Sunday, September 27, 2015

Thoma Lookout

On a beautiful Sunday, September 27, Patti and I hiked to Thoma Lookout and later attempted to hike to Mt Hefty.  I had hiked to both before back on September 24, 2009.  Patti had never been to either.

It was time for a hike.  I hadn't hiked since early August before all the smoke from the forest fires.   The weather on Sunday was beautiful.  Sunny and warm after a cool start in the morning.

While Google maps shows the driving time as 2:23 in length, the time from my place (closer to Kalispell) was 2:15 driving up and 2 hours driving back - and Patti drives reasonably, and not like a speed demon.

Other than a few miles in the beginning, much of the North Fork Road had a chemical dust control treatment which has preserved the road quite well and made driving the road smoother and easier.  The treatment ended a mile or so north of Polebridge so the last miles on the North Fork Road was rougher, but manageable.

Six miles from the US/Canada border we turned onto the Trail Creek Road (NF road 114).  After almost 5 miles we turned off onto NF road 114A.  This one lane old logging road ends after 3 miles where the road was blocked off and closed decades ago.  An old map shows the road used to go up to brush along the US/Canada border.  Apparently Google maps knows of the closed 114A road as their alternate route in grey via Fortine is via the closed section of 114A.  One can drive the Trail Creek road across to Eureka/Fortine but the Trail Creek Road does not brush the US/Canada border.

Both the Trail Creek Road and NF 114A are in good condition - better than the un-treated North Fork Road.

The end of NF road 114A has just enough room to turn a vehicle around.  There is room for parking for only a few vehicles at the end of the road.  I have never seen another vehicle on NF road 114A.

The trail Patti and I hiked was trail 18: Thoma - Colts Creek Trail.  It is shorter and has much less elevation change than the Thoma-Hefty trail (15) that starts from the Trail Creek Road (114).

The elevation gain on trail 18 is still a good amount at 1700 - 1800 ft.

If you decide to also hike to Mt Hefty after hiking to the Thoma Lookout add in an estimated another 1000 ft of elevation gain and 5 miles round trip. Estimated as the forest service appears to be letting the Mt Hefty portion of the trail go and I do not have a GPS unit.

Getting out of the car the first thing one is aware of is the quiet.  Dead silence.  No vehicles.  No planes.  No far off people noises.  No animal noises.  Both times I have done this hike it has been very quiet.  This is one of the quietest hikes I have been on.  In the afternoon when the wind blew I could somewhat hear it.  Other than on the mountain tops in clearings, the trees screen out the wind.

The first half mile of the hike is on the closed off part of NF road 114A.  While the road is closed the forest service apparently does cut the alder trees growing onto the road.

The trail off the road is not marked with a sign.  A cairn of rocks marks the side trail.

Then you follow along Colts Creek.  The creek is small, but even in this dry year there was water in the creek.  The creek is also mossy and pretty.

The trail is good.  It is maintained, and other than a short section on Thoma, the trail is not brushy.

Thoma Lookout with the Whitefish Range in the background.

I first hiked to the lookout in 2009 the year they started refurbishing the lookout.  The outhouse was brand new.  Six years later it still looks brand new.  The view of the Glacier Park mountains from the outhouse are magnificent.

Patti and I spent some time at the lookout eating our lunch and admiring the views. The weather was almost perfect: sunny, cloud-free, warm and only a slight breeze.

The lookout was not shuttered yet for the year.  A sleeping bag was lying on a board in the lookout and stuff was out.  Lief, who has staffed the lookout since it was refurbished and re-opening in 2010, was not around.

In this article there is info on Thoma Lookout and Lief who staffs it each year:

Here is a 16 minute 34 second documentary on Thoma lookout and Lief:

After we visited the lookout and soaked in the views, we decided to try to hike to Mt Hefty.  That meant hiking a mile back to the saddle and then taking the trail that branched off to the north.  When we hiked up to the saddle we missed the branching trail and the trail sign.  Our heads were down as we climbed.  I had hiked to Mt Hefty in 2009 so I knew roughly where the side branch should be.

To the left (behind the pine tree in the foreground) is the Mt Hefty trail.  To the right is the trail to Thoma lookout.

The trail to Mt Hefty starts out good.  But as one climbs into grassy areas and places with more open than trees the trails fades unless you know where to look.  The route also goes over three mountains.  Just when you think you climbed Mt Hefty you look beyond to another slightly higher mountain.  Mt Hefty is right on the US/Canada border and the border "line" runs on its northern shoulder with one of the border monuments right on the trail.

Patti had been working 60 plus hour weeks the past month, was recovering from a cold, and hadn't hiked since early August, so she wasn't at full hiking strength.  She made it to the second mountain before she ran out of gas.  From the second mountain one has to go down to a saddle before climbing Mt Hefty.  Patti saw Mt Hefty and got an idea of the views so she definitely wants to come back and hike to Mt Hefty next year.

All along the trail to the saddle, then on the Mt Hefty trail we saw lots of horse hoof prints.  The border patrol monitors this area, especially as it is a easy hike to Mt Hefty and across the border.

By the time we got back to the car we had spent 7 hours hiking (and looking at the views) over about 10 miles.  The hike is not hard, just awesome.  Most people hike to the lookouts in Glacier Park, but the hike to Thoma Lookout and Mt Hefty is a secret undiscovered treasure of a hike in the Flathead, and one of the best lookout hikes around.

Here are 38 more photos from my hike:

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Baldy Mountain

On Saturday, August 8, after completing our hike to the Big Hole Lookout (, since we were in the area Patti and I hiked to the top of Baldy Mountain.

5.2 miles round trip.
1500 feet elevation gain.

The climb was steeper than we expected.  The elevation went from about 5900 feet at the trail head to over 7400 feet at the top. About 1500 ft over 2.6 miles, which is not bad, but both Patti and I felt it.  Maybe it was because this was our second hike of the day.

As we hiked up we met one couple and their dog coming down.  They didn't make it to the top.  They were the only people we saw on the mountain.

The driving route from Kalispell

The driving route between our two hikes of the day

The driving route from Plains, MT to the trail head

Baldy Mountain as seen from just north of Plains. MT

Baldy Mountain

 The top mile of the trail is all made of loose rock, about the size of bricks. Good tough boots are in order!

Thompson Peak is the tallest mountain in the far background.

Cabinet Mountains in the distance

Our earlier hike, Big Hole Lookout, is over that way.

The following photo doesn't do justice to the great views,  The photo is washed out so it doesn't show the Mission Mountains, Swan Mountain Range, or the mountains of Glacier National Park in the distance.

Hot Springs, MT is out in the sunlight in the center of the photo.

We didn't hike down to Baldy Lake.

Baldy Lake

Big Hole Lookout

Waaay back on Saturday August 8 - before the smoke from all those forest fires put a damper on hiking - Patti and I hiked up to the Big Hole Lookout as part of a "Two summit day".  The second hike to the top of Baldy Mountain will be another post later.

Location: On Highway 200, 8 miles west of Plains is the Westville Creek Road 887. Off that road take Forest Service Road 875 approximately 8 miles to the trail head at the gate near the junction of Forest Roads 875 and 7578.

Big Hole Lookout Trail (368) begins at the upper gate on Road 875. The lower gate is closed to motorized vehicles from December 1 to May 15.

Distance: 5.4 miles round trip.  To me, the length felt less as it was an easy hike.

Elevation gain:  1422 ft.  The trail head is 5500 feet.  The elevation at the lookout is 6922 feet.

The trail is easy.  Unlike other Cabinet Mountain trails this trail doesn't climb steeply much of the way.  The only steep part is the final quarter mile to the lookout.

There appeared to be plenty of horse traffic on the trail until the turnoff to the Sheep Camp trail, which is a little over a half mile from the lookout.   Not so much horse manure, but hoof prints and a soft dusty trail from all the horse traffic.  This was probably due to this year's work on restoring the lookout, which was done the week before Patti and I hiked to the lookout.

This was the softest - and dustiest! - trail I ever hiked on.   Patti and I had to keep some distance from each other due to the dust raised by our walking.  The air was still so the dust hung there.  By the end of the hike my shoes and socks were filthy.  I even had to wash - soak! - my hiking shoes to clean them.  Earlier I had tried banging them together to get the dust off but on the next hike my socks were extremely dirty from the shoes, not so much from the hike.

We had hiked through lots of huckleberry bushes. Here and there the bushes were picked clean.  We found out why.  Due to the distance apart from each other I missed seeing the bear Patti saw.   She thought it was a medium black bear or a smaller grizzly.  It turned and ran when it saw Patti.   From then on we called out "Hey bear!  Hey bear!" as we walked.

Patti also saw a bear near the end of the hike.  I missed seeing that one to.

The very end of the hike was very strange.  Lots and lots of ravens circled overhead.  I wondered if we were unknowingly in the sequel to the movie, "The Birds".    29 seconds long.

The views from the lookout were very nice.

My 21 photos are at this link:

At the bottom of this web page is a little history, photos and videos about the ongoing restoration of the lookout.  The three YouTube videos explaining the restoration work in 2013, 2014 and 2015 are interesting.


Saturday, August 1, 2015

Cosley Lake in August

On Saturday, August 1, Patti, Lynda and I hiked to Cosley Lake in the Belly River area in the very NE part of Glacier Park. Cosley Lake is one of Patti's favorite lakes in Glacier Park which is why we made the long drive and long hike.  I also like the lake.

I have been to Cosley Lake twice before: once on a backpacking trip in the 1990s, and then in August 2009 with Patti and Gene (  Six years ago?!!!  Wow!  Time is flying!

It was a 3 hour drive to the trail head - the farthest point of Glacier Park from Flathead Valley.  Because the Reynolds Creek fire closed the Going-to-the-Sun Road we had to drive around the Park.   

Red marks how we drove to Cosley Lake.   
Purple indicates part of how we drove back home. 

We decided to take the 'purple' road as we had never driven it and wondered if a straighter road away from the mountains would be faster.  (The map doesn't show how crooked the road is between East Glacier and St Mary). While the mileage was more, and we had nice views, and the road was definitely straighter and one could drive much faster, I don't think the purple route was quicker.   

Yellow is our hiking route.

Trailhead: The Belly River Trail begins at a small parking area along Highway 17, just south of the Chief Mountain border crossing. From the trail head, the route descends for two miles through thick forest into the Belly River Valley losing 809 feet in elevation. The loss in elevation is a pleasant way to start the trip, but recognize it will be a hard climb back up at the end of a long hike.  While the two miles is among trees, on our hike back out the position of the sun was just so that we got very little shade as we hiked up and up.

After reaching the valley bottom, the trail changes little in elevation as it follows the winding river. The Belly River Ranger Station provides a nice landmark, about 6 miles into the trip.  A short distance after crossing the Belly River on a long suspension bridge one can take a short side trip to see Gros Ventre Falls.  Then it is a little climb up to Cosley Lake.

It was another death march as the distance round-trip was 17.4 miles on a hot mid 80s or warmer day. (Or a tenth or two more if I count the short side trip to Gros Ventre Falls along the way).  At least the trail was dry - it can get muddy after a little rain, and the horse/pack-train traffic to the ranger station doesn't help the trail any.

Cosley Lake looking west towards Stoney Indian Pass.

For 29 more photos, click here:

For a 38 second video of Cosley Lake:

Yes, it was a windy day at Cosley Lake.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Cube Iron Mountain and Four Lakes

On Saturday, July 25, Patti and I hiked around the Four Lakes area in the Cabinet Mountains and then to the top of Cube Iron Mountain.

The 8-mile Four Lakes Loop is an excellent introduction to the Cabinet Lakes country.  Add about a half mile round trip to climb to the top of Cube Iron Mountain for a total of 8.5 miles.

Getting There: On Highway 200 and turn north at milepost 56 onto a paved road along the west side of Thompson River. After four miles the pavement ends near a riverside campground. Pass another small campground at 5 miles. At 6-1/4 miles, bear left at the Y onto West Fork Thompson River Road. Follow the gravel road another 7.5 miles to the Four Lakes trailhead.

Trail description: The trailhead is at the end of the road and has a large parking area and pit toilet. After walking across a small bridge begin on Trail 459, walking past a small trailhead campsite before the trail switchbacks up a side hill. At two miles, the grade levels. Take a left at the junction with Trail 450. At 2-1/4 miles, come to a junction with Trail 506 (which heads toward one end of Cabin Lake and then Winnemuck Creek). Continue southerly a short way on Trail 450 to Cabin Lake and a better access point.

Hike across the lake's outlet and along the lake a short distance before climbing switchbacks leading over a saddle.  Then drop down to Porcupine Lake. The terrain rolls from Porcupine Lake past several other boggy lakes to the junction with Trail 460, which is about three miles from Cabin Lake.

Hike up Trail 460 1/4 mile to Squaw Pass. At a junction, go right onto Trail 1512 for about 30 yards, where an unmaintained but well-defined trail heads steeply up a scramble route to a former lookout site at the summit of Cube Iron Mountain, elev. 7,110 feet.  Views are into Idaho’s Selkirk Mountains and Montana’s Cabinets and Bitterroots.

After coming down the mountain back to the junction with Trails 450 and 460, finish the last three downhill miles to the trailhead by hiking into a gully that shows obvious signs of spring avalanches. The trail heads into forest. The last two miles of the route follows a former road.

Our route:  (we hiked counter-clockwise)

While we hiked from 4750 ft up to 7110 ft, as you can see in the elevation profile below, we climbed more than the difference of 2360 ft.

Info: The name "cube iron" refers to the remnant cube-shaped pseudo-morphs of  pyrite crystals (fools gold) that are found in rocks at some sites in the Cabinet Mountains.  The cubes range in size. Choice ones are bigger than game dice.  We never saw any.

Our hike:

Patti and I got an early start for us: 7:30 am.  After a nice drive we were at the trailhead by 10 am.  The only other vehicle there was a pickup with camper pulling a small horse trailer.  No one was around.

The start was confusing.  The sign at the beginning did not show trail 459.

We decided to go to the right and cross a small bridge.  After crossing the bridge we found a sign for trail 459 and Cabin Lake.

Later, at the lake above Frog Lake, we met a group of six who also were confused at the start.  They went left and did the hike clockwise though they intended to do the hike counter-clockwise, which is the recommended and better way to do the loop.  By hiking counter-clockwise the scenery builds culminating in the excellent views from the summit of Cube Iron Mountain.  Once the apex was reached it was a shorter distance to the car to hike counter-clockwise.

As we climbed we saw lots of huckleberry bushes.  Few had berries on them.  I only found the occasional berry others had missed.

Near Cabin Lake we didn't see a sign for the side trail (trail 506).

Trail 506 branches to the right.
We decided to hike this side trail and stopped at the lake once the trail passed it.  We ate our lunch here.  The morning had started with a clear sky but by now clouds moved in and it looked like rain may come soon.  We moved on right after finishing our lunches.

Back on the main trail we came to a camp site with over a half dozen mountain goats.

It was odd to see them among the trees and not on rocky cliffs.  Nearby were several more access points to the lake.  These were better access points both for the view and the better shoreline.

Then it was up through the trees on multiple switchbacks to climb the saddle.  Once we crossed the saddle we were treated to a large open view of the next basin with the other three lakes.  The bottom of the basin looked much deeper than it actually was.  The open mountainside had lots of nice wildflowers.

We could see Porcupine Lake through the trees as we walked but we never saw a side trail that led to it.  A short time later we came to a small lake above Frog Lake where we seen the first people since we began the hike.

A short distance and climb later we looked down on Knowles Lake.  We never saw Grass Lake until we were on top of Cube Mountain.

When we climbed up the switchbacks to Squaw Pass we took we first side trail we found.

It did lead up Cube Iron Mountain but it was a a steeper and harder way to go. Part way up, as this trail started to peter out, I decided to scout to the left for a better way and found the trail the route info had mentioned.  This trail was a much better way to climb Cube Iron Mountain.

Halfway up the mountain, once we had much more open areas than trees, we could see over into the Clark Fork Valley.  And we could see an isolated rain cloud/shower coming our way.

We pressed on with the hope the shower would rain itself out by the time it reached us.  And that is what happened.

At the top of Cube Iron Mountain we saw the site of the former lookout.  Not much remained.  A little higher up we took shelter behind some rocks as the wind was chilly.  From here we had views of the basin with the three lakes.  And we could see lots of mountain tops to the north and northwest, when scattered rain showers weren't obscuring them.

When rains showers looked to be ending or moving on, Patti looked behind us to find a large rain cloud/shower coming our way.

This one looked like it would reach us.  And it did as we were hiking down from the mountain top.  On the switchbacks it wasn't bad when the wind and rain were at our back (and backpacks).  But when we walked into the wind and rain, things weren't as nice.

The rain quit/passed us by once we reached the trees.  No rain after that.  The rain wasn't enough to wet the dirt, but it coated the shrubs that crowded the trail.  I got semi-wet shoes, socks and legs from brushing against the shrubs' leaves.

The three miles down was not as scenic but it was steady.  The last two miles of road introduced us to more switchbacks which only seemed to lengthen the route down for us.

At the trailhead a group of six hikers/backpackers were assembling for a hike to Cabin Lake where they planned to camp for the night.  They were older and boisterous and weren't acting their age.

Then it was back to home for Patti and I.

Click here for 31 more photos of the hike:


Saturday, July 18, 2015

Mt Aeneas, Picnic Lakes and wildflowers

Saturday, July 18, Patti, Linda and I hiked to the top of Mt Aeneas then to the Picnic Lakes, both in the Swan Mountain Range's Jewel Basin outside of Bigfork, MT.

We had an elevation gain of about 1811 ft.  Camp Misery is at 5717 ft and Mt. Aeneas is 7528 ft.

We hiked 6.7 miles.

Mt Aeneas is in the background center, as seen from near one of the Picnic Lakes.

It was good we got an early start as we got one of the few parking spots left at the Camp Misery parking lot.  A very large group (18!) of the Swan Rangers were there.  Patti, Linda and I were very glad they were taking a different trail than us.   Here is a link to their page.  They claimed to have broken into smaller groups.    One of their photos shows gaps between the people hiking.  I guess the gaps make it separate groups.,

We reached the top of Mt Aeneas around 11 am.  We ate our lunches there then descended to Picnic Lakes where we saw several meadows of wildflowers. After spending a little time at the southern Picnic Lake we hiked up and over the ridge and back down to Patti's car.

A very nice day and hike.

Click on the photo/link to see 23 more photos from the hike:
Mt Aeneas - Picnic Lakes

I had hiked to the top of Mt Aeneas once before, back on June 1, 2007. Most everything was covered under snow then.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Cracker Lake in June

On Saturday, June 20, Patti, Mary and I hiked to Cracker Lake in Glacier National Park.  This was the second time I have been to Cracker Lake.

Blue = driving route.   Red = trail.

It was a long day. Patti and Mary picked me up at 7:40 am and we didn't get back to my house until 10:40 pm.  The driving time was about two and a half hours one way.  We also ate at the Cattle Baron's Supper Club in Babb, MT and that took several hours as the service was very slow.  This was the first weekend the entire Going-to-the-Sun Road was open and the Supper Club underestimated the number of diners.  Patti and I ate here several years ago after a hike and really enjoyed the food.  This time... we were pretty disappointed in the food quality.  It will be along time before we eat here again.

The trail distance to the campground mid Cracker Lake was 6.1 miles.  I think the old copper mine at the head of the lake is another couple tenths of a mile.  Then I hiked up to Siyeh Glacier and a waterfall.  I estimate I hiked 6.6 miles one way, or a total of 13.2 miles.

I had only planned to hike to the copper mine and not beyond.  Patti and Mary had been to the mine on other trips so they stayed and relaxed on top of the large rock above the campground (the rock can be seen on left side of photo several photos below).  By the time I returned to the rock Patti and Mary were gone.  They had started hiking back to Patti's car.  I caught up to them as they waited halfway back at a stream crossing.  It was nice that I didn't have to hitchhike home.

Red = trail.   Orange = route I took in my hike to Siyeh Glacier and the nearby waterfall.

The elevation gain to the lake is about 1400 ft.  I climbed at least several hundred feet higher to reach the glacier and waterfall.

On the way to Cracker Lake, when driving on the Sun Road along McDonald Creek, we saw a bear cross the road.  It was already across the road and into the trees by the time I got my camera out and took this photo of the bear.

Cracker Lake.  The left red circle is where I hiked up the hill of loose rocks.  The right red circle is where I hiked to the waterfall.

View from the hill of loose rocks.

View from the waterfall.

Part of why it took so long for this blog post to be written is I took lots of photos.  It was hard for me to whittle the photos down to be less.  So I would wait awhile then come back and whittle some more.  I finally quit when I was down to 54 photos.  Also, I was almost done with the post when a glitch happened (somehow) and my entire post was deleted before I could publish it.  So this post had to be re-written from scratch.

For 54 more photos of the lake:

Video 1: water flowing below the waterfall:

Video 2: waterfall:

Video 3: waterfall:

Video 4: waterfall:

Overview of the Cracker Lake trail: