Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Patrol Mountain --- yet again

Forest Service packer returns with mule team that supplies Patrol Mountain Lookout
We got off the plane about 11:20 p.m., Sunday from five days in Florida where we went to my niece's wedding.
In just over seven hours I was headed out for a Montana Wilderness Association hike up Patrol Mountain (elevation 8,015 feet) in the Front.
At the summit ridge to Patrol Mountain fire lookout cabin
While I would normally be tired with so little sleep after so much travel, I was energized just being back.
Florida is not my thing, although I do appreciate the beauty of its beaches.  I just don't much care for the heat and the humidity.
While it hit the 90s in Great Falls on Monday it was a bit cooler and much less humid in the mountains.
It's great to be back.
I was looking simply to stretch my legs and Patrol Mountain offers that with a 2,800 feet elevation gain over a 10 mile hike.
Patrol Mountain lookout Samantha Chapman in her element
The trail starts at the end of the Benchmark wilderness runway, follows Straight Creek some 2 miles with little elevation gain.  Then there's an ice-cold crossing of the creek and straight up on a switch-backing trail that threads a breach in the limestone cliffs to a lovely meadow called Honeymoon Basin.  Then there's another headwall with an impressive trail across it to a saddle beneath the mountain.  Atop the mountain is perched a fire patrol cabin with its lookout --- Samantha Chapman, who's been doing this job for 15 years.
I've visited her several times during those years; once to do a story on her and her sister, who was the lookout at Prairie Reef in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area at the time, and last year when she showed me the way along the ridge line she patrols.
Crossing a cold, fast Straight Creek
The views from her perch are impressive ---- Sugar Loaf and Hoadley dominate to the west, Scapegoat and Flint to the south, the Rocky Mountain Front and Bob Marshall to the east and north.  In front of us just to the east of Straight Creek below we could assess the Wood Creek Hogback that we climbed and walked three weeks ago.
Although I've climbed this mountain at least 10 times I don't tire of these views.
If the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act is approved by Congress this Patrol Mountain trail becomes part of the Scapegoat Wilderness, joining the area to the west and south.
There's really no reason why it shouldn't .
MWA hikers approach the fire patrol cabin after negotiating the headwall trail

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