Friday, June 29, 2007

After Otokomi Lake

After our Otokomi hike was over we stopped at the Park Cafe in St Mary. Bill, Joyce and Sue Ann each had a piece of pie. I had an ice cream shake so thick I ate it rather than drink it. It was good on a hot day. We arrived at a good time as the later arrivals had to wait for a table to open. The Park Cafe is not a big place and is very popular.

South of St Mary we passed the burned trees from last year's Red Eagle fire. This is on the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. Therefore they already have done a lot of salvage logging. Trees burnt in the national park are left. Trees burnt in a national forest are sometimes salvaged logged, but only after an environmental review and then lawsuits against the logging.

Two Medicine Lake as seen from MT 49.

As we drove through East Glacier I had commented this Glacier Park Lodge was the only major old-time lodge in the Park I had never been inside of. The others decided to stop and visit the lodge so I could see it.

A store inside sold touristy stuff. A fire was burning in the fireplace on the south side. On the north side was the Great Northern restaurant whose posted menu looked inviting.

In the common area a young man played piano.Some guests were sitting about this area and I felt they were younger than I expected people staying here to be. I also thought: "What are you doing just sitting around inside on such a nice day?"

It was around 7 pm when we passed by the Walton Ranger station. It was too late to stop to talk with Ranger Rachel. Later, plenty of cars were outside the Packers Roost Bar but Sue Ann wasn't interested in stopping to look for a potential boyfriend. I told her I be more than glad to go inside and look for the man for whom Sue Ann had a phone number and recommendation to date. I told her that if I ever drive we will stop.

It was about 8 pm when I got home. 12 hours. A nice way to spend the day even if the mosquitoes drove us crazy part of the time.

Otokomi Lake

Friday, June 29, I hiked to Otokomi Lake in Glacier Park. The distance was 10 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 1900 ft. The hiking group was: Bill, Joyce, Sue Ann, and I.
    Otokomi Lake is in the St Mary valley on the east side of the Park. Going-to-the-Sun road was not open as it wouldn't open until July 1. Therefore we had to drive on Hwy 2 to East Glacier, then MT 49 and Hwy 89 to St Mary.

    The trail starts at the Rising Sun campground behind cabin 9A. After we turned off the Sun road the campground road split left and right. Sue Ann who had hiked this trail some years ago - and didn't like it and didn't want our group to hike it - said we needed to go left. We found that left went into the tent and RV campground. No trail was found so we asked a park employee and discovered we had to go right and past the campground store to where the cabins were located.

    There was nowhere to park at cabin 9A so we drove down the road and found a place to park a short distance away.

    Under sunny skies on a pleasant morning we started our hike uphill. Sue Ann claimed the trail went up and down and the running joke was "Where is the downhill part; we've been doing nothing but climb." We said it more among ourselves than to Sue Ann as she is never wrong. Okay, maybe she had been wrong about the "left/right" direction, but that was the only time she had ever been wrong - according to her.

    The trail goes for the most part through tall pine trees. This was an area untouched by fire. Nor had beetles killed off trees. So - lots of live trees.

    The trail follows the stream that flows from Otokomi Lake down to St Mary lake. If you couldn't see the stream you could hear it. There were quite a number of viewpoints to see various falls along the stream.

    It wasn't more than a mile when we encountered a young couple - both with large backpacks - sitting on the side of the trail. They were hiking to the lake where they planned to camp overnight. She had one shoe off and her socks rolled down. She already had a blister. The shoes were broken in, but they weren't her shoes and this was the first day of their vacation and the first time she had worn the shoes. Big mistake! No wonder she had a blister. We offered her some of our bandages but he said he has some. They initially planned to just put a little tape on the blister but we encouraged them to put a bandage on it. Then we wished them well.

    Then we encountered, separately, several young 20-something couples backpacking from the lake after spending the night there. They were all in good spirits.

    A few miles from the lake high clouds blocked the sun. Good, as it would keep the temperature cooler. But we quickly found it to be bad as the mosquitoes came out. It got so bad we could barely stop to take a break or take a photo as the mosquitoes would quickly land. Then they became annoying even when we walked. We got branches to swish them away. We being: Bill, Joyce and I. Sue Ann had gotten ahead of us.

    We met a fellow who said the mosquitoes were really bad at the lake. "Oh, great." None of us had thought of bringing insect repellent.

    We came to a rocky, and for the most part treeless, area and still had mosquitoes. We crossed a snow field and then caught up to Sue Ann, who was in a cranky mood at having to wait for us.

    The others weren't too keen on hiking down to the lake with the mosquitoes. I decided to hike to the lake as we couldn't see it from where we were, and no way was I hiking 5 miles to a lake then not see it.

    The backcountry campground of 3 sites was not next to the lake but closer to the stream that came from the lake. The stream was clear and there were lots and lots of fish swimming in it.(Notice all the fish in the second photo.)

    The trail, running along the lake and next to the stream, barely threaded through a thick stand of evergreen bushes. I looked the lake over, and mountains and snow on the far end of the lake. And swatted mosquitoes. Turning around to return I found Sue Ann and Joyce had come also.

    Bill remained above the evergreen bushes and had climbed the loose rock to get a view of the lake from above. He said the mosquitoes were not as bad there so we decided to eat our lunch up there. It wasn't long before the mosquitoes found us. The view was nice but the lunch was quick.

    As we hiked back from the lake we again met the young couple where the woman had the blister. She was hiking without shoes. Instead she wore all the socks she and he had. They were near the start of the rocky area and sat down to take a break. When I expressed sympathy at her plight she claimed it wasn't too bad to hike with no shoes on the rocks as the rocks were relatively large. I also learned they had not packed mosquito repellent. It is one thing to not bring repellent on a day hike, and quite another to not have it when camping out. They said they would manage. I was impressed at her good nature. They both had wedding rings and we later wondered if they were on their honeymoon. I hope this won't be her only hiking experience ever.

    Joyce was ahead and eventually Sue Ann and Bill dropped behind me and away. I found a trail junction and took the more developed trail only to discover this was not the trail I wanted. This trail went along the stream and came out below the cabin area. I hiked up the road to the car where Joyce was waiting and watching uphill for our return. Later Bill and Sue Ann made the same mistake as I.

    I took off my heavy pack as I had filled it with rocks on the return hike. The better to get in condition for the long July 8th hike from Glacier Park over the Continental Divide and into Canada. I took an apple out of my pack and set it on the ground while I put my pack away. And that is where I left my apple. Later someone may have wondered why an apple was sitting on the ground behind their SUV.

    At least I remembered my camera and sunglasses. The "Alzheis" haven't completely claimed me yet.


    Other wildflowers. The reddish flowers are Indian Paintbrush.

    The lake is getting nearer. It is at the end of the valley to the left around the mountain on the left.

    An interesting rock. And of course, what is a hike without having to cross snow?

    Otokomi Lake

    The foot, then the head of the lake

    The view on the way back.

    Friday, June 22, 2007

    Elk Mountain

    Friday, June 22, I hiked to the top of Elk Mountain (elevation 6587 ft) with Gary and Joyce. Because the trail description listed the length at 20 miles round trip, Bill decided to skip this hike. The 20 mile length, and the early start time - 7 am - also discouraged Sue Ann from joining us.

    I woke up at 5:30 am and it was light outside! The sun was close to rising. Wow! Who would have thought? Then I shouldn't have been surprised as when I went to bed after 4 am the other week I thought I could see signs of a sunrise across the mountains to the NE.

    Years ago when caring for dad I had a hot air balloon land in the pasture one morning. I wondered if they still flew. Yup. They do. You just have to get up early to see them.

    The other morning I saw a strange bird checking out my well as I had left the door to the shed open. The bird was tall, kind of like a pheasant, but not quite. This morning I learned it was a female turkey. On the road, before crossing the river and going up the ridge, I came around the corner to find three turkeys. A male and two females. The male was large and prettier with his feathers all puffed out. He stood in the road while the two females were near each side of the road. He slowly moved out of the way unconcerned about my car.

    Gary and Joyce were already at the Costco parking lot that was our meeting area. They noticed and commented on the cut in my leg. They told me I should have had stitches put in it. I told them, "What's another scar?"

    Gary drove as he had a pickup and we would be driving on back country forest service roads.

    Elk Mountain is in the Salish Mountains in the Talley Lake Ranger District of the Flathead National Forest. It is at the west edge of the forest where it meets the Kootenai National Forest to the west. On the following map, Elk Mountain is right of center, below the "C K" in "ROCKY".

    I brought along my map of the Talley Lake area. After Joyce looked at the map she couldn't fold it correctly. After her failed attempts to fold the map it took me 5 minutes to figure out how to fold it correctly. I never had a problem folding the map before.

    While I have never been to Elk Mountain, I have been on these forest service roads back in the summer of 2002 when I had a permit to gather firewood. A beautiful remote area, and one I wanted to revisit ever since.

    We drove on forest service road 539 up and over Talley Lake and through Star Meadows to the west. The gray road indicates it is paved. When the road turned to gravel it became forest service road 113.

    Cattle guards were across the gravel road at the boundary between the national forest and private lands. Cattle were on the road including calves who wanted to walk in front of the pickup and not move off the road. The cattle appeared to be on the national forest property and the guards were to prevent the cattle from wandering on the paved road and on private lands.

    The Elk Mountain trail starts from forest service road 113 where it crosses the Brush Creek Divide. Joyce had hiked this trail 15 years ago when her then son-in-law was in charge of the trail crew that upgraded the trail. Joyce knew of another trail access. We took forest service road 2890 to the north and then Joyce watched for the spot she caught a side trail years ago. Forest service road 2890 was my main road when I gathered firewood.

    Near Dunsire Pass is trail 258. That was the trail we needed. The black ) near the red 258 on the map indicates a gate across road 9528. We parked here and hiked trail 258 to trail 252 which is the Elk Mountain trail.

    Trail 258 went a half mile up the mountain to the Elk Mountain trail. The trail was fairly steep and went through a forest of tall pines. The blow-down had been cut away across the trail. Part of the trail also had signs of burnt trees from a previous fire.

    When we reached the Elk Mountain trail at the top of the divide a sign indicated it was only 6 miles to Elk Mountain. This route made the distance 6 1/2 miles instead of 10 miles.

    At the top of the divide we could see the snow capped Cabinet Mountains to the far SW of Libby, MT. A long valley lay far below, which from this viewpoint snaked south and SW. Train tracks were at the bottom and zig-zagged and s-curved through the valley.

    The mountain sides in the valley had rectangles and ovals where logging had been performed over the years. The different areas were slightly different colors and tree heights. It was a patchwork of logged areas. Logging roads could be seen here and there.

    Logged areas, a few logging roads, and the train tracks - the only signs of man. No buildings or structures.

    We came across a ruffled grouse who spread his tail feathers into a large fan and puffed up his chest so that you could see the white fur amongst the black coloring. He would make a sound similar to a drum pounding. He pretty much stood there and made this sound. After a bit we continued on the trail and he moved away from the trail as we passed. Later my neighbor Bob told me the grouse was acting this way because he had a nest nearby.

    Later we saw several piles of what appeared to be wolf scat. Wolves are known to be in these mountains.

    The trail went along the ridge from mountain to mountain. Then up to the top of one rocky mountain. We stopped for a few minutes to eat some snacks.

    Then it was down the mountain side. What's with the downhill action? We were concerned we got onto a wrong trail. Later we realized we had to go downhill to cross over to another mountain.

    At the bottom between the mountains we found a trail junction. Another trail went to forest service road 9528. This trail (182?) was not on my map but the forest service road was. This trail was 1/2 mile long. It was 2 1/4 miles to the lookout on top of Elk Mountain.

    Up. Through a narrow "V" area with a pile of rocks on the the west side. The rocks were like ice that had been broken and tumbled into a pile. The rocks were angular and relatively flat. I wondered if one could fit them back together like a jigsaw puzzle.

    Then up through forest. Earlier we saw mountain bicycle tire tracks on the the trail. The blow-down had been cut. While the blow-down looked to have been cut with a chainsaw on the initial 1/2 mile trail, the blow-down on the Elk Mountain trail looked to have been cut with a handsaw. The cut was finer and there was no piles of sawdust. Also, not all trees were cut. Some fallen trees looked very recent, others older. Some cuts were off trail where it was easier to cut with a handsaw as the tree was narrow where the cut was made. However, past this last junction and up to the Elk Mountain lookout few trees were cut. The past winter had more blowdown that normal, and reports have been that it was taking forest service workers and volunteers longer to clear trails than normal.

    I read a recent letter to the newspaper where a woman complained chainsaws had been used to clear blowdown in the "Bob" (Bob Marshall Wilderness). This woman felt chainsaws violated the wilderness. I like wilderness, but I would put up with a chainsaw temporarily to speed up the clearing of trails. I have used both chainsaw and handsaw on trees that blew down on my property, and there is a big difference in time and effort.

    A person can climb over or walk around a few trees, but when it gets to be dozens and dozens, it is too much. Also, most people walk around a fallen tree when they can and this is more damaging than the sound of a chainsaw. But, you know, some people are Nazis about the wilderness.

    But I digress...

    The Elk Mountain trail went through a mix of tall forest, open meadows, and alpine rocky terrain. The smell was a wonderful summer pine smell that hangs in the air on a still hot summer day.

    We came across a patch of snow. Joyce filled her canteen with the snow.

    1/4 mile from the lookout another trail (109) dropped west down the mountain and into the Kootenai forest.

    At the top we found that the old wooden lookout had tipped and collapsed into a pile. The roof lay on the side and across part of the pile of wood. Gary and I climbed onto part of the lookout pile and found an old rusty table and a broom.

    The cables that held cables holding the structure in place were gone but I found the old turnbuckles embedded in the rock that once held the lookout up when the wind blew.

    What a view! What a wonderful job it was to man the lookout to watch for fires. A job I would have loved.

    There was almost a 360 view. One mountain to the NE was just as tall.

    Mountain range after mountain range in all directions. The only sign of man were train tracks and the occasionally far off rumble of a freight train in the valley far below. Otherwise it was quiet. Not even sounds of planes or jets, and certainly not cars. Very remote.

    One could sit facing any direction and have a fantastic view. We were above the tree line as there were no trees at the top of Elk Mountain.

    Cabinet Range. Whitefish Range. Swan Range. Columbia Mountain. Teakettle Mountain. Glacier Park snow capped mountains. The eastern mountains were hazy as the sun needed to be more to the west. I could not see Flathead Valley.

    The air coming out of the west valley was a little cool. That was a little odd as this was an 80 degree day. It was warm a feet feet from the west side.

    I found a fantastic rock. It was a yard long, and two to three inches thick. It was almost 2 feet wide at the widest point, narrowing to about a foot on each end. A perfect shape. The color was a nice green on one side and green with reds and oranges on the other. I so wanted to take this rock back with me but it was too big to carry 6 1/2 miles.

    Instead I took two rocks from the "V" area of rocks. They had a colorful green lichen on one side. They were smaller but I still either needed two hands to carry them, I needed to balance them on my shoulder. At the first junction I left one rock as carrying both rocks was too much.

    Later near the top of the middle mountain I found two thin green rocks. They were probably less than a inch thick and a foot by two feet in diameter. In one hand I carried my original rock and in the other hand these two. Gary offered to carry the two lighter rocks and initially I refused. "They are my rocks and my responsibility.'" Eventually I relented and let him carry them.

    At a rest stop beneath the top of the middle mountain I swatted a yellow jacket on my leg. It fell to the ground stunned and before it could recover several ants rushed over and attacked it. Eventually three or four ants over powered the yellow jacket and carried it away. Gary, Joyce and I were like kids mesmerized by this struggle.

    For a good portion of the trail, it was narrow. One had to walk with one foot almost in front of the other foot. This is hard to constantly do and my feet ended up angling on each side of the trail. Between that and the effects of walking downhill a lot - especially carrying a large rock - by the end of the hike my feet were sore. I got a blister on one heel. I was also tired from the 13 mile distance, and from carrying a large rock 4 miles. We were also all out of water by the time we returned to Gary's truck.

    On the drive back to Kalispell we saw two deer standing near a small pond. No moose though. The cattle were all off the road and resting among the trees.

    He is a photo of the larger rock I carried over 4 miles. The rock looks better in person.

    Friday, June 15, 2007

    Firebrand Pass

    Friday, June 15, I hiked to Firebrand Pass with Bill, Joyce, Gary, Sue Ann, and Wendy. Firebrand Pass is on the Continental Divide. The trail is 4.8 miles long for a total of 9.6 miles. Gary and I hiked to the top of Red Crow Mountain so we hiked over 10 miles.

    We left at 8 am so it was another early start. The previous night I got 6 hours 20 minutes of sleep so I felt better than the previous hike where I only had 6 hours sleep.

    It was a sunny day, though the overnight low had been 33 degrees. When starting the hike I debated on whether to bring my coat along, but the others said I should else the weather will turn bad.

    "Ok, I will. Besides, it's not like the coat weighs as much as a rock."

    I am glad I took the coat as I wore it early on when we hiked among the trees, then later at the pass where we were under a perpetual cloud that hung over the peak to our SW.

    Here is a map I got from Ranger Rachel (more on her later). The map follows the trail description I had earlier that said there is a road across the railroad tracks. Nope. No road exists. I guess the railroad took it out. The little loop road off Hwy 2 exists, and that is where one parks their vehicle. Then you scramble over the railroad tracks to find the trail on the other side.

    The rest of the map is accurate.

    Even though we knew the trail began right at mile marker 203 Joyce still passed the turnoff before she could stop the car. No wonder a few hundred yards down the road there is a turnaround off the side of the road.

    In the "parking lot" were three other vehicles including the white Park Service pickup I had seen Wednesday when I had stopped there.

    A couple came out of the fenced area as we entered. He looked to be in his early to mid 20s and she in her mid 20s. He had a large backpack and she a lighter one. I asked about the trail to Firebrand Pass and he gave the general direction where the trail went. They had camped out overnight near a lake.

    "At Ole Lake?", I asked.

    "No. We did a little bushwacking and found a lake near the pass."

    They wished us well on our hike and we went our separate ways. I wished I was 20 years younger as she was very attractive and had a great smile and happy personality. A woman who likes to hike and camp in the boonies, and is in a good mood early in the morning after spending a night in the middle of nowhere with no facilities near the top of a mountain. I'm in love.

    Later I learned the woman had mentioned to Sue Ann and Joyce that they has seen a bear earlier. "But don't worry. It won't be there when you get there." And she is fearless too. Did I mention I am in love?

    The view was of high alpine open terrain with some trees and fantastic mountain views to our north.

    This photo was taken another time, but during my hike the flat top of Calf Robe Mountain was covered with snow. Firebrand Pass is behind the eastern (right) end of the flat top.

    It looked mostly open but shortly we entered a forest of short pine and Aspen trees. By short, I mean mature trees that due to the elevation and short growing season were twenty to thirty feet tall and not the taller trees we see in the Flathead Valley.

    This forest had an appeal as it seemed new, clean and uncluttered. Every so often the trail went through a small meadow that allowed one to see the sun and sky.

    We slowly and steadily climbed. Nothing steep as this is also used as a cross country ski trail. High on the trees were orange metal markers marking the trial in the winter snow.

    We climbed to near Calf Robe Mountain, then went right (east) around its shoulder. As we climbed we could see more and more of the area back to the highway and also to the Plains to the east.

    As we curved around the NE side of the mountain we began to come across snow fields. The snow was still hard from last night's cool temperatures so we couldn't dig our feet in to make tracks. The snow fields weren't too long and not that steep. And there were trees below so it you did slip it wasn't like you'd go over the edge. Still Bill and Sue Ann were hesitant as they didn't want to fall, and being older, break a bone. We had to convince Bill to continue across one snow field.

    On the north side of the mountain there was no snow but we did cross a rocky scree field. In the valley below we saw a coyote lope across a snow field.

    Shortly after seeing the coyote we met Ranger Rachel coming down the trail. She was on her way back from the Ole Lake campsite where she had done some maintenance. She was dressed in her ranger shirt and shorts and had a full backpack with her saw and shovel and other tools.

    We asked about the pass and was told it was a half hour ahead. Two snow fields were near the pass with the smaller snowfield being very steep. While she wanted people to stay on the trail, she recommended going around the smaller snow field.

    The other larger snow field was along and below the pass with one open gap free of snow. There were game trails that led straight up to the pass and we could follow those trails.

    Wendy earlier had noticed a trail across the north valley leading to a high valley. She asked about a trail there and was told there was none, it was an old game trail. We were wondering later if that trail was one the park is abandoning as the park has stopped maintenance on some old trails to let them go back to nature.

    Rachel works out the the Walton Ranger station which is probably one of the least used stations and areas even though it is next to hwy 2. Originally from Philadelphia Rachel has lived out here for 8 years and been a ranger in the Walton station for two years. She has an intern and two trail crew members assigned to her station. I think her mentioning 8 years is part of the reason Sue Ann got the idea Rachel was around 27 years old. I commented Rachel didn't have much of a Philly accent and she said she lost most of it but occasionally slips into it when she is tired.

    I asked Rachel what the elevation gain was to the pass and she thought it was 1400 feet. I earlier had guessed 1200 ft. Right now, looking at my maps, I see the elevation at the pass is 6951 ft. The elevation at the False Summit at mile marker 203 is 5084 ft. The elevation change to the pass is 1867 ft.

    She said snow usually remains near the pass until early July.

    Rachel mentioned she had maps of the trail heads in her district at her ranger office.

    The group then said it was time to move on. I later got grief from everyone about my yakking with Rachel. "I saw you looking at her legs!"


    The scree slope opened into a high valley. This was where a 1900 fire burnt both sides of the pass. The vegetation was small but there were lots and lots of large beautiful white weathered tree trunks, limbs, and roots. Many would make excellent landscape pieces. Did I mention "large"? That is why they are still there.

    And the wildflowers are in bloom with pinks and purples and reds. No Indian Paintbrushes like I had seen in abundance on Wednesday's hike along St Mary Lake.

    At the end of the high valley was the pass. Rachel was right, two snow fields were there. The trail went higher and across the snowfields.

    This photo (taken another time) doesn't show the snow. One snow field was under the "V" of rock to the left of the pass, and the other snow field went across the pass to half the distance to the tip of the rock "V".

    Gary took the high road and crossed the snow fields. On the first snow field he was on hands and feet to keep his balance and later said he wished he hadn't taken that route.

    The rest followed my lead and took the low route down a short distance past the "hump" between where this photo was taken and the pass, then straight up game trails. Even Bill who was initially hesitant and to whom I encouraged to come along. The climb was steep. Gary and I arrived at the pass near the same time and the others followed over time.

    The view was fantastic. From the pass we looked down into a deep valley and saw more mountain ranges, mountains not visible from anywhere else in the Park.

    Never mind the people in the one photo. I didn't have a camera so I had to use a few photos taken by other people to illustrate the pass and scenery.

    From the pass we could not see Ole Lake in the valley below. Rachel said the elevation difference from the pass to Ole Lake was greater than what we just had done east of the pass. We decided not to hike down to the lake.

    Once everyone arrived we ate our lunches and marveled at the view. Everyone thanked me for finding this trail and pushing for us to hike it.

    The pass is a saddle between Calf Robe Mountain to the south and Red Crow Mountain to the north. Calf Robe Mountain looked higher than Red Crow Mountain. The maps and one book lists Red Crow Mountain at 7891 ft. The maps do not have an elevation for Calf Robe Mountain, but the book lists it at 7895 ft. In person Calf Robe Mountain sure looked to be more than 4 ft higher than Red Crow Mountain.

    I told Gary that I was interested in climbing one of the two mountains.

    "Nice try. I'm not falling for it.", Gary said.

    "I'm serious."

    "I know. That's what scares me."

    Gary thought it would take over an hour each to climb each mountain.

    "Maybe Calf Robe Mountain, but I think we could climb Red Crow in less time."

    "How long?"

    I decided to be conservative in my estimate so I said, "40 minutes" when I thought 30 minutes.

    Gary thought a little more and then said, "If the group doesn't mind, let's do it." None of the group was interested in climbing the mountain but they were fine with us doing it then catching up to them later or at the car.

    We hiked/climbed Red Crow Mountain. I could see a (game?) trail that led at a slight angle to the NW and we followed it across the scree until we reached some trees here and there then angled back and forth across the loose rock and around hard rock outcroppings. The hike/climb was tiring and we had to stop every so often to catch our breath. We pushed on, partly to not fall too far behind the group and partly because I wanted to beat my estimate.

    It took 13 minutes to reach the top. This is an elevation gain of 940 ft in a very short distance. That was way less time that I predicted.

    At the top the view was even better. We could see more mountains and valleys, and could see Ole Lake ringed by trees far below in the valley. Ole Lake is small. We could see how a valley curved SW back to Essex, MT. We could see towards the Bob Marshall wilderness to the south.

    We could see the entire town of East Glacier and Hwy 2 as it went east to Browning, MT and out to the Plains. In the far off distance we could see the three Sweetgrass Hills of West Butte, Gold Butte, and Mt. Brown. Looking at a Montana highway map, the distance to the Hills may be almost 100 miles.

    An amazing view.

    From the top of Red Crow Mountain, Calf Robe Mountain looked much steeper than the view from the Pass. Still Gary and I planned out a route for when we next hike up here.

    On the mountain many rocks were colored with lichen. I wandered around and headed north a ways to get a different view. I looked for a lake near the pass where the couple claimed to have camped. I couldn't see any lake in the high valley where I thought a lake may have been. Looking at the maps I see Lena Lake is located in the high valley NE of the pass.

    Hmmm... Ole and Lena lakes? Sure sounds like Indian names to me. I guess the Norwegians got here first.

    The top of the mountain was rock. I found several depressions that had holes near the bottom. Dens of some sort of animal? Too small for bears I thought, and too high up. I didn't go down to check the holes out further.

    The group left 24 minutes before we started our decent. It took us 9 minutes to go down what we had climbed. Going down the scree was like walking/sliding down snow.

    Gary decided to take the game trails straight down from the Pass rather than go over the snow fields. A short distance from the top I remembered I had left a small rock at the pass. As I had found and carried it halfway up the pass I decided I should return to bring it with me. *sigh* Me and my rocks. It took some time to catch up with Gary.

    Gary and I caught up with the group a half mile from the car. We wanted to catch them before the car so as not to make them wait,.  We also remembered Joyce baked and brought a cherry pie and we wanted to make sure we got a piece.

    At the car we learned Wendy had found an unused can of bear spray on the trail. A nice thing to have out here.

    We sat in the ditch and ate it our slice of cherry pie as cars passed on the highway above. Yum! It was excellent!

    I found a tick crawling on my arm. It was moving pretty fast up my arm when I saw it and removed it.

    We all enjoyed this hike and plan to do it again.

    On the drive back to Kalispell I asked Joyce to stop at the Walton Ranger station to get the trailhead info from Rachel. "Is that the only reason you want to stop?"

    The ranger station is a very small building and Rachel and her intern were inside. She was on the phone but got off so as to talk with us. She gave us the trailhead maps and asked about our hike. She was interested in the couple's bear sighting and also where the couple camped as they weren't registered for camping at the Ole Lake backcountry campground. I didn't want to get the couple in trouble (as I was sweet on the woman hiker ) so I was vague until I realized the couple were long gone, so I told Rachel it was some lake near the pass.

    I talked and talked and Bill finally came to get me to say the group wanted to go. I got no end of teasing about Rachel and was asked if I also got her phone number. I hadn't.

    The others were good natured about their teasing but Sue Ann pointed out Rachel was far younger than I at her guess of 27 years. Sue Ann didn't think I could keep up with a younger woman, etc. etc. ("In what way Sue Ann?" She didn't answer. ) Sue Ann gets really bothered by older men dating younger women as she feels men should date women older than them. Sue Ann appeared to be bothered by my showing a mild interest in such a younger woman.

    Sue Ann said she noticed in the office that Rachel's toe nails were painted pink so she wasn't a real outdoors woman. I hadn't noticed as I was looking into Rachel's eyes as I talked with her. I told Sue Ann an outdoorsy woman can paint her toenails to show her feminine side and still be outdoorsy. It was a nice combination. Sue Ann then went on to say Rachel was 40 lbs overweight when that was absolutely not true. I don't like it when women put other women down over weight, especially when it is not true. So I gave Sue Ann grief.

    Earlier Sue Ann told about how a woman she met working on her new condo gave her phone numbers of several men she knew. When the woman mentioned that she frequented the Packer's Roost Bar Sue Ann immediately thought the worst of the recommended men and never called them. So I gave her grief about these potential dates. I can take teasing, but not if you cross a line and get mean about it. Then you better be prepared to take as well as give.

    To my surprise Sue Ann called the next day to say Rachel was nice (as her way of apologizing for her mean comments) and to also tell me she called one of the men. He turned out to sound interesting, was about her age, and he knew Rachel not via Packer's Roost but when they fought a forest fire several years earlier. Sue Ann was going to meet this man Sunday. I haven't heard how their "date" went. Maybe if she gets laid she'll lighten up.

    We stopped at Issac Walton Inn so Sue Ann could use bathroom. She didn't want to use the pit toilets at the ranger station.

    At the Issac Walton Inn a woman my age wouldn't give me the time of day. She appeared to be there with her parents, and other than another mother and young son in the dining room and the Inn's clerk, were the only people there. As Sue Ann told me, someone staying at the Inn probably had money and wasn't interested in someone without money like me. Okay...

    This is the first time I had been to the Issac Walton Inn after all these years of driving past it. It was nice. It was an old railroad bunkhouse and is now a tourist hotel with a railroad theme and feel. I think it may be one of the smallest stops on the Amtrak passenger line. A sign requested no computer use in the lounge or dining room to preserve the ambiance.

    For more photos of the Firebrand Pass and surrounding area, here is the web site where I got some photos. It has some nice photos and descriptions including the person's encounter with a grizzly bear near the pass.