Sunday, August 27, 2017

HQ Pass to Our Lake Traverse

Gordon Whirry ascends to top of "Pass Peak" on traverse with Baldy Peak in background
Taking a break above Our Lake

The stroll to the lake from the saddle
I do this Headquarters Pass to Our Lake Traverse about every other year.
It is extremely scenic, taking in the Sawtooth Range/Bob Marshall Wilderness high peaks, and giving the hiker a range of route-finding options.
It begins at the end of the South Fork Teton Road northwest of Choteau.  The trailhead there is a main artery into the Bob Marshall Wilderness and travels to both Headquarters Pass and Our Lake.
Since I had been to Our Lake already this year, I decided to start at Headquarters Pass, a trail that is 3.5 miles long and gains 2,000 feet.  It passes by a couple of beautiful waterfalls and a large spring in the basin below Rocky Mountain Peak, the highest point in the Bob.
This is also the route for climbing Rocky if you are so inclined.
At the pass views of the heart of the Bob unfold to the west, looking down on the North Fork Sun and to the Chinese Wall above Moose Creek on the horizon.
Unfortunately, we were smoked in and got hazy views of the North Fork and nothing of the Wall.
At this point there are several off-trail choices, but ultimately you must pass to the north where there is a saddle high above Our Lake.
Facing the ridgeline of an unnamed mountain I like to call "Pass Peak" the easy route is through the scree and talus to the west of the ridge, angling up and to the northwest until you reach the saddle.  On Wednesday, we chose to climb Pass Peak, about 1,000 feet above Headquarters Pass.  If you do it this way you'll find it most easy a bit to the left of the ridge line.  But, you will need to use your hands on the first 250 feet of ascent.  The top of the peak is 8,571 feet, some 3,000 feet above and 4.1 miles from the trailhead.
Enjoy the tremendous views of Rocky and Baldy limestone 9,000 feet + peaks to the south and north, respectively, the Bob to the west and the Front and Great Plains to the east.
From here on out everything is a descent, and steeply so from the saddle.  Just below the saddle you'll find a stream bed.  Follow it down on its east side.  It drops to the lip of a cliff band and here you'll have to make another major decision.  It is possible to get into the stream bed at this point and carefully work your way down to the lake through the cliffs.  The scree can be treacherous, so proceed carefully as you descend.  In the early summer there is usually snow in this stream bed, making this option impossible.  The alternative is to follow a well worn game trail above the stream bed to the east until you deal with steep scree and a cliff band.  Be careful.
On Wednesday we opted for a third alternative, one that does not go to the lake directly.
Above the cliff bands and game trail we did a short climb up the ridge to the east and then descended through an open mountain-side, dropping to the Our Lake trail, about a third of a mile from the lake.
This is the easiest and least treacherous route, but requires a back track on the trail to reach the lake.
Then it is an enjoyable walk down the Our Lake trail back to the South Fork trail head.
Round trip:  8.4 miles.  Elevation gain:  3,030 feet.
The off trail section of traverse is marked in the fuschia color

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