Monday, April 05, 2021

A peek (and peak) at the Little Rockies


The ghost town at Zortman, the foot of the Little Rockies

Pegasus Mining Company stripped off the mountain top, polluted the waters and abandoned its mine

Old Scraggy Peak, a prominent and logical mountain to climb

A shout out to Rod Benson and his excellent Big Sky Walker blog for interesting me in the Little Rockies Mountain Range located south of Malta.

With social-distancing and CDC advice against travel, we spent Easter Sunday on a 450-miles road trip to visit this island range because of Benson's hiking posts there.

He is a teacher in Hays, doing an encore there after retiring as an environmental studies teacher in 2019 from the Helena Public Schools after 37 years.  He's originally from Harlem and knows this range.

I had been in Hays about 20 years ago and didn't remember much about it.

I had never been to Zortman, which is the site of the remains of the disastrous Pegasus Mine, which the company walked away from, leaving polluted waters and toxic mine waste and tailings in this range, which is sacred to the Fort Belknap's Assiniboine and Gros Ventre tribes.

Our trip there was timely because the tribes recently brought suit against the state for permitting an assessment of mining potential in the area.

We drove to Zortman by way of Lewistown, and north from the Fred Robinson Bridge over the Missouri River.  This is a spectacular Central Montana road trip that from Great Falls passes by the Little Belt and Highwood Mountains with the Mocassins, Bears Paw, and Judith ranges in site and across the Missouri River National Monument breaks country.

I had never set foot in the Little Rockies and doing so Easter Sunday meant I had hiked in all of Montana's isolated island ranges now.

Because of the long drive we didn't spend much time.  We drove around the town that has a general store and a bar and some run down residences.  Then we drove to the nearby Camp Creek BLM campground and walked up a road that climbed a ridge pointed directly at Mount Scraggy, a prominent peak (5,708 feet) in the range that offers views of the mine and other mountain ranges. The campground is very nice.  Nearby Antoine Butte (5,731 feet) is the range high point.

We walked for about a half-hour and decided to see Hays, and Lodgepole, which gave us good looks at the limestone walls that flank the mountain range that Benson has written about extensively in his blog.

Then it was up to U.S. 2 and Harlem, Chinook, Havre, Fort Benton and home.

It was a splendid, if tiring trip.

We'll return.

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