Thursday, October 20, 2022

Steamboat (East): last gasp of autumnal color?

The Steamboat ridge

The top was a jumble of rocks making it difficult to decide which was the high point

There were lots of hungry bear roto-tills

The top of Steamboat East

The top of the Bear Den-Monitor ridge line across the Dearborn from Steamboat East

 The problem with keeping records of hikes and climbs is that as I get older I can see my decline vividly.

A case in point was an off-trail climb up Steamboat East from the Dearborn River.

It's something I've done numerous times over the years, the most recent being 2016.

This hike gains nearly 4,000 feet and covers 9.5 miles round trip.

I chose the hike thinking it was quick and easy.

Ten hours later I realized it was neither quick nor easy.

I chose the unofficial climber's trail that starts in a gully about a quarter mile from the forest boundary.

My thought was that the many students at the nearby Montana Wilderness Bible Camp had used this trace and it was improved.

I found that yes, indeed they had, but no, it was less than improved.  The heavy use had created a scree-on-hardpack situation in the steep sections beginning at about Mile 3 from the Dearborn trailhead.

In years past we had avoided this section by attaining a high ridge to the east, and negotiating an easy cliff band.

I was lured in by the climbers' cairns and more improved trail on the less steep part.

On the way up I avoided the first steep area by bushwhacking to the west and then back to the trail after it flattened, only to encounter an even steeper section.  Eventually, I reached the grassy slopes that lead to the summit cap, which was a large pile of limestone rubble, where I climbed three different summits to make sure I got the right peak.

The going was slow and it took 4-1/2 hours to reach the 8,297 feet summit. The views magnificent, if a bit hazy from distant wildfires.  The hike up Steamboat (West) Lookout, though a couple hundred feet higher, is an easier climb because it is all on good trail.

It took just as long to get down because I ended up negotiating the steep trail on my butt an inch at a time for substantial distance.

When I got down the sun had set behind the mountain and I had to use a headlamp with weak batteries to reach my car.

It had been a long time since I had walked out in the dark.

As I related the story to my wife, complaining about the time the hike took and difficulties with the steep trail, she said, "...that's because you're old!"

That deflated me.

But, it is true.

I can't assume that the hikes and climbs will be easy, even if I haven't let up on exercising and hikes.

The drive to the trailhead at the beginning of the day made up for my poor performance, though.

The Sun River cottonwoods and aspen trees were lit up in color.

We've had a most beautiful, prolonged Fall.

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