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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Crossing the Pintlers: Storm Lake to West Fork of Fishtrap Creek Trailhead.

Jen and I are both injured right now, and this past weekend we were both missing something important to us. For me, it was my annual backpacking trip with Dave Sumner. I sprained my ankle badly back in early June and then re-injured it two weeks ago, and since I was determined not to be a 'ball-and-chain' for Dave, we decided to postpone the trip for a year. For Jen, it was her cherished Butte 50 mountain bike race. She had trained really hard for months and then pulled a muscle in her leg badly last week. After seeing her physical therapist several times last week, she decided it would be best not to do it. 

I doubt you, the reader, cares about our injuries, but if not for them, we wouldn't have gone on a backpacking trip together last weekend. And this brings me to another interesting part of the story. I was trying to decide between a trip in the Scapegoat or the Bitterroot and was at the Missoula Public Library printing out maps for both when Ben Horan (one of those handful of Missoula people our lives are intertwined with in various ways) stopped in to print out a map himself. Here was our conversation:

"What trip are you doing?" I asked. 
"We're running across the Pintlers from West Fork Fishtrap Creek to Storm Lake." 
"Awesome! How are you doing the shuttle?"
"We're driving two cars to Storm Lake, leaving one, and then driving the other to West Fork Fishtrap Creek Trailhead."
I saw an opportunity immediately. "How about we do a car swap instead: we'll leave our car at Storm Lake, you come and get it, leave your car and drive ours to West Fork Fishtrap Creek?"
"That would work," Ben replied.

And that's what we did. I had been dreaming of crossing the Pintlers for years, and the trip was around 28 miles, so I figured Jen and I could take four days and do it at a mellow pace, injuries and all. As it turned out, we put in a long second day, wanting to camp at a lake on the second night, and did it in three. Although we were sore as hell at the end of the trip, we both wondered if we could have done our planned excursions after all (my backpack with Dave and her Butte 50). Also, our kids were both gone, leaving us feeling like empty nesters. So although the trip was great, there was a bittersweet aspect as well.

Day 1:

We left Missoula pretty late on Friday, not reaching Storm Lake until around 5pm. We quickly hit the trail, hiked up and over Storm Lake Pass to the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), then south down to Page Lake. 
Storm Lake

wilderness boundary

Jen at Storm Lake Pass, Little Rainbow Mtn behind.
Goat Flat looking North

Goat Flat, looking south.

Goat Flat looking west, Bitterroots in the distance.

Heading down to Page Lake
a moment in time captured for ever
Setting up the tent at Page Lake.
We chatted a lot and enjoyed the time together, the beautiful weather, our excited dog, the excellent scenery. We also mourned a bit that we were on our own, both kids off doing their own thing.

Day 2:

The next lake south along the CDT after Page Lake (and it's neighbor Flower Lake) is Warren Lake, which I'd heard is a fantastic place. Unfortunately, it required a 13 mile day to get to from Page. When I do my trip with Dave Sumner, 13 mile days are the norm, but I figured we'd be doing 7 or so miles per day on this trip. However, Jen and I are fit and our injuries didn't flair up, so we went the whole way, at an even pace, starting at 9am and finishing at Warren Lake at 7pm, a long day on the trail by any measure. The hike was fantastic; we traveled through some amazing country, going over two passes and up a third to Warren Lake.
We passed a ton of avalanche debri

First pass, day 2, looking back at Goat Flat, Little Rainbow, and Tiny Mtn.

Looking the opposite direction, toward the end of the trail

And yet another shot from the pass, Queener Mtn, on my peak bagging list.

Yet another crazy beargrass experience in the Pintler

At the top of the second pass of the day, Cutaway, looking at West Goat Pk, the tallest in the Pintler

And finally, at the end of a long day, Warren Lake.

Freeze dried food, more expensive than going out to eat.

Just in time for a swim.

Pudge was worked after the long day.

Our camp.

Camp fire to keep the bugs away -- they were pretty bad at Warren.

Day 3: 

On day 3, it was a 9 mile hike out to the car, all down hill. We figured it would be the easy day, but this was the hard one for us. Our injuries flared and we made slow progress. Also, not many pictures. The last miles of the trip were neat: marshy meadows, lodge pole pine, and even some sage brush high prairie. 

It was a great trip: time with Jen, time in awesome country, covering ground, hard physical exertion, seeing new places, as good as it gets.

Morning shot by Jen

another, reflection only

cooking gear

on the trail, day 3

driving home, West Goat, I think (?)

Looking up near Upper Seymour and Storm Lakes, I think (?)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Stark Mountain, the last of the Missoula Horizon Peaks.

I've been on a mission since last fall to bag all of the peaks on the Missoula Horizon Peaks list, put together by the Rocky Mountaineers. The last on my list was Stark Mountain. 

Stark Mountain is the prominent peak that you see ahead of you as you're driving through Frenchtown heading west on I-90. It's also across the Ninemile Valley from Cha-paa-qn, and though it is lower in elevation, it is a much more challenging hike at 10 miles round trip and 4000+ feet of elevation gain. 

When I went it was forecasted to be in the 90's in Missoula, and I didn't hit the trail until 9:30 am, so it was a hot and sweaty affair. The coolest thing was the working lookout on top. The fellow's name was Tom and it was his third season on Stark Mountain. Before him a lady (see picture below) had been the Stark Mountain lookout for 39 years. I didn't stay and chat long, as I had things to do in town, which I think disappointed Tom. So if you go up, make some time for the lookout.  It's got to be an awesome but lonely gig.

Getting there (it took me a while to get this right): heading west on I-90, get off at the Ninemile exit, then take your first right after Remount Rd (the road to the Ninemile Ranger Station) on West Ninemile Rd. Drive for several miles and turn left on Remick Creek Rd, marked with a brown and white Forest Service sign. Follow this road, staying on the most traveled route, until you see a sign for Forest Service road 5515 and the Stark Mountain Lookout trail. Turn right and drive 6 miles to the trailhead.

Unfortunately, I forgot my camera, so I stole most of the below pictures from the web. The bear grass were really going off at the top. I've included a bear grass shot from Sheep Mountain last week, figuring it would give you an idea anyway.

Stark Mountain from Ninemile Valley in winter.

Stark Mountain Lookout. I got to go inside.

This gal had been the Stark Mountain lookout for 39 years, just retiring 3 years ago.

Stark Mountain.

Sheep Mountain Beargrass. It was just as good, if not better, up on Stark.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Music: Kurt Vile, Wakin On A Pretty Daze: Deluxe Daze (Post Haze)

I've been loving this album: Kurt Vile, Wakin On A Pretty Daze: Deluxe Daze (Post Haze). Especially this song: A Girl Called Alex. It takes me back to an old mix tape Jen and I had the first summer we met, back in the summer of 1993.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Backpacking the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River

Alex and Ellie, circa summer 2014
 During the weekend before the 4th of July, we took a family trip to Yellowstone Park for a few days, followed by a night at Chico Hot Springs. 

We spent three days and two nights in Yellowstone hiking the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River. This hike is around 22 miles, starting at Hellroaring Creek trailhead and ending in the town of Gardiner. In Bill Schneider's book 'Hiking Yellowstone' he describes it as 'one of the premier backpacking trips in the Northern Rockies'. Given this recommendation and its relatively short distance, I thought it would be good for a family backpacking trip.

DAY 1:

The first day was long, with the drive to Mammoth from Butte, waiting around in Mammoth to get the permit, driving to the trailhead and finally hitting the trail for the longest (9 miles) day of the trip. 

The first day was unique, with a quick drop into sage prairie of the type you don't typically associate with a backpacking trip, a long excursion up to the bridge over Hellroaring Creek, which was too high to ford and which added three miles, and finally a healthy climb followed by a drop into camp (1R2 in the map below) at 7pm. We were all exhausted.

Here are a few phots from Day 1 (more on Days 2 & 3 below):
Black Canyon of the Yellowstone Map
Jen in the first mile of the first day.

Alex, bridge over the Yellowstone River (I think).

Walking through sage prairie.

wild flowers were abundant.

Some green amidst the high desert.

Dropping into camp on night 1

Prickly Pear was blooming

Having dinner near the river, night 1.

DAY 2:

The second day was the easiest of the three, though it was still 6.5 miles, and given our late start, was hot, and we took our time, so we were tired when we pulled into camp late in the afternoon (1Y1 on the map above). The sections of gnarly whitewater made the trail side viewing of the river pretty awesome. Pictures from Day 2 are below, followed by Day 3. 
bear spray

Bitterroot Flowers. State flower of Montana.

Walkin' along the river.


Cool shot.


Fam again.

We had a long relaxing stop here.

Jen and I.

Jen at the beach camp site, 1Y1.

A nasty rapid


Black Canyon of the Yellowstone rapids.

The beach at 1Y1.

evening light

Horse shoes with elk horns.

Alex and I slept out.
DAY 3:

The last day's hike is five or six miles, but is challenging due to the increasingly desert-like conditions and then a 1000+ foot climb out of the canyon to the end of the trail. It used to be that the trail ended in downtown Gardiner, but nowadays, you've got to climb up to a campground a few miles out of town. This is rattlesnake country. I saw one and came across a couple of hikers that saw another. If you wait until late morning, the snakes will most likely have taken themselves off the trail, where they like to lie in the sun in the cool mornings. 

I set out a couple of hours before the family and then biked the 25 miles back to the car. It was a challenging ride with a lot of climbing, but was also beautiful. In fact, it made me want to ride more in Yellowstone.

This is the type of terrain where I saw the snake.

Coming to the end of the canyon

More of the same

At the park boundary

And finally Chico for a night after we got out.