Sunday, June 21, 2015

Steamboat ridge traverse; Willow Falls to Fairview Creek

Figuring out what's next to get to the Steamboat ridge line
This has been quite a week.
I added two exceptional hikes/climbs in a week that included a quick backpack into Pretty Prairie in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area:  a Steamboat Mountain ridgeline traverse and a Montana Wilderness Association key exchange walk between Willow Creek Falls and Fairview Creek.
Both trips were in the Rocky Mountain Front west of August.

Steamboat Mountain ridge traverse

I love the Steamboat Mountain ridgeline.
There are views here that rival the Chinese Wall and you've got Scapegoat Mountain and its wall in views as you walk it.
I've done this traverse several ways, often starting at Elk Creek and dropping over to the Dearborn side on a point-to-point.
Getting to the top of the ridgeline is tricky if Steamboat Lookout Mountain isn't climbed first.
The trick is to start at the Elk Creek trailhead, ascend an old fire break trail above Cataract Falls and stay on the ridge between Bailey Basin and Cataract Creek.
Along the way you'll fight the debris from the 1988 Canyon Creek Fire, along with the tightly packed lodgepole pines that have regenerated the area.
Once through, there are two cliffs to navigate, the first being straight-forward and the second more problematic.  How the second is navigated will set the stage to reach the Steamboat peak ridge.
On Friday's climb we moved to the left (east), followed the base of the cliff, found an easy crack to ascend, and then followed an animal trail to the left to where we could climb to the top of the ridge.
In the past I've also gone to the right after climbing the crack and found a game trail at the base of the ridge and through scree to the top further west.
I definitely like the left (east) option, although if I were down climbing rather than up climbing the west option is easier to find at the top.
Once on the ridge it is very straight forward, a breathtaking walk that climbs three mountains along the way, with the lookout mountain at the end.  Along the way are thrilling views of the cliffs below to the northwest and the heart of the Scapegoat Wilderness nearby to the south and west.
At the mountain-top there's the trail, a 6-mile, more than 4,000 feet descent to the Elk Creek trailhead.
We climbed just under 5,000 feet and hiked 12.3 miles on this strenuous trek.

For more photo, route and elevation chart, Click here

Willow Creek to Fairview Creek key exchange

One of the Willow Creek Falls
This is a spectacular 9 mile hike between the Willow Creek Falls and the Fairview Creek trailhead on the Benchmark Road near the airstrip with a gain and loss of about 1,500 feet in elevation. (Ignore my distance and elevations on the chart because I did side trips that added distances).
Approaching from the Willow Creek Falls side, we passed through ranch land, grass, aspen groves and ascended to the falls on a narrow trail that hugged the limestone cliffs on the side of Fairview Mountain.
We passed a series of falls into an open, gorgeous, wildflower-strewn meadow rimmed by bright red rock before taking a sharp north bend and ascending to a pass strewn with igneous rocks, a signal of an intrusion, unusual for the Front.
At the pass we were at the headwaters of Fairview Creek, rimmed to the west by a massive limestone ridge that followed us for the remainder of the hike, and Renshaw Mountain to the north.
We hiked through lovely elk meadows, popping in and out of old growth forest, crossing and re-crossing Fairview Creek.
Unlike much of the Front and adjacent Bob Marshall Wilderness, this area was not ravaged by pine-beetle kill and the old forest was lush and green, as was the vegetation.
It reminded me of the Bob before the fires began raking it in the mid-1980s.

For more photo, route and elevation chart, Click here

No comments: