Monday, August 28, 2023

Ice Caves in Snowies via Niel Creek

Looking back toward Windy Point mountain

A buffalo herd on the Upper Niel Creek Road near the trailhead

This is how the ice caves get their name

The spectacular Volf Creek ranch as seen from the Snowies crest

 Although I've been to the ice caves in the Snowies a number of times I had only done it one time from the south, up Niel Creek outside the ghost town of Garneill.   That was seven years ago.

We retraced our steps to major cave and proceeded to the top of the Big Snowy Mountains ridge despite heat and haze.

The hike to the big cave is 3.8 miles from the trailhead, up some 2,300 feet.

We chose this hike because we knew that it would be in Ponderosa and Doug Fir shade most of the way.

Plus, it is a very quick way, another half mile to the Snowies crest where we walked another mile or so enjoying smoke-shrouded views to the north and south on this flat ridge.  We climbed to an 8,200 feet high point where we enjoyed a scenic break where we could make out the Little Belts, Castles, Big Belts and Crazies mountain ranges.  On a clear day it is possible to see to the Wyoming border and the Absaroka-Beartooth.  To the north, a piece of Crystal Lake, the Mocassins, and Judith mountain ranges.

What is especially pleasing about this hike is that it is a federal Wilderness Study Area.

For all but a few minutes we had this gem all to ourselves because the popular Crystal Lake access from the campground has been closed so it can be rebuilt.   No one else had chosen our Niel Creek route.

The quiet and peace was temporarily destroyed by three dirt bikes, in violation of the law that prohibits motorized vehicles in wilderness study areas, motored across.  I took photos of these guys, none of whom had license plates and turned them in to the district ranger. The most access is from Crystal Lake to the south. 

One of the miscreant dirt bikers in the Snowies WSA in violation of federal law

We figured that the dirt bikers had been emboldened because they figured no one would come into the WSA the way we did.

The Niel Creek route is the easiest way to the top of the ridge.  The Crystal Lake route and Grandview Traverse from that side is more scenic.

The Niel Creek trailhead is well off the beaten path, but has received better trail signs than it had when we did it seven years ago.  

The ice caves proved to be a great destination on a hot, hazy summer day.



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