Saturday, October 01, 2022

Mount Wright, McCarty Hill close out September

The golden blaze of aspens on the Mount Wright hike

Mount Wright behind orange-yellow aspen

The Corrugate Ridge from the top of Mount Wright

Lime Gulch from top of McCarty Hill

Fairview Mountain as seen from the top of McCarty Hill

The mountains are in full color and it's time to get in the last climbs before the snow makes it impossible.

To that end I climbed Mount Wright for the second time this summer, and followed up two days later with a walk-up of McCarty Hill near Camp Scoutana on the Front.

My Mount Wright climb was especially wonderful because I got one of those rare clear days and from the top of this high peak (8,850 feet) I could see clear across the Bob complex and into Glacier Park, where I could pick out St. Nick, Stimson and Rising Wolf peaks.

There was no one else on this climb.  The aspen were bright golden and orange-ish, offset by brilliant red ground cover, mainly wild rose and fireweed.  There was snow nowhere.

I love this mountain for these views and always marvel at the Corrugate Ridge to the west and the Rocky Mountain Front to the east where I could look out over the tops of mountains to see the Great Plains.

McCarty Hill is just a two-mile out and back hike that rises about 7,000 feet from the Beaver-Willow Creek Road across from the old Girl Scout camp.

It offers spectacular views of the southern Front into the Scapegoat and Bob.

What really stands out are all the grizzly bear signs --- the patches where they have dug up roots (grizzly roto-tilling) , the overturned rocks.  You really feel the Great Bear's presence here.

The Willow Creek Valley below Fairview Mountain was particularly lit up with fall color.

The weather both days was unseasonably warm and the wind a gentle breeze.

Such a nice trip.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Ground cover in mountains in full Fall color








We had an exceptionally clear early Fall day for a photo of Going to the Sun Peak

The mountain ground cover is at its peak, particularly on the east side of the Rockies, although we experienced great ground cover on a trip to the west side last weekend.

We stayed at the Laughing Horse Resort in Swan Lake and day hiked to Cold Lake in the Mission Mountains Wilderness, and Bond Creek Falls in the Swan Range the next day and followed up with a drive across the Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park.

We have a special place in our hearts for Laughing Horse and have been there frequently.

We always look for Spring and Fall specials and stay two nights that include a four-course meal with wine and dessert.  

Owner Kate Moon is an incredible chef who raises some of the fare she puts on plates and has spectacularly decorated the resort with work from local artists.  The outside commons is enlivened with the many plants and flowers she cultivates.  Inside there's a talking parrot and there are two large, beautiful     dogs that are hungry for pets and the food you might drop on the floor.

The highlight of our trip was the hiking and Katie chose two relatively short hikes that showed off the Mission and Swan mountain ranges.  Both hikes featured were ablaze with fall ground cover colors.  They are at their height.  The aspen and cottonwoods have a way to go yet before they peak, and of course, next month the west side will be awash in brilliant golden tamaracks (western larch).

On the way home we drove the Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park, the first time I did it this season.  I had avoided during the peak of the tourist season when permits were required.  While the traffic was steady it was broken up around Lake McDonald by traffic lights that spaced cars out pretty nicely.

The ground cover in the Apgar Mountains on the extreme west side of the park, were brilliant with deep reds, oranges and yellows.

We had a relatively mild day for our drive and the sky was a tad hazy from drifting wildfires, but a deep blue.

We did side hikes on the Avalanche Creek Trail of the Cedars and to Sun Point on St. Mary's Lake.  I had forgotten how special the Cedars Trail is, with its tall cedars and hemlock trees in deep shade punctuated by bright green moss on rocky outcrops.

Calf Creek in Little Belts
The Forest Service Calf Creek (rental) cabin

I continue to explore the Little Belts and looked around the Calf Creek Trail area not far from the Forest Service cabin.  Calf Creek is accessed off the the Moose Creek Road turnoff on US 89 where Tintina is proposing a large copper mine.
 
I wanted to have a look around at the cabin as well as if there were any new developments on the mine, which has been put on hold because of litigation alleging the state hadn't done a thorough job of asseing the environmental impacts of the mine.
 
The Calf Creek area is heavily grazed and the couple miles of trail I traveled showed it.  It follows a nice little stream with occasional outcrops in a tight, heavily timbered valley.

The road to the cabin and trailhead is quite good.



Katie and I at Cold Lake in the Mission Mountains Wilderness

Monday, September 19, 2022

Celebrating the Scapegoat Wilderness at 50

Atop the limestone reef

Looking back from Lewis and Clark Pass

The fireweed lit up the ground

A view Green Mountain from the top of Little Red Mountain

 Katie and I got roped into leading one of the official Wild Montana hikes celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Scapegoat Wilderness.

We took five hikers on the 10.5 miles Alice Creek Loop along the Continental Divide Trail near Lincoln.  I threw in an extra mile for those who wanted to look into the Scapegoat itself in the Silver King/Dearborn additions which were part added to the wilderness by the 2013 Heritage Act.

We were surprised by the fair weather and only hazy vistas after a week of intense wildfire smoke.  We were also blessed with cooler temperatures.

It is a hike that we take from time to time in area that had once been threatened by a copper mine.

The hike goes up an old mining road from the Alice Creek Campground for 4.5 miles, where it connects to the Continental Divide Trail.  Then it is a lovely walk east along the trail across a gorgeous limestone cliff, up the little Red Mountain, and down to Lewis and Clark Pass and out at the campground.

We were treated to vibrant Fall colors in the ground cover, particularly the reds of the fireweed, which was copious because much of the area had burned over the past five years.

I really dislike a particular patch of this hike, from Red Mountain down to Lewis and Clark Pass, where you can't avoid large, annoying rocks which made my feet sore.

Along the way we met a young couple resting on their way north to Canada on the Continental Divide Trail, which they hoped to complete in the next couple of weeks before the snows.

After the hike, Katie and I stopped in Lincoln and enjoyed a brief visit with folks at the Wild Montana festivities celebrating the Scapegoat's 50th.



 

 


Thursday, September 15, 2022

Big trip of summer: Glacier's Belly River

 

Crossing the longest suspended bridge in Glacier over the Belly River

On the way out we were approached by this bold fox

The crimson fireweed harkens the beginning of Autumn

Dawn Mist Falls on the South Belly is a beauty, like Katie

At our Glenn Lake campground below Pyramid Peak

It took a 600-foot rock scramble to reach Margaret Lake

Katie and Josie Maclean on the Margaret scramble

The many cascades of Mokowanis/Pyramid Falls

The thriving thimbleberry crop was shoulder high

We had smoke all the way, but it enhanced the sunsets

The intense heat brought with it fire and smoke.

I didn't get out much over the past couple of weeks, a short trip with Wayne Phillips where we found numerous varieties of wild berries on Crawford Creek in the Little Belts to celebrate his 81st birthday.

But, when we did get out we did it in a big way with a four-day backpack trip into Glacier National Park's Belly River in the park's extreme northeast corner along the Canadian border.

We had camp spots on Cosley Lake, the head of Glenn's Lake, and at Gable Creek near the scenic and historic Belly River Ranger Station.

We did side trips to Mokowanis Lake, the Mokowanis (Pyramid) Falls, a bushwhack to Margaret Lake that feeds the falls, Gros Ventre Falls, and Dawn Mist Falls up the South Fork Belly that's fed by Lake Elizabeth.

Three of us did all of this for 40-miles during the four days.

This was no group of youngsters, with four of our party of eight being over 70 (I was the oldest at 74). The youngest was 57, and the rest in their 60s.

One of the trip's highlights was Mick Taleff's humorous limericks.  I wish I had written them down or recorded them.

Unfortunately, we had a pretty heavy haze and smoke cover coming from fires in California and Oregon.  It distorted and obscured the scenery.

We were all awed by the high peaks and glaciers of this valley, even me, although I had been here more than a half-dozen times. Two of the park's 10,000 feet mountain peaks tower over it ---- Merritt and Cleveland, with Miche Waben checking in within feet of that height.

This is a valley of glacier fed lakes ---- Cosley, Glenns, Mokowanis, Stoney Indian, Elizabeth and Helen ---- accessible by trail.  And lakes like Margaret, Sue, Ipasha, Miche Waben that sit in alpine cirques perched in the high country.

You might note the numerous lakes named for women, reputed to be Joe Cosley's girlfriends.  This outlaw who poached, trapped and hunted where he built the first ranger cabin, was the valley's first ranger when Glacier became a national park in 1910.  Our group visited the ranger station which displays his photo and a section of an aspen tree with his initials carved into it.  There were believed to be many such trees in the area where he claimed to have buried an alleged  diamond ring that law enforcement agents could claim if they freed him after arrest.  It was a diamond ring he had promised Margaret, Elizabeth, Sue and Helen.

The highlight of the trip was making it to Margaret Lake above Mokowanis Falls and Lake.  It was a 600-feet bushwhack along side the Mokowanis cascades and then through a dry streambed deep in alder thickets and up through rock shelves.

Mokowanis Falls is really a series of cascades beginning with a spectacular falls in  red shale, followed by lesser, shallower falls, and climaxing in a tremendous drop of water from Margaret Lake.

Margaret Lake was like a vision of turquoise waters with a backdrop of long, thin waterfalls dropping into it from Sue and Ipasha lakes high above, which are fed by glaciers of the same name.  It was thrilling.

While we enjoyed Gros Ventre Falls coming in, and Dawn Mist Falls on the South Belly on separate hikes, Margaret Falls is incomparable for beauty, which raised the question for all of us, 'which is the park's most beautiful waterfall?' 

Depends on the eye of the beholder, I guess.

I think the only camping experience I've missed in the Belly country is Helen Lake.

Next year, maybe?

Thursday, September 01, 2022

Ending August in a whirlwind

I had exceptionally clear weather for my Scenic Point hike.  The reds in Rising Wolf Mountain really popped

The unnamed lake west of Looking Glass Highway Pass.

The entrance to Glacier Park from Looking Glass Highway on the Blackfeet Reservation

 Katie was out, off to Sperry Chalet and that left me with a lot of time on my hands in the past week.

I think I used it wisely, walking the River's Edge Trail to Mayhem gulch, hiking Glacier's Scenic Point mountain and hiking a ridge from Looking Glass Pass through the Blackfeet Reservation to an unnamed lake on the side of Spot Mountain, going to Memorial Falls in the Little Belts, visiting Newlan Reservoir, and two Castle Mountains campgrounds, soaking in the Hot Springs in White Sulphur, doing the Mount Ascension loop in Helena, and exploring the Benton Street Pioneer Cemetery there.

I even managed to squeeze in the Shakespeare in the Parks production of "Twelfth Night," in Conrad and "King Lear," in White Sulphur Springs.

Whew!  

Most I had done before.  The Looking Glass lake, and Newlan Reservoir were new to me.

I had skied to just shy of the lake a couple of winters ago.  I had driven past the Newlan turnoff on US89 many, many times in the past 50 years.

I was surprised how big the Newlan Reservoir is given how small the creek is.

It confirmed for me how varied and vast the Little Belt Mountains are.

The Looking Glass lake is accessed via a $10 Blackfeet conservation permit right from the Looking Glass pass.

Immediately off the pass there's a one-track, rutted road heading west.  That's what you want to follow.

The road goes up and down and I skirted large mud puddles that had collected in ruts.  At about a half mile the road breaks out onto a narrow open ridge with amazing views of the Two Medicine valley in the park.

It eventually comes to a barb wire fence line, which is the boundary between the reservation and park.  There's an opening in the fence that allows entrance to the park, where the road becomes a small trail.

I walked to the end of the ridge and below me was the lake at the foot of Spot Mountain.  The trail continues very steeply down to the lake, but I decided of going down, instead examining other routes through the trees to the north to the lake.

I can't imagine many non-tribal folks taking this trail, but I'll return.



Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Return to Buffalo Lakes on hot day


One of the lakes with views into Glacier Park

We ascended a ridge line above the lakes, walking a knife ridge down.

 We weren't looking for too much on our annual return to Buffalo Lakes in the Badger Two Medicine area of the Helena Lewis and Clark National Forest.

We had two west side friends who had never been to this spot in Blackfeet territory immediately west of East Glacier Park along the Lubec Ridge.

We did about 4.5 miles and 1,000 feet on this short hike that took us to the lakes, which have receded considerably during this dry time of summer.

Katie suggested that we get up on the ridge line just south of most southerly lake, and we had a nice ridge walk on a knife ridge.

A highlight of the hike are the views to the north into Glacier National Park.

Surprisingly, there were still considerable wildflowers out, particularly Indian Paintbrush.  We saw moose sign and enjoyed the sight of a large beaver lodge on one of the lakes.

Afterwards we stopped in Browning at the Museum of the Plains Indian which is featuring a Rinold Weiss exhibit.  He was an early 20th Century artist who did remarkable paintings of Blackfeet.  There is an exhibit now in Great Falls of Reiss Blackfeet portraits at the C.M. Russell Museum.


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

High (hot) summer: Clark Fork Gorge, Grant Ridge Traverse, Sluice Boxes

 

Enjoying an escape from the heat on a float through the Clark Fork Gorge west of Missoula

Looking back on the glacier beneath Mount Grant in the Great Bear Wilderness

One of the 16 crossings on Belt Creek in the Sluice Boxes State Park

The pace of summer has quickened even as the temperatures have risen into day-after-day 90s.

We've tried to cool off with a float down the Clark Fork River west of Missoula, and a walk down Belt Creek in the Sluice Boxes.  Luckily, we had shade much of the way during a Grant Ridge Traverse in the Great Bear Wilderness.

I don't recall a summer as consistently hot as this one, so we've had to pick and choose the days we get out and hope we don't miss some cool weather in the high country.

We had done the Clark Fork Gorge several years ago, but this time we used a different vendor and we took several more hours, making it a leisurely float.  We were blessed with a young guide, River Nizzo of Missoula, a recent UM grad, who made the trip exceptionally fun and interesting by pointing out geological features and the wildlife.  We saw numerous bald eagles along the way.

I've loved this 10-mile Grant Ridge Traverse over the years.  This hike gains 3,600 feet along the way.

This year's hike was a bit more arduous because the first three miles up the trail up from the Stanton Creek crossing was littered with downed trees, many of them quite large.  That meant we moved at a crawl --- less than a mile an hour fighting the deadfall.  It was so bad that I lost my $200 camera along the way.  The huckleberries and thimbleberries were ripe and handy and very tasty.  For me the highlight of this hike is getting to the top of ridgelines to view the Grant Mountain ridge, the Grant Peak and Stanton glaciers and terrific views into Glacier National Park, views dominated by Mount Stimson and the Mount St. Nicholas matterhorn.

While the park is overcrowded with tourists queuing up for drive-throughs and hikes, beyond the Stanton Lake turnoff in the first mile we saw only one other couple during our trip.

We capped off the week with the 7-mile Sluice Boxes State Park hike through the Belt Creek limestone canyon.  It had been many years since my last trip through, although I take many short trips into this area, only a 25-minute drive from Great Falls. 

Since my last hike there the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has improved the trail system, marking a clear route where there had been many confusing social trails previously.  Of great help was marking each stream crossing, and there are 16 of them, with a number.  So when, say, you've reached crossing No. 9, you know you have 7 to go.  My only criticism of the trail is that in a number of places it is quite steep and an older person like me had to be very careful going down.  I was dismayed that the spotted knapweed noxious weed had become prevalent throughout. Poison ivy was everywhere prompting my wife to say she probably won't return for the full walk-through.  The shuttle road from the Riceville trailhead to the Logging Creek bridge was in excellent condition.  The water was warm and relatively shallow.  The deep green pools looked to be excellent for fishing or swimming.  The only people we encountered were at the Albright ghost town, who had come down from a private ranch on Highway 89.  They were being led by a guide from the new luxury subdivision Ranches on Belt Creek.  They were paying handsomely for what we were doing free!

A return to Grant ridge

Four days after doing the full Grant Ridge Traverse, I returned by myself to hunt for my camera, going to the spot where I realized it had been lost.

This time I counted the downed trees across the trail ---- some 60 of them (120 considering I turned around and came back down).

I had no luck despite a thorough search.

I'm convinced someone came later, found the camera and took it.  Oh, well.  Perhaps this is my payback for finding and keeping an expensive set of field glasses in the Little Belts.

Of course I enjoyed just being in wilderness, but the Great Bear is especially precious with its Big River (Middle Fork) Flathead, glaciers like Stanton, Great Northern, and Grant, high peaks walkable by connecting ridgelines, alpine lakes, abundant huckleberries and thimbleberries, and I could go on.

I wish I had done a better job exploring this amazing place when I was younger and stronger than I am now.



Sunday, August 07, 2022

Comparing Waterton and Glacier national parks

At the Alderson-Carthew pass our group is beaten up by high winds

At the pass the Carthew Lakes play out below us
 

Alderson Lake tucked into a cirque

Lush vegetation resulting from the Kenow Fire envelops hikers

A Chinook Arch above Waterton Lake greeted us

Carcajou Lake below Chapman Peak in Glacier

Laurie Lintner above colorful rock on Piegan Pass hike near Morning 
Eagle Falls

A mountain goat greeted us near Feather Woman Falls

 For the second time this summer we did trips to Glacier National Park and its Canadian sister, Waterton giving us another chance to compare parks.

Both involved long, traditional hikes and amazing scenery.

The big difference between the parks seems to be crowd management.

Glacier has an overrun feeling.

Waterton, despite its proximity to Calgary and its 2 million people and nearby Lethbridge with its 105,000, has somehow figured out crowd and trail control.

No trail "jams" at Waterton like you get on the Iceberg/Ptarmigan Tunnel trails.

Parking is no problem in Canada as it is at all Glacier's popular trails.

The main drag in Waterton has been blocked to traffic and people stroll casually through the business district without having to dodge cars like you do in West Glacier or even St. Mary on the American side.

I ferried Katie and five of her friends to the Siyeh Bend trailhead where they began the 13 mile hike across Piegan Pass to Many Glacier Lodge.  I zipped back around from Going to the Sun Highway to Many Glacier and with some difficulty found parking at the lodge trailhead to Piegan despite it being only 9:30 a.m.  I was able to get some 7 miles up the trail, above Morning Eagle Falls, where I met Katie and the girls and we hiked back to the lodge together with a side trip to Grinnell Lake.  The day was roastingly hot, but I put in some 14 miles on my end of the hike.  

Two days later we went to Waterton Lakes National Park west of Cardston, Alberta for a two-night stay and a chance to do the 12-mile Alderson-Carthew walk-through.  I would describe this hike as Waterton's answer to Dawson-Pitamakan in Glacier's Two Medicine Valley.  Both are long hikes with lots of elevation gain and loss through mountain passes and past alpine lakes nestled in glacial cirques. 

What interested me most on Alderson-Carthew was how the forest is doing in the aftermath of the 2017 Kenow Fire that burned 40 percent of the park ---- 46,000 acres ---- closing the park's trails while crews cleared burned trees.  This would be my fourth time through this wonderful hike.

We found the trails beautiful because the fire had cleared the views.  The vegetation was particularly phenomenal growing above my shoulders in many spots.

What we weren't prepared for were the fierce winds --- up to 60 mph --- that hammered us after reaching the high pass and continuing to buffet us until we descended a couple of thousand feet into the dense forest.

The hikers along this trail were pretty well spread out.  The Tamarack outdoors store runs a bus from Waterton to the Cameron Lake trailhead twice each morning, 7:30 and 9:30 a.m.


My only complaint was with what appeared to be a family group that said they were from Lethbridge who ran down the trail from the pass to the lakes, some in birkenstock sandals (!) and at a relatively scary snowbank over a piece of the lake hogged the passage and two of the young men slid down the snow into the lake and got up and repeated it, making the snow super slippery for those of us who had to cross it and didn't want to go into the lake.  This was bad behavior and disrespectful to other hikers and the whole outdoor experience. 

Katie waits for her turn across the snowfield during bad behavior from Lethbridge hikers.  Look in water.
  




Friday, July 29, 2022

Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Scapegoat Wilderness Area

 

Heart Lake with Red Mountain in background

Enjoying the red at top of Red Mountains (and the views, too)

The obligatory 'entering the wilderness' sign

The Ranger Station at Webb Lake

Katie celebrating at top of Red Mountain

Katie pauses on the trail

It was 50 years ago that Congress added the Scapegoat to the National Wilderness System, significant because it resulted from a citizen-led group that had opposed Forest Service plans to log, road and otherwise develop the area near Lincoln.

  Here is a link about that fight for preservation of this 225,000 acres area south of the Bob Marshall Wilderness along the Continental Divide:  https://books.google.de/books?id=FJ5voW8EAcoC&lpg=PA27&dq=quote%2C%20cecil%20garland&pg=PA27#v=onepage&q=quote,%20cecil%20garland&f=false 

 To celebrate this anniversary Katie and I did a three-day backpack trip from Indian Meadows to a camp between Heart and Webb lakes and climbed Red Mountain, at 9,411 feet the highest point in the Scapegoat, and the Bob Marshall Complex of wilderness areas.

It was particularly significant to me because my bosses at the Great Falls Tribune had sent me into this particular part of the Scapegoat 48 years ago to familiarize our readers with this new wilderness area.

Since that original trip I've returned to the Scapegoat numerous times and climbed Red Mountain many times but from different approaches than the one we used in 1974.

Time can play tricks on your mind after so many years.  I don't remember much about that original climb.  The route to Red Mountain is on FS Trail 223, which I gather was constructed for and used by packers supplying a lookout post on the mountain, long since removed.  The Forest Service has done a nice job keeping the trail clear, but in spots it is a trace, particularly below the summit cap.

When we got to that cap, almost on cue about nine mountain goats appeared.  On other occasions I've seen as many as 19 goats in this spot.

The wildflowers on the way up were glorious, particularly the purple silky phacelia that carpeted the path.

While a bit hazy from fires to the south, the views from the top were exceptional and it was fun to pick out the mountains of the Rocky Mountain Front from behind --- like Sawtooth and Steamboat.  Scapegoat peak was particularly prominent, and of course there were the Swans, Silvertip and Great Northern to the west and north.

We stayed at a hunters camp and in the middle of the first night were awakened by critters that chewed holes in our tent's netting, which I had to patch when we got home.

That first day we took a side trip to Webb Lake after supper.  There's a Forest Service cabin there.  Red Mountain was visible from the lake's shore trail.  It would have been a nice place to camp.

We walked out the third day via Heart Lake, an absolute gem with turquoise, deep water.  There was only one camp there, and a fisherman said he had caught a grayling on a spinner there.

In retrospect, I wish we had camped there a night.  There's always next time.

At about 5 a.m. on the day of our departure, Katie heard a bell clanking on the trail above our camp and we noted that at least one horse had come by.  Just as we were ready to depart three hours later a young man on a horse was going quickly up the trail in pursuit of horses that had escaped a camp 8 miles above us, or 14 miles from the trailhead.

As we got near the trailhead that man had two horses stringing behind him and told us that he had to return to the Meadow Creek camp, break it down and come back out that day.  That would be 42 miles of riding in one day!

The only other people we saw during that three days were several day trippers on horseback, and hikers coming out of the Landers Fork area.  The horses have beat up the trails pretty badly.

This part of the Scapegoat was pretty empty, thank goodness.

Because I didn't remember a lot about my trip years ago, this area was a fresh experience.

There will be a 50th anniversary celebration in Lincoln Sept. 16-17.