Monday, May 18, 2020

Swift Dam and Pioneer Ridge

Camille Consolvo and Mike Dannels on Swift Reservoir south shore trail 

Behind us, looking into the Badger Two Med country

Spring is in its full glory now.  The first round of alpine flowers are in full bloom, the trees are leafing and yet, the mountains are still frosted with snow.
We took advantage of a bluebird day Saturday by heading north to where the boundaries of the Bob Marshall Wilderness and Badger-Two Medicine areas meet at Swift Dam Lake, an impoundment of the forks of Birch Creek west of Dupuyer.
This is a major jumping off point for trips into those two spectacular areas and is particularly notable for the deep blue-green Glacier-park-like color of the waters.
We were told that the road on the north side of the reservoir, on the Blackfeet side, was closed, so we chose the South Side trail, hiking it to its crossing at Phillips Creek.
Along the way we were treated to an amazing show of Glacier Lilies, Pasque and Shooting Star flowers.  I don't think I've ever seen so many Glacier Lilies, which painted hillsides yellow.
The scenery along the lake is what our friend Camille Consolvo, who accompanied us, as "Canadian-like," a reference to a trip we took with her and her husband Mike Dannels last summer into the high Canadian Rockies.  I could not disagree.  Mount Richmond is the prominent peak at the head of the lake, flanked by Mount Sentinel.  Both were snow covered.
Our only (minor) complaint was that the trail had been chewed up by horses.
We encountered a couple hiking and another couple on horseback on our hike that covered 6.6 miles with an elevation gain and loss of 1,500 feet.
A must-see feature on this hike is Hell Roaring Spring that pours out of an opening beneath the trail and foams and gurgles down a hillside to the lake like a creek.
We had many stops along the way to take photos of the flowers and to gape in awe at the mountain-lake scenery.
The 18-mile drive on the gravel road from the Dupuyer highway department rest stop was a good one.  The road is in excellent shape except for one small, steep patch.
The drive from Great Falls along the Rocky Mountain Front on U.S. 89 was as beautiful as any time I've ever taken it.  The whitened mountains of the Front popped in the deep blue and cloudless sky, the foothills were a verdant green.

Pioneer Ridge
Plenty of snow to dodge on north slope 

From the ridgetop high point looking down toward elk meadows

On Sunday I did a recon on one of my favorite quick hike from Great Falls ---- the Pioneer Ridge in the Little Belt Mountains across Highway 89 from the Belt Creek Ranger District.
There's still a ton of snow in this mountain range, so I was uncertain whether I could make it up to the first major ridgeline on this trail, some 2-miles from the trailhead.
I was able to cover the nearly 2,000 feet in elevation gain over that distance only having to skirt a half-dozen small snow patches.
There were some wildflowers, but nothing like what we saw in the Front, mainly Pasque and yellow bells.  The grass up high hadn't greened up yet.  I was checking whether the Calypso flowers had begun to show yet on the lower parts of the trail where they usually blossom in spring.  They hadn't.
On the ridgeline, where I left the maintained Forest Trail for an abandoned one, there was a general covering of deep snow on north and east facing slopes that I had to work my way around.
Once I got on a west face and in the grasses of the large elk meadow it was clear sailing.
On the maintained trail there were a number of downed trees, and on the abandoned trail, which can be difficult to follow, the downed trees and broken limbs were numerous.
The views along this hike include the high country to the west of Belt Park, Long and Neihart Baldy and Big Baldy peaks.  The views from the high points in the boulders on the ridge line are especially good looking down on the elk meadows.
While I could do this loop, it might be better to wait a week or two and return for what I expect will be a magnificent flower show.
I note that Belt Creek was running pretty high and very loud, carrying out snowmelt.

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