Thursday, June 01, 2023

Wildflower heaven: Highwoods (Shonkin, Center Ridge), Pioneer Ridge, Rogers Pass, Indian Head Peak

The big Doug Fir's trail markers

A view from the top of Indian Head peak

The navigational big Doug Fir

Indian Head Mountain

 The wet and warm Spring, and good snowpack the countryside and mountains have been exceptionally green the wildflowers out of control.

We're always excited to find Fairy Slipper (Calypso) orchids and this year we found them in numerous spots.

We have also seen our first Chocolate Lilies, a massive Arrowleaf Balsam Root bloom, and carpets of blue and fragrant Forget-Me-Nots.

We've been back to our favorite haunts:  Rogers Pass on the Continental Divide Trail, Pioneer Ridge trail in the Little Belts and the Center Ridge loop and Mount Kennon in the Highwood Mountains.

The Arrowleaf in Shonkin Creek area

I added one more (easy) mountain on the Rocky Mountain Front:  Indian Head Rock that separates the North and South Forks of the Teton River.  I got the idea from Gene and Linda Sentz who had climbed it several weeks ago.

It is near one of my regular favorites, Wind Peak, sitting just below Wind to the East.

Its access point is immediately within the national forest boundary on the South Fork of the Teton, just beyond the boundary sign.  (The access road is the road to the Our Lake/Headquarters Pass trailhead).

There are two (not obvious) access trails.  They are not on the Forest Service map, but there is a Trail 109 marker between the two.  Just beyond the trail sign the trail becomes visible and then it is a fairly steep climb to reach a well-defined trail with a switchback.  The trail climbs to a saddle where there is a large Doug Fir tree that's marked with blue ski markers and a sign pointing to the "North Trail."  Head to the right, or east at this point if you want to climb the Indian Head.  Look for a faint trail in the grass which becomes more definite to the top of the mountain.

There are awesome 360 views from the flat top, which was carpeted in Forget-Me-Not wildflowers.  Continue north and you'll eventually find a trail that circumnavigates the peak taking you back down.   I was impressed with the views in all directions that show off the best of the Front's peaks and ranch country.

It is 1.1 miles to the top with a gain of about 650 feet.  A nice, easy peak to bag.

I was in an exploratory mood and back at the big Doug Fir decided to find the North Trail down to the North Fork of the Sun.  It drops about 350 in less than a mile, with lots of switchbacks.  At the North Fork it intersects with Trail 108.  Go to the right and it takes you back to the Gleason Ranch on the South Fork.  Go to the left and it goes to the Seven Lazy P Guest Ranch.  It is a perfect horse trail, but there aren't many views on this heavily forested route.

Back at the South Fork trailhead, the other route up is to the right of the Trail 109 sign and it is a well-used trail with well-developed switchbacks.  I took this one back from the big Doug Fir. 

It was a fun hike.

The Arrowleaf Balsam Root bloom is the best I can remember, particularly in the Highwood Mountains. It seemed as though every valley in that range was covered from top to bottom with the bright, yellow flower, particularly in the Shonkin Creek area.

The alpine flowers on Rogers Pass seem about two weeks early this year.  

It had been a number of years since I had done the nearly 9-mile Center Ridge Loop in the North Fork Highwood Creek drainage of the Highwood Mountains.  The wildflowers were out of control!  We counted 67 different wildflowers on our trip.  The loop hike is a delight.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Venturing out despite the smoke

It's not Forget-Me-Not season yet, but they are starting at Rogers Pass

There were fields of Pasque flowers along the CDT

Gordon Whirry in a field of Douglasia alpine flowers

Katie above a snow cornice on the CDT

 For the past week the air has been as smoky as any fire season in Montana even though it's just spring.

Weather patterns have pushed the smoke from fires in Alberta and British Columbia into Montana choking us up and making it hard to recreate outdoors in spite of warm weather.

By the end of the week we had had enough.

Katie suggested a check Saturday of the alpine wildflowers at Rogers Pass on the Continental Divide Trail, and what a good call that was.

As we approached the pass the smoke began to let up, and as we climbed the trail toward the ridge there was only a trace of smoke.

With that we decided to visit the Two Med in Glacier Park, and it was clearer still there.

Usually we wait for the fragrant and colorful blue Forget-Me-Not bloom before visiting Rogers in the spring, which occurs the first or second week of June.  But, we were treated instead to the most glorious show of pink Douglasia bunches I've ever seen, punctuated by the yellow Yellowstone Draba, and the beginnings of the Forget-Me-Not bloom.  Along the way the glacier lilies were profuse and the ground was sprinkled with biscuit root.   Purple Pasque flowers were everywhere.

We lunched just above Cadotte Pass and then returned for a 6-mile trek.

A double waterfall coming off Sky Lake on the flank of Rising Wolf

Rising Wolf

The view from the Looking Glass ridge line

An unnamed lake below Spot Mountain off Looking Glass ridge

On Sunday we wanted to see Two Med Lake since we had missed it during the ski season and we wanted to try less traveled paths.

We picked up Laurie Lintner who has spent most of her life in East Glacier Park, and decided to take the 3 mile cutoff trail from the Two Med Ranger Station into the Dry Fork Valley that drains Rising Wolf, Red and Spot mountains.

It turned out to be a great idea.  I hadn't been on that trail in more than 20 years, and it was a first time for Katie.

We had terrfic views of the east flank of Rising Wolf with its multiple waterfalls coming off Sky Lake.  We walked below the Spot Mountain cliffs and were treated to an array of wildflowers as we walked in and out of deep woods that kept us cool in the hot sun.

At lunch at the Dry Fork, Laurie spotted some mountain goats playing in the Rising Wolf cliffs high above us.

Afterward we decided to go to Looking Glass Pass that runs through the Blackfeet Reservation between East Glacier Park and US 89 at the Kiowa Junction.

At the pass is an old jeep trail that points at Spot Mountain on a narrow ridge line.

It is a three-quarters mile walk to the end of the ridge that passes through a wire fence into Glacier Park.

Once out in the open on the narrow ridge the views of the Two Med country are some of the best in the park, looking down on Two Med and Upper Two Med lakes, the Scenic Point-Mount Henry-Apistoki ridge line, Never Laughs, Grizzly, Painted Teepee, Sinopah, Lone Walker and Rising Wolf mountains.


I dropped down an extremely steep trail to a saddle above an unnamed lake below us on the flank of Spot, and scrambled to the top of the next hill.  I had been too cautious in years past to try it, but found it not particularly difficult, and well worth the effort for the views it afforded.

Laurie Lintner was an exceptionally good tour guide, as she has been when showing us other sights on the Blackfeet Reservation.  She is truly a part of this landscape.

Knowing these off-the-beaten paths into Glacier makes the park's new, restrictive special permitting system more tolerable.

We got into the park legally, saw no one outside our party, and had spectacular views enjoyed by only a handful of adventuresome folks.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Fasciitis disappears: Folsom Lake, CA, Highwoods Center Ridge, Pioneer Ridge traverse in Spring flowers

The Balsamroot have emerged in the Highwood Mountains

From a high point looking at Long and Neihart Baldy peaks on Pioneer Ridge travers

Belt Creek running bank full

 My plantar fasciitis in my left foot disappeared as suddenly and mysteriously as it appeared three weeks ago.

This allowed me to enjoy some good Spring hiking on a trip to California, the kind of hiking I was denied by the foot pain when we visited Portland.

We visited Katie's folks in Loomis, CA where their house sits just above Folsom Lake and the National Recreation Trail above it.  We hiked there daily, enjoying an amazing display of wildflowers we don't see in Montana, like the orange poppies, and orange monkey flowers and giant purple vetch flowers as well as a translucent mariposa flower shaped like a light bulb.  I was particularly taken by the extensive lupine blooms that lit up large fields in bright blue.  It is a favorite wildflower of mine in Montana.  I'm just not used to seeing so many orange wildflowers in Montana.

The orange Monkey Flower dotted the Folsom Lake hillsides.  I'm used to purple and yellow Monkey Flowers here in Montana

It was interesting to see the Folsom Lake, a reservoir created by the American River, at full pool after the massive snowfalls this past winter in the nearby Sierra Mountains.  I've become accustomed to seeing it drawn down quite a bit by the years of drought.  Our lower hiking trails were covered with water from the higher waters of the melting snowpack.

One pretty, but dangerous plant plagued us on our hikes --- poison oak.  It's something I unsuccessfully tangled with the past, and it got me again this trip as I brushed up against.  It is everywhere there.  Impossible to avoid.

The weather was a pleasant 65-70 degrees with cloudless, blue skies during our trip.  Just perfect.

When we got back the weather continued nice here, things have greened up,  and I got out for a pleasant out and back trip on the Highwood Mountains Center Ridge Trail, enjoying the yellow Arrowleafs, shooting stars, spring beauties, golden peas, and Pasque wildflowers.  There was still plenty of snow on the north face of Baldy, but Windy Peak was clear of snow.  The aspen have leafed out.

The following day I did the 6-mile Pioneer Ridge traverse and bumped into snow at 6,800 feet, that I could work my way around.

As I was hiking the sky became smoky as a cold front moved through bringing Montana the smoke from the out of control wildfires burning in Alberta and British Columbia.

Belt Creek, below, is running bank full and torrential.  If we got warm weather and some rain we could have flood.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

(Hiking) Rites of Spring: Kelsea, Sun Canyon bighorns, Falls Creek, and turning 75 in Portland

Mark Hertenstein at the upper Falls Creek falls
The Pasque flower was the most abundant alpine flower we saw on Falls Creek
This will have to do for my 75th birthday (April 28) photo

Some of the more than 25 bighorn rams we saw in the Wagner Basin

 My left-foot plantar fasciitis has begun to recede, allowing me to do short hikes as spectacular Spring weather has made mountain trails accessible.  Spring is here in all its glory after a long, brutal winter.

It was even nice in Portland where we traveled to visit my daughter and celebrate my 75th birthday.  No rain, and clear skies. 

The fasciitis has been a miserable affliction.  When in Portland it largely confined us to our hotel, although we got out for short visits to the Rhododendron garden, the arboretum and Washington Park to enjoy the amazing flower varieties Portland has to offer in the Spring.  We ate at our favorite Portland Mediterranean restaurant downtown and were shocked to see its main windows covered in plywood, the result of the civil unrest there.  The owner said he had even been stabbed.

Portland is a sad place with its trashed downtown, its homeless encampments and now news that its REI store in the Pearl District will be leaving because of unrest and lease problems.   We passed on attending evening concerts at downtown venues because it is not safe after dark.  I would have loved to have gone to Dvorak's Ruslka or heard the Mahler 4th Symphony, which were playing while we were there.

When we returned to Montana there was a flurry of activity to enjoy above average temperatures.  Everything is so green!  The trees have begun to leaf out.

Our first trip was to the Trout Creek Canyon in the Big Belt Mountains, to view the Kelsea bloom, that limestone loving miniature rose that hangs from steep cliffs.  It was a tad early, but we were able to see some blooming plants.

The Kelsea spill over the limestone like red syrup

A close up of the Kelsea blooms

The next day it was Wagner Basin in the Sun River Canyon on the Rocky Mountain Front, where I tested my foot on steeper grades.  We were rewarded with views of a band of bighorn rams grazing as we hiked nearby.  I counted 20 rams in one group, unfazed by our presence.

Then, I capped the week with a hike up Falls Creek in the Front outside Augusta.  We were treated with a vast Pasque flower bloom.  We also saw our first Douglasia bloom of the year, Kittentails, Buttercups, Shooting Stars, Biscuit root, and even a wild strawberry blooming among the alpine flowers.

There was plenty of snow up high on the Continental Divide, but along the creek everything was greening up.

After that tough winter, I thought I might celebrate my birthday as in most years --- in the snow, usually on backcountry skis.

It was good to be with my daughter on my 75th.  Despite my foot, I felt pretty good for that age.  The foot seems to be my big health issue.  In addition to the plantar fasciitis, I had that hammertoe, and a bunion that has pushed my big toe out of alignment.  I can't complain though.  I feel very healthy for this age, otherwise.

In Portland Rhody garden

Sunday, April 16, 2023

What a great place to live! Back country ski Friday, mountain climb Saturday

Climbing up the empty Showdown ski hill

Climbing to find the best place to descend

The chairs are now inanimate as the resort's season is over

Lolo Peak, the crown of the Bitterroot Mountains above Missoula

A young couple and dogs enjoy the top of Mount Sentinel on a gorgeous Spring day

 My exuberance for a good snowfall, followed by warming Spring weather on the west side of the mountains may have cost me.

I've developed what may be a painful case of plantar fasciitis in my left heel.

We got a dozen inches of new, cold powder and so I had to go out an enjoy the fresh, untracked powder on the Showdown ski hill, which had closed 10 days previously.

We did five runs before I wore out going up and down.

It was a really wintry Spring day, and doing turns was heavenly.  In the afternoon as we were leaving, the sun came out.

I love the hill when all the people are gone and there are no groomer tracks.

The quiet made the skiing seem like we were in the back country.  The chairs on the lift were frozen in place, as were the ski resort's empty buildings.  Almost eerie. 

Then it was off to Missoula to do my annual Mount Sentinel climb above the University of Montana campus.  It's about 2,000 feet to the top, and I made it to the top in just over an hour.  There were icy and wet stretches, including a large drift, which took some negotiating.

My right heel was sore when I started, but I shook it off and the activity loosened it up.

I paid the price after the hike when it tightened up and got painful.  I can barely put any weight on that left heel.

I'm not sure what this is going to mean for hiking later, but anticipate it will mean resting, ice, ibuprofen and stretching.  

A bit scary.

Another purpose of the trip was to visit a former Tribune colleague, Gary Moseman, who is doing a lengthy stay in a Missoula retirement home as he's rehabbing his health.

We're all getting on.




Friday, April 07, 2023

Goodbye winter, welcome Spring

The alpine glow at sunrise over the Front west of Freezout Lake

On top Priest Butte, our first spring hike

Pillows of snow on O'Brien Creek

The Showdown ski hill is closed for the season, meaning its the best time to ski for us

The snow geese fill the sky above Freezout Lake

 This has seemed an extra long winter.

Perhaps, because I started back country skiing in early October, and I'm still at it.

The snow has been phenomenal and in the Little Belts well over 100 percent above normal.

I haven't posted for a while because I caught that nasty virus that's been going around.  No, not COVID, but one that settled in my lungs, creating a dry cough, and draining me of energy for nearly a month.

After my last posting from the Glacier trip, I've skied 747 a couple more times.  It has became a relatively safe thing to do for this senior citizen.  I also did a solo trip to the top of Porphyry Peak, and then caught caught up in the Freezout Lake snow geese/arctic swan mania.  The birds were about two weeks late this year.  We think it was because of the cold and ice.  There were some 70,000 snow geese and 1,000 swans when we visited. It is one of Montana's great sights.  We were there as the full moon set behind Castle Reef on the Front, and the rising sun cast a pink alpine glow on the wall of mountains.

We got our first hike of the year up Priest Butte above Freezout.

Then, an April 6 7.3 mile ski down O'Brien Creek with the Stellings and Jennings.

The snow in the O'Brien Creek bottoms was as deep as I've ever seen it.  If it warms up fast it could be trouble for Belt Creek and could bring flooding.

It was particularly special skiing with the Jennings, who are 82- and 83-years-old, but you'd never know it.  I'm not sure how they stay in that kind of condition.  They blew right past me effortlessly with the AT skis.  It was a sight to behold, and something for me to aspire to.

Gerry Jennings, with Chuck behind her, taking a snowy break

By this time last year we had already had several hikes and were counting the various wildflower varieties.  We saw no wildflowers on Priest Butte.


Monday, March 13, 2023

Lunching with Rising Wolf: Looking Glass Pass ski

Rising Wolf Mountain above Lower Two Medicine Lake in Glacier Park

 I'm finally free of my first cold in three years, and it was a doozy.

It drained all my strength and I spent three days during its 10-day siege mostly sleeping.

So, when it lifted this weekend I decided to test where I might be strength-wise.

Not too bad.

We had an intense snowfall and drop in temperatures on Friday, so I thought the snow might be pretty good in the Two Med Country of Glacier Park.

I headed up there for a look, without many expectations.

I checked in with
Laurie Lintner, who was waitressing at the Two Med Grille in East Glacier Park, and she suggested Looking Glass Highway, which is closed during the winter, offering a scenic trip high above the Lower Two Medicine River, with fantastic views of Rising Wolf, Sinopah, Spot, and Scenic Point mountains, as well as the Badger Two Medicine mountains in the Rocky Mountain Front to the south.

She thought someone had broken trail to the pass, some four miles up where the road is blocked, which make the pass a great destination.

She was right, that the trail was broken ---- but only for the first mile.  No one had been on the rest since snow had hammered the area the night before.  The snow was rather wet and about 4-6 inches deep and the previous trail was only faintly visible.   This was snow that would require a Maxi-glide wax to prevent the wet snow from sticking to the bottom of my skis.

Breaking trail was tedious and brutal.

The compensating factors were the absolute world-class scenery, the  quiet, and the fresh, virgin snow.

I was covering just a little more than a mile an hour.

By the time mid-afternoon had rolled around and I had found a break spot for lunch with a spectacular view of Rising Wolf Mountain, it was time to turn around.

I had left Great Falls for Glacier at 8:45 a.m., and got back at 6:45 p.m., having enjoyed the national park without having encountered a single soul on this ski trip.

Looking Glass Highway, which connects East Glacier Park to the Kiowa Junction, offers many other side trips when there is time:  access to the site of the former Looking Glass Fire Lookout, the Two Medicine Ridge, the Two Medicine Valley, and a ridge walk from the pass to a fence access to the park across Blackfeet Reservation land to the base of Spot Mountain.


Thursday, March 02, 2023

Wonderful winter repeat trips, Bender Creek

Gordon Whirry in the deep, slushy powder at the Bender Creek Meadows

 More repeat trips in incredible snow.

What a year for the backcountry, and potentially for our rivers and streams.

During the last week of February the high places in the Little Belt Mountains recorded more than 50 inches of snow, most of it coming in one shot.

That was too much to try to ski or shoe.

We did get out on Feb. 26 for Bender Creek east of Monarch, and slogged on skis through something more like mashed potatoes than snow on this narrow valley.  We wore ourselves out!  But what a beautiful spot.

Earlier in the week I helped lead a Wild Montana snowshoe from Kings Hill Pass to Silver Crest Cross Country/Snowshoe area, about 4 miles.  I was the only male on the trip.  The snow was deep, but someone had cut a cross country ski track through part of it, making it easier going.

Wayne Phillips relaxing at Roberts Roost at Silver Crest snowshoe trail

The only other trip was with friend Wayne Phillips, who is still rehabbing his new knee, at Silvercrest --- a 2.3 mile snowshoe loop in cold, but clear winter weather.

There's been much wind and extreme cold ---- one day dipped to minus 29 in Great Falls ---- making skiing a tad uncomfortable.

On a positive note, many birds have returned to Great Falls:  flickers, Downey woodpeckers, robins, various sparrows and chickadees, mourning doves.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Waterton in winter, Castle Mountain Provincial Park, Belton Bridge in Glacier, Deadman, Silver Crest snowshoe

Katie snow-shoeing along the South Fork of the Castle River in the Castle Mountain Provincial Wildlands Park near Pincher Creek, Alberta

Just a small number of the elk in a herd of about 1,000 animals on Hay Barn flat in Waterton Park

An amazing sunset at Waterton Park

Exploring the Glacier Park Belton Bridge area near Apgar

 Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada has been one of my favorite spots in the Canadian Rockies for nearly 50 years, but I had never experienced it in the winter.

We got the chance this past week, spending two nights at the newly rebuilt Kilmorey Lodge, and taking sidetrips to Castle Mountain Provincial Wildlands Park, Glacier and Whitefish.

The highlight of the trip was a snowshoe in Castle Mountain Park outside Pincher Creek, Alberta, just north of Waterton.

We've been there before, but this time we snowshoed 7-miles along the South Fork of Castle Creek in beautiful aspen-pine forest beneath towering peaks.  We started at the Castle Mountain Ski Area and finished at the Syncline trailhead.  This park was created by the Province of Alberta six years ago.  It offers access to high peaks and passes across the Continental Divide to British Columbia.

It reminds me of our Bob Marshall Wilderness complex.

At Waterton the wind howled persistently for the three days we were there, and we drove as far as the snowplow had cleared the Cameron Lake Road where we found cross country ski tracks headed to the lake.  The wind made things too inhospitable to take them.

We were satisfied with the lodge, which only opened this past fall, and the Waterton Lake scenery.  Services are minimal in Waterton, with limited food options, so we ate twice for dinner at the Kilmorey dining room, and lounge, and twice for breakfast in the lounge.

It was astonishing to see about 1,000 elk out at the Hay Barn flats every evening.  I don't think I've seen this many elk even during the rut at Mammoth in Gardiner at Yellowstone National Park.

On our final evening at Waterton we were treated to the elk again as well as a spectacular, orange fireball-like sunset.

Our drive to Waterton between Browning and the Canadian border was harrowing because we got caught in a blizzard.  We had to pull over twice for more than an hour to wait it out.  We were glad to see the Leaning Tree Restaurant near Babb for one of our breaks.  The Canadian side was clear and the storm had abated.

On our way out of Canada we headed for Whitefish with a stop in Glacier Park and a short hike from the Belton Bridge over the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.

Prior to the trip I did 747 one more time.  It's getting to be my default.

And, we did a cross country snowshoe with Wayne Phillips at Silver Crest in the Little Belts, and then a Deadman back country ski a day later.  The snow had settled some and was in pretty good shape.

Thursday, January 26, 2023

La Nina's bounty: lots of skiing, shoeing, hiking --- 747, Deadman, Cadotte, South Ridge, Silvercrest, Buffalo Jump

 LaNina, that brings moisture from the Pacific, has really delivered this winter,  bringing warmer than usual temperatures in town, and some of the best snow I've seen in the mountains.

I've been getting out a couple of times a week, mainly in the Little Belts.  I feel like I'm commuting there.

I've now done 747 loop five times this season.   It just keeps getting prettier now that we've added the new, longer loop on this six mile trek. Each trip there's been more snow, enhancing the scenery and making this remote trail on the back side of Porphyry Peak harder to find.  It's such a nice workout, easy to reach and complete in a short day trip.

Subalpine Fir frosted after a snowfall

On the Blackfoot River willow bottom near Cadotte Creek

Snow ghosts that look like little bears

Big Baldy in the Little Belts dominates the horizon

A spring pumps water in pillows of snow

Katie working her way up the Deadman Trail ridge

The newest discovery has been the South Ridge trail, up Forest Service Road 3356, across the road from nearby Silvercrest.  We've stayed away from this trip because it gets heavy snowmobile traffic. We went on a cold, gray Tuesday and encountered only two snowmobilers and there was plenty of powder.  This climbs about 1,100 feet from US 89 four miles to the South Ridge between Big Baldy and Kings Hill mountains.  It affords nice view into the Jefferson Creek drainage, and access to the Deer Point trailhead and Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area.  There's tons of side logging roads and open parks if you're inclined to practice your tele turns.

I got back to Silvercrest for a short snowshoe with Wayne Phillips, and put those shoes back on for a trip on the Deadman trail.

One trip that didn't pan out so well was to Cadotte Creek south of Rogers Pass, where we didn't find really good snow and cut a backcountry ski trip there short.

And, for hiking we hit the Buffalo Jump on a clear, sunny day that afforded us amazing views in every direction, but particularly the Rocky Mountain Front.