Montana Outdoors

May 7, 2007

Mountains from afar

Sometimes we seem to be prone to overlooking the obvious. While waiting for enough snow to melt in the high country that I could get up there to take some photos from within some of the existing roadless areas, I’ve largely ignored the fact that sometimes it may be just as well to see them from afar.

With that thought in mind, here are a few photos of the mountains inside two of those areas in the Cabinet Mountains of Montana taken from a distance. These mountains and these areas would receive wilderness designation with the passage of the Wilderness bill H.R. 1975.

This is Mount Baldy (7,464 ft) in the Baldy Mountain roadless area looking just about due east from Weeksville Divide. This is a fairly small area of 6,482 acres (10.1 square miles) and it starts about 1 ½ miles to the left of the peak, and extends roughly 2 ½ miles to the right, 1 mile below and 2 miles on the far side.

Mt Baldy

From the same place, looking north-north east, Thompson Peak (7,460 ft) in the south half of the McGregor – Thompson roadless area can be seen in this photo:

Thompson Peak

This area consists of 27,210 acres, or 42.5 square miles. The slopes below it have already been pretty heavily logged, as can be seen in the white patches of snow in the foreground.

A wider view also shows Little Thompson Peak (7,029 ft) slightly to the left of Thompson Peak. Just below these peaks, there is a beautiful spring that gushes out of the mountainside and gives birth to the north fork of the Little Thompson River.

Thompson Peak and Little Thompson Peak

Locating and understanding the outlines of these areas is possible thanks to what has become one of my favorite websites, the Roadless Area Database. This site was created by Nelson Guda who is a photographer, biologist, scientific film-maker, and the associate director of the Environmental Science Institute at the University of Texas at Austin.

It‘s an incredible piece of work and allows the viewer to locate roadless areas by state, by National Forest, and by area, and allows the data to be displayed in a road map format, a topographic map format or a satellite image format.

May 5, 2007

Weeksville Divide

Today was a perfect day for a hike, especially one I’ve wanted to do for some time now. Besides spending a day in those beautiful mountains, it would tell me if the conditioning hikes I have been doing for four months now would pay off.

Just after sunrise, with clear skies and a temperature of 28º, I started here, where a small stream, Todd Creek, flows into another small stream, Mudd Creek.

Todd Creek

What the sign doesn’t mention is that about half way to Highway 200 is Weeksville Divide, and that it’s 2,500 feet higher than the sign. The climb up goes along the full length of Todd Creek to its birthplace at the divide. It starts in a little canyon full of old growth forest, mostly firs and cedars, and the sound of the little creek cascading down through it is like listening to a soundtrack of the wilderness.

About half way up, a gap through the trees provided a view of what would lie ahead. The road crosses the divide from right to left just below the patch of snow. I never tire of looking at all those trees! Taking deep breaths of the cold, pure air makes the exertion pleasurable.

Weeksville Divide

I love the mountains, and after looking up at them from the valley all winter, it’s now good to see them the way I think they should be seen; from high places. From the top of the divide, the south and west slopes of Mt Baldy appear to be right next door, but the hazes of morning and the true distance, color them blue. Not a bad setting for lunch!

Mt Baldy

Also at the divide is the beginning of Weeksville Creek. I now follow its canyon to where it flows into the Clark Fork River. It’s my opinion that hiking down hill is much more tiring than hiking up hill.

For miles all across the high country there were signs of moose, tracks and droppings, but none of those big guys presented themselves for viewing today. There were also several sets of wolf tracks in the mud and the snow near the divide. It’s nice to know they’re here, and the probable interaction between the two leads to some interesting speculations.

From a few miles down into the south side of the divide, the Clark Fork Valley can be seen in the far distance. The end of the hike will be down there.

Lower Clark Fork Valley, western Montana

When I arrived at the highway along the river I completed a hike that covered the entire lengths of one Forest Service road and two small creeks. 17 miles and just short of 8 hours on the trail made a full and rewarding day. It appears that there’s hope for us old gaffers after all!

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