Lime Gulch is a gorgeous, if often ignored Rocky Mountain Front destination.
It is located just up the Willow-Beaver Creek Road from the Girl Scouts' Camp Scoutana.
There's a well-marked trailhead sign for Trail No. 267 on the Helena Lewis and Clark National Forest.
We wound up there on Wednesday because we were looking for a place to hike on the Front after a major snowstorm. I figured with its south and west facing slopes it would have scant snow, and that turned out to be the case.
While I have made several other trips to this gulch, it had been 16 years since I last walked the high ridge flanking the east side of it.
I didn't remember much about that trip, taken during an extremely open 2005 winter day in February.
What was interesting about our hike Wednesday was the ease with which we could reach the ridge line, and a discovery (for me) that there is another wonderful trail that travels above the bottom-hugging Lime Gulch Trail.
We parked at the trailhead and walked roughly half of a mile to where the trail turns north up the gulch. Instead of following it, we continued toward that east ridge and after jumping across a small stream found a good path that zig-zagged to the top of the ridge, just opposite the McCarty Hill cliffs.
It was about a mile and a 600 feet elevation gain to the ridge line.
The views on this open hike were immediately remarkable --- of McCarty, the wall on the west side of Lime Gulch and Fairview Mountain beyond.
The long walk across the top of the ridge was typical Sawtooth Range hiking, jumbled limestone.
There's still good snow in the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall wilderness areas, which are visible from this ridge. We were also entertained by views of mountains like Castle Reef and Sawtooth, from aspects to which we aren't accustomed.
We hit small patches of snow. At one of them near our lunch stop we noticed numerous grizzly bear tracks. We practiced our bear spray quick draw at this point.
We walked north along the entire ridge, descending steeply to the Cut Reef trail, which connects to the Lime Gulch Trail.
We crossed a large snow field and my inclination was to head straight down the gulch along the bottom as I've done on other occasions. My partners had other ideas, spying a high and well used trail above that which weaves in out of the trees and through snow patches. We found snowshoe tracks.
We followed the trail all the way out to where it joined the creek bottom not far from the trailhead. It is not marked and you wouldn't know it was there, unlike the trail that runs up Lime Gulch bottom.
I'd have to say that I liked this high trail better than the 267 bottom trail. I suspect it is an old hunter's trail that the Forest Service is not maintaining.
With the discovery of the good trail up the east ridge and the high trail above Lime Gulch this trip was a great exploratory venture.
My GPS showed an 8.1 miles hike with a gain and loss of more than 2,500 feet of elevation. Our high point was 7,485 feet, although Mark Hertenstein recorded 7,500 feet on his GPS.
|Gordon Whirry imposed our route in purple over an earlier hike up Trail 267 in black to show the relationship of the upper and lower Lime Gulch Trails|
|My GPS recording of the trip|