23 July 2009

West Goat Peak, Pintler Wilderness, Montana Peak Bagging

At 10,793 feet elevation, West Goat Peak is the highest point in the Pintler Wilderness of southwest Montana. Connected to East Goat Peak by Saddle Mountain, it's a landmark throughout the Big Hole Valley and you can see it from Walkerville and Butte (first peak on the left in photo below):

This is not high as the Rocky Mountains go, but it's about as high as they get in Montana. Combined with our latitude, it's enough elevation to make for a very brief alpine summer.

Dave Carter picked me up in the cool dawn. Driving to the trailhead, large herds of elk grazed the Paddock Ranch meadows (click on this & other pics to enlarge):

Sage hens (aka sagegrouse) scattered from the road:

And a young bull moose greeted us at the National Forest boundary:

At the "trailhead," the day was beginning to warm and we loaded the packs on Jack & Molly The Dogs then strapped our own on:

Trail? Who needs a trail? I say "trailhead" because we begin at the end of an obscure Forest road to shave off a little elevation & mileage, even though it means bushwhacking a mile or so along a dry ridge until we cut into the trail (Dave's GPS is helpful in finding the rig upon return):

It's summer, at least at lower elevations, with daytime temperatures in the 80s F. The Whitebark Pines are producing lots of cones; this portends well for hungry black & grizzly bears come late August when the pinenuts ripen. A Fringed Pinesap (Hypopitys monotropa, a plant without chlorphyll that parasitizes pine tree roots) was conjured forth by the summer heat:

The Pintler Mountain Range, like the Rockies in general, were formed by intense geological forces as tectonic plates pressed together and folded the plastic rock. You can see the synclines and anticlines at different scales, as in this cat-sized rock:

And in the mile-long sheer face of East Goat Peak (as seen from the meadow below W Goat):

This land was also shaped by more recent forces--the Pleistoscence glaciers that ground down mountains and scooped out tarns such as upper and lower Lost Lake (as seen from W Goat Peak):

Look closely at the rocks, and you can find glacial striations formed by debris caught like a layer of sandpaper on the underside of the great, flowing ice sheets (note horizontal lines at a right angle to the bedding plane):

There is still one small glacier left along the far shore of upper Lost Lake (elevation 9,562 feet). Note that "break-up" or ice-out was just occuring this week:

Climate scientists sometimes use insects trapped in glacial ice to characterize past environments. Though this butterfly was trapped merely in an old snowfield, you can imagine how it might provide such information:

Small snowdrifts lingered in the meadows around our camp, at treeline (c. 9,100 feet) below Lost Lakes, but mostly it was lush & green (and skeetery):

"Spring" wildflowers were blooming, such as Marsh Marigolds (Caltha leptosepala):

White Mountain Heather (Cassiope mertensiana):

Long-brachted Orchis (Habenaria viridis):

And of course the ubiquitous but ever beautiful Glacier Lily (Erythronium grandiflorum):

On the slopes of West Goat Peak, alpine flowers took over--species such as Arctic Sandwort (Arenaria obtusiloba):

Alpine Forget-me-nots (Eritrichium nanum):

A mystery species of Stonecrop (Sedum sp):

And Lanceleaf Stonecrop (Sedum lanceolatum):

The butterflies were very happy about this:

The mountain goats probably were, too, although they cleared out ahead of us leaving only tracks & a few tufts of shedding fur. I was happy that the morning, which had started off cloudy (EcoRover with M- & JTD):

But gradually cleared (great mares' tails; view from several hundred feet below W Goat Peak):

After a lunch and writing a note in the peak journal (the family of Big Hole ranchers Wallace Christianson and Anne Paddock Christiansen had left a nice note commemorating W & A's visit there in 1931), we decided on an easy scramble across the Saddle Mountain ridge to East Goat Peak (10,399 feet):

By the time we reached the lower peak, the sky was cloudless (view from E toward W Goat Peak):

Dogs. What makes dogs happy? Being with people. Eating lunch on a peak. Watching Rock Rabbits (aka Pika). Eating. Oh, and swimming in a cold lake after a mountain scramble:

Back at the lower elevations of camp, did I mention mosquitoes? (Dave's sleeve--wear long sleeves & pants, or lather on the DEET):

Next morning we got an early start down the trail, but the day warmed as we racked up the miles and dropped lower. Glad there was something cool waiting in the creek!


Marcia said...

Wow, nice photos---can't believe the ice still on the lake! Thanks for geological info---very interesting!


secret agent woman said...

This post took me back to college geology clases, some of my favorites.

Anonymous said...

Hey, that mosquito shirt looks very familiar...

Great writeup ER--you're baggin some nice ones!

We call those glacial striations "glacial polish" and I had a good friend a long time ago teach me there were a type of slickensides. Anyhow, I love seeing them and always keep an eye out (saw some great ones in Yosemite last year).

Arija said...

Not being allowed over 2,000m, this was a wonderful post for me. I have always loved the alps and sub-arctic regions. I read every word you wrote and enjoyed the photos very much, the tarns, glacial melt, wonderful flora and fauna. Nice to have carrier dogs to lighten the load. You could have done without the mozzies though.

~Sheepheads said...

MTD looks right at home! Like the packs.

Bhavesh Chhatbar said...

Whenever I get rich enough, I must contact you to reach this magical place :)Moon and Sun in One Photograph