Friday, January 05, 2018

Paine Gulch exploratory

Dry Gulch Ridge above Paine Gulch

Outcrops along the trail

Just above the Trail No. 737 trailhead off US 89
I know I've been up Paine Gulch in the past, but frankly, I don't remember it.
My wife and I took a lovely snowshoe up this gulch on Thursday covering a little more than two miles and gaining about 550 in elevation beneath some towering spires on this Little Belts Mountain hike.
The gulch is pretty hidden because a private inholding sits at its trailhead for Trail No. 737.
This was owned by the late geologist David Baker, a real character, and and expert and promoter of the Little Belts.
The Forest Service has established a trailhead to the south of his gated and posted property that can be hard to locate.  There's a brown Forest Service "TH" sign visible from U.S. 89.
The gulch is located just a little north of where the old Lazy Doe bar and restaurant was located.  Unfortunately, this landmark and eatery was torn down last year and it looks as though the place never existed.
There is a good public parking spot for your hike a couple of hundred yards north and west of the trailhead where there's a state historical sign on one of the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles located in the area.
The trail skirts Baker's place and then climbs steadily above the tiny rivulet at the bottom of the gulch.  In about a mile the first of the large outcrops appear, an impressive sight.  There are also several side gulches to the north.
There are lots of downed trees and if you're cross country skiing be forewarned of steep, tight terrain where turns could be terrifying if there's ice.  A skier had been there ahead of us and before the most recent storm and left his faint tracks.  I'd recommend skins for up and down some of the tight spots.
We were on snowshoes and didn't have any trouble, except for one large tree across the path.
The forest is a combination of lodgepole, Doug Fir and Ponderosa pine.
At about 1.5 miles the trail breaks out in a flat, open area beneath the Dry Fork Ridge to the north and the back of Sun Mountain to the south.
Here the hillsides have been scorched in a summer wildfire and there are only small stands of live pines, juniper and aspens, but the scenery is positively thrilling.
The trail goes for another mile and a half or so.
This valley would be the perfect spot for climbing Sun or Servoss mountains or the Dry Fork Ridge.

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