Monday, September 29, 2014

Davis Lookout

On a cloudy Monday September 29, Joyce, Kendra and I hiked to the Davis Lookout in the Salish Mountains in the Kootenai National Forest.  This lookout was in the same general area as the last lookout we hiked to: McGuire Lookout.

Distance roundtrip: I estimate 4 to 4.5 miles
Elevation gain:  from the topo map I estimate 800 or a bit more feet.
Lookout elevation: 6051 ft

We again followed the directions in Kendra's copy of the Fire Lookouts in NW Montana book.   The route description and some photos are the same as I found later on the following summitpost web page:

But... when we reached Forest Service 3532 it was gated shut.  What?!    (This route is marked in purple in the map below.)

Not only one lock fastened the gate, but two locks.  We were locked out.

We didn't have a map so we couldn't look if an alternate route existed.  Time for plan B.   As we drove to the plan B lookout we passed the Murphy Lake Ranger Station.  We stopped in.

We learned FS road 3532 (like the other roads marked in yellow) was closed each year from July 1 to  December 1.  When did the book and summitpost author(s) hike to the lookout? June 29.  No mention that the road could be closed.

  1. Trail #212. This trail originates at the end of FS Road #7156 just south of Swamp Mountain. It would be very possible to combine Davis Mountain with Swamp Mountain.  The trail is 6.5 miles to Davis Mountain.  13 miles RT - too far for Kendra to hike while she is undergoing radiation treatment.

  2. Trail #279 (Warland Ridge trail) which approaches from the southwest. Approximately 2 miles long (one-way). To get to this TH, drive 17.2 miles on #36, then turn right on FS Road #835. Drive 3.56 miles on #835 to #4424. Turn right on #4424 and drive 3 miles to the TH on the right side of the road. You can also access Warland Peak to the west via this trail...on the left side of the road.
The woman at the ranger station said trail 279 had not been maintained and she didn't know the trail condition.  There could be a lot of blow down. If the trail was similar to the McGuire Lookout trail, the trees wouldn't be thick. We should be able to get around dead-fall for two miles.

Again the gravel forest service roads were in very good condition.  On the map above our driving route is in red.  Trail 279 is marked in blue.

Aerial view

At mile 3 on FS 4424...

is the start of the trail.

Don't worry.  There is an easy place to park your vehicle off road near the trail.

At times the trail could be easily seen as a path through the grass.  Other times the trail was marked by lots of rock cairns.  The trail was easy to follow with little second guessing as to where the trail was located.  We only encountered three or four trees down across the trail.  It was easy to walk around them.

After the first little climb I looked to the NW and think I saw the McGuire, Little Sutton and Sutton peaks where we had hiked last week.

A short distance later we could see the fire tower barely above/among the trees.  What we didn't know is that the trail did not take the shortest distance from point A to B, even though it looked that way on the map (I added the little 'hook' on the end when I marked the trail in blue on the earlier map).

From the lower red X we hiked down a hundred to two hundred feet, then hiked up along the side of Davis Mountain to about the red X on the right.  Then we hiked the fat spine of Davis Mountain to the lookout.  This is why I think the trail is a little over 2 miles long, though on the map the trail goes fairly straight and appears to be no more than 2 miles.

The topography is not that steep so I don't know why a trail wasn't created in the shortest distance possible, unless they wanted the longest shallowest switchback on record. It is a good thing we saw the lookout at this point, else when we walked among the tall trees along the spine we would have questioned if we were on the right trail.  As it was, the walk along the spine was long enough we wondered if we would ever get to the lookout.  And once we were on the spine we lost the views of the valleys until just before reaching the tower.

The present 60' steel tower with 7x7' cab and ladder, along with the accompanying log cabin, were built about 1931, and have been abandoned for several years.
The cabin was pretty cool. Kendra would like to live here. The log walls were in good shape even if the rest of the cabin was not. The three trees next to the front porch must have been 'planted' by birds.  More photos of the cabin, and the outhouse with no view,  are at the link at the end.

The tower's ladder was removed from the bottom two sections of the tower (about 12 ft).

I rattled the tower's "x" on one side and the metal wobbled more than I expected.  Another reason not to try to shimmy up the tower to the ladder.

This tower reminds me of my friend Jeff.  He bought an old fire tower in northern MN and then erected it on his property.  His tower is similar, and may be almost as tall, though his cab on top may be smaller.

For more photos, follow this link:

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

McGuire Lookout

On a nice warm and sunny Wednesday September 24 I hiked to the McGuire Lookout with Joyce, Kendra, and Glenda.  Kendra has a book about selected fire lookouts in NW Montana and has a goal to hike to most of them.  She and Joyce had visited about a half dozen lookouts before inviting me to join them to see McGuire Lookout.

Distance round trip to the lookout: 5.3 miles.   Our meanderings on the trail to the NW of the lookout made the trail 6 miles round trip.
Elevation gain to and from the lookout: 808 ft

Background from the Kootenai National Forest brochure and elsewhere: 
On a summit in northwestern Montana, about 19 miles southwest of Eureka at an elevation of 6991 feet, perches McGuire Mountain Lookout.
The lookout was built in 1923. It has a view of Lake Koocanusa five air miles to the west and the surrounding mountains and ridges.
Other historic remains include a root cellar, two outhouse holes, a Forest Service trail accessing the site, an early 1920’s campsite, and painted rock alignment spelling out “MCGUIRE”. The rock alignment is considered historical because the Forest Service began marking its location points this way in 1929 to aid aerial fire patrols.

In 1923, at the cost of $805.87, the Forest Service built the current McGuire Mountain Lookout. Lightning protection was added in 1931. The building was estimated to have a 20-year life. It is an excellent example of the first standardized Forest Service design, the D-6. The D-6 design is a square, wood frame building designed to rest on the ground with pyramidal cupola with windows all around which serve as an observation tower.
The lookout is a square 12' x12' wood frame building, designed to rest on the ground with pyramidal roofs and on top a pyramidal-shaped cupola, with windows all around, which serves an an observation tower. The main floor served as a living quarters for the fire guard. The cabin is equipped with a modern wood stove, 2 twin size bed boards (no mattresses), table, bench, shovel, bucket and cleaning gear. This cabin is very rustic. The building is not wired for electricity and has an outdoor toilet. Water sources are limited in the area and there is no water at the lookout.
The main floor served as living quarters for the fireguard. The fireguard also needed to patrol around the breaks of the mountain to view the Flat Creek watershed to the north. The patrol, including viewing times at three points took fifty-five minutes round-trip.

The end of the era of intensive fire lookouts use came in the 1940’s. As a result, the McGuire Mountain Lookout was abandoned in 1944. It stood vacant until 1983 when the Forest Service began restoring the building. Renovations were completed in 1998 under a PIT Project, making it eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. In 1996, windows replaced the boards in the cupola and the lookout was painted its original green with white trim. Today it is part of the Forest Service cabin rental program.
The lookout is open from June 1 to September 30 (weather permitting).
The cabin rents for $25.00 a night with a 14 day stay limit.

There are a number of ways to drive to the trail head.  Coming from Kalispell we drove through 'downtown' Trego, Montana and continued south on Fortine Creek Rd until we came to Edna Creek Rd (or FS 433) and then turned right onto that road.  Fortine Creek Road is paved and about 5 miles of the Edna Creek Rd is paved.  The rest of the roads are gravel but are in excellent condition with no potholes or rocks until the last 1.3 miles where the road got a little rocky.  But it was not bad.  Kendra drove a Prius and with its low ground clearance it had no trouble on the roads.

Google maps has the time from Trego as 1 hr 15 minutes. While we didn't time the drive it didn't seem like it took us even an hour to drive the route due to the good condition of the roads.  The only thing to watch out for is that there a number of roads in the area and we encountered several major intersections so use Google maps to get a list of the steps if you don't have a copy of the book's route description available.

An example of the many roads.  The short section from the intersection down by "Google" is the one that is a little rockier to drive.  The trailhead (plus a decent area on which to park off the road) are located on the saddle between McGuire Mountain and Sutton Mountain.

The trail takes the long way to the lookout and curves around from the west.  "McGuire" are rocks near the lookout and not an altered image.

There was no sign at the trailhead. We found a paper and plastic sign torn up into pieces at the base of a post.  The trail is nice and the forest along the trail is is open.

The trail goes up 200 to 300 ft then goes down a few hundred feet before going up again.  So the 808 ft of elevation gain is not straight up to the lookout but is gained going to and back from the lookout. The hike is easy.

The rock pile (there are four of them at each corner of the lookout) had cables between them and the lookout.

Near the trees in front of the lookout are some benches to sit on around a fire ring.  The outhouse is a short way down the hill and we also found the remains of the old root cellar.   As you can see, since the lookout was abandoned for fire detection use, trees have started to grow up around the lookout.

While the views are not spectacular as with other lookouts I have been to, nonetheless they are nice of the Salish Mountains.  The lack of large elevation change in the views hide the fact that the lookout is at an elevation of 6991 ft.

There is a trail that goes NW.  We followed it for a while in hopes of seeing more views to the NW and of Lake Koocanusa.  None where to be had.  The walk was nice and for some reason a number of large piles of rocks were placed at various points along the trail.  We came to an area off the trail where a very large section of the ground and rocks were disturbed.  Our guess it was due to a bear searching for grubs.

Someone placed a geocache at the lookout site. I didn't know about it until later when looking up info about the lookout. 

The forest service had conducted controlled burns earlier and on our drive out we could see and smell smoke from where the afternoon breeze had encouraged smoldering.  There was a large canvas(?) container along the road filled with water ready to pump from if needed.

More photos are at this link:

A short video from the summit is at this link:

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Jewel Basin lake loop

Saturday, September 13, Patti and I hiked a loop of trails in the Jewel Basin area of the Swan Mountain Range.  We had planned on hiking in the Cabinet Mountains again this day but Patti wasn't feeling the best so we thought a closer easier hike would be better.  If you count 10.5 miles of hiking up and down easier.

We got to the Camp Misery parking lot early but not too early on a cool morning. But early enough to get a spot in the parking lot.  Enough trails and enough people hike from here that parking can be a problem if you arrive late.

We started from Camp Misery on trail 8 to the Noisy Creek Notch, then we passed the Twin Lakes. We continued on trail 7 to trail 55 to trail 719 to Blackfoot Lake.  Continuing on trail 719 to the little loop among the Jewel Lakes, then to Black Lake.  We walked down to Black Lake for a bit.  Three tents were set up for people camping there.

Continuing on trail 719 to trail 392 to Picnic Lakes.  We continued on trail 392 between Picnic Lakes then to the Jewel Basin boundary where we reconnected with trail 7.  Then on trail 68 then trail 8 back to Camp Misery.

*whew*  Lots of lakes and lots of trails.

A nice day and a nice hike.  Sunny.  Not hot or cold.  In the morning we saw some un-melted snow among the tree shade.  The mountains had gotten snow the previous couple of days from an early Winter-like storm.

There were lots of jet contrails high in the sky all day from numerous jets.

There were a number of people out and about on the trails as this is a popular place to hike, but it was not crowded. The dragon boat races were being held in Bigfork this weekend and that may have had an impact on the number or lack of people.

At the start of the final stretch - where we passed through a notch and left the Jewel Basin and hiked back down to the Camp Misery parking lot - we met two teen / pre-teen boys who had been fishing at Black Lake.  They were waiting for their other brother to catch up.   After hiking half down to Camp Misery on a curving round-a-bout trail we came upon the three boys standing on the trail.  They had bushwhacked through the tall/thick trees and brush down the mountainside.  Oh, to be young again.  They were waiting for some girls we could hear up above.  We never saw the kids again.  I believe they bushwhacked down the rest of the drainage back to Camp Misery.

Here are some photos:

Here is a video:


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Ross Creek Cedars

On Saturday September 6, on our drive home from our hike to Star Peak, Patti and I drove on MT Hwy 56 past the Ross Creek Cedars scenic area.   Patti had visited the area before but I hadn't.  We went in and walked around for a half mile or so on their scenic loop.  We were a bit tired from the Star Peak hike and still had a distance to drive back to Kalispell.  We wanted to get back to Kalispell before dark.  The deer at night are bad on this stretch of Hwy 2.  Tammy and I hit a deer last year when we drove this road.

When we had returned from Star Peak lookout the temperature was 81 F.  In the Cedars the temperature was in the mid 60s.  Cool and damp.  Good for growing big trees.  Once we left the Cedars area the temperature warmed up.

View of the Cabinet Mountains on our drive out of the Cedars area.

First Star Peak Lookout

Patti ran across this photo and description in a forest service document...

The actual “lookout” at that time was a stacked stone pillar on the mountain apex and this pillar was probably later incorporated into part of the current Star Peak Lookout foundation.

The stacked stone foundation served as the lookout platform until the early 1930’s, when the Forest Service erected a gable roof “L-4” cab lookout.

Pauline Gordon, wife of the first ranger in the Noxon District, on the first Star Peak lookout.


Star Peak and lookout

On Saturday September 6 Patti and I drove almost to Idaho on Hwy 200 to hike up Star Peak.  The weather was perfect: lows 80s and a clear sky.  We both wanted to climb to the top of a mountain to enjoy the views on such a beautiful day.  Soon snow will arrive ending the high climbs for the year.

Joyce was on a multi day backpacking trip in Glacier Park with her family.  Mary was home ill.  So Patti and I chose a strenuous hike with lots of elevation combined with a long drive to an area where we hadn't hiked yet.

Elevation of the lookout: 6167 ft.
Elevation gained on the trail: 4000 ft in 5 miles.  Yes, this is a steep and strenuous hike.
In 1907, the first forest lookout on the then Cabinet National Forest (and in the state of Montana) camped in a tent just below the summit of Squaw Peak. Three years later, Noxon's first ranger, Granville "Granny" Gordon and his wife Pauline built the stone cabin that still stands at the edge of the talus below the existing lookout. In 1930, the first L-4 cab, a gable-roof model, was built on the summit, followed by the present L-4 cab in 1952. The Political Correctness Police renamed the summit Star Peak in 2004. Available for emergencies, it is listed on the National Historic Lookout Register.
The drive was almost 3 hours long but we drove through Plains, MT and on Hwy 200 and enjoyed the views. I hadn't been much past Plains so much was new for me.  What a pretty drive.  And the towns of Thompson Falls, Trout Creek, etc, are pretty and charming little towns.  And the Clark Fork River is gorgeous.

Here is Star Peak as we drove to it.  Yup. That looks to be about 4000 ft up from the road.

We left Kalispell around 7 am and got to near mile marker 6 on Hwy 200 shortly before 10 am.  The trail starts on the north side of the highway and on the south side of the highway is a large pullout that could hold a dozen or more cars.

Even from above the mountain and route looks high.

The red X indicates the start of the old mining road.  Ignore Fatman Road.

The route starts on an old mining road that goes straight up.  After about a third of a mile there is a berm across the road to stop vehicles from going further.  It looks like ATVs could go over the berm.  The old mining road is wide enough one could walk side by side.

The start of the mining road

The mining road after the berm.  It is steeper than it looks.
The road goes for two and a half miles and is rocky and steep.  Then the trail for the last two and a half miles to the lookout goes ahead and to the left.

Where the trail starts from the mining road

The trail
Normally one would think a trail would be steeper than a road but the reverse is true here: the road is definitely steeper than the trail.  Other than a few sections of the trail where it goes straight up, much of the trail has more switchbacks than the road.

On the following map I placed a red X where I estimate the mining road ends and the trail begins.  Notice there are lots of lines close together on the topo map.

On the trail we went through a large huckleberry patch.  There were delicious huckleberries, bland huckleberries and bitter huckleberries.  Every so often the bushes were sparse with berries.  I doubt a person would hike to the middle of the patch and pick.  I imagine bears and other wildlife had done the random picking.  We saw a few signs of purple scat but none of the scat we seen were from bears.

Other than the huckleberry patch (which appeared to be in an old burn and was more open than treed), for the most part the trail was in the forest.  However the forest was not thick and I felt I could see out away from the trail even if we did not have high-line views.

We did have the benefit of shade.  In the lower parts we could occasionally see the Clark Fork River.

Clark Fork River seen from the old mining road.

Near the top of the peak we came to a line where the trees mostly ended and a large pile of rocks began and went all the way to the top.  It was strange.  It was like God had taken his fist and smashed the top of the mountain into rocks.

The aerial views doesn't show how rocky the top is.

The trail circled around the back of the mountain before going up to the stone cabin below the lookout.  The cabin looks to be in great shape and a new roof appears to have been put on it.  The walls are rocks stacked one on top of another with no mortar or cement to hold them in place. Amazing!

The lookout personal must have has a lot of time on their hands.  Also, notice the stone 'staircase' between the cabin and the lookout.

The lookout was a different style than normal around western Montana.  For example, the shutters aren't taken off.  Each side's shutters swing up and are attached to the overhang frame that is on each side of the building.

And as you can see in the photos, the building needs a coat of paint.

Gorgeous views of the Clark Fork Valley, Cabinet Mountains, Idaho and Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced: pond-o-ray).
Looking towards Idaho and Lake Pend Oreille

After an hour and a half of lunch and enjoying the views we headed back down.  The trail and mining road especially were steep enough that a person had to make effort to walk slow and not lose control.

The hike up took about three and a half hours and the hike down took two hours fifteen minutes.

During the hike down we came upon two of these birds.  At the first switchback one bird veered off to the right.  We had encouraged the other bird to go off the trail to join its friend but it kept walking on the mining road all the way to the next switchback where it then veered off to the right. 

For 37 more photos, follow this link:

A related story is this article with photos of mules hauling material up to the Star Peak lookout for restoration: