Thursday, September 03, 2015

A mine tour, a ridge walk, a soak in the Little Belts

A face mask to filter out wildfire smoke is a must as Wayne Phillips ascends a ridgeline north and connecting to Pioneer Ridge

Tintina's Jerry Zieg explains the location of the Black Butte Mine north of White Sulphur in the Smith River headwaters
I'm climbing the walls.
Not literally.
No, the smoke from the many fires has driven me inside and looking for alternatives to my climbing and hiking.
The air cleared enough Tuesday and I took full advantage and headed for the Little Belts south of Great Falls.
Lots of variety to this day:  I tried a new route on the Pioneer Ridge, did a formal tour of Tintina's proposed Black Butte copper mine at the head of the Smith River, and soaked at the Spa in White Sulphur Springs.
The highlight of the day was the tour of the proposed copper mine, a very controversial proposal because of its location.
Click this link for Tintina's video explaining the mine:

Tintina video explaining mine

Company officials appeared to be open to any question thrown at them.
Most of them involved in handling of tailings, the toxic waste rock left over after the copper is extracted.
On the mine site's large storage area, with Black Butte in the background

Tintina's geologist Jerry Zieg taking questions from the public at a White Sulphur Springs mine presentation
The fear is that some catastrophe might occur where the poisonous waste product from mining would find its way into nearby Sheep Creek, which flows into the Smith River, polluting this national treasure.
Here is a great, recent New York Times article that offers a balanced news report on the conflicts in the proposal:

NY Times article on Tintina mine proposal

My natural inclination had been to support mining if it can be proven that the Smith is in no danger.
Those 200 well-paying jobs that would come from this development would benefit the locals and the state.
However, after visiting the site and hearing the company's side, I'd need much more assurance before supporting the mine.
Our state's legacy is too clear and present:  mining has left lasting scars.  The adjacent, mine-polluted Belt Creek drainage should be lesson enough.
We can't afford even the possibility of a polluted Smith.
Proposing a mine in the Smith's headwaters is inappropriate.  This is sacred ground.  There must be some places where development can't occur.  This is one of those places.
Click below for an excellent website opposing the mine:

Save Our Smith website

 On the ridgeline heading toward the Pioneer Ridge Trail

The Pioneer Ridge alternative route:

An off-trail alternative to Pioneer Ridge route in Little Belts.  Begin at Pioneer Ridge trailhead across US 89 from Belt Creek Ranger station.  Instead of following the trail, cross the creek and start up the ridge on the north side, staying with it all the way.  It will eventually join the Pioneer Ridge Trail, but its advantage is that it is less steep and more open, with tremendous views in all directions.  It can be made into a nice loop with the Pioneer Ridge Trail.  This account is only for a one mile, 1,225 feet gainer.  Once the ridge line is gained, simply stay on top of it, gaining another 800 feet as it meets the trail.  I can see this area has great potential for backcountry skiing, telemarking and snowshoeing.

For map and more photos, CLICK HERE

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