Montana Outdoors

June 29, 2008

The longest three mile trail in Montana (Part 4)

This will be the last post in this series: after all, how much can be said about a three mile trail?

The Clark Fork of the Columbia River flows in a northwesterly direction for about three hundred miles from its source in the Deerlodge National Forest at the Continental Divide near the town of Butte Montana then takes a sharp turn to the right and and flows for twenty one miles due east before it again turns toward the northwest. This short east – west section is referred to as the “Cutoff”, probably because it’s a shortcut from the Bitterroot Mountains on the west, through the Coeur d’Alene Mountains to the Cabinet Mountains on the east, and there is a road which follows the river, Montana Highway 135.

As you travel downstream through the Cutoff you travel through a deep canyon where, to the right is the high ground of the South Siegel – South Cutoff roadless area (13,473 acres) and the North Siegel roadless area (9,208 acres). To the left is the Patrick’s Knob – North Cutoff roadless area (16,969 acres). About half way through is the trail head for USFS trail 205 which runs almost due north for (the Forest Service says) three miles through the Patrick’s Knob area at one of it’s narrowest points, from the river at an elevation of about 2,500 feet to the high ridge at about 5,000 feet just west of Patrick’s Knob Peak . (After hiking the trail myself, I came to believe that the person who declared it to be three miles has never even seen the trail, much less hiked it.)

The following photos will, I hope, give the viewer a little of the flavor of this particular trail and the beauty of the roadless area it traverses and a glimpse of what it’s like to hike through true wild country. It is only one of many such trails in many roadless areas, all of which need our protection if they are to continue to exist.

The trailhead at Montana Highway 135

Trailhead for USFS trail 205

An early part of the trail, perhaps a half mile from the trailhead.

On trail 205

From about a mile up the trail facing east along the Cutoff with the North Siegel roadless area in the background,

From trail 205

and from the same spot, facing south with the South Siegel – South Cutoff roadless area in the background.

From trail 205

A section of the trail itself about three fourths of the way to the top (It’s a good idea to pay attention to the blaze marks through here),

Trail 205

and, from about the same place, a view back down to the Clark Fork and Highway 135.

From trail 205

At the top edge of the roadless area and the top end of the trail is, what else, a road. In this case it’s called The High Ridge Road and also the eastern trailhead of the CC Divide Trail, USFS trail 404.

High Ridge Road

From the high Ridge Road facing north, Baldy Mountain in the Baldy Mountain roadless area can be easily seen ten miles beyond the small town of Plains, Montana along the Clark Fork which at that point is again headed northwest.

Baldy Mountain from the CC Divide

The previous photos were taken on the ascent. I also took a few on the hike back down.

A quarter of a mile behind this rather obscure trail marker at the top end of the trail (with my pack hanging on it)

Trail marker for the top of trail 205

is this trail sign, the only one to be found on the entire trail.

Trail sign for trail 205

A mile or so from the top, where the trail takes a slight jog to the west is a nice view of the Bitterroot Mountains about thirty miles to the west,

Bitterroot Mountains from trail 205

and in a place where the only relatively level part of the trail occurs is a nice section of open forest which I’ll bet is a favorite feeding area for the local ungulates (deer, elk, moose and Bighorn sheep).

Along the trail

Half way back down is this pretty view of the Cutoff and North Siegel beyond it,

From trail 205

and the trailhead at the bottom, after seven hours on this six(?) mile hike is a welcome sight.

Bottom trailhead for trail 205

March 8, 2008

Burgess Lake

Several hundred times I have driven past the small trail that leads from the side of Montana Highway 200 up to Burgess Lake, and on almost every one of those times I told myself that I should take a little time and make the short hike up to it. Well, Thursday I finally got around to doing just that.

There’s even a fairly convenient place to park along the highway about six miles from the mouth of the Flathead River and two miles inside the western boundary of the Flathead Indian Reservation, and although there is no sign there to mark it and the trail itself is very small and unmarked, it isn’t really all that difficult to locate after looking at a map.

Flathead River

I’ve been told that the lake is only a quarter of a mile from the highway, and maybe that’s true, but the steep little trail is about twice that long, winding nearly a half mile up through a rocky ravine to reach the lake, about four hundred feet above the river at an altitude of about 2,900 feet, laying in a sort of a shelf on the mountainside with the Flathead river valley below and the high country of the Reservation Divide roadless area four miles and four thousand feet above. Winter is not the best time to negotiate that trail on the snow and ice covered rocks, but I made it with a little care, a great pair of hiking boots and a hiking staff I made last summer from a sturdy shaft from a hawthorn tree.

This photo was taken from about half way up the trail, facing toward the east.

East along the lower Flathead

The next three photos show about all there is to see of the little lake itself. It is around a quarter of a mile long and a hundred yards wide at its widest point, but is reputedly loaded with west slope cutthroat trout after Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks in a joint effort with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribe stocked it with 2,600 4″ fingerlings in 2002. It also has the reputation of being the rattlesnake capitol of western Montana, and after getting a really close look at the rocky terrain surrounding the lake, I think that could well be true. I plan to find out once the ice that now covers the lake melts.

Burgess Lake

Burgess Lake

Burgess Lake

Directly to the west about fifteen miles, across the North Siegel roadless area, and across the north end of the Patrick’s Knob roadless area is the peak of Patrick’s Knob itself, heavily snow covered this time of year. This entire area contains an abundance of elk, black bear and mountain lion.

Burgess Lake

Cutthroats or no cutthroats, snakes or no snakes, there are some beautiful views to be seen here for a fairly modest effort. These last two photos were taken from a little ridge above the lake. The first is looking due east, and the second, due west. They were taken one minute apart. There are few places that I know of that have that kind of diversity of landscape. Not a bad place to sit for a spell and enjoy a leisurely lunch!

Flathead River

Patrick's Knob

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