Monday, February 24, 2014
Pulling a pulk into Kading Cabin and a question about Electric Peak Wilderness
It was one of the areas I learned about backcountry skiing in the 1970s, and a favorite fishing and hiking spot, where once I day-hiked to Cottonwood Lake and back.
This past weekend I returned on skis for a trip to Kading Cabin, a 1930s vintage log ranger station, located on a Forest Service campground.
The plowed road goes nowhere near closer than 7 miles from that campground, some 16 miles south of Elliston, just on the westside of MacDonald Pass near Helena.
It had been snowing most of the week there and it was snowing when we hit that last seven miles of road to the cabin.
No skier or snowmobiler had tracked the road, so it meant putting down our pulks and pulling them through about 18 inches of fresh powder uphill, gaining about 750 feet along the way. It was terribly cold, with the temperatures never breaking 10 degrees for the three days we were there.
This is gorgeous country, headwaters of the Little Blackfoot in the Helena National Forest, heavily mined and logged.
However, there is a roadless core that is crowned by the Continental Divide Trail and contains the scenic Blackfoot Meadows, the river dammed into a small lake in an area overrun by willows.
This area has been part of a proposed wilderness area known as Electric Peak Wilderness for more than 30 years, but as far as I can tell only the portion on the east side of the divide is part of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester's wilderness bill (Forest Jobs and Recreation Act).
I can't imagine this area without the Blackfoot Meadows in it.
There's a darn good history of a proposed Electric Peak Wilderness written by group of visiting wilderness advocates in 1989 when they stayed there.
It was strong enough that it was rebutted by a Forest Service employee, of the opinion that it is not of high enough quality for consideration.
It is a fascinating exchange, apropos today considering Tester's omission.
Anyway, the snow was so deep it took us five and a half hours to plow our way to the cabin, arriving in total exhaustion.
The next day's trip to the edge of the meadows ---- I think we missed it by almost a mile, really --- was terribly tough, and we had to switch snow-breaking frequently.
We saw occasional elk and moose tracks, some very fresh.
I liked this cabin and its location almost as much as any cabin I've stayed at during the winter.
It is isolated and overlooks an open valley, with the creek running through it.
There are spots reminiscent of O'Brien Creek, but almost on steroids.
While we were skiing to Blackfoot Meadows, snowmobiles came as far as the Kading Campground sign, packing down the trail.
It is one of the few times I was glad there was a track.
We got on it Sunday and got back to the car in less than two and a half hours.
I'll certainly return this summer.