Wednesday, April 22, 2015

An early Castle Reef (false summit) climb

A picture-perfect day for a climb of Castle Reef

I climbed this false summit, some 250 feet lower than the true summit 

I climbed the pointed peak at left.  The true, unimpressive summit is to the right, some 250 higher
Castle Reef (elevation: 8,330 feet) is on my "regulars" list for repeated climbs.
It is one of the iconic mountains of the Front that offers a western backdrop, along with the Sawtooth Ridge, to the city of Great Falls.
Normally, this is a late season climb.
But, with the weather so summer-like, and the mountain virtually clear of snow, I headed up from Hannan Gulch on Tuesday.
I went up from Wagner Basin, one of the jewels of the Rocky Mountain Front, a bighorn sheep sanctuary, pocked with small beaver ponds, and surrounded by high, limestone ridges.
I gained about 1,500 feet from a low saddle to attain the ridgeline.
The mountain is a narrow ridge that extends for miles.
The trail is quick steep and rocky from the saddle.  I found myself carefully negotiating loose scree and talus as I picked my way along.
On top with the ridgeline below and 'Bob" in distance
My wife reminds me that this is early in the season as I complain about how difficult it has been for me during these early climbs.  Normally, I'm skiing now.  Unfortunately, the snow was such that I didn't get in the long skis I regularly do, which keep me in some kind of hiking shape.  My knees got sore quickly and coming down off this mountain was excruciating.
I climbed to what many people think is the peak, but is really the false summit at 8,081 feet, some 249 feet lower than the true summit, which is out of sight.  With a gain of 3,652 feet over 3.7 miles one way, I figured that I had had a pretty good early day.  It would have been another three-quarters mile or so to the real peak.
Along the way I saw two bands of bighorn sheep, ewes and lambs, lots of whitettail and mule deer and a gob of ticks.  Be watchful out there.
While there was little snow on Castle Reef, the high country to the west, particularly in the Bob Marshall and Scapegoat wilderness areas, is just loaded.
The views from the top are spectacular:  the plains and island mountain ranges to the east, the Scapegoat and Bob, and Gibson Reservoir to the west, north and south.

For route map, graph and more, click here: Castle Reef

Sawtooth Ridge across the road

I reached the ridgeline by the saddle

Part of a band of bighorn ewes and lambs

An interesting break in the Castle Reef wall along the way

Wagner Basin along the Sun River with its beaver ponds and view of Sawtooth

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