Saturday, August 27, 2016

Smith Creek: poster child for Canyon Creek Fire recovery; Welcome Pass traverse

Welcome Pass at the head of the valley 
Scapegoat Massif above the Dearborn River headwaters

Smith Creek Falls
It had been a dozen years since I last ventured up Smith Creek, southwest of Augusta in the Rocky Mountain Front.
I hadn't returned because that trip had turned me off.
What I found there then were the remains of the cataclysmic 1988 Canyon Creek Fire that burned nearly a quarter million acres, scorching the entire Smith Creek drainage.  The trailhead was difficult to find, there had been extensive salvage logging, cattle were wandering on the bottom, and there were horse flies everywhere on the 1.5 miles of ranch the poorly marked and trail/road passed through. It was an unpleasant experience, except for the Smith Creek Falls we eventually found and enjoyed.
What a difference those 12 years have made.
This time I was determined to see Welcome Pass at the Scapegoat Wilderness boundary, a 6.5 miles hike that gains 1,800 feet one-way.
An example of the forest recovery from 1988 Canyon Creek Fire
What I found was a new, well-marked trailhead with a 'Cadillac' Forest Service outhouse and parking area, a forest that was thickly covered by lodgepole, Doug Fir and spruce trees (except for the exposed South slopes which are still sparsely revegetated), no cattle, even on the private stretch of land, and fabulous mountain scenery all the way.
To me, it is a poster child of the Canyon Creek Fire recovery, a very pleasant place to be.  My hiking partner, Mark Hertenstein said it reminded him of valleys in Glacier Park.  I agree.
I had been only as far as the falls on my previous visit.
This time we hiked the trail all the way to the pass and beyond, then going off-trail and climbing the ridge line to the highly visible "Nipple" shaped peak 7,246, south and east, and then dropping down a ridgeline to the north and west to the trail.
We covered 15.5 miles and gained and lost some 4,100 feet of elevation going up and down the ridges, turning our easy walk to the pass into something more robust.
The walk to the pass itself is quite appealing, following Smith Creek to its junction with Jakie Creek above a deep gorge some 3.5 miles from the trailhead.  Then the trail follows Jakie Creek to its source through open hillsides and the reforested burn to a high point above a scenic valley some 500 feet below the pass.
The pass scenery isn't particularly scenic.  It is the headwaters of the heavily-forested Dearborn River.
But climbing the trail toward the Forest Service Welcome Creek cabin and then going a short distance on the ridge above the trail the Scapegoat Mountain Massif comes into view.  This is one of the great views in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, with the high Chinese Wall-like Scapegoat Wall rising for miles above Half Moon Basin.
If you go the Welcome Pass, make the effort to get above the pass for these views.
A note of caution on the hike:  there are four crossings of Smith Creek (it was low, so we didn't have too much trouble rock hopping across), that in high water could be problematic (take wading shoes), and there are four wire gates (which we were able to climb across rather than unlatch).  If you're looking for the Petty Creek and Moudess Creek trails, we couldn't find signage.
One of the beauties of this hike is that to the north is the Crown Mountain complex and ridgeline and to the south is the Steamboat Mountain complex and ridgeline.
I wish that I had included this hike to the pass in my book, "Discover the Rocky Mountain Front."  If there is a Third Edition, I will.

For more photos and topo map detailing trip: CLICK HERE

On the ridgeline looking back toward the Crown Mountain complex

Coming down off-trail from the "Nipple" peak

Gorgeous fields of grass on the way back to the trailhead

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Makes a pretty good bike ride too! Needs some directional signage where you cris cross Smith Creek.