Thursday, July 30, 2020

Little Belts: Butcherknife, Hay Canyon

Butcherknife from Dry Wolf Creek side

Cairns along the gorgeous Butcherknife ridge line

Wildflowers galore

Butcherknife Peak, with Baldy in the background

The mind can play funny tricks on you.
It had been 15 years since I had walked the Butcherknife Ridge and climbed Butcherknife Peak and when I did it this past week I had little memory of it.
Of course, my route was a bit different this year.
The last time I did it I walked the full ridge line, approaching it from the Lonetree Road east of Geyser.
This time it was via the trailhead from the Dry Wolf Road south of Stanford.
I had an overcast day this time, which reduced the withering heat we've been experiencing in Great Falls.
Dirt bikes have gouged the first mile of a very steep trail

The trail shoots directly up, with hardly a switchback from the start, gaining 1,200 feet in 1.25 miles to the ridgeline.  The trail appears to be heavily used by motorbikes and it cratered, making it difficult to hike on. Most of the way to the ridge I walked to the side of the trail, and coming down I got into the forest to avoid it.  It wasn't much of a problem, but this usage has the potential for serious erosion.
Then, it is a most pleasant walk on a wide, grassy ridge over several bumps to the top of the peak.
Big Baldy, the Little Belts' highest peak, is always in view just 5-miles away.

Hay Canyon in Judith Country/Middle Fork Judith

The towering cliffs above Hay Canyon in South Fork Judith
Russell Point in South Fork Judith, where Charlie Russell worked as ranch hand

Middle Fork Judith near Judith Ranger Station
Historic Judith Ranger Station

I haven't spent much time in the South Fork Judith country, but ventured down there after a day of rest from Butcherknife.
The time I've been there had been to hit the Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area or to reach the ridgeline above Sapphire Village south of Utica.
The road is paved to Utica and good gravel beyond.
Once I passed the Middle Fork turnoff (to the Yogo Creek crossing and Judith Cabin sites) it wasn't long before I was in a gorgeous South Fork Judith canyon with many spacious campsites just below high, limestone walls and cliffs.  There's a Fred Ellis Memorial Campground run by the state and the Forest Service's Hay Canyon Campground in addition to the dispersed sites.
Not far beyond the Hay Canyon Campground is a road that leads to the canyon itself and a trailhead, really a tight one-track road up the bottom, which reminded me of the cliffs in the Sluice Boxes State Park on Belt Creek.
I had a pleasant walk up the canyon for 2.5 miles before turning around and heading out.  I met a couple from Great Falls, whom I know, riding their "quads" up to the top.  Otherwise, there was very tall grass, nice forest and the cliffs.
Afterward, I drove south and saw the Russell Point above the Trask Ranch, where Cowboy artist C.M. Russell worked as a hand after moving from St. Louis. The area is a wide, green expanse below the cliffs, and a luxury subdivision of McMansions.  I can't imagine what Charlie would have had to say about the development.
Then it was back to the Middle Fork for a short hike from the historic Judith Ranger cabin.
A full day. 

No comments: