Thursday, June 08, 2017

Three more: Twin Buttes in Dearborn, Mount Wright, Snowies ice caves

The fresh grizzly track we found when climbing Mount Wright
The weather has been absolutely superb and I've used it advantageously to pick a new route into Twin Buttes on the Dearborn, do my annual Mount Wright climb, and hike a new route into the Ice Caves in the Big Snowies.

I worked my way through these cliffs to find a route that would access Falls Creek

Finding a way into Falls Creek

The route-finding on Twin Buttes was purely accidental.
I had set out to look at alpine flowers on Rogers Pass last Saturday and did that, but got drowsy and needed a place to park the rig and take a nap.
I figured the nearby Dearborn River would be a good spot for that and headed for a drive across the southern Front toward Bean Lake from Highway 200, enjoying the mountains and the fields of Arrowleaf Balsamroot and lupine on the way.
The nearer I got to the Dearborn, which is running bank full, the madder I got about the lack of access into its big Falls Creek tributary.  About nine years ago landowners blocked the one mile access into Falls Creek from the Dearborn Road.
When I got to the Dearborn parking area I thought why not see if there's a route to the Twin Buttes to the south of the lot across BLM land, and if there is one use it as a route into Falls Creek.
It is steep, but short, just under a mile to the ledges beneath the Twin Buttes.  I gained 1,700 feet straight up.  I didn't climb Twin Buttes on this trip, but realized I had found the way into Falls Creek by this route.
There are a number of great game trails heading up, and as I moved east I found what looked like big elk trails, which were really steep, but relatively easy to follow.
I'll return to report what I find when I have the time to work my way down to Falls Creek.

We worked our way around snow fields

Gordon Whirry on top with the Bob Marshall Wilderness below him

At the first saddle below Mount Wright near where we found the grizzly track

There were fields of Pasque flowers just below the first saddle

Annual Mount Wright climb

Then, on Monday I did my annual Spring climb of Mount Wright, one of the Front's largest peaks at just under 8,900 feet.
Along the way we saw an array of wildflowers that changed as we entered increasingly more alpine zones, with Jones columbine along the ridgeline, and Forget-Me-Nots, Douglasia, and even Beargrass.
There's still pretty good snowfields near the top and on east-facing slopes, but they are easy to step around or avoid by staying on the ridgeline rather than on the trail, which switchbacks.
Near the first grassy saddle we saw fresh grizzly tracks, but thankfully, no grizzly.
I figure that I've probably climbed this mountain at least 30 times.
The payoff is always cresting the ridgeline and seeing the Bob Marshall Complex unfold in front of you.
From the top, three wilderness areas ---- the Bob, Scapegoat and Great Bear --- and Glacier Park are clearly visible.
There is still considerable snow on the peaks back in the complex and park, but the valleys appear relatively clear and hikeable.

The large room in the first ice cave 
Mark Good contemplates the consequences of trying to go into the Devil's Chute cave's precipitous opening

This ice cave connects to the Devil's Chute cave
This is where we went off track.  The trail is to the left of the sign.

A great ridge walk between Niel and Blake creeks.

Approaching Snowies' Ice Caves from the South

Over the years I had approached the ice caves in the Big Snowies Mountains Wilderness Study Area from Crystal Lake on the north side (Lewistown) of the range. On a route reconn on Wednesday with the Montana Wilderness Association we went up from the south side via Judith Gap.
The road is excellent and the trail somewhat shorter.  It is still a 7-mile roundtrip and rises about 2,300 feet to the caves.
The area is under consideration for wilderness designation and has been recommended as such by the latest Forest Service Plan.
There is a bit of a trail-finding problem when the Niel Creek trail rises from the valley floor to the ridge.  This comes a little more than a mile into the hike at a trail sign that has been shot up by  some morons.  The trail usage seems to indicate the trail goes straight ahead.  However, if you look behind the damaged sign the real trail emerges.  This route map shows that we followed the false trail and had to bushwhack to the ridgeline.  Coming down we found the real trail, which is in great shape and easy to follow.
Unlike many areas in northcentral Montana, this area hasn't been hit by fire and we walked in an old growth forest of Ponderosa and Douglas Fir pines.  We found the openings to the caves filled with snow, and could only enter the first one.

For a route map, CLICK HERE

Fragrant alpine flower displays greeted me on the ridge west of Rogers Pass

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