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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Traversing the Scapegoat: Crown Mountain Trail to North Fork of the Blackfoot

Hiking back from Evans Peak on Day 5.
We recently took six days to backpack across the Scapegoat Wilderness, starting on the Crown Mountain Trail near Benchmark on the Rocky Mountain Front, heading southwest around Scapegoat Mountain, and ending at the North Fork of the Blackfoot, near Ovando. In place of Alex, who we of course missed, was Ellie's boyfriend Danny McKay. It turned out to be a great trip, with good group dynamics, an action packed itinerary, and some magnificent and little visited places; once away from our starting and ending trail heads, we only saw one person. In order to stretch the trip out to six days (as it's less than 40 miles point-to-point), we spent two nights at both Halfmoon Park (a truly magnificent spot, though heavily used by outfitters), and Carmichael, our favorite camp of the trip, 15 miles up the N. Fk. of the Blackfoot from the trail head. On the first layover day (3), we attempted Scapegoat Mountain and got turned back on a sketchy traverse, but on our second layover day (5) we successfully summitted Evans Peak, which was magnificent. All in all, it was one of our best backpacking trips, though its downfall, as with any point-to-point, was the logistics. Danny's mom Julie picked us up at the end, but the next day we had to drive back up to the Rocky Mountain Front to get the car. To make this second trip up worth our while, we hit a wedding for one of Jen's cousins near Lincoln on the way, and then climbed a noname P2K peak near Benchmark the next day. All together, the extended time in wilderness set my soul at ease.

Jen just a couple of miles in on the first day.
Danny and I summitted Crown Mountain on Day 1.
Looking off toward Scapegoat Mountain from Crown Mountain.
Nearing camp after a long first day.
On day 2, up Geen Fork Creek, we saw griz tracks. Yikes!
Ellie and Danny swimming in a no-name lake up Geen Fork Canyon.
Jen at the same lake.
Pudge wasn't a fan of his backpack.
The wall at Halfmoon Park.
Halfmoon Park.
A shot from our attempt at Scapegoat Mountain.
Lounging in the tent.
Hiking below Scapegoat.
Further along the trail
Traversing snow as we walk under Scapegoat.
Ellie on the Continental Divide with the Scapegoat in the background
Walking the Divide with Evans Peak in the background, which we would climb the next day.
One of many stream crossings.
Ellie, Danny, and Evans peak.
On our hike of Evans Peak the next day.
Evans Peak walking.
Pudge cooling off.
Danny and Ellie.
Jen with Scapegoat Mountain in the background.
Danny on the summit.
My girls.
On the way down.
Last day, falls on the N. Fk. Blackfoot.
Jen hiking the ridge.
Looking off toward 8282.
Freedom of the hills.

Summit view.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Steamboat Ridge Traverse: Rocky Mountain Front

Al, Skila, and I about to embark on the ridge traverse behind us. Photo by Rod Benson.
Al, Skila, and I about to summit Steamboat Mountain with Scapegoat Mountain looming massive in the background. Photo by Rod Benson
Al Parker and I get together once or twice a year for a big outing. It had been a while since our last, and so we carved out a couple of days in mid-June to meet on the Rocky Mountain Front. I had climbed Steamboat East from the Dearborn Trailhead, on the southern Front, in 2013, and Steamboat Mountain was on my list due to its high prominence (2000+ feet) and an aborted attempt made with Jen last August in heavy smoke. Moreover, in my research I had come across the Out There With Tom blog by Great Falls resident Tom Kotynski (and author of the book Discovering the Rocky Mountain Front), where he mentions starting at Elk Creek Trailhead, summiting Steamboat Mountain, walking the ridge to Steamboat East, and then finishing at the Dearborn Trailhead. It turns out that this is a monster day, at 17 miles, 6200 feet of elevation gain (according to my GPS), and 10 hours. It is also one of the best and most spectacular walks I've ever done. And of course, a couple of days with Al is always good medicine.
Al looking at our route. Photo by Rod Benson.
Near the beginning above, and near the end below, of the ridge between Steamboat Lookout and Steamboat East.
Al with the deep Scapegoat in the distance.
Walking the beginngs of the ridge from Steamboat Mountain
A bit further along.
Looking south toward Red Mountain and Caribou Peak.
Looking toward Steamboat East.
Looking north into the Plains with Haystack Butte on the right.
Looking back toward Steamboat Mountain.
At about the midway point on the ridge.
The crux of the route -- still only class 2, but loose and steep after an already long walk -- heading up toward Steamboat East from the low point on the ridge.
Al and a tired Skila.
A view back along the ridge with my pack and unnecessary ice axe.
The summit of Steamboat East is a strange, moonscape-like place.