|H. Wayne Phillips on the high point in the Flathead Alps, elevation 8,387.|
I accompanied him on this five day loop-trip that began and ended at the Benchmark trailhead.
It covered 48 miles and entailed gaining and losing 10,607 feet.
As there always is in a trip of this sort, there were surprises: the massive beauty of Hoadley Reef and an exquisite campsite nearby, the complexity of climbing that Flathead Alps high point, the breadth of the 2007 Ahorn Fire that killed substantial old growth forest, and the grandeur of the Junction Mountain/Pearl Basin areas.
Wildflowers were at their apex ---- beargrass was everywhere. Huckleberries were plentiful. We were surprised that we saw no major wildlife.
|Hoadley Reef stretches out behind me|
We were mildly surprised and I admit, a bit disappointed, in the Pearl Basin, despite its impressive views of Twin Peaks. We would have liked a campsite more like what we found at Hoadley.
But camping really wasn't what we were there for. It was to climb the Flathead Alps high point at 8,387 feet.
|Junction Mountain near Pearl Basin|
From the looks of it, there appears to be an easier route from a ridgeline that rises from the South Fork Flathead River, but that would have involved a long trip in from the Danaher or coming in from Holland Lake on the West Side. We were East Side interlopers.
Unfortunately, once we dropped into Cayuse Creek, we had difficulty trying to establish which saddle we were looking for, and I got impatient and climbed for an elk trail that led us off course, but ultimately where we needed to go to reach the summit ridge. It added about an hour and a half to the climb.
It was a beautiful walk along that ridge, looking at these monster and almost frightful looking mountains ---- rock thrust straight up.
|West Fork Sun River|
It was a beautiful walk up and then down the saddle to Cayuse Creek.
Our trip back up would be on the goat trail that Phillips had found on the way to the peak. It extended across the face of the mountain and most of the way down to Cayuse, adjacent to a large scree field.
But, a thunderstorm was brewing and we tried to wait it out. When we thought it clear, we made a safe run for it.
We found a lovely camp on Reef Creek on our final night out, complete with a rushing stream in a shaded area, and only 9.5 miles from our car.
|The end of our trip was spent dodging pack trains and horse muck on wide, braided trails|