Fadgen's Adventures

Fadgen's Adventures
Green Creek Lake

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Montana and Wyoming August 4-11, 2018

And then there were three.  The initial plan was for five of us to explore some obscure, high prominence peaks in Montana and Wyoming chosen by Michael.  But by the time the trip rolled around, there were only three of us left - Michael, (Super) Dave and myself.  Our ambitious goal involved a couple of overnight backpack trips, a couple of trail head car camps, all spaced around some nights in motels.  Oh, and there would be 1600 miles of driving involved - in eight days!

The itinerary included -
  • Hilgard Peak: at 11,316', is the highest peak in the Madison range just outside of Yellowstone NP
  • Hollowtop Mountain: at 10,604, it's the highest peak in the Tobacco Root Mountains in MT
  • Crazy Peak: at 11,209', is the highest peak in the Crazy Mountains in MT
  • Cloud Peak: at 13,167' is the highest peak in the Bighorn Mountains in WY
  • Fancs Peak: at 13,153' is the highest peak in the Absaroka Range and it's just wild.  You'll see why if you continue reading
  • Mt Jefferson: at 10,203' is a near Henry's Lake in Idaho and we needed a peak to break up the drive home
We would also climb any DDP's (dumpster dive peaks) that we came across if we had the time and inclination.

Hilgard Peak - Saturday/Sunday 
We pulled in to the West Fork Beaver Creek Trail Head just south of Quake Lake after the short 6 hour drive from Boise.  With bear spray hanging from our packs, we headed up the trail to Avalanche Lake a little after 3PM.  The hike to Avalanche Lake wandered through the trees above the West Fork of Beaver Creek, moderating the temperature. Not much must have happened during the hike, since I didn't take any pictures.   After 6 miles we reached the lake and stopped to ponder what to do next.

Previous trip reports mentioned a steep notch, a bunch of boulder hopping and a lake at the base of the peak.  None of these were within view and we were still several miles away. With so many unknowns, we decided to go a little farther and make camp at a smaller lake above Avalanche Lake.
Avalanche Lake
After eating a nice meal while swatting at the persistent mosquitoes, we hit the sack in anticipation of the next day's climb.

We were up reasonably early the next morning and after a quick breakfast, we broke camp and stashed our packs.  Our first goal was some notch that dropped down into Hilgard Basin.  With the notch in view, we started up the steep hillside.  After bypassing a snowfield we popped over the ridge looking for our peak.  Only problem was it wasn't in front of us, it was way to our right!  In our zeal to move upward, we had selected the wrong "notch".
Dave and Michael wondering how we missed the proper notch
After a short 10 minute detour walking along a wide grassy ridge we came to the correct notch and took a look down.  Damn! - steep and loose rock.

Nothing to do but go down.  We spread out and boot skied and/or slid our way to the base of this loose mess, all the while trying to not dislodge rocks or get hurt.

Looking back up
Once at the base, we did our best to try and stay away from the boulder fields.  Unfortunately, multiple boulder fields needed to be crossed to get to the easier walking.  Just couldn't win.
Dave contemplating how to get to the peak
We picked our way through and around the many boulder fields, eventually reaching the base of Hilgard Peak.  We'd all read multiple trip reports for this peak - most mentioned a Class 4 gully, but one mentioned an easier gully followed by a Class 2 walk up.  Hmm, maybe we should try this route?

Michael heading up
We started up what we thought was the easier gully, but it was very difficult to tell due to the near vertical jumble of rocks above us.  Picking our way upward, the less treacherous route forced us to climber's right.  Eventually we came to the steep, loose Class 4 gully as described in the trip reports.  So much for the easier route.
Looking up - which way would you go?
Once we made the big step across the loose, exposed gully we continued to scramble upward.  A nice ramp led us to the final scramble to the top.


Dave and Michael coming across the ramp


The final scramble.
It was snowing (more like flurrying) on the summit.  With dark clouds in the vicinity, we didn't feel like we should linger too long.
Dueling summit Splattskis
So, after a couple of quick photos, we cautiously retraced our steps and breathed a big sigh of relief after we made the gully cross over.

Dave tends to do a lot of contemplating...
Once down, it was just a matter of boulder hopping our way to the base of the notch, scrambling up the loose rocks and then back down the other side.  Once back at camp, we were surprised to see a crazy squirrel gnawing on Dave's pack.  Luckily, it didn't tear off one of the shoulder straps!

Dave modeling the latest squirrel inspired Osprey pack design
After chasing away the squirrel, we shouldered our packs and made the short 6 mile walk back to the truck.

Stats for Hilgard
Distance: 19 miles
Elevation gain: 6000 feet


Hollowtop Mountain - Monday

Hollowtop was supposed to be an easy day, allowing us to rest up prior to Crazy Peak.  We spent the previous evening visiting with old and new friends at Montana Ale Works, in Bozeman.  After a filling breakfast at the Royal 7 Motel, we backtracked past Norris to the little town of Pony, MT.  After a short drive on gravel, we picked up a rough 4WD road and took it to its terminus.  Here we started hoofing it on a well worn two track trail.

This trail eventually faded away and after a short side hill hike through the trees, we were staring at a wide ramp at the base of the peak.  At this point I realized I had forgotten my camera, so not many pictures on this hike.

The hike to the summit was steep, but was mostly on tundra type grass, which was nice.  After a short period we obtained the summit ridge and were soon enjoying the views from the top.

Hollowtop summit view
We were all feeling pretty good so we made the decision to contour around the ridge and climb Mt Jefferson.  Once on top of Mt Jefferson, we turned around, re-traced our steps back over Hollowtop and then back to the truck.

Looking back, this was a relatively easy day.  But at the time, it sure didn't feel like one.

Hollowtop/Jefferson Stats
Distance: 8.6 miles
Elevation gain: 3600 feet

Crazy Peak - Tuesday 
We didn't have a lot of beta for the route Michael chose for Crazy Mountain - the SE ridge.  The main beta was from Lupe (a dog),  which described an attempt at this route (http://www.adventuresoflupe.com/?tag=crazy-peak) that apparently was pioneered by a guy named Victor Zhou.

The standard route for Crazy Peak starts at Half Moon TH and involves a tricky descent down a steep notch (sound familiar?).  From the topo map and Lupe's description, our route appeared to be straightforward, a little longer but not as steep.

After some fun moments on a "road" through farmer John's muddy field, we eventually reached our goal, a small clearing at 6900 feet on Crazy's SE ridge.  Side stepping the numerous fresh cow pies, we plopped our sleeping gear on the ground and hit the sack with the anticipation of an early start.

With images of Lupe leading the way, we were on our feet heading up through the trees by 7AM.  Our goal was to stay on the spine of the ridge, and we did our best.  The summit of Crazy Peak finally came in to view around 8:30, and it seemed to be a long ways off.

Crazy is way back there
Once out of the trees the fun started.  Though not steep, the ridge alternated between knife edged and rounded.  We spent the majority of our time on the spine with only an occasional down climb to skirt small cliff bands.

Balancing

More ridge




We made it past Lupe's high point of 10,400' and were waiting for the kick in the balls that Victor had mentioned.  We assumed it was the last steep couple hundred feet of scrambling.  We enjoyed this last bit and were on the top after five hours of scrambling the SE ridge.
There are a lot of other peaks in the Crazy Mountains
The only problem with this particular route was that there wasn't an easy walk off.  We had to re-trace our path down this ridge.  What took five hours to ascend, took five tiring hours to descend.
Michael's response on a request to hang off the cliff  in front of him

Taking our time on the down climb.
We eventually made it back to the truck - hot, tired and thirsty.  It was a long day, but we had no time to waste.  We piled in the truck and hit the road.  After a short stop to eat at the Thirsty Turtle in Big Timber, we were on our way to the lovely town of Worland, WY - the Gateway to the Cloud Peak Wilderness.

Crazy Stats
Distance: 9 miles
Elevation: 4600 feet
Time: 10 hours

Cloud Peak - Wednesday/Thursday
After a lovely evening in the Town House Motor Inn (2.8 stars!) and a great breakfast at the Brass Plum (4.6 stars), we drove to the West Tensleep Trail Head, the entry point to the Cloud Peak Wilderness area.

Our plan for Cloud Peak was to backpack in roughly 8 miles, set up camp above Mistymoon Lake, and then climb Cloud and return to the truck the next day.  With the trail head at 9200 feet and Mistymoon Lake at 10,200, this didn't appear to be too tough of a first day.


Lake Helen with Cloud Peak in the shadows above
We motored up the mellow trail for the first five miles to Lake Helen and were surprised by the amount of people out.  For such an obscure peak to us Idaho folks, this is a popular destination for the Midwestern flatlanders.

 Once past Lake Helen, we were above tree line and it was starting to get warm.  I was probably partially dehydrated from the previous day's climb of Crazy and wasn't feeling too energetic  by this point.  After another couple miles we reached Mistymoon Lake.  A short uphill pull and we were looking down in the Paint Rock Creek valley.
Paint Rock Creek Valley
 Most trip reports (excluding Lupe's) suggest camping at Mistymoon Lake prior to climbing Cloud Peak.  Apparently most people read Lupe's trip report, because Dave counted 15 tents set up in this lush valley.  Oh well, we moved above the falls and found a nice place to set up our three tents.
Paint Rock Falls
That evening was spent hydrating and preparing for the next days climb.  We had the opportunity to speak to a couple of folks on their way down. Most had been out all day (8-10 hours) and were whipped.  Hmm, maybe we should have allotted three days for this trip?

The next morning we had our usual alpine start at the crack of 7AM.  We had 3000 feet of gain over 3 miles to the summit.  We followed the use trail as best we could.  Cairns seemed to be placed all over the mountain, so we used them occasionally, but for the most part stuck to our own methods as the route was pretty obvious.  The goal was to stay off the immense boulder fields as much as possible while continuing upward.

Small rocks

And large rocks
Even though we were forced to do a lot of boulder hopping, we made good time moving up and reached the summit at 10AM.  It was a gorgeous morning and we had the summit all to ourselves. 

Buffalo Tongue Glacier

Camp is back down there somewhere
 After enjoying the summit views for 45 minutes, and with the knowledge of we had a long way to go that afternoon, we started back down.
Cloud Peak from Mistymoon Lake
We picked our way down, doing a better job staying out of the boulder fields.  We were worried about Dave's tasty pack, since we had seen marmots in the area and there we no trees in the area to hang packs.  But, to our delight, the marmots stayed away.  

It was getting warm by the time we reached camp.  We stopped to eat lunch and top off our depleted water supplies before shouldering our packs.  I was dreading the steep uphill portion above Paint Rock Creek, but the slight breeze blowing almost made it pleasurable - not.  

The last 8 miles was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other and keep moving down the trail.  The heat remained a constant factor, but the occasional shade and breeze helped.  We reached the truck a little after 5PM, hot and tired.

After some slight truck alterations, we were on our way to the Oasis RV Park in Meeteetse, WY.

Cloud Stats
Distance: 24 miles
Elevation: 5800 feet
Time: 16 hours


Francs Peak - Friday
Francs Peak had been on our minds the whole trip as most of the trip reports we read mentioned grizzly bear sightings.  Dave asked Michael about the trip report dates - maybe our trip didn't coincide with the others?  That wasn't the case, all the reports were from the August/September time frame.

Micheal was a little hesitant putting my old truck through another grueling 4WD trip.  The reports on Phelps Mountain Road were all over the place - from "horriblly rocky" to "not so bad".  Since Lupe hadn't done this peak, we didn't have a dog's point off view.  I figured we'd take it one turn at a time.

Phelps Mountain Road was definitely steep, definitely rocky, but not so bad. After we traversed through the steep, rocky switch backs it opened up on to a broad plateau at roughly 11,000 feet.  We followed this to the end and were greeted by a young lady sitting on the tailgate of a Forest Service truck.

She was helping out on a grizzly/human interaction study and was wondering if we'd carry GPS tracking devices. We heartily agreed, and after quizzing her on the number of bears in the area, we were on our way.

Nice mulies

The Wyoming "Serengeti"

Francs Peak on the right
Since there was no trail to Francs Peak, we just started up the steep grass covered hillside.  We were moving slow, a combination of the steepness and the week's hiking were having an affect.
Dave and Michael in the bottom right
We were happy to be above treeline, in theory we would be able to spot any bears from a distance.  This was true the majority of the time, with the exception being ridges.
There was bear sign everywhere!  Large (pony size) piles of scat, disturbed soil and rocks, footprints as well as claw marks in the snow. 
Grizzly scat

Footprint

Hmm
We were cautious.  There was a lot of shouting, singing, etc. every time we came over a rise or around a corner.  Once on the ridge, we found a trail that was going our direction.  We surmised this was a sheep trail, as this was supposed to be a big horn sheep area.  Though, the only signs we saw on the trail were grizzly, no trace of sheep.

As we crested a ridge, Dave called us over.  There was a sow grizzly with three (yearling?) cubs a couple of hundred yards away.  They had seen/smelled us and were quickly moving down the slope away from us.  After a few minutes and photos, they moved out of sight and we continued on.
Sow and three cubs
Over the next crest I spotted a single bear on the hillside a few hundred yards away.  After moving to get a better view, I saw another three (older cubs I assume) playing in a patch of snow down lower.  The lone bear (sow?) came and gathered up the three and they started up the mountain away from us.  Damn - 8 bears within a few minutes.

With all this sign and now sightings, the hair on our necks was tingling.  The summit was in sight, we were just hoping we wouldn't be greeted by bears on top!  We saw another single grizzly in a different draw that was moving up the mountain towards us.  After a minute of shouting and waving, he finally saw us and turned around.
Getting close
After a short push, we were on the summit at 13,153 feet.  No bears, but a large assortment of flying insects greeted us.  We sat down to read the register, eat, and talk about the area.  We were excited to see nine bears on the way up, but several people had reported in the register of seeing over 20!

After a bit we moved off the summit and heard a commotion below us.  It appears that the four bears that had been in the snow were just on the other side of the ridge.  Once they caught wind of us, they hightailed it down the steep rocky slopes causing a ruckus.
Hightailing bears
The bugs finally chased us from the summit and we re-traced our steps down.  Along the way we spotted a couple of solitary bears, including a cool looking two-toned bear.  He looked great in the binoculars, the picture below doesn't do him justice.
Large two-tone grizzly
 We continued our shouting and singing most of the way down the mountain, and luckily didn't run into any bears.  They seemed to be hanging up high around the snow patches.

On the drive to Cody we did a little research and read that the Francs Peak area has one of the highest concentrations of grizzly bears in the lower 48 during the months of August and September.  Apparently they congregate to feed on the Army Cutworm Moth.

Francs Stats
Distance: 8.5 miles
Elevation: 3500 feet
Time: 7 hours


Mount Jefferson - Saturday
We were a long way from Boise.  The only reasonable way home was to travel through Yellowstone NP, on a Friday evening.  In the middle of August.  What were we thinking?  After a nice BBQ dinner in Cody, WY, we joined the throngs of folks headed toward the park.  Knowing that we wanted to get home at a reasonable time the next day, we decided to drive through the park to be closer to our last peak - Mount Jefferson.

As dusk turned to dark, I cautiously drove through the park.  While there was still some light, we spotted a big bull elk next to the road.  The only other animal encounter occurred in complete darkness.    I was half hallucinating with fatigue when we came upon a massive bison walking down the opposite lane.  Thankfully, he wasn't in our lane!

After a couple of mis-steps trying to find a place to camp (one at a KOA!) we finally found a spot off Sawtell Mountain Road.  We spread our sleeping gear on the ground, grabbed our bear spray and called it a night at 12:30AM.

Sign at trail head
After a quick breakfast, we drove the 4-5 miles up Sawtell Mountain Road to our trail head.  We again grabbed our bear spray and sang our way through the trees. We followed a nice trail until it dropped into a valley to our North and then headed for the ridge to Mount Jefferson.

It was really heating up (105 or so in Boise) so we didn't dawdle.  A short side hill and then a steep pull up the ridge and we were on the summit of Mount Jefferson at 10,203 feet.
Mount Jefferson in the back



On the way back, we hit a DDP (Peak 9550) that only added a short amount of elevation gain to our total.  It was 85 degrees when we got back to the truck.

Time to head home!

Jefferson Stats
Distance: 8 miles
Elevation: 2500 feet
Time: 4.5 hours

What started out as being called Micheal's Obscure Peaks (MOP), ended up being called Michael's Awesome Peaks (MAP).  Maybe is should be the MOAP (Michael's Obscure Awesome Peaks)?  Each of these peaks was completely different from the another and all were great adventures!


Total Trip Stats
Hiking Distance: 77 miles
Elevation gain: 26,000 feet
Driving Distance: Over 1500 miles

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A team of adventurers consisting of John, Tamara, Taylor, Dylan, and Shadow Fadgen