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.

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