Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Washboard Reef Traverse --- again

Looking across the top of the Continental Divide at Washboard Reef

This six point buck surprised me on a cornice while walking the Washboard Reef
I'd better watch it or this could become habit forming; walking the Washboard Reef in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, that is.
It was a beautiful summer day with a clear sky Tuesday, the kind of day you must be up high on a ridge line.
I had done this walk last year, but three weeks earlier than this year and encountered lots of snow.
Tuesday, the only snow were cornices hanging on the ridges and some fingers pointing down the mountains.
The hike is about 17 miles long and took me just under 9 hours to complete in perfect weather conditions ---- a slight breeze and lots of sun, but not too hot.  
There's about 4,000 feet of elevation gained and lost along the way.
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.
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.

I was simply thrilled to be walking this ridge line and looking across the Bob and into Glacier Park.
How lucky could I be to take a day hike like this?
The only humans I met along the way were in a group Choteau backcountry outfitter Bill Cunningham was leading at the beginning of a 12 day off trail jaunt across the North Wall.  These 10 guys looked to be my age ---- in the 60-70 range.  Bill himself is at least 70.  I marveled at how quickly these guys moved.
Behind me, some of what I had just walked

This was within the first hour of my walk and then I saw them no more.
I jumped a six point mule deer buck on one of the snow cornices and late in the hike heard crashing in the trees that could have been an elk, moose or griz.  I saw only one grizzly pile on the trip.
What struck me the most was the regeneration of the forest only six years after the Fool Creek fire raced through this area just after Labor Day.  
It is positively lush with vegetation ---- from hollyhocks to thimble berries to helibore.  There are flowers everywhere.
Although I knew better I made the same route finding mistake I made last year --- I overshot the Washboard-Olney Trail 117, following the ridge line down a quarter mile to where it begins to drop into the Wrong Creek trail.
It seems so logical to aim for the cut that drops off the ridgeline.
The forest recovers from the burn, in part, with wildflowers

Instead, where the Washboard Reef is bisected at a 90 degree angle by a ridge coming up from Olney Creek, start looking for the Trail 117.
Likewise, on the trail itself up high I ignored obviously signs (again) of a new trail and followed an old trail steeply down through the burn, losing 1,500 feet until the new trail bisected it.  While on the old trail I was cussing the Forest Service for lack of maintenance.  Silly me.  If I had only followed the new trail!
This is an absolutely classic ridge walk that I can see myself doing annually as long as I am able.
While there, I got an idea for a somewhat longer walk in the area, going to the high point, 8,250 feet, walking it down to the north and dropping 1,000 feet and then gaining the Wrong Ridge, the dominant mountain just to the west.  It could be walked and then over to the Washboard Reef.
Perhaps for another day?

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