Hannan Gulch Day of Bushwhacking, Pictographs, Skull Tree, Views
The day started at 7 a.m. after a late start due to Kuntzie oversleeping. Happy Camper Susan called her to wake this retiree who never has to get up early anymore--except for GiG hikes. So all seven of us crammed into Judy's car to await Kuntzie before the trip to Augusta, where we would meet with Viki and newbie Shelley N.
In Augusta, we looked around the Mannix Mercantile General Store while we lined up to use the sole bathroom in the place. A few of us purchased some items too.
Then it was off to our trailhead, just across from the Sun Canyon Lodge.
Our hike was divided into three two-mile sections: First up was a hike along the river, up and back to see the better of two pictograph sites on our day. We marveled at the ancient drawings and hand prints, one of a shield and another of an animal eating or perhaps drinking from the river; it had it's head down anyway.
Then before we retraced our steps to the car, we arrived at a side trail that would lead us to the top of a cliff, where we would have views of Gibson Dam on the way up and then of the canyon ad surrounding plains once we arrived at the top.
This section was the most challenging, requiring route finding as well as bushwhacking through mostly scrub junipers and knickknick along with a few pines and fir trees. Judy, Kuntzie and Viki did most of the route finding. They did an excellent job as we didn't have to backtrack even once.
Once we were on top, we marveled at the gorgeous views of the turquoise Sun River, so different from what the river looks like in Great Falls, after all of the irrigation run off. And we marveled at how we were protected from the wind that blew us a bit on the way up. Luckily, it was a warm wind, so it didn't bother too much.
We ate a snack on top, but saved our hunger for later when we would eat at the Buckhorn Bar in Augusta.
After our snack, we walked the ridge the entire distance until we reached a bit of rock climbing that would lead us to a trail. We had a very easy path down to the road by the ranger station. As we walked the road, several gals pointed out the marker for the Mercy Flight that went down on its way back from a training in Glacier Park. The four medical personnel on board all perished. They had taken a sightseeing detour on the way home, one person videotaping the bighorn sheep in Hannan Gulch. Read more here.
Kuntzie and Mary S pulled the weeds from around the marker as we all pondered the fate of the local people who had died.
Then we continued down the road until it split leading into the Wagner Basin area, which we took, except for Shelley and Jo Ann, who felt a bit tired after bushwhacking up the cliff. The rest of us headed into the basin to view the skull tree, while Shelley and Jo Ann went back to the cars and brought Judy's van around to the trailhead to await our return.
We enjoyed the hike into the basin, saw the skulls on the trees, thinking about Mary Nicholls' niece who paints the skulls and mounts them. We also enjoyed the last few flowers of summer: goldenrod, hymenoxys and gay feather (aka blazing star).
Then it was off to Augusta for a fun meal at the Buckhorn Bar (a huge group of bikers were there so the staff turned up loud 70s-era classic rock from artists such as Eric Clapton, Three Dog Night and the Eagles) before saying goodbye to Viki and Shelley who live in Fairfield and Conrad respectively.
We arrived back in Great Falls around 4:30.