Montana Outdoors

June 3, 2017

A little scenery for a change

For a change from all of the flower photos that I have posted lately, here are a few scenery shots taken on today’s hike into the Coeur d’Alene Mountains on the south side of the Clark Fork River. The taller peaks are all over 7,000 feet in elevation and are inside the 57 square mile Cherry Peak Roadless Area, one of my favorite places. Access to the edge of the roadless area is a Forest Service road that can be driven for about 10 miles at which point the remainder is closed by a gate for wildlife protection but open to foot or horse traffic. These photos were taken from that road as I hiked about 4 miles up it to get a good open look at the peaks from an elevation of about 5,500 feet: the valley below is at an elevation of about 2,400 feet. This is very wild country and so you are never sure of just what you might meet or see.

Clark Fork Valley

Coeur d'Alene Mountains

Eddy Creek Canyon meeting the Clark FOrk Valley

USFS Rd 7581

Coeur d'Alene Mountains

Coeur d'Alene Mountains

USFS Rd 7581

USFS Rd 7581

Penrose Peak

Cherry Peak

Clark Fork Valley

December 8, 2013

Cherry Peak

Cherry Peak Roadless Area

Cherry Peak and the other peaks in the Cherry Peak Roadless Area photographed from atop Penrose peak on July 7, 2008. The photo shows the northern part of the 57 square mile roadless area.

And along the trail just below the peak, beside a snowbank, Woodland Penstemons (Nothochelone nemorosa) in bloom.

Woodland Penstemon

November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Among many other things, I’m thankful for mountain peaks that are still pristine,

(Cherry Peak in the Cherry Peak roadless area)

Cherry Peak

places with southern exposures that look like this,

(the Bitterroot Mountains in the distance viewed from Penrose Peak)

From Penrose Peak

northern slopes still loaded with snow in July,

(The Northern slope of Penrose Peak on July 7th)

North side of Penrose Peak in July

and little critters that still live in these beautiful places as they have for thousands of years.

(Columbian Ground Squirrel in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains)

Columbian Ground Squirrel

Most of all I’m thankful that there are still folks around who also love places like these!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

July 18, 2008

Penrose Peak, Part 9

As you look toward the northwest from Penrose, in the first photo, and a little more to the north in the second, you are looking out over nearly all of the 59 square miles of the Cherry Peak roadless area. It has long been managed as a roadless, non-motorized use area, home to abundant wildlife of many different species including the big game species of grizzly bears, black bears, cougars, bobcats, wolves, deer, elk, moose and bighorn sheep, (and very likely Canadian Lynx) and a wealth of smaller species including ptarmigan which is not endangered, but pretty darn scarce these days.

It’s an area of very secluded retreat for the occasional traveler on foot or horseback where the natural world can be viewed and enjoyed in approximately the condition it has been in for thousands of years.

In the proposed Lolo National Forest plan, it will all be opened for winter motorized use (snowmobiles), and the upper slopes of Cameron and Lynx Creeks (visible in the canyon area in the left center of the first photo) will be opened to regularly scheduled timber production (which would include road building and the further use of those roads for wheeled motorized travel). I have asked before and now ask again in concert with a large number of conservation groups… “why in the world would we want to do that“?

Cherry Peak roadless area

Cherry Peak

(These are my favorite two photos and they have made the whole trip well worthwhile for me. I will cherish them for a long, long time.)

July 17, 2008

Penrose Peak, Part 8

The “cab” on the peak.

There is very little information available about most of the lesser known western mountain peaks, and what is available is hard to come by. In my searches for information on Penrose I found practically nothing, but it did show up in one listing of peaks that had been used as fire lookouts. That fact was way in the back of my mind as I hiked the last part of the trail to the top, and therefore it was somewhat of a surprise when I ascended above this last snowbank

Penrose peak, just before the summit

and looked up to see this sight above me.

Penrose Peak

Penrose Peak

The listing was correct: Penrose had once been the site of a fire lookout, the kind that, because of the way the top of the peak was configured, needed no tower. In this case a simple cabin, called a “ground cab”, was built with rock walls and possibly glass windows all around with a gabled roof. The base is still in surprisingly good condition.

With no good information to go on, I can only guess at the dates of the lookout. While there were fire lookout towers even before the founding of the U.S. Forest Service in 1905, I would guess this one might have been built after that.

A huge wildfire in 1910 known as the “Great Fire of 1910” or the “Big Blowup” burned over 3 million acres of forest through Washington, Idaho and Montana and killed 87 people. Even when I was a kid in the 1940’s much of the burn area from it could be plainly seen across western Montana and I still remember my father pointing it out to me as we drove through some of the high mountain areas. Smoke from that fire was heavy in Denver, 700 miles southeast, and the ash fallout caused street lamps to be turned on in the afternoon in Missoula Montana about 70 miles away. There were reports that traces of the smoke actually made it as far east as Washington DC.

One of the results of this fire was that early fire detection and suppression became a priority and caused a huge increase in the building of fire lookout towers for early detection, aided in 1933 by the formation of the Civilian Conservation Corps which made available an enormous amount of manpower and funding. By the late 30’s there were around 8,000 fire lookout towers in the United States. My guess is that the one on Penrose is likely of that vintage.

Following are some photos taken from the base of that old tower.

Roughly to the southwest: some of the high peaks of the Bitterroot Mountains can be seen in the distance and just before the forest is the burn area from a very hot fire that burned 3,500 acres of beetle-killed trees in 2003. (I watched the smoke plume from it from my house.) Note the bead of old cement along the top of the wall: I suppose that was the base for whatever kind of windows were used in the cabin, if there were indeed windows.

Penrose Peak Fire lookout base

Through the door, part of the town of Plains is visible to the east-southeast in the Clark Fork Valley about 12 miles away.

Penrose Peak Fire lookout base

To the north across the Clark Fork is the TeePee/Spring Creek roadless area in the Cabinet Mountains, including Bighole Peak and its own fire lookout.

Penrose Peak Fire lookout base

Northwest of Penrose stand the other high peaks of the Cherry Peak roadless area, including Eddy peak at the far end which holds its own tower, one of the few which are still in service today.

Penrose Peak Fire lookout base

All in all, quite a viewing area for a lonely lookout who was probably communicating with those manning similar towers on other peaks by means of a heliograph, a device which used two mirrors to reflect sunlight and send messages in Morse Code.

July 14, 2008

Penrose Peak, Part 7

The following photos were taken along the top half mile of the trail, where I moved much more slowly, not because the climb was all that difficult, but because the views used up all of my available attention.

The Bitterroot Range is at the horizon in the first three photos.

Penrose peak trail 385

Penrose peak trail 385

Penrose peak trail 385

In this photo the small town of Plains Montana lies in the Clark Fork Valley below with a few of the Cabinet Mountains immediately behind it and the Mission Mountains are at the sky line, 50 miles in the distance.

Penrose peak trail 385

A little farther to the north, 7,400 foot Baldy Mountain dominates the skyline 19 miles away.

Penrose peak trail 385

In the next photo, the trail shows up as nearly vertical along the right side of the photo. It was a little steep, the kind of trail that makes your knees get to know your chin quite well. There are several sections like this near the top.

Penrose Peak, trail 385

Penrose Peak, trail 385

Finally, a first look at the other peaks in the Cherry Peak roadless area. Until now they were hidden by the ridge.

Penrose Peak, trail 385

More of the peaks toward the western end of the roadless area. Only three of them are named.

Penrose Peak, trail 385

Penrose Peak, trail 385

With the peak just a short rock-scramble above, this became the most dangerous part of the entire trip. To get to the rocky knob leading to the very top, it was necessary to cross about 30 feet of deep snow-bank and if I were to slide down it, that snowbank at the left-bottom of this photo is where I would land after a fall of about 800 feet. The top inch and a half of the snow was slushy, but firm under that and about 10 feet deep. With my boots I kicked out stair steps ahead of me on the way up and anchored by jamming my hiking staff deep into the firm snow. No problem!

Penrose Peak, trail 385

The next post will be at the top and there will be some photos taken from there.

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