Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ushering out the climbing season with Old Man of the Hills and Mount Poia

Steve Taylor and Dwight Smith work their way up Old Man of the Hills Mountain

Demian Kotynski on the ridgeline to Mount Poia (in the background)

Dwight Smith, 72, proud of having climbed Old Man of the Hills (in background)
I began preparing for the backcountry ski season with a couple of climbs last week with old familiar Rocky Mountain Front country favorites:  Old Man of the Hills (elevation: 8,347 feet) and Mt. Poia ( 8,275 feet).
Old Man is within the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, Poia, just north in the Badger Two Medicine Wilderness Study Area.
Old Man peak route
Both are isolated, hard to get to and handsome mountains.
This has been a late fall season on the Front and the aspen, cottonwood and ground cover were at their height of color.  The weather was warm and just slightly breezy.
The Old Man climb was at the request of friend Dwight Smith, 72, who has been after me to climb this mountain for about 7 years.  The climb, particularly the knife ridge beneath the summit cap, was a challenge and thrill for Smith who had never done this kind of off-trail climbing.  Although the knife ridge scared him, he made it to the top!  We were joined by experienced mountaineer Steve Taylor and his son, Daniel.
Mount Poia Route
I've climbed this peak three different ways, and think this most direct of the routes was clearly the most scenic.  We climbed a dry fork of Washout Creek, just inside the wilderness boundary through the North Dupuyer Creek canyon. It was like climbing stairs.  Atop it was a steep ridge walk along a limestone wall.  I had started out on this route two years ago with Jim Heckel, but once we hit the ridge line we turned around, beaten by 100 degree heat!  I've also climbed it via a saddle and west ridge from Washout Creek, and by way of a long approach from the Blackleaf Canyon and the South Fork of Dupuyer Creek.
What makes this peak so special are the view to the north of Walling Reef, an icon of the north end of the Front.
What makes this peak especially hard is the drive to the trailhead over one of the toughest, bump and rutted roads imagineable.
Our route Wednesday was 6.1 miles roundtrip and 3,000 feet of elevation gain.
Two days later, my son, Demian, and I did Poia from the Heywood Creek parking area off Swift Reservoir along the North Fork Birch Creek on a crisp, clear autumn day.
It involves walking two miles of trail to Killem Horse Creek and following a ridgeline another 4.1 miles to the top.  The first mile is through heavy deadfall, the second quite steep on a more exposed slope with limestone outcroppings, the final 2 miles is a glorious, exposed, alpine stroll.
The mountain looks more challenging to climb than the reality.
The summit cap offers views of gendarmes and spires below on its north side.  We saw many goat beds, but no goats.
I've climbed it this way before, as well as up Small Creek when I've combined Poia with Scarface and Morningstar peaks, a mountaineering experience I call the "Three Sacred Peaks," because these three are named for Blackfeet legend.
On the way down, we took a bad turn and got cliffed out, but after spending more than an hour working our way out, we lost daylight and walked our the final 2 miles in the dark.
While a straight climb of the peak is 6.1 miles one way and 4,350 feet in elevation gain, our "detour" upped that to more than 5,100 feet and more than 13 miles of walking roundtrip.
We could see directly into Glacier Park to the north, back along the Front to Old Man of the Hills, Walling Reef and as far south as Old Baldy and deep into the Bob and Great Bear wildernesses.
Mounts Richmond and Fields to the south were the large, dominant peaks.
A week earlier I spent an afternoon enjoying fall color in the Highwood Mountains on an exploratory of ridglines.
The colors through North Fork Dupuyer Creek canyon were exceptional

The "hoodos" on the Mount Poia ridgeline

Mount Richmond, in the background, was a dominating presence on the Poia climb

Old Man of the Hills from the Great Plains

Looking down the route we used to climb Old Man of the Hills

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