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.