Sunday, November 04, 2012

Late fall climb: Lake Mountain (elevation: 8,351 feet)

Mark Hertenstein atop Lake Mountain in the Scapegoat Wilderness
We should be backcountry skiing by now.
We usually are.
There's snow, but up high and too little.
So, Saturday we opted for a hike and scrambled up Lake Mountain in the Scapegoat Wilderness Area north of Ovando in the Lolo National Forest, gaining some 3,600 feet over 10 miles on a great Forest Service Trail that begins at the North Fork Trailhead site.
The peak appears to the the site of a former fire lookout.
It was overcast and cool when we started ---- 27 degrees.  When we reached the top of this 8,351 feet mountain, I could swear that it was much colder and we didn't linger much to savor the views.
Larch still had their needles
I had been in this area three weeks ago to enjoy the brilliant larch show that lit up the narrow North Fork Blackfoot River valley as we walked to Sourdough area.
The larch still haven't lost their needles, although they have changed their color from golden to a rust brown.  Where the needles of this deciduous pine-looking trees have fallen, the ground looks like a yellow carpet.
The snow is at the 7,500 feet level and provides a beautiful mantle to the high ridge lines.
We were worried that we would find many hunters making their way into the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas whose boundaries meet here.
Instead, we found two horse trailers and only one car in the ample parking lot and didn't see a single person the entire day.
Using caution, we dressed in hunter orange to prevent being mistaken for hunter prey
This area burned pretty thoroughly in 1988 during the historic Canyon Creek fire, but in many spots has returned, although there is evidence of the conflagration.
Lake Mountain from below
The trail to the mountain top is direct and gorgeous.  It hugs the lip of a ridge above the west side of the North Fork.  It offers amazing views above the river far below and the high walls of Mineral Hill Mountain (elevation 8,383 feet) on the river's east flank.
Looking south and east from on top.  That ribbon of water is North Fork Blackfoot
We hit the snow line as the ridge hooks west to the summit.  It is a lovely walk in crunchy snow that offers views to the north of the Scapegoat Mountain complex that includes other high peaks like Observation Point and Flint.  Behind us to the south we could clearly see the sizable Cooper Lake area and even a glimpse of Bear Lake above it tucked into a larch grove.  In the far distance we could pick out the Flint Creek, Pintlar and Bitterroot Mountains.  North and west the high and snow-covered Bob Marshall peaks were visible.
Approaching the top
On top I could look down on the high mountain lakes of Lake Creek to the south and west.
All this did was pique my curiosity and desire to get back into this country, particularly into the Danaher, the headwaters of the South Fork Flathead, the Scapegoat/Flint/Observation basin.
The blue line is our route; the red, the Scapegoat boundary

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