Montana Outdoors

July 9, 2008

Penrose Peak, Part 4

At this view point about half way to the area where I planned to stay the night, the light was already beginning to change, giving an unusual look to the view to the northeast over the Clark Fork River valley into the Cabinet Mountains.

From the trail to Penrose

Beyond this area, the road stays in the trees, leaving few places where one can see out of the forest. One such place includes a little patch of the road as it crosses below Sunset Peak

From the trail to Penrose

and another provides a brief look at the north slope of Sunset Peak. Note the stack of rocks at the top of the peak. There are some photos taken from that peak on a post from last year, Views from the top.

Sunset Peak from the north

As I approached the place where I would camp, in a little saddle along a ridge and where USFS trail 385 intersects with the old road, I found the hillsides were covered with beargrass in bloom.

Beargrass at the saddle

Beargrass at the saddle

By the time I arrived there, darkness was beginning to settle in. Luckily I found a small depression between a couple of Lodgepole Pines where there was a comfortable place to spread my sleeping bag on a cushion of beargrass which were not blooming this year (each plant blooms only every seven years) and set up a hasty camp for the night.

Hasty camp at the saddle

When camping in bear country it is prudent to keep all foodstuffs up out of their reach when you’re not around camp or when you’re sleeping. As I always do when I’m away from my pack, I hoisted my food, pack and all up out of their reach. It’s good to avoid as many confrontations with them as you can. One of my best bear strategies involves wearing a very good quality pair of boot socks: eventually a Grizzly might end up eating me, but at least in the mean time my feet will be comfortable.

Food kept above the reach of bears

Fifty feet or so from my sleeping quarters, USFS trail 385 can be seen as it exits the forest, coming from the Sacajawea and Sunset peak area. I would have a date with that trail just after daylight in the morning.

Intersection with Trail 385


  1. Wow! You are so fortunate to be able to do this…and so brave.


    Comment by Tabbie — July 9, 2008 @ 7:30 pm

  2. I know how very fortunate I am, Tabbie, and I’m so thankful that I’m still able to do it. Brave, no. The wild country has become as comfortable to me as my living room: the risks there are actually quite controllable and certainly well within the “acceptable” range.


    Comment by montucky — July 9, 2008 @ 8:05 pm

  3. Beautiful!!!!


    Comment by Sumedh — July 10, 2008 @ 12:53 am

  4. I am really enjoying Penrose Peak and your trip. Its almost like being there. I wish there was a way to post the sounds and smells as well….I can only imagine. Thanks for the mini-vacation for my brain!! You are very lucky!!!


    Comment by Sandy — July 10, 2008 @ 6:20 am

  5. Thanks, Sumedh!


    Comment by montucky — July 10, 2008 @ 7:24 am

  6. Sandy,

    I’m very glad to see your comment. That’s exactly what I want to do with this series of posts, show what this area is looks like and what it’s like to walk through it. These are scenes that can be seen only on foot or from on horseback, and the health of this kind of wild country, I think, is critical for the well-being of the planet.

    It’s also an interesting look back into history to walk a trail that has been there somewhere around a hundred years and think about the men who first traveled on it.


    Comment by montucky — July 10, 2008 @ 7:35 am

  7. I’m absolutely loving hearing about your trip! Thank you so much for sharing and letting me enjoy through you.

    And I just made that first picture my desktop background so I can look at that gorgeous view and be inspired for when I’m living there.

    Thank you!


    Comment by Sara — July 10, 2008 @ 7:54 am

  8. I’m glad that you’re enjoying the trip! I’m also glad you are using the photo. Once you’re living up here you’ll see plenty of views like that one.


    Comment by montucky — July 10, 2008 @ 10:23 am

  9. What a wonderful time it must have been, and the images are beautiful Terry, thanks for sharing your adventures with us !!


    Comment by Bernie Kasper — July 10, 2008 @ 3:35 pm

  10. Yes, that’s a great area. Those will be great memories because from here I can look up into the area and from a mile down the road I can see the top of Penrose. I’ll post lots more of the photos taken at or near the top.


    Comment by montucky — July 10, 2008 @ 4:21 pm

  11. wow, what an adventure! I would love the hiking, but sleeping on the ground….um, not so sure. ok, remember I am a city girl, but I thought bears could climb? I mean, they won’t go up after the food? I would be really scared I think, between worrying about snakes and bears….

    the pictures are incredible! and yes, you are brave and in such great shape. don’t you ever worry, being out there alone? I mean, what if something happened? (talking about spraining your ankle or something more likely than a bear attack…)


    Comment by silken — July 11, 2008 @ 4:56 pm

  12. Silken,

    Yes, bears can climb, but on many of theses trees there are so many branches it makes it almost impossible. They certainly smell the food and would be interested, but probably don’t positively identify it as food anyway because these are wild bears and haven’t been able to put the scent together with the food for sure, so they aren’t highly motivated. Harmful snakes would be extremely rare at the higher altitudes. Rattlers are common at 2,50 feet, but not at 6,000, mostly because of the severe winter conditions up there.

    It’s not impossible, I suppose, that something could go wrong, but I have a great record for not letting that happen. I have much more control up there than I do on the highways, where one has to depend on others to do things right too, not be substance impaired, etc. It’s all part of having lots of experience and being reasonably prudent. You know, no matter where we are, there are no absolute guarantees, there are simply acceptable risks or unacceptable risks.


    Comment by montucky — July 11, 2008 @ 6:23 pm

  13. hmm, maybe I’d like the mountains even better than I thought I would…it’s just the cold…


    Comment by silken — July 12, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

  14. You’d be fine here in the summer, Silken, although if you camped at high altitudes, a warm sleeping bag would be handy.


    Comment by montucky — July 12, 2008 @ 9:40 pm

  15. montucky, friend, great post, unfortunately I feel I should inform you that you hung your food and pack incorrectly in the picture above.

    Any bear, Griz or Black, is an adept enough climber to get your pack and food the way you hung it in the picture.

    The correct hang is 12′ or more above the ground (so far so good in your case) and 4′ or preferably more from the nearest vertical support. Hanging your pack so close to the tree’s trunk, will not keep a bear from getting your food and pack.

    Now, montucky, like me, I’m sure you are an experienced outdoorsmen. And you might be thinking to yourself, but hey, “in all my years I’ve never had a problem.” That may be true, but largely that might be because of the relatively little use our woods recieve from people and therefore unhabituated nature of our bears to humans and human food; And because of the good practices of all those that have come before us in our adventures.

    So please, everyone, make sure to correctly hang your food.

    Sorry to be preachy, but I’ve seen far too many habituated bears in heavily used back country areas to keep quiet.

    Best of luck, and keep the posts coming montucky.



    Comment by anonymous — July 17, 2008 @ 3:20 pm

  16. 4″ from the nearest vertical is a good rule of thumb, but in this particular area of Lodgepole Pine with a few subalpine firs thrown in, there isn’t a tree within miles that has large enough branches to hoist a pack 4′ from the trunk. In which case you do the best you can do.


    Comment by montucky — July 17, 2008 @ 8:43 pm

  17. Your absolutely correct montucky. Sometimes you just have to do the best you can do. We’ve all been there before, myself, and everyone else that’s spent any time in the woods.

    For lighter loads (not a full pack, but maybe just food stuff) I’d like to remind your readers about the ‘ol double tree hoist, ya need a long rope, and a good amount of daylight since it takes awhile, but it can be done. Here’s what it looks like (I hope this works):

    l l
    /l l\
    / l l \
    / l l \
    / l l \
    0 l l 0

    That’s two vertical trees, a hang bag in the middle, and two tie off points below. Like I said, it’s a bit of a pain, but it’ll keep the critters out of your food in a pinch.

    (If you have two ropes you can also set up the line, then toss the second rope over the first, right in the middle. That saves you from having to guess where to tie the food bag in the middle.)

    Best of luck this summer season all,



    Comment by anonymous — July 18, 2008 @ 9:02 pm

  18. dang, my illustration didn’t work. Well, maybe you get the idea from my description anyway.

    Two vertical trees, a rope over a branch in each, and the hang bag in the center.

    anyway, enough with these damn computers.

    good luck all,



    Comment by anonymous — July 18, 2008 @ 9:05 pm

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