Sunday, June 14, 2015

More than a week's worth: a potpourri of hikes and climbs

On top of Mount Royal in East Buttes of Sweetgrass Hills.  Gold Butte and West Butte in distance
I've been extremely active these past 10 days, hitting the Continental Divide Trail at Rogers Pass on both sides, climbing Mount Sentinel in Missoula one day, and then going to the "M" the next, climbing Mount Wright in the Front and then Elk Peak in Glacier Park the next, and finally doing Wolf Butte in the Little Belts on Friday followed by Mount Royal in the Sweetgrass Hills on Saturday.
I'm going at it pretty hard and fast, trying to get in shape for the backpacking and climbing season.
At this writing, I'm a bit tired and am glad for an off day.

The blue alpine flowers offer a sharp contrast with red shale on Rodgers Peak

Rogers Pass

The CDT Trail here is the best at this time of year with the alpine wildflowers in full bloom.
I went to the west side on the way to Missoula for a meeting. It climbs over 800 feet to the divide.  I went only as far as Cadotte Pass before turning around, enjoying the wild display of fragrant, blue Forget-Me-Not flowers.  I saw my first Beargrass flower in bloom on the way down.
I picked up the east side on the way back home, joining my wife's Get Fit Great Falls group that was climbing Rodgers Peak.

Mount Sentinel

The first day of my stay, I climbed Missoula's iconic Mount Sentinel to the top, a gain of 1,958 feet on a perfectly clear and cool morning, affording great views of the Missoula valley.  I spooked a colorful and puffed out male sharptail grouse and several deer.
On the following day I went only as far as the "M" on this mountain, a gain of 625 feet.

Looking across the Bob from the top of Mount Wright

Mount Wright

I'm always anxious to get up Mount Wright in the Rocky Mountain Front in the Spring with its 3,245 feet elevation gain over 3.5 miles to the top.  This nearly 9,000 feet mountain offers spectacular views across the Bob Marshall Wilderness and great visibility of Glacier peaks.
I was not disappointed with the views, but noted the sparse snow there and on lots of the low country across the Bob.
This is early for this peak.  The snow is going fast.

Great Bear peaks from top of Elk Peak in Glacier

Glacier's Elk Peak

This 7,835 feet peak on Glacier's southern end is very similar to Mount Wright for distance and effort --- 3,332 feet in elevation gain over just under 3.5 miles to the top.
The trail is picked up at the Fielding entrance to the park reached from Highway 2 at Mile Marker 192 about a half-mile up Forest Service Road 1066.
The views from the top of this peak, once a Park lookout, are really fantastic, particularly looking south into the Great Bear and Bob Marshall wilderness areas.  I found myself intrigued by the possibilities of a trip down Ole Creek in the Park from this vantage point, with the high walls of peaks like Sheep, Battlement and the Barriers on one side and Summit and Little Dog on the other side of a low valley.
From here, the pointed chard of Mount St. Nicholas is a powerful presence to the west.
I jumped a young bull moose in a meadow on the way up.

Jim Heckel approaches top of Wolf Butte

Wolf Butte in Little Belts

I love doing this hike in the Spring when the grass is an incredible green in this Little Belts spot south of Geyser.
This is an unusual little peak that sticks out on the prairie on the very north end of this mountain range.
It is 6,791 feet with an elevation gain of just over 2,000 feet, the last 1,200 almost straight up through a maze of house-size granite boulders.
The peak is difficult to find, located behind one of the boulder walls.
There are terrific views here of the Highwood Mountains.

On the way up Mount Royal with Mount Brown in the background in East Butte area of Sweetgrass Hills

Mount Royal in Sweetgrass Hills' East Butte area

This was my favorite hike during this period and I'm sure it will rank among the favorites for the summer.
I had been in the East Buttes to climb its high point, Mount Brown, about 10 years ago.
This was a Montana Wilderness Association sponsored hike.
A climb of Mount Royal (elevation 6,908 feet) in the East Butte portion of the Sweetgrass Hills northwest of Chester, and just south of the Canadian border crossing at Whitlash. This hike is in an area that has long been considered sacred for Blackfeet ceremonies (we saw prayer flags tied to trees), and sought by mining interests for its gold (a pursuit stymied by botched heap leach cyanide mining in places like Zortman/Landusky in the Little Rockies). This is a so-called "Island Range," an isolated igneous intrusion shaped by glaciers, and now a lonely mountain range on the vast prairie. The hike was put together by Patrick Johnson of Helena and Arlo Skari of Chester for the Montana Wilderness Association to highlight the area's wilderness potential. It covered nearly 8 miles and an elevation gain of over 3,100 feet and included a side trip into a limestone cave's cavern. Light streamed into the cavern from two large "sky light" holds in the ceiling. Access was across state, BLM and private land. Visible for much of the hike was rounded Mount Lebanon (elevation: 5,807 feet) to the northeast, and Mount Brown (elevation: 6,977 feet), the highest point in the Sweetgrass Hills and East Butte area. We were treated to exceptionally green spring grass and copious wildflowers. Mount Royal is the only truly developed portion of this part of the Sweetgrass Hills, with numerous communications structures on its summit and a road leading to this site from the south. However, we were able to experience a great backcountry trip by approaching the summit from the saddle to the north, bypassing that road. We didn't have to deal with the development until hitting the top. Even then, the 360 degree views more than compensated, allowing us to view the Gold (Middle) and West buttes clearly to the west, as well as the Rocky Mountain Front and Glacier/Waterton peaks (dimly) further west. To the south and east were the Highwood Mountains near Great Falls, and directly east, the Bearpaw Mountains.
In a meadow below Mount Royal

Inside the cave

Click here for more on the Mount Royal hike

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