Sunday, January 26, 2014

Route finding into North Fork Waldron Creek bowl

Katie in the North Fork Waldron Bowl below the Mount Lockhart headwall
I've been into the North Fork Waldron bowl summer as well as winter, but each time the route is a guessing game.
To make things easier in the future I took a GPS in on a snowshoe Saturday, luckily finding a direct route that I can share.
The bowl lies about 800 feet below the high Mount Lockhart ridgeline in the Rocky Mountain Front.
It is the drainage immediately south of the Teton Pass ski hill.
There are two sure-fire ways to find the trailhead:

  • Go to the ski hill and follow the hill up the south boundary for a couple of hundred feet and you'll find a blue diamond that takes you back through some steep, timbered country and eventually links to the North Fork Waldron route (actually a former logging road)
  • A little less than a mile before turning to the ski lodge there's a turnout on the Teton Road where parking has been plowed.  You'll know if you have the right spot if you see a gate across the road.   The trail starts there
Routes:  Red, from the ski hill;  Magenta, from the road. "X" is where "road" ends and it's off trail to bowl

The North Fork Waldron route isn't marked.  It's really an old logging road that is relatively easy to follow for most of its 2.5 miles into the bowl.
There are several ways to get mired in the deadfall of the old clearcut on this road, but if you watch the trees you should see a pretty clear "path" through them.  The road stays above the North Fork of Waldron Creek on the north side most of the way.
At just about 2 miles the "road" drops to the creek.  
From here it disappears and you're on your own for the next half-mile or so into the bowl.  This is a natural turnaround point for those not comfortable with route-finding.
Look above and to the right and ascend into the trees.  Head due west, trying to keep the creek and its several forks below you to the left.
You'll gain more than 200 feet through the deep woods.
Katie in the "bowl" with Choteau Mountain in the distance
When you reach the "bowl" you'll know it because you're out in the open again with the Mount Lockhart headwall and its many avalanche chutes another 800 feet above.
This can be dangerous country when the snow is unstable, so be wary and prepared for avalanche.
I have found it relatively safe to ascend to the 7,100 feet level, climbing a series of small benches.
The views here are remarkable and the reason why you should try to reach the bowl, with the Lockhart ridgeline to the west and the ridge separating the North from the South forks of Waldron Creek directly to the south.  To the east massive Choteau Mountain dominates the skyline in front of the Great Plains.  This is a great lunch spot.
The slope back down is steep enough to telemark if you have skis.
I had two different kinds of measuring devices with me.
What you're looking for if you start from the road rather than the ski hill
The Garmin E-Trex20, which measures in a straight line and without cumulative elevation gain and loss, showed that I had climbed 1,736 feet and snowshoed 4.8 miles over 3 hours and 18 minutes.
My Magellan SwitchUp watch, which measures cumulatively, recorded 5.84 miles and an elevation gain of 2,058 feet.
The sky was blue as can be and the sun bore down on us with temperatures in the 40s.
This was a spectacular winter day.
North Fork Waldron Creek route on GPS w Waypoints

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