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

January 13, 2008

U.S.F.S.trail # 223T, the beginning

Trail 223T appears to be a fairly easy and pleasant route to access at least the lower elevations of the South Siegel – South cutoff roadless area. I have just begun to explore this great looking trail and so far have just seen the first part of it. The first three photos were taken where it begins, at an elevation of 2560 feet along the Clark Fork river where Montana Highway 135 makes its only crossing of the river at the Fourteen Mile bridge. The high ground (6000 feet elevation) of the area can be seen at the skyline in the first one.

Clark Fork on the cutoff


Clark Fork on the cutoff


Clark Fork on the cutoff

It soon enters the forest and follows the course of the river upstream for 8 – 10 miles in the forest just above the river, staying just inside the lower (northern) boundary of the roadless area.

USFS trail #223

This is a beautiful piece of Lolo National forest consisting mostly of fir, pine and cedar with lush undergrowth and tiny seeps of water trickling down out of the high country above. The tracks on the log footbridge are those of deer and coyotes, both of whom are abundant here.

USFS trail # 223.

This section is a bit higher, 250 feet above the river where the trail climbs to get past the nearly vertical hillsides next to the river. The tracks in the photo are those of a cougar. I have not visited here before this winter, but I can imagine its summertime beauty!

USFS trail # 223

The following photos were taken from just off the trail as it winds through one of its higher sections. This is a heavily shaded section of trail and would be a wonderfully cool place for a leisurely hike during the mid-day heat of late summer.

The Clark Fork seen from trail 223.


The Clark Fork seen from trail 223

I plan to explore more of the trail in the next few days and will post more photos of what I encounter, but the trail conditions are not the best for hiking at the moment, with snow levels varying from a few inches to a foot: deep enough to make hiking difficult, but not deep enough for snowshoes. In such a pretty area though, and with no one else’s tracks anywhere around, I know it won’t be possible to stay away!

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