Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Peak Season is Over

The mercury is dropping and it is officially flannel season in Montana-fall in other words.  Even the mountains decided they were tired of being naked and Mother Nature graciously covered them in snow.  As they should be.

A group of us had planned on bagging the highest peak in the Absaroka mountain range, Mount Cowen, but it turns out Mother Nature had decided otherwise.  Peak season is over, just as the peak season at the ranch is winding down.  Sunday evening we trekked in 6 miles to camp at Elbow Lake, which is located right below the peak.  Around 11 o'clock that night the rain started and only stopped in order to turn to snow.  Considering that the peak is a class IV scramble-read: quite scary-with snow it was a no-go.  Oh well, still a fantastic camping trip.

While peaks are out of the question now, it is time for other things like fly fishing.  It should be turning on here pretty quick.  The snow on the peaks will only make the backdrop for that more beautiful and means that ski season is just that much closer...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Pine Creek

Crazy Peak got the best of me last week.  That was definitively not going to happen this time around.  Time to head back to the top of the world and hike up to Pine Creek Lake, followed by summiting Black Mountain.  10,941 feet.  Not much to say about the hike that pictures cannot more judiciously describe.

Sometimes it is great to just walk and let your mind run.  Today was one of those days.

Waterfall on the approach to the lake.

A baby lake in between the lake and waterfall.  Black Mountain lies in the background, obscured by clouds.  I imagine this is what hiking in Scotland would look like.

Finally, the clouds broke as I got to the lake.  Time for a sunshine nap for rest and warmth-it was quite chilly-before ascending to the peak (right hand corner of this photo).

Victory amongst the clouds.

Thursday, September 5, 2013


99.5% can be disappointing.

Let me explain.  My weekly adventure took me to the Crazies, an isolated mountain range north of Livingston.  The goal: Crazy Peak, the namesake of the range, and my first peak over 11,000 feet, standing tall at 11,209.

Okay, but first check out this sunrise I was treated to in Paradise Valley.  To be so lucky.

The day broke bright and clear, with a smattering of fluffy lambswool clouds drifting overhead, a slight breeze, and temperatures in the 80s.  Nature supplied some candy along the trail in the form of wild raspberries, and the relatively flat part of the hike finished at beautiful Blue Lake.

After the lake things got interesting.  There is no trail.  It was up to me to choose a route to the top.  Visual aid below.  Hmmm.  Steep.

Hmmm...no obvious routes here.  Instead, I settled on a less direct route that came along the ridge from the right side.

A chute right in the middle of the photo above looked the friendliest to me.  Friendly as a snarling dog that is. Baring your teeth is almost like smiling, right?

I made it up the chute, and took the ridge as planned.  The views did not disappoint.

My only creature companions were ravens riding their version of a roller coaster: soaring up thermals before plunging down so fast I could hear the wind whistling through their wings, only to do it all over again.

There is no 'generic' mountain view when you are there, sitting on top of the world.  It never gets old.

Sometimes climbing on all fours-as I did up some of the chute as well-I reached what I thought to be the peak.  Negative, Ghostrider.  The real peak seemed close enough to reach out and touch, but required climbing down a steep, narrow chute, and then finding a way up an even steeper pitch with no obvious routes.

It is hard to tell what is going on here due to lack of depth perception in the photo, but needless to say this did not look like fun.  There also did not appear to be any route save for a super steep scramble that involved climbing up the scree you can see trailing down the right hand side of the peak.  As well, to get to that scary scree it looked as if you would have to literally do some climbing (something I later confirmed through a friend).  

I draw the line at the point where there is nothing to stop your fall in the case of a slip.  Where a missed hand or foothold is bad news bears.  And, in Montana on a peak like this we are talking grizzly bears.  Oh and did I mention that I had to double check every rock I grabbed on the way up because half the ones that appeared to be a solid part of the mountain moved and/or came out?

That was it.  Doneski.  Time to head down and give the adrenal glands a break.  I took a different route, just to the left of the false peak if you look at the picture from earlier when the question was which route to take.  Where the rock is all shiny.  From the top it did not look too bad.  It certainly was not worse than the way up, but looking back up toward the peak on the way down my first thought was "You climbed that?  Are you f-ing crazy?"  Well, Crazy Peak it is.

"To travel hopefully is better than to arrive, and the true success is to labor."
-Robert Louis Stevenson

The journey was certainly worth it this time, despite not arriving at my destination-I certainly labored hard to earn that false peak.  The real summit could not have been more than 50 feet higher, so 11,159/11,209 = 99.5% of the way there.  Any other situation and that would be pretty darn satisfying, but hey, the adventure as a whole really was great, so I am putting a tally mark in the win column.