Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Alpine flowers spectacle at Rogers Pass


The Forget Me Nots and Yellowstone Draba remind me of the Ukrainian flag

Gordon Whirry approaching the top of Rodgers Peak

Bagging Rittel Peak

The pink Douglasia climbing the hill

Great Falls folks don't appreciate or really know that they have a world class hiking trail just an hour's drive away.

We confirmed that Tuesday on a walk to the east from Rogers Pass along the Continental Pass to Rittel Peak (elevation: 6,939 feet).

Not only is hiking spectacular along the Continental Divide, but the alpine flowers, the pink Douglasia, the yellow Yellowstone Draba and the blue Forget-Me-Not, put on quite a show.

I wonder if Global Warming had anything to do with it, but this show seems early.

In years past I've recommended seeing the alpine bloom around Father's Day.

This floral display was highlighted by dapplings of snow that enhanced the alpine scenery.

As usual, this stretch of trail (we went out 4 miles south along this spine), was nearly empty.

Early on, we saw two hikers and a dog in front of us, but they must have turned  back.

That was it.

We also climbed Rodgers Peak (elevation: 7,002 feet).

These past eight days have been a great tuneup for hiking season.  I did the Spring Gulch into the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness twice, and this hike.  All were about 8.3 miles and 2,600 feet in elevation gain and loss.

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Spring is here and lots of hikes: Indian Head, Sentinel, Missoula Waterworks, Rogers Pass, Cochrane Dam, Spring Gulch in Gates

In the Gates of the Mountains descending to Colter Campground

On top of Mount Sentinel above the city of Missoula a wind sailor readies his craft

An alpine bouquet atop Rogers Pass on the Continental Divide Trail

Thank God I startled a big bull snake, not a rattler on my hike to Cochrane Dam

 I haven't been posting, but I've been plenty busy hiking as Spring settles in.

The weather has been pretty mild, with the exception of snowstorms in the mountains, one of which knocked down lots of trees in the Belt Creek Canyon between Monarch and Neihart.

Over the past three weeks I've hiked Indian Head Rock in the Front where we saw tons of early alpine flowers, two Missoula trips to do Mount Sentinel and the Waterworks Trail, Rogers Pass for more alpine flowers, a hike out to Cochrane Dam, and my favorite, the Spring Creek Trail in the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness Area.

It seems as though the alpine flowers are ahead of schedule.  We've seen Yellowstone draba, Douglasia, and Forget-Me-Nots, weeks ahead of schedule.  The ticks have been out on schedule, though, and I got a good bite on my lower right side above my hip.

I was pleased I could still climb up Mount Sentinel's 1,930 feet in just under an hour, several minutes faster than last year's annual climb.

It had been nearly 25 years since I had done the Spring Gulch hike in the Gates. Then, it was memorable not only for the scenery but because it was the first time I had used hiking poles.  Our 8.3 miles trip yesterday from the gulch to the Colter Campground on the Missouri and back was spectacular for the rugged limestone cliffs and numerous wildflowers.  I reconnected on that hike with the Helena Outdoor Club, which I had hiked with on and off again going back some 50 years!  I never hike without hiking poles now.

I am working very hard to get this 76-year-old body in shape for several backpack trips this summer, and if these hikes are an indicator, it looks as though I'll probably be able to do them.  

Willow Creek/Fairview Mountain is one of my favorite hikes on the Front.  The lack of snow there is scary.  On our April 24 hike, we could have climbed a clear Fairview Mountain had we wanted.

The Missoula Waterworks Trail was new to me. It is a high ridge that sits above Rattlesnake Creek with great views of the Rattlesnake Wilderness.

On the way home we stopped at Rogers Pass and climbed to the ridge to the west along the Continental Divide and were richly rewarded with early alpine flowers.  Likewise, the ridge to the east leading up to Rodgers Peak is clear.

We took a short day hike to the top of Indian Head Rock in the Front with friend Laurie Lintner and were delighted with early alpine flowers, but unsettled by the lack of snow.

I've been frequenting the South Shore of the River's Edge Trail and for the first time in about five years did the Cochrane Dam 7-miler, enjoying prairie wildflowers and below me a high Missouri River, swollen with snow melt.

Monday, April 29, 2024

Hitting the ground running: Trout Creek Canyon, Willow Creek Falls, Calgary, Head Smashed In

Walking the Willow Creek Falls Trail

The early Pasque flowers

Calgary's new Central Library's futuristic design

Calgary's powerful skyline

The Stephen Avenue walking mall in Downtown Calgary 

 We've been back from the UK and Ireland just a week and in that time we've been moving quickly.

We went for a look at the Trout Creek Canyon near York for the kelsea (a failure), a hike to the Willow Creek Falls on the Front (a great success), off to Calgary for a birthday celebration at the opera (failure), a visit to the spectacular library, and a play (both successes) and our first visit to Alberta's Head Smashed In buffalo jump, a UNESCO World Heritage Site (a great success). 

It would be hard to beat Willow Creek.  While it appeared to have a lot of snow, it didn't and we could proceed to the Red Hill, which we ascended several hundred feet.  Along the way we were treated to an early show of alpine wildflowers:  Pasque, Douglasia, Yellowstone Draba, buttercups, and even Glacier lilies.  The Front appears to have scant snowpack this time of year portending potential fire danger this summer.

We failed to find kelsea in bloom at Trout Creek, although it was greening up.  Nonetheless, the trip there is always rewarding with a trail that wends its way through steep limestone walls.

We've so enjoyed our local buffalo jump, the First Peoples Buffalo Jump near Ulm, that we detoured on the way back from Calgary to see the Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump, which is much more developed and highly preserved.  The jump center hikes up four floors of stairs to the top of the site, which draws views of Glacier, Waterton and the Canadian Rockies in the distance.  The walk down through the center is past highly developed exhibits explaining the buffalo jump and the centrality of the bison to the native culture. Our First People's site is the largest buffalo jump in the world, according to Wikipedia.  Why wouldn't it rate a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation as well.  Katie and I thought we'd bring up the topic with local tourism officials.

Covid had erased our regular visits to Calgary these past four years, so it was great to be back.

It was my 76th birthday present and included tickets to the Calgary Opera Company's presentation of Wagner's Ring Cycle prelude:  Das Rheingold.  I had been thrilled by a Chicago Lyric Opera production about 10 years ago.  I wasn't so thrilled this year. What ruined it for me was the set.  The orchestra performed on stage, and much of the action --- the Rhein Maidens, the Niebelungen --- performed in the orchestra pit which was almost impossible to view.  Calgary's Jubilee Auditorium is not a particularly great place for views to begin with.  The costuming was Star Wars knockoff, and digital light backdrops, cartoonish in nature, turned me off.  The orchestra and singers performed well, but I was far too distracted by the set and costuming to enjoy the show.

The trip was redeemed by the next day that included a visit to Calgary's new(2018)  $245 million Central Public Library, a visit to the Mountain Equipment Coop store, and an original Calgary play at Theatre Calgary of the life of American sculptress Selma Burke, which was quite good.  Burke did a sculpture of FDR that was used on the U.S. dime.

At nearly 2 million people, Calgary is growing rapidly.  My first visit was exactly 50 years ago and the population then was 443,000.   That's a growth of almost 5 times!   Driving to our hotel at the airport we were in four to eight lanes of traffic.  The Deerfoot Trail was packed any time of day or night we got on it.  I was totally intimidated.  

Luckily, the city's amenities make up for its congestion.  We enjoyed our time on the walking mall, and a chance to sample many kinds of ethnic foods.  Most impressive is the variety of the city's skyscrapers, and public buildings.  The library was a prime example. The buildings now dwarf the Calgary Tower, which when I first visited, was the tallest building in downtown Calgary.  The city is down right beautiful architecturally.

My intimidation will probably reduce the frequency of my visits in the future.

The Head Smashed In Buffalo Jump center near Fort McLeod, Alberta

At the buffalo jump.  This will have to serve as my 76th birthday official photo

The buffalo jump terrain

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

A trek to UK, Ireland and London


Katie climbing Arthur's Chair in Edinbrough, Scotland

No explanation needed for this London icon

On Hadrian's Wall in England

Stonehenge is a thrilling experience

On Westminster Bridge with Big Ben and the House of Parliament as a backdrop

I guess I would consider this trip to the U.K. and Ireland as a means to fill in some gaps in my education.

It was a must do given my country's history and tight relationship with Britain.

Our first nine days were spent on a Globus tour of England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland and Northern Island.  That left us 6 days to explore London.  Our tour guide, a native of Northern Ireland, was exceptional. 

London is overwhelming, even for this kid brought up in the Chicago suburb of Hammond, IN.  Very, very expensive place to be.

Maybe it's the past 51 years spent in Montana's splendid rural isolation.

I was blown away by number of people stacked in London's gargantuan Georgian and Victorian high-rise apartments.

The traffic is dizzying, particularly around the must-see tourist attractions and museums. At every stop we were occupied by the many many, mostly-free high quality museums.

Thank goodness for the remarkably workable public transportation.  It helped that many of the attractions are clustered together and were easy to reach on foot.

Some random takeaways:

  • I have a deeper appreciation of Ireland's historic beef with Britain.  I had expected more of the city of Dublin, which was overrun by tourists, and not particularly architecturally appealing,  I really liked the town of Waterford, the site of the renowned crystal manufacturer and home of Irish revolutionary Thomas Meagher, who was a Montana territorial governor.  The statue of Meagher on his horse is a replica of the one in front of Montana's state capitol.  We were very impressed with the St. Patrick's National Cathedral, oddly enough a Protestant church in this overwhelmingly Catholic country.
  • Northern Ireland has rebuilt beautifully since the peace settlement.  I wished we had spent more time there.
  • Edinburgh, Scotland was my favorite city for its architecture, castle and scenery.  We spent one afternoon climbing the Arthur's Chair Crag (mountain) that overlooks this amazing city.
  • The historic and well-preserved city of Bath, with its namesake mineral hot baths was a big surprise.  It brought into focus for me the Roman influence on Britain.  It didn't take a sharp eye to notice those influences.  We made a stop at remnants of Hardrian's Wall that Romans built across England from sea to sea to stop the Scots.  The city of York is surrounded by a centuries old, intact Roman wall, as is Bath
  • We visited the castle in Cardiff, Wales to learn about the fiercely independent Welsh. Here we first encountered the environmental and economic devastation coal has wrought.  Buildings still look dirty black despite efforts to clean them.  Wales will need to adjust as coal is taken out of its employment equation.  Although buildings have been scrubbed, much soot remains.  We saw this in communities throughout our trip.
  • It would take a life time to cover all the museums in these countries with such long histories.  In London alone we did the Imperial War Museum, the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, Tate Modern art museum, the National Gallery, the Science Museum, the Natural History Museum, and the British Museum.  We also toured Westminster Abbey.  In Cardiff we visited the castle; in Waterford, the glass factory; in Dublin, the national gallery, and Trinity College; in Edinburgh, the national gallery and castle with its Royal Walk.  Goodness, there was much more.  My favorite:  the Tate Modern.  My favorite church:  Westminster
  • We visited Stonehenge and were impressed with efforts made there to keep tourists from over running the place.  Still, there were pretty good crowds on this early April visit.  You get the sense while visiting of something deeply spiritual and religious to the site where these giant stones were dragged and stacked and aligned with the movement of the sun and moon.  I was irritated by all the "selfie" taking folks who treated the visit lightly and as only a photo op (of themselves).
  • Unfortunately, we had time for only one play in London's West End --- "The Book of Mormon" --- which we found highly entertaining if pretty gross.  We could have gone to a different theater production every day of the week for more than a month.  Katie would have liked a play at the Globe or National Theatre if we had the time.  We did take a stop at Stratford Upon-Avon for our taste of Shakespeare's birthplace, but I found it too touristy and overrun.  I would have liked to attend a classical music concert or opera, but again, no time.
  • All the countries and cities have pub cultures, but none so robust as in Ireland, where Guinness is everywhere, and where the brewery is the biggest employer and omnipresent philanthropist.
  • The scenery outside of London and the major cities is bucolic and green beyond green.  While Montana has cattle, the British Isles have sheep.  Much of the scenery reminded me of the Midwest, except for Scotland, where the landscape pitches, rolls and rises to mountains.
  • Food?  London has every kind of food imagineable, and we sampled Tunisian, Thai, Lebanese, Italian and good old-fashioned English pub food, where I had my favorite meal on the trip --- a vegetarian lentil-based pie.  In the country-side, I found the food unimpressive.
  • Lodging.  We stayed in old, historic hotels in Waterford, Ireland, Edinburgh, Our place in London was a chopped up Georgian building apartment where it was tough to turn around for lack of space. It's location was ideal, though, close to all of the Victoria Station transportation options.
Would I go back?  Probably not.  I prefer the more exotic eastern European destinations, but Edinburgh and London were worth the whole trip.
Was the trip a success?  Absolutely.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

Hiking Sluice Boxes, Mount Helena


The first Douglasia alpine flowers we found on Mount Helena

Near the top of Mount Helena with controlled burn behind us

The waterfall at the start of the Sluice Boxes cliff trail

Pasque flowers at Sluice Boxes

Low water rimmed by ice on Belt Creek at Sluice Boxes

The overlook at the tunnel

Our first buttercups

Low, clear water on Belt Creek in Sluice Boxes

This is shoulder season, and while there is skiable snow in some places, we start looking around for places to hike.

We took the scenic drive to Helena and hiked up Mount Helena, and the following day traveled the short distance to the Sluice Boxes State Park where we walked to the train tunnel, dodging some ice and spots of slick trail.

In both spots we saw the first signs of real spring ---- alpine flowers:  pasque, douglasia, buttercups and prairie smoke.

And, on our hike through the Sluice Boxes we encountered rain rather than snowfall.

In Helena we walked upwind from a controlled burn in the Helena National Forest just south of Mount Helena.  It fouled the air through most of the Helena Valley, but we were clear on the mountain.

There's a major snowstorm predicted for the weekend, so I haven't put up my skis yet, but there are hopeful signs of spring all around us.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

A sunrise, the birds, Glacier Two Med hike

Katie and me at Two Medicine Lake

Sawtooth Mountain in alpine glow at Freezout Lake

Walking through the Two Medicine entrance

Plowing the Scenic Point trailhead parking lot at Glacier

The camp store at Two Med Lake

We had a magical day beginning with a Rocky Mountain Front sunrise that lit up the mountains in alpine glow.

That was followed by a show of migrating snow geese, arctic and Tundra swans at Freezout Lake, and finally a snowy hike to Two Medicine Lake in Glacier Park.

The alpine glow along the Rocky Mountain Front is a regular event, but one that forgotten by many of us in urban Montana.  Yet, once experienced it is unforgettable.  It is out of sight and out of mind.

The annual late-March migration of the snow geese and swans is an amazing spectacle, also unforgettable, but when witnessed at Freezout Lake between Fairfield and Choteau, allows viewers to witness the sunrise on the Front.

It's a tremendous combination.

We were able to do this on our way to Glacier Park for a day of hiking (in the snow).

We're told there were 100,000 birds on Freezout on Wednesday, the day we went through.  It was our fourth trip to the lake to see an unusually high number of birds this year.  We also saw large numbers at Benton Lake just outside Great Falls.

At Glacier we brought our snowshoes, but didn't have to use them.

Plowing of the road to Two Med is underway, leaving an open road most of the way, and a road easy to navigate with our ice cleats.

The weather was unsettled, but that only made the scenery better.

Usually at this time of year the road is still snow covered and easy to ski.

But we didn't have that option because of the dry winter and reduced snowpack.

We were able to walk directly to the lake from where the road was blocked just before the Two Med park entrance.

Aside from Park snowplow work crews we saw only one other person, the Belly River Ranger, Matthew, who biked up the road on his fat-tire bike.

After the lake we did a side trip to Pray Lake.

The snowpack situation is scary for the summer ahead.  It is too late for much of a recovery.

We're expecting big fires this summer.



Sunday, March 24, 2024

Tundra geese arrive, Kings Hill loop

Everywhere in sight were Tundra Swans at Benton Lake 

A clear day with Showdown in the distance 

Small sampling of swans at Freezout Lake 

 A sure sign of Spring is the arrival of the migrating snow geese and Tundra Swans.

The snow geese are coming in slowly, the swans in mass.

We've seen more swans on Benton Lake Wildlife Management Area, about seven miles north and west of Great Falls, than at any time in memory.  There are many at Freezout Lake on the Rocky Mountain Front as well.

Our only hiking foray was a four mile loop to the top of Kings Hill from the pass cabin to the so-called "G" trail up to the top of the Kings Hill ridge, past the Weatherwax bowls to the Kings Hill summit itself, and then back down the Deadman Road.

The day couldn't have been more bluebird that brought out distant mountain ranges in every direction.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Spring skiing in Glacier

That's Rising Wolf Mountain behind me

The Two Med valley below us

The "entry" gate to Glacier Park accessed from Looking Glass Pass

 An annual rite is a late winter/early spring backcountry ski trip in Glacier.

We couldn't have picked a more perfect day than Thursday, March 14.

There was still good snow from an earlier dump in the week, the sky was bright blue and lined with fluffy white clouds and shockingly, there was scant wind.

We did the Looking Glass Pass Road outside East Glacier Park, and at the pass veered on a ridge to an entry point into the park through a barbed wire fence at the base of Spot Mountain.

As in Waterton last week, we had clear visibility and the new snow made the mountains pop, especially Rising Wolf peak, the big guy in the Two Med Valley.

The snow, while hard when we started in 17 degree weather, loosened up and we had to apply glide wax to keep our skis from clumping with school.

I was joined by East Glacier Park residents Laurie Lintner and John Schmidt. 

We covered 9.3 miles and gained and lost about 1,400 feet along the way.

The ski down was particularly quick and easy because of the spring snow.

We were on our alert for grizzlies, but saw signs only of elk and moose along the way.

I will never understand this east side of the park is neglected by the Park Service.  This Looking Glass Pass road offers great skiing and ever greater views of the Two Med and the Rocky Mountain Front's Badger-Two  Med country.  The East Glacier Mercantile and the local gas station convenience store and  a motel are the only services open, and the road to the Two Med Park entrance is unplowed.

Saturday, March 09, 2024

Real winter at Waterton


For the second consecutive year we broke up winter with a trip to Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta at the Kilmorey Lodge.

While Great Falls was losing its snow to a Chinook, Waterton was locked in ice cold temperatures.

However, our second day in the skies cleared and we had radiant sunshine which made our skiing and snow shoeing even more enjoyable.

I found it remarkable that the wonderful lodge was nearly empty and that we could be the only people in its upscale restaurant during meals.

We arrived in an ice-cold inversion with temperatures in the minus 10 range and high winds.

Even in the bitter cold we found roofers atop the Prince of Wales Lodge hard at work.

We snow shoed up a trail to the lodge to have a look.

It appears as though a work crew is being housed in this scenic lodge while it works on the roof.

The following day the brilliant sunshine lured us out for some cross country skiing.

We drove up the Akamina Parkway that had been plowed out to about 1.8 miles from Cameron Lake where we began our ski at Little Prairie.

When we started there was no one around.

There were nice ski and shoe tracks all the way to the lake on the road.

The bluebird skies and good snow made for a perfect day.

When we got to the lake that borders the U.S., we found that the Canadian Park Service employees doing avalanche measurements had taken a snowmobile out onto the lake itself.  So we did, too,  reasoning that the ice held the snowmobiles quite well.  The snow covered mountains around us were stupendous.

Cameron Lake is an area where Alberta, British Columbia and Montana and Glacier Park with Waterton border one another.

After a skiing back to Cameron Lake trailhead, we decided to take a trail along the creek rather than the road  back to our car because it passed by Akamina Lake.  It was a good choice.

When we got back to the lodge we tried to walk along Waterton Lake, but found the unplowed walkways too much of an obstacle.  

Back at the lodge, the pub was filling up and a "Trivia Night," for guests and locals commenced.  It really enlivened the place.

The food at the lodge was pretty good, but pricey.  The pub food, though, was more reasonable and there was a good selection.

I'm at a loss why there weren't more people using the lodge and skiing or snow shoeing.  There are a couple of other lodging choices there that were empty, too.

In the morning we headed back home, stopping as we had done on the way out not far from the border crossing at Carway/Piegan where there's a pullout for viewing the impressive Chief Mountain shard.  Blackfeet and private buffalo herds graze with the mountain as a backdrop.

In that area we saw several coyotes and bald eagles that we were told were migrating north.

Waterton is a terrific winter break spot.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

O'Brien Creek: the old reliable

Skiing in a winter wonderland

Jasmine Krotkov in the O'Brien willows

Yes, the creek showed in spots.

 Showdown trumpeted 11 inches overnight, so of course I had to go check it out.

Our plan was to go down O'Brien Creek from Kings Hill Pass to the town of Neihart, expecting to break snow all the way.

What we found was a great track with a couple of inches of powder and some of the best conditions we've had on this 7-mile back country ski in years.  The snow bridges were wonderful, and no snowmobiles had been over the lower stretch.

We covered the route in just under four hours, without any rushing.

I marveled at the regrowth of trees in this area.  I've been skiing it for 43 seasons, starting in 1981, not long after the head of the area had been clearcut and returning trees were hardly knee high.

Now there's a true forest of trees rising to above 30 feet.

And, how things have changed.  Traditionally the half-way point of the trip was an old cabin mid-way through the willows-bottom.

Now, you have to know what you're looking for to find the few timbers of the structure that remain.

Jasmine Krotkov had seen a couple of antlered moose in those willows just a week ago, so we were on high alert, hoping to see those creatures.

No luck, despite seeing ample evidence that they had been stomping through the snow.

One great improvement to the trip is that a road is plowed from the highway to the town water treatment plant.  That saves at least a half-mile of skiing on gravelly and very icy snow.  We parked a car at that plant.

While the winter has produced questionable snow, I've now done the Big 3 back country trails that start at Kings Hill Pass --- Ranch Creek, Deadman and now O'Brien.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Winter slips away: 747, Deadman, snow shoeing on Middle Fork Judith


This has been one of my  poorest back country ski seasons.

There is snow up there, finally, but its quality and quality are questionable, and the warmer weather is melting what remains.

In the past couple of weeks I've skied the 747 loop, and Deadman, and snowshoed the Middle Fork of the Judith Wilderness Study Area a ways.

The 747 Loop had the most consistent snow.  We picked up tons of snow on the bottom of our skis on Deadman, and the snow (and ice) were melting on the Middle Fork.

I enjoyed the Middle Fork snowshoe trip the most, partly because we shoed directly on the ice-bound river itself, and partly because I love the area so much.   This was a part of Wild Montana's winter snow shoe program.

The Middle Fork WSA is threatened because U.S. Sen. Steve Daines wants to the release the area for management by the Forest Service, potentially threatening the areas' wild character. 

The Middle Fork showed through the ice in only two small spots.  Otherwise, it supported the weight of the group of 13 snow-shoers quite well.

We shoed parallel to a good cross country ski track.   Seeing that, I wished I had tried to ski the Middle Fork before.  Noted.

I've seen robins and flickers in my yard and friends have seen meadowlarks.

Other migrating birds are more noticeable now, too.