Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Kelseya uniflora hike

The Kelseya uniflora bloom on limestone in the Big Belt Mountains


Katie snapping some shots of the wildflower

The Trout Creek Canyon walls rise above the trail like the nearby Gates of the Mountains

Normally my hikes involve a mountain peak or a loop trail.
But, at the urging of my wife, a wildflower enthusiast, the sole object of our hike was to see the Kelsey Uniflora (a rare limestone loving miniature rose-shrub) bloom in Trout Creek Canyon near the old mining town of York in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.
When I lived in Helena in the 1970s, what is now trail was a scenic road in the Big Belt Mountains known as the "Figure Eight Route" that followed Trout Creek and climbed to the top of Hogback Mountain before descending into the Beaver Creek area.  The 1981 flood obliterated the road and the Forest Service wisely converted the road to a great hiking trail that begins at Vigilante Campground about 7 miles northeast of York.
For me, the Trout Creek Canyon is attraction enough with its towering limestone walls reminiscent of nearby Gates of the Mountains Wilderness.
The Kelseya Uniflora hangs from these walls in full view of the trail up the canyon.
We had a wonderful hike and saw many blooming shrubs.  It was a real treat.
Although this was an early Spring day we saw many hikers, mountain bikers and even horseback riders coming up the trail as we returned.
While there were plenty of Kelseya we didn't see any other wildflowers, although they are blooming in profusion in other areas we've hiked this Spring.
It had been years since I had done this hike, and will return soon.
The road to York is picked up on the Custer Avenue exit off I-15 in Helena.  York is about 20 miles from this exit.  It is paved all the way to within two miles of Vigilante Campground, the trailhead.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Tromping to Willow Creek Falls in snow

Douglasia wildflowers with Fairview Mountain in background

One of the three Willow Creek Falls 
Working our way through the snow on the path

Our band of five Wayne's Wednesday Walkers made it through the Willow Creek Falls to the opening of the Fairview Plateau via a muddy and sometimes snow-covered trail.
This wintry hike on a gray spring day actually enhanced the beauty of this already gorgeous scenery.
We went about 5-miles round trip, gaining some 800 feet en route taking in the three large waterfalls of Willow Creek in the Rocky Mountain Front west of Augusta.
The scenery was so beautiful I was berated by Camille Consolvo who berated me for not having included it in my list of "Top Ten" hikes for newcomers, something I gave her went she moved to Great Falls from Oregon several years ago.
A Pasque Flower cluster in time for the Pasque on Sunday
Despite the wintry weather, we were rewarded with several spectacular shows of spring flowers, such as a field of pink Douglasia, and many Pasque flowers.  We saw quite a number of mule deer on the road driving in and out.
The day was in sharp contrast to Tuesday when northcentral Montana skies were a beautiful, cloudless blue and the sun shone brightly.
Because of the weekend's snows I strapped on skis and skins and teled Big Seven at Showdown and then went to White Sulphur Springs for a soak. While there were about three inches of snow, it sat a top a wind crust, which broke when I powered my turns.  It was great to be out in the warm sun, but it wasn't the greatest of conditions.....sort of a metaphor for the entire ski season, now over unless I ski Logan Pass at Glacier when it opens this summer.
A "selfie" from the top of an abandoned Showdown ski hill, which closed two weeks ago

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Back to Wagner Basin and Front; a climbing find

Mark Hertenstein looks over the bighorn sheep trail route below the ridge line.  His routes are marked in red lines

Mark Hertenstein is quite an off-trail route-finder, among the best I've climbed with.
On Friday we went back to the Front and Wagner Basin on a blustery spring day and checked out a climbing route he had spotted an an earlier trip.
Just to the east of Castle Reef a high ridge runs south to the Sun River, towering 1,500 feet above the valley floor to the east, a precipitous drop.
Mark confirmed that a great bighorn ledge runs most the more than mile-long length of this wall, about 5 to 10 feet wide in most parts about 100 feet below the ridge line.
We were able to access it through a break in the wall.
In several spots it wraps under overhangs in the wall.
We checked this out for a short distance, but agreed that if we were 20 years younger this would have been something we would have tried to follow for its length.
It reminded me a lot of the breathtaking traverse in Glacier Park known as the Ptarmigan Traverse, a goat trail that hangs on the west side of the Ptarmigan Wall about 3,000 feet above Helen Lake in sight of Old Sun Glacier.  I have done this traverse four times and think it to be the most exciting thing I've ever done in the park.
I've included several photos of this Sun Canyon Wall bighorn path.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Wagner Basin spectacle

In Wagner Basin below Castle Reef 
Three rams in one of the three bands of bighorn sheep we encountered

Nice drop off on ridge line 

Wayne Phillips enjoys the view from the ridge
Although I haven't posted for a few weeks it doesn't mean I haven't been out and about.
I have given up on backcountry skiing, though, and begun hiking.
I've scaled Mount Sentinel in Missoula and Mount Helena, done a short trip on the Pioneer Ridge in the Little Belts, and Wednesday did a spectacular hike in the Wagner Basin of the Sun Canyon in the Rocky Mountain Front west of Augusta.
There are no designated trails in this open area beneath Castle Reef and along the Sun River. Access is from Home Gulch and a small parking area at the southern tip of the reef. We walked beneath the reef along a number of cliff bands, gaining and losing about 2,300 feet on the 5.3 mile hike. We saw three bands of bighorn sheep and many whitetail deer that love the willow covered Sun River bottom. We saw early spring flowers like the pink/purple Douglasia, and Pasque Flower.
This simple hike delivers some of the best of the east side Bob Marshall Country:  high, snow-covered peaks, and fabulous vistas.
Indian pictographs/handprints

Driving to the canyon we stopped by the Sun River Game Range viewing area and could spot easily 1,000 elk grazing beneath Sawtooth Mountain.
Wagner Basin is a good choice this time of year because the elevation is windblown and there is no snow to contend with.  There was snow above 6,500 feet, however.
After the hike we stopped by the bridge over the Sun near the Gibson Dam road to view Indian pictographs.
Beware:  the ticks are out.

For map, more photos, CLICK HERE.

The basin's famous "skull tree" of birds painting on deer skulls and hung from the tree 
Douglasia wildflowers in bloom

We encountered a few patches of snow 
The bushwhack along the Sun River bottom