Montana Outdoors

July 13, 2008

Looking back

When I visited the remains of the old lookout atop Baldy Mountain on a hike today an interesting perspective came to mind.

I will continue to post a few more photos from Penrose Peak later, but thought these two photos might just fit here.

Last Monday I took this photo from beside the remains of the old lookout atop Penrose Peak. The tallest peak at the far left skyline is Baldy Mountain, 19 miles away in the Baldy Mountain roadless area in the Cabinet Mountains.

Penrose Peak to Baldy Mountain

Today I took this photo from beside the remains of the lookout tower atop Baldy Mountain. The peak at the skyline at almost dead center is Penrose Peak which is in the Cherry Peak roadless area in the Coeur d’Alene Mountains.

Baldy Mountain to Penrose Peak

Here’s lookin’ at ya, neighbor! (I am blessed to live almost exactly in between.)

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July 12, 2008

Penrose Peak, Part 6

The last section of trail 385 to the top of the peak is about a mile and a half long. It starts at 5,700 feet, reaches 7,073 feet at the top, and gets there rather aggressively. In the next photo, Penrose is the peak to the left and the trail roughly follows the crest of the ridge on up to it, although it does break out into the clear on the left several times, and several other times it was necessary to pick my way through the open area because the trail was still covered with snow, sometimes ten feet deep (20 feet near the top).

Penrose Peak

When in the open, the views were spellbinding. The high country to the left is an un-named peak adjacent to Penrose. Here the trail is fairly easy to see.

On Penrose Peak trail 385

Some of this area is part of Mother Nature’s flower garden. There are many of the natural elements that I love so much in this photo.

On Penrose Peak trail 385

This Forest Service Location Poster is still fastened to a tree beside the trail and at the top is scratched the date “8/23/30”. The tree that it’s fastened to has been dead for perhaps 20 years.

On Penrose Peak trail 385

This section of trail, shaded a little by the fir trees, still holds enough snow to obscure the trail itself, but the old blaze mark on the tree in the foreground shows exactly where it is. I would guess the blaze mark was made perhaps 80 years ago and the tree looks to have been dead for up to 50 years.

Trail 385 to Penrose Peak

Here the peak, which is steadily getting closer, can be seen through a thicket of skeletons of sub-alpine firs. They appear to have been fire-killed, probably from a small fire started by a lightning strike, a fairly common occurrence in this type of country.

Trail 385 to Penrose Peak

In this photo, the coarse-looking grass in the foreground is beargrass that isn’t blooming this year, next, part of the forest at this elevation which is nearly all Sub-alpine Firs, the valley is that of the Clark Fork River, the mountains just beyond it are the eastern end of the Cabinet Mountain range and the dimly visible mountains at the horizon are the Missions. I got a lot for my money in this photo!

Trail 385 to Penrose Peak

I will end this post by a couple of photos of a beautiful little Spruce Grouse (1 – 2 pounds) who paid me a visit while I was taking a rest and scenery stop prior to the final tough climb. Her curiosity and actions told me that she had probably never seen a human before and I hope I didn’t disappoint her too much. 

Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan

July 10, 2008

Penrose Peak, Part 5

From the saddle where I spent a cool but comfortable night under an ink-black sky chock full of pure white stars which are ever so much brighter in the high country, there are two routes that may be taken to get to Penrose, and they converge about a mile and a half before the final climb to the peak at another saddle on the ridge at 5,700 feet. The old road takes a slow steady route down to that point while the trail climbs to 6,500 feet, then descends quite rapidly back down 800 feet to meet the road.

The road affords no good views because of the forest cover, but the topographic maps showed that the trail, at its crest, ran along the edge of some very steep country which should have afforded some views. I took the trail. (Incidentally, for those who might be interested, there are two topographic maps that cover this area quite well, the Sunset Peak Quadrangle, Montana, 7.5-Minute Series and the Penrose Peak Quadrangle, Montana. 7.5-Minute series.)

The following photos, with just a few comments, will provide a sample of what it’s like to travel this route.

I know I’m posting a lot of photos and up to and including most of the ones in this post, they haven’t been terribly interesting. Not all of a trip like this is terribly interesting, but that’s part of the whole experience and I have attempted to show that part of it too. In the rest of the posts, on the final climb up to the peak, the trail gets out of and/or above the trees and the views become clearer.

To the southwest of the trail, Montana’s Bitterroot range is visible at the skyline.

View to the west

Rest stop along the trail. (Actually, that is the trail and an illustration of the value of blaze marks!)

Rest stop along the trail

Another look toward the southwest

View to the west

The peaks, with Penrose on the left are now getting closer. Just past this point the trail becomes tantalizing because it is starting to descend while the peak seems to be growing taller.

The peaks

Unknown species of flowers along the trail.

Unknown wildflowers

Peeking at the peaks.

Peeking at the peaks

On the right side of the ridge to the northeast, this view is especially significant to me. The deep Eddy Creek canyon leading down to the Clark Fork River is a major terrain feature which is helpful while navigating in these parts. The canyon up through the mountains on the other side of the valley is the Munson Creek Canyon inside the TeePee – Spring Creek Roadless area in the Cabinet Mountains. Last summer I hiked the entire 6 miles of it from the river level to the 6,900 foot high ridge at the skyline and wrote several posts about the trip.

View to the northeast

To the north, with the Cabinets to the far right and the high country of the roadless area center.

View to the north

Toward the east across what used to be a beautiful section of forest, Baldy Mountain is at the skyline, center. Sadly, however, the brownish cast over large areas of the forest are trees dying from Pine and Fir beetle infestations brought on by the 7 years of drought that we’ve just had.

To the east of trail 385

The last two photos were taken looking into the area of the high peaks and show in the foreground why the topo maps showed very steep ground.

The high peaks

The high peaks

Starting with the photos in the next post I think it will start to become clear why it was worth all of this effort to hike to Penrose Peak.

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

July 8, 2008

Penrose Peak, Part 3

The beginning of the trip.

I will post quite a few of the photos I took on this hike in order to give a good idea of what the whole area looks like and what one sees while walking through it. There are great views available just about everywhere. I think it will be best to post the photos in groups of eight or so per post and therefore I will do a series of posts.

In the very early 1900’s, a fire lookout was built on the top of Penrose and trails were developed for the use of pack strings to take the necessary materials for it’s construction up to it and then to carry up provisions for the person manning the lookout during the summers. They are still called “pack trails”, but my observation is that they are hardly ever used except for the first mile or so by hunters in the fall season. (Horses leave behind calling cards that will last for several years but I have found very little evidence of horse travel on any of them, however all of the trails are extensively used by wildlife: for example, bear sign was visible literally everywhere along my nine mile hike including one huge pile of scat left by a Grizzly just below the peak.)

There are several routes one might take take to get to the peak. One is by USFS trail 385 from the east, a distance of about 6 miles. I hiked part of that trail last summer and found it to be quite pretty for the most part although the first mile or so is quite aggressive. Another is by using USFS trail 398 which I have not visited. It looks to be about a five mile shot and it has to be a very aggressive trail, starting at about 2,800 feet. A third is by taking USFS trail 385 for a couple miles from the CC Divide pack trail 404 west of the peak.

If you are interested in hiking this area, please refer to the Lolo National Forest map which shows road and trail numbers, copies of which are available at ranger stations within the forest, or they can be ordered from the Lolo National Forest website: a link to their site is on my right sidebar. There are also some excellent maps available online at a terrific website, RoadlessLand.org. (I will also be posting a number of photos on that website.) The trails however are seldom used and poorly marked except for the very old blaze marks that are essential in a good number of places in order to be able to find the trail at all.

I chose a to take fourth route which is quite a bit longer but I have found it to be very scenic. I have hiked the first part of it many times. It is about 9 miles long and provides many great views into the roadless area and also looks out over the Clark Fork valley and into the Cabinet mountains on the other side of it. This route starts by taking USFS road 7581 from the valley at Swamp Creek for ten miles until it is gated off and motorized travel of any kind is thereafter prohibited. After the gate (at about 4,700 feet), the old road is excellent for hiking and after about 6 miles you will arrive at its intersection with USFS trail 385, which is where I spent Sunday night at a little over 6,000 feet. I have posted many photos in previous posts which were taken from that trail.

The first six photos in this post were taken along the drivable part of the road before the trail head. In my opinion it’s a beautiful road! (You can ignore this part if you don’t care for Indian Paintbrush.)

The road isn’t overly wide, but it’s very rocky and doesn’t wash out during bad weather.

USFS road 7581

Indian Paintbrush along USFS road 7581

Along USFS road 7581

Along USFS road 7581

Indian Paintbrush

Indian Paintbrush along USFS road 7581

The gate entering the non-motorized area and the beginning of the hike at 4,700 feet.

USFS road 7581 at the non-motorized area

Situated at about the 3 mile point is one of my favorite viewing locations at an elevation of about 5,500 feet and offers the first look at Penrose Peak (the one on the far left with the sharp point, and yes, it really is that steep when going up to it) and the other tall peaks in the roadless area.

The peaks of the Cherry Peak roadless area

This photo shows the northwest slope of Sacajawea Peak and is a representative picture of the forest in that immediate area.

North slope of Sacajawea Peak

My next post will cover the rest of the hike to my camp spot and the start of the trail to the peak.

Penrose Peak, Part 2

The question many may ask when they see my posts about the hike to the top of Penrose Peak is,”why?”. It’s a very personal thing, but my answer can be seen in this photo and others that I will post later:

From the top of Penrose (7073 ft.).

From the top of Penrose Peak.

It’s my feeling that mountains, to be truly appreciated, must be seen from high places. To see such a vast area of western Montana’s wild country from a vantage point like this is worth the nine mile hike it took to get here, a hike which involved about nine hours on the trail and a combined vertical climb of over three thousand feet. If this peak gets two visitors in a year that would be considered heavy traffic.

This photo was taken facing roughly northeast just about directly over the route that the trail takes. The small town of Plains lies in the valley at the right center 12 miles away. (It was from there that the first photo in my previous post was taken.) The tall peak at the skyline to the left is 7,464 foot Baldy Mountain which sits within the Baldy Mountain roadless area at 19 miles. Very dimly visible at the skyline at the top center of the photo just below the line of clouds and 50 miles in the distance are the Mission Mountains. (Distances are air miles or line-of-sight.)

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