Foot-High Chocolate Lily with 13 Flowers; Many Others Speckle Trail
Who went group one: Jo Ann, Doreen, Gail, Paula P, Sue M
Who went, group two: Katie, Amber, Judy
The weather looked bad, so both groups moved up the hike by a day, from Thursday to Wednesday. Then even Wednesday looked a bit iffy, so the first group decided not to make a sunset trip to Sunset mountain but a morning trip.
The other group ended up canceling as severe damaging thunderstorms and hail were predicted. Insstead, the weather on Thursdaay morning looked better.
Group one left Great Falls at 8 a.m. on our way to Sunset Mountain; the first hike that no one in our group had ever been on before. The trail, an unpaved road, is located about one-tenth of a mile down the highway from Rogers Pass parking area. The weather was warm and sunny, but we found a few shady stops. There were many wildflowers, which Jo Ann identified for the group.
At the top, we lunched in the shade; then proceeded down the trail. Along the way, Jo Ann spotted several Chocolate Lilies and an Early Coralroot. Everyone had a good time. We were back in Great Falls around 2:30 p.m.
Who went: Gail, Jo Ann, Sue M, Paula P, and Doreen.
Group two was under a timeline, as Judy had a doctor's appointment at 1 p.m. for a loose crown. So we left town right at 7 a.m. and hustled up the trail. Somehow, we missed the chocolate lily that Jo Ann told us about: a rare with flower with an even rarer number of blossoms: 13. Usually, this lily might have two or three blossoms on a stalk, so this specimen was highly unusual. Even H. Wayne Phillips, a botanist, couldn't believe this flower.
Both groups passed it by on the way up, but both spotted it on the return. But this wasn't the only amazing flower: the Indian paintbrush was especially bright red, the yellow of the arrowleaf balsamroot almost hurt the eyes.
The other outstanding flowers were valerian, elderberry, buckbrush/ceonothus, arnica, and miner's candle.
As we approached the top and the towers and huts, a work truck wtih three workers approached waving hello. The walk is on a dirt access road, used to service the radio, TV and cell towers on top.
On the way down, Judy noticed her sunglasses were missing. She thought she may have dropped them at the top when she took pictures. Amber said she would drive her back up, but hoped the men in the truck wouldn't be coming down as the road is single track.
Even though it wasn't in the evening, Sunset mountain didn't disappoint.
Waterfalls, Flowers, Wildlife Stun Gals on Rocky Mountain Front Hike
We left Great Falls at 6:30 a.m. taking the back way to Augusta through Fairfield due to road construction out of Simms.
We wanted to get out early due to thunderstorms predicted in the afternoon, and this being early in the year, we knew it would take us longer to do some climbing.
And our legs weren't the only thing that slowed us down: the flowers called us to take a ton of photos. We must have seen over 50 different varieties from the verdant valley flowers including wild iris to high alpine beauties just emerging as the snow melts such as spring beauties, alpine forget-me-nots, glacier lilies and spring beauties.
So, the trail starts in a meadow, crosses a creek (over which, someone had placed logs so we didn't need our water shoes). and then gets alpine fast. The rocky limestones holds many fossils, especially crinoids; we did find a few as well as what we think is an ancient coral.
Then we hit the series of waterfalls t, called Willow Creek Falls, hat tumble down the rocky cliffs before we head off trial for the climbing portion.
We had a snack at this junction, while Katie and Tom discussed routes. Due to the weather, we decided to take a more direct, but steeper, route so that we could get to the top by 1 p.m., the rule being get off a mountain by 2 p.m. as that is when the electric storms usually gather in the Rockies. So far, we had averaged just over one mph with the fossil hunting and picture taking and the clouds were starting to loom.
On the way to the top, we passed through what looked like a dead white-bark pine forest. In fact, we kept hearing a bird call and Beth said it had black wings; we figured it might be a Clark's nutcracker. Lots of gorgeous snags to set off our picture shutters again, but sad that the trees died. In this section, Tom picked up four ticks. Then we continued, admiring the three different anemone variety of flowers with Tom pushing on to the 1 p.m. deadline.
And we did make it. It was a tough climb, making for an 8 versus 10-mile day, but we did make it to the top by 1 p.m. We ate our lunch and enjoyed the views for a half hour before heading back down. The views on top were stupendous, even if we had mounting clouds. We viewed the Scapegoat escarpment, a long circular wall where we will be backpacking to later this summer.
We retraced our steps, back to the waterfalls, through the meadow to the stream crossing and through the final meadow.
We got back to the cars around 4:30 and home by 6:30, with some stopping in Augusta for a bite to eat. Katie and Tom both found a few more ticks when they showered, Yuck.
Who went: Mary, Amber, Beth, Katie (Tom and Gordon guides)
With a very hot day expected and not many able to go, we ditched the idea of a big climb with no shade to wildflower walks, in search of the elusive limestone or Jones columbine, which only resides on rocky mountain tops.
We were to have two groups: one leisurely wildflower walk group and one group that would split off to climb Grassy Mountain. Instead, we did something in between: we did two wildflower walks, but the mountain climbers convinced the walkers to hike to the top of two small peaks. And we weren't disappointed with the flowers.
We left Great Falls at an early 6:30 a.m. in an attempt to beat the heat, stopping briefly at Memorial Falls for a break. We arrived at Skidway at 8:45 and were on trail just before 9 a.m. Even in the parking area we started to see flowers: Indian paintbrush (red and sulphur) and lupine really showed their faces. But the flowers kept coming. On this portion of our hike, we named over 70, including chocolate lily, fairy slippers and early orchids. We even saw a white clematis or virgin's bower. See our list below.
This hike stays in the trees among lush meadowlands, but we went off trail to tag Skidway Hill, a former ski area for the people of the area including Townsend and White Sulphur Springs. We saw the remnants of the lodge and ski tow and enjoyed the views of the surrounding mountains, including Edith, that largest peak in the Big Belts. Then we took a glance up the mountain at what would have been the climbers path that we will save for a cooler day when more gals can join us.
Then we headed back into the trees and continued our three-mile loop to our cars. We arrived at the cars at 11:30 a.m. After our hike into the Big Belts, we decided to hit another high point, this time in the Little Belts and halfway on our way home: Kings Hill. Jo Ann is not called "Flower Finder" as her trail name for nothing. She is a member of the Native Plant Society and sure has an eye. It is she who spotted the early coralroot orchid and chocolate lilies when the rest of us would have walked right by them, so when Katie said there was an opportunity to see limestone columbine on Kings Hill, she was up for it, even though it would mean a six-mile day, more hiking than she had done in a year. And it was uphill all the way on our next three-mile adventure.
Before we jumped into our cars for Kings Hill, we said goodbye to Sheila, who decided to stay for some fishing instead of the second hike. We arrived at Kings Hill in about an hour and started up, hitting a bit of snow on the old road and trail. Along the way, Jo Ann and Katie found even more flower varieties than what we had seen at Skidway, marking over 70 flowers in the 80s if you count the white versions), but the real treat was on top: among the rocky outcroppings lay dozens of limestone columbine, their bright violtet-blue heads with yellow centers seeming to smile at us through the wind that was whipping at the top. But it was all worth it. Jo Ann finally was able to photograph this special flower.
To help her out, Amber played Sherpa, carrying other people's water and running back and forth to get her exercise. We figured she put on an extra mile going to the top and back several times.
We got down around 3 p.m. and were home by 4. A wonderful day.
Who went: Jo Ann, Karen, Sheila, Amber, Susan, Katie
Gals Buzzed by Military Helicopter on Windy Day on Windy Peak
Over 40 Flowers Wow Gals on Continental Divide Trail
Unnamed Peak, Arrowleaf Balsamroot Wow Gals on Long Hike
Storm Brews But Gals Make it to Top, Welcome New Member
Girls in Glacier and Katie Kotynski