14 September 2009

Magic Mountain: Peak Bagging Mt Evans, Montana

Mountain hiking is a meditative act that merges the mind & world. This is especially true off-trail when you make your own path, fully in the moment of finding the way, and alert to simple but very real dangers (like this wasp nest):

For much of the distance, however, Dave Carter & I hiked an old logging haul road with a few creek crossings (good to have a staff):

Over the years we've learned to pack light, with the heavy stuff (like elk steaks and antelope sausage) on the pack animals (Molly & Jack The Dogs):

We trust our water source and don't bother with filter pumps--especially when we can see the water bubble from a remote, untrammeled mountainside:

We cook over an open fire. This saves the weight of a stove, and the fire feels mighty good in chill evening air at 8,600 feet (EcoRover reading by the fire):

Morning dawned cold, in the mid-20s deg F, with heavy frost in the meadow below:

Then off-trail to our destination: Mount Evans. At 10,600 feet or so, it's one of the taller peaks in the Pintler of southwest Montana. Not technically in the Pintler Wilderness and with no trails to the upper basin or peak, it is seldom visited. But the cross-country route is easy through the open parks of the larch-dominated Alpine ecosystem (MTD with Mt Evans in the background):

Dave decided not to bag the peak. Good decision given the bad route I chose. In the loose, fine scree it was sometimes a matter of one step up & two steps down. Occasionally when there was "solid" footing, even a two or three hundred pound rock would shift under my feet. It took a little coaxing to keep MTD going. But as we neared the peak the mountain the footing improved (though steep with some hand-over-hand scrambling) and the Raven People cheered us on:

Climbing steadily on bad rock is strenuous, but the aerobic exertion clears the head and the endorphins flow. Beyond meditation: heady, exhilirating, totally transcendent.

According to notes in the peak jar, we were just the third party to summit this year. What a place, Butte America, with wilderness at our backdoor that so few visit. And what views! Here is the view East along the Continental Divide (the Twin Lakes/Lake of the Isle drainage is on the left):

The view West along the Continental Divide to Mount Howe (also a wonderful peak to scramble):

And the view West to Saddle Mountain/East & West Goat Peaks (top left):

Along with the omnipresent ravens on mountain peaks, there is always something happening. Today, it was a swarm of flying ants:

Despite the mineralization, prospectors found no motherlode, these mountains were not claimedby miners, and so they remain wild (mineralized quartz in the dominant granite):

MTD thanked me for choosing a better route down. Though steep, the thin soil and rock was held together in most places by a little vegetation. Pausing to glass a small park below Lake of the Isle pass, there were about nine Mountain Goat People (seven nannies and at least two kids). Even if the photos are not high quality, it was fun to balance binoculars on my pack and use them as a telephoto:

Just before dropping below the level of the park where Goat People would rise out of sight, I paused to glass again. Goat People were nervous. Couldn't be MTD & me--we were a half-mile away, no threat. Suddenly a large Black Bear person charged from the trees above into the goat herd. As the herd dispersed and ran up into the rocks, Bear chased them about three hundred yards and nearly caught a kid. Here is Bear after it gave up the chase (just above the leftmost tree in the lower center--I didn't have time to set up the binocs as a telephoto):

Remarkably, Bear did not see a nanny & kid caught in the open, running toward me. Perhaps the contours of land hid them from Bear's view. I expected Bear to chase them, and on open level ground it would easily kill Kid. I wondered if I should intervene with a yell.

But Bear headed down the basin toward our camp, and so did we. Amazing, as I have never seen black bears hanging out in the goat rocks. But this bear had clearly tasted goat before. Pausing at a shaded spring for cold water and lunch, a male redtail hawk flew into a snag just over our heads. Though not in words per se, Hawk Person clearly was checking in--something about "You OK?" After it looked piercingly into my eyes for some seconds, it glided down the valley leaving a distinct bit of parting wisdom: "We are hunters." I think it was including both Bear & I in that "We."

On the drive home, we marvelled at the changing colors (though the aspens and larches are not changing yet):

A couple of beers for Dave & I, ice cream for the dogs, happiness all around:

Mt Evans is named for Morgan Evans. He was Marcus Daly's land agent for the new town (and copper smelter site) of Anaconda, Montana.


~Sheepheads said...

Excellent post ER!

mountain.mama said...

That was a magnificent hike. I'm glad you did it so we could see the pictures.

secret agent woman said...

Ooh that's a hell of a wasp(hornet) nest! Hope you steered clear.

Love the blissful dog picture at teh end.

Big Woolly said...

What an amazing trip. Thanks for the great post!

Anonymous said...

The "ER Reading by the fire" picture definitely makes me jealous. The spring is beautiful. The dogs looked to be in pure bliss (I'm a big ice cream fan, so I can definitely relate).

"The view West along the Continental Divide to Mount Howe" picture has a nice big patch od orangey running down the side. Is that just the rock? It looks almost like an industrial spill or algae, or something. Is it scree there too?

Janie said...

We've done plenty of off trail hiking and boulder hopping, so I can identify with that part. Never tried a photo through binoculars. It turned out pretty well. How interesting to see the bear chasing the goats!
Great hike and views. I enjoyed the tour.

CountryDreaming said...

Your whole adventure is overwhelmingly cool! If ever I need a vacation and can't get away, I'll have to come back and read this post again.

Unseen Rajasthan said...

Wow these are some really beautiful and lovely photos !! I loved them..Thanks for sharing the beauty with us..Unseen Rajasthan

Judy said...

Your posts are always so diverse, interesting, and some beautiful photography!!
My favorite trout is the first one, where the bears have been carved!!

Maria said...

Enjoyed this very, very much...
Beautiful vistas... relaxing mood... love the dogs ;o)
love the mountains
love the daytime moon

love Friday night!
Have a great weekend!

Secret Mom Thoughts said...

Looks like a great place for a hike. Nice photos.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Wow ER.... I'm impressed. George and I do a fair amount of hiking (searching for waterfalls) --and we have to do some creek crossings quite often. BUT--we've never done what you did in this post. I would go up one step and back five... Don't think I could make it up there!!!!

GREAT post. What an inspiration for all of us!!!!

Allison said...

Looks like a great time!! Excellent post!

tsduff said...

Again, I've gotten a fabulous virtual fix of the mountains, trees, rocks and sky through your eyes from the comfort (and stifling lethargy) of my own dining room chair. The pups look cute carrying their packs, and you by the fire look content with the world.

livinginpatagonia.com said...

Any idea how long the snow lasts on Mt Evans? Do you know if anyone ski tours in that area? Thanks, J

EcoRover said...

J, a few intrepid backcountry skiers visit W Goat most every spring. The snow is typically heavy, especially around and above the Lost Lakes tarns, through mid-June (corn snow, by then). There are no guided/outfitted ski tours in the area that I know of.

Here's my fantasy (you have to credit me if you pull it off):

Hike into W Goat with a good skier/snowboarder, an inflatable kayak, and a video camera in late July. The snow will still be good on the glacier, the water in the upper tarn will be mostly ice free. Send the skier down the glacier wearing a wetsuit & a life jacket. Have the kayaker ready to tow them to safety. Film it and hope you nail it the first time!