Sunday, September 02, 2018

Steamboat Lookout through the cliffs; 30 years after Canyon Creek

Mark approaches the base of cliffs

If you look really hard you'll see me ascending this (frightening) couloir (Gordon Whirry photo)

In the shelf (Gordon Whirry photo)

Mark and I in a spectacular spot (Gordon Whirry photo)

Walking the broken and tilted shelf
The roads outside Augusta washed out by Spring floods are finally fixed and open and gave us the opportunity to reach Steamboat Lookout Mountain Saturday.
Elk Creek Road is pretty rough, filled with potholes.  One bridge is still out, requiring a creek crossing.  But, the creek is now low enough that it's no problem.
We had intended to climb the peak via the good Elk Creek Trail, but instead concentrated on finding a new route to the top via the cliffs.
At the first big drainage and creek crossing after Elk Pass we left the trail and headed up through the burn and what appeared to be an opening in the vast cliff walls -- that appear impenetrable ---  guarding the peak.
I was uncertain whether the crack we saw was passable.
Mark Hertenstein seems always to believe there's a way.
There was a 300 foot patch of scree below the base of the cliffs that nearly did me in.  I'm having intermittent balance problems that forced me to all fours for much of this patch.
Hertenstein had gone far ahead and discovered that there was a (barely) walkable shelf below the cliffs that offered spectacular views and the possibility for climbing our way out to the top.
We had a nice lunch and watched the clouds pushed around the distant peaks of the Front and Bob and Scapegoat wilderness areas by high winds.
Mark found a great, climb able crack that took us to the next shelf above us that led to another crack and up on top.
All of us had been to the top of the peak numerous times and given the wind, we opted not to climb the remaining 300 feet to the top.
The views and shelf-walking were truly thrilling.  Why this Steamboat Ridge is not as popular for its grandeur as the Chinese Wall amazes me.
We enjoyed a leisurely six miles back to the car as the weather improved and the sun came out warming us and causing the early Fall ground colors to pop.  There were large patches of scarlet and purple huckleberry patches.  The slopes below the peak just  off- trail had been freshly rototilled by grizzlies looking for roots and insects.
We climbed more than 3,800 feet and walked 11.1 miles.

30th anniversary of Canyon Creek Fire

This is the 30th anniversary of the Canyon Creek Fire of 1988 that scorched 250,000 acres of the Scapegoat country, including this Elk and Smith creeks drainage.
The fire took a big run down Elk Creek the evening of Sept. 6, 1988.  I don't think I'll ever forget when it made its run.  The night skies of Great Falls west glowed red.
Nearly every year since I've hiked this Elk Creek country to assess the post-fire conditions.
Like the Yellowstone Fire of the same year, the regrowth is jaw-dropping.  The trees in most areas are 20 feet high and very thick, almost too thick.  There is diversity, too, with lots of Doug Fir among the Lodgepole. There are some southwest slopes that look pretty barren, but the north and east slopes are lush.

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