Montana Outdoors

July 10, 2012

Hiking the Baldy trail (1)

Filed under: Baldy Mountain roadless area, Hiking — Tags: — montucky @ 10:30 pm

In the 1930’s when the Forest Service created pack trails to the peaks upon which fire lookouts were built they often encountered places where it was just too darned steep to hike straight up. When the incline exceeded a pitch of 15 to 20%, switchbacks were built to make the trail a little easier for hikers and pack stock to negotiate.

The top mile or so of USFS trail 340 to the Baldy Mountain Lookout is like that and that mile of trail contains 13 switchbacks as it climbs from about 6,400 feet to 7,464 feet. These photos were taken as the sun came up along that section of trail last Thursday morning and I have added the time of the morning at which each was taken just for the heck of it. I thought someone might find them interesting.

From USFS trail 340

5:42 AM

From USFS trail 340

6:04 AM

From USFS trail 340

6:14 AM

From USFS trail 340

6:29 AM

<From USFS trail 340

6:30 AM

From USFS trail 340

6:34 AM

From USFS trail 340

6:38 AM

From USFS trail 340

6:42 AM

From USFS trail 340

6:43 AM

Remains of fire lookout

7:08 AM. This mound of rocks at the very top was the base upon which the lookout cabin was built in about 1934.



  1. Simply stunning – I can almost smell the clean mountain air. The views are just incredible.


    Comment by Jo Woolf — July 11, 2012 @ 3:54 am

    • There are several mountains like this in this region where you can see, on a clear day, 80 miles or more in every direction. 20,000 square miles.


      Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 9:14 pm

  2. Just beautiful… I’d love to visit this area; what a beautiful time, too….


    Comment by FeyGirl — July 11, 2012 @ 5:16 am

  3. This really is some of your best work! The beauty of where you live and go is just stunning!


    Comment by Wild_Bill — July 11, 2012 @ 6:04 am

    • Thanks Bill. Yes, these mountains are truly beautiful. I was very fortunate to have been born here and got to know them at a very young age.


      Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

  4. What a beautiful place. Looks like quite a climb but as usual the views make it worth the effort. Does the snow stay in the shaded areas all summer?


    Comment by New Hampshire Gardener — July 11, 2012 @ 6:27 am

    • Yes, very much worth the effort. I hike and/or bike every day of the year to be able to get up these trails in summer. There might be very small patches left of some of these snowbanks by the time the new snows come. Right now some of those banks are still 20 feet deep and after all of the daily melt/freeze cycles of spring they are almost solid ice.


      Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 9:22 pm

  5. So nice, Montucky…feels like home. 🙂


    Comment by seekraz — July 11, 2012 @ 7:05 am

  6. I can feel the crisp morning air and smell the sweet fragrance of the forest when I look at the beautiful images. Absolutely beautiful.


    Comment by anniespickns — July 11, 2012 @ 7:12 am

    • The forest is always fresh and beautiful in the mornings. That morning when I started out the breeze was quite cold and when I finally reached a sunny place it felt good.


      Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

  7. Love the second photo, you can just see how the glaciers have carved their way down. Such awesomeness. On a side note, you’ve got me wondering about what kind of critters do you bump into at 5:30 am or when you take beautiful pictures of the full moon in the middle of the night. Be bear-y careful, you’re important to me. 🙂


    Comment by Homestead Ramblings — July 11, 2012 @ 7:16 am

    • Thank you for being concerned. That’s very kind! I do see wildlife fairly often in the early morning and at dusk, hardly ever at night. In the more remote areas they are very wild and very shy and are rarely a threat or a problem, and I always carry a side arm: in Grizzly country I also carry bear spray. I would estimate that it’s hundreds of times safer in the wild areas than on the streets of a big city or on the highways and freeways.


      Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 9:36 pm

  8. And I thought I was an early riser! What a place to be at 5:42 in the morning. almost other-worldly, except this one is just so darn beautiful, and you remind us over and over again, for which I cannot thank you adequately. That sun rounding the ridge at 6:42, an hour later, would be world enough for me. I can almost hear the crunching of the rocks beneath your boots.


    Comment by Teresa Evangeline — July 11, 2012 @ 7:25 am

    • I forgot to ask, any information on the lookout cabin or who manned it? Just curious. I have long been enamored by them and their occupants.


      Comment by Teresa Evangeline — July 11, 2012 @ 8:16 am

      • I have not been able to find an abundance of good information on most of the old lookouts. I get some from a book called “Fire Lookouts of the Northwest” written by Ray Kresek, who lives I believe in north Idaho. Baldy mountain actually had two different cabins, the first was a cupola cabin built in 1928 and then an L4 cabin on a 20′ tower was built there in 1949. I don’t know who manned it most of the time, but I know one of my uncles manned it for awhile in the 40’s. Here is a site that shows a photo of one of the cupola type cabins, and this is a photo of an L4 that is still standing on Big Hole peak, about 10 miles from Baldy.


        Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 9:56 pm

        • The one at Fort Missoula is an L-4, from a kit manufactured in Columbia Falls. It is open for viewing during the summer.


          Comment by Kim — July 12, 2012 @ 8:36 am

        • Thanks so much for the interesting link and the photo. I also looked at others on your stream and saw some great train photos!


          Comment by Teresa Evangeline — July 13, 2012 @ 3:12 pm

          • I forgot to mention that the man who manned that lookout on Big Hole the summer of 1966 has become a good friend. It was a treat to hike with him to that peak a few years ago and see his face when he saw that old cabin after over 40 years!


            Comment by montucky — July 13, 2012 @ 7:05 pm

    • Sometimes I will spend the night at the trail head, which lets me get out on the trail quite early and still be fresh. It works great! Early morning is one of the most pleasant times to be on the trail. I’m very pleased to know that you get a sense of the trip from the photos. That’s something I very much hope for!


      Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 9:42 pm

  9. They are very interesting! I am surprise that I don’t see smoke in any direction. The fire map shows lots of fire in Idaho this week. My daughter in Casper had smoke last week, I don’t know if it was from the Colorado or Montana fires.


    Comment by sandy — July 11, 2012 @ 7:36 am

    • Montana has had some huge fires, but they have been east of the Continental Divide; only a few small ones in western Montana so far.


      Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 9:59 pm

  10. I’ve come to appreciate switchbacks the older I get. Wish the lookout was still on top of that rock pile.



    Comment by knightofswords — July 11, 2012 @ 9:06 am

    • Switchbacks are time consuming to build but they sure do make life easier for the hiker! I wish it was still there too. We lost many national treasures when the Service destroyed so many of them.


      Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 10:01 pm

  11. Hi Montucky, Beautiful shots! I sure do like your refreshing pictures of the wilderness, the forests, and hills. Nice. Have a great day!


    Comment by wildlifewatcher — July 11, 2012 @ 10:35 am

  12. Truly magnificent! I’m viewing these photos on my lunch hour at work. So while I’m stuck at my desk in an air-conditioned office with no windows, I just took a mini-nature hike with you and it refreshed my mind and soul. Thanks for sharing that hike with us!


    Comment by Mama's Empty Nest — July 11, 2012 @ 11:09 am

  13. no matter what time of day…i would surely bust my can on all that loose shale =o)


    Comment by Sandy — July 11, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

    • As I head back down that trail and finally get past all of that rock, I always think about how wonderful it is to feel dirt under my feet again!


      Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 10:05 pm

  14. Any idea what happened to the lookout that used to be on that rock pile, montucky? Was it burned down or dynamited when decomissioned to prevent it’s becoming an “attractive nuisance”?

    BTW, there is an intact lookout on a rock pile similar to that on St. Mary’s peak near Stevensville. A grunt of a push up many switchbacks to get there, but a worthwhile destination for a day hike.


    Comment by Kim — July 11, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

    • I don’t know for sure, but I think the original one was replaced by an improved version (and on a tower), and then later that one was destroyed for “liability” reasons. The concrete bases of the tower are still there. I will have to put St. Mary’s peak on my hike list: I’ve never been up there. Thanks for mentioning it!


      Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 10:09 pm

  15. Incredible as always Terry… Question will the all the snow melt off or remain until the next snows start ?


    Comment by Bernie Kasper — July 11, 2012 @ 8:03 pm

    • Nearly all of that snow will melt, although there might be a few patches remaining. Last year there was still some there at the end of August.


      Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 10:11 pm

  16. I’m just sure you’ve shown us the flowers in the first photo, but I can’t remember what they are. It’s wonderful to see them “in situ” – and I’m just entranced by the “rolling hills” in the second photo. They almost look like sheared velvet – such a nice contrast to the other, sharper rocks and ridges.


    Comment by shoreacres — July 11, 2012 @ 9:53 pm

    • The flowers are bear grass. This has been a poor year for them for some reason. Here is a photo of them in a good year.

      The second photo was taken looking north from the peak and toward the right side of the photo the sharp peak in Thompson Peak, another mountain over 7,000 feet high about 10 miles from Baldy. Here is a photo of that area taken in 2007 when that part of the forest (150 square miles) was on fire.


      Comment by montucky — July 11, 2012 @ 10:28 pm

      • Yes, I was noticing that the bear grass is less abundant than usual in the Georgetown Lake area also. Wonder what that’s about? Is it cyclical?


        Comment by Kim — July 12, 2012 @ 8:38 am

        • A bear grass plant flowers only once in 5 to 7 years, but there are usually a lot of them on the bloom cycle. This just seems to be an off year for them in general. I did notice though that the ones at the higher elevations just haven’t blossomed yet, they are still in the bud stage.


          Comment by montucky — July 12, 2012 @ 9:02 pm

  17. WOW just plain gorgeous!!! Thanks for sharing your early morning expedition to the top of the world!


    Comment by dhphotosite — July 12, 2012 @ 10:55 am

    • It sure seems like the top of the world: at least the top of that part of it! It’s a favorite place for me, partly because I can see many of the other peaks around that I have also visited and I love to see them from a distance and enjoy those memories too.


      Comment by montucky — July 12, 2012 @ 9:05 pm

  18. Oh my… it is pretty up there. Glad you share photos because I’ll never be there!! 😉


    Comment by kcjewel — July 12, 2012 @ 5:05 pm

    • Lots of folks like to visit places like Glacier where the views are terrific and you don’t have to hike to see them. I know hiking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea!


      Comment by montucky — July 12, 2012 @ 9:10 pm

  19. A totally different view upon every turn. It’s truly beautiful, I think we all envy your life 🙂


    Comment by Candace — July 12, 2012 @ 7:47 pm

    • That’s kind of a special place, but there are others around that also provide great long distance views. I hope to visit more before summer is over.


      Comment by montucky — July 12, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

  20. It must be wonderful to have the physical strength to hike those trails and climb those mountains…. the view is breathtaking for sure…


    Comment by snowbirdpress — July 13, 2012 @ 12:58 am

    • I am thankful that I’m still able to do it. I love those back country places so much that I train every day of the year so I will be able to hike there in the summers.


      Comment by montucky — July 13, 2012 @ 7:01 pm

  21. very interesting. and as always, so pretty. I guess I didn’t realize it was that light at 5:42am!!


    Comment by skouba — July 13, 2012 @ 7:23 pm

    • Actually, I slept in a bit. I had planned to start just before daylight to be get to the top before the day started to heat up. The surprise was though, it was very cool with a breeze most of the way up.


      Comment by montucky — July 13, 2012 @ 8:45 pm

  22. What awesome scenery!


    Comment by Watching Seasons — July 14, 2012 @ 8:15 pm

    • I think it is too. There is always something of beauty to be seen out there!


      Comment by montucky — July 14, 2012 @ 10:16 pm

  23. That is an interesting foundation for the cabin. I wonder why they made such a large rock pile–it almost seems like overkil. What a beautiful place!


    Comment by kateri — July 15, 2012 @ 10:26 am

    • I don’t know why they did that. I’ve not seen it done on any of the other lookout sites that I’ve visited. I’d have to guess that it gave a little more height to clear the shorter trees around it. At a lookout to the west of there, they had to cut all of the trees on one side of the cabin for visibility. They have now grown back and you can see why they had to cut them when the lookout was in use.


      Comment by montucky — July 15, 2012 @ 9:47 pm

  24. This so beautiful ! I like everythinhg about this unique area. Most of all probably, the isolation that preserves such landscapes from being “constructed” in any way. The stones are very special too, very regular shapes and deep colours.They are different than ours at a similar altitude. Here they are more in grey and red shades, often covered with a thin layer of yellow lichen. Each one different and with a story of its own. Thank you so much Montucky for bringing us along, beautiful photography too.


    Comment by isathreadsoflife — July 17, 2012 @ 1:59 am

    • I’m very pleased that you enjoyed seeing that place, Isa!


      Comment by montucky — July 17, 2012 @ 9:39 pm

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