissaded and boot kicked.  This entire area was hit heavily by the 2007 Fool Creek fire, which burned hot and took everything.  We didn't see much evidence of new trees, but there is lush growth in the area.  The trail was difficult to follow because of the burn.
At the junction of Olney and the West Fork we had to wade high and fast water to return to Trail 114.
On the high point.
On the way back to the car I marveled at this country we had passed through.  Yes, while on the ridge we were in "designated" wilderness, wilderness that had been approved by Congress.  But, the entire West Fork below the ridge and that area just west of Mount Wright to the Continental Divide are roadless, but not designated.  I'm told these areas were stripped out of a 1978 Bob Marshall Wilderness additions bill by former U.S. Rep. Ron Marlenee.
These are included in the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Bill pending in Congress.
Seems like a no-brainer to me!
Teton Pass/Washboard Reef traverse route

30 years later, a sweet walk up Mount Wright
My son, Demian, 37, atop Mount Wright last Thursday for the first time in 30 years.
The day before the Teton Pass-Washboard Reef walk, my son and I did a quick day hike up Mount Wright.
This is always a joy because of the terrific views this centrally located and high peak offers.
It occurred to me that the last time he had done this hike was in 1982 when he was 7-years-old!  The hike is a 3,200 feet elevation gain.
It was very sweet to be able to do this with him 30 years later, sharing this northcentral Montana treasure.
Demian, at age 7 in 1982, next to his Mom, his first time on Mount Wright.

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