Climbing Two Peaks in One Day Involves Berries, Bushwhacking
Three GiG members from the east side plus two husbands met one GiG member from the west side at Marias Pass for a climb of two peaks: Flattop and Elkcalf in the Badger-Two Medicine area, across Highway 2 from Glacier Park.
We left town at 6 a.m. in a haze of smoke, which cleared as we traveled north, making our sunrise pretty. With no traffic (usually this time of year we pick up farm traffic early in the morning on the Valier cutoff), we made good time and arrived at the pass in two hours 15 minutes, even with a bathroom break in Conrad.
The skies were fairly clear when we started out on our hike, but by the end of the day, the smoke was thick as the west wind picked up and blew it in.
We got on trail well before 9 am and easily climbed Flattop, about a mile and 600 feet from the parking area. It took us a bit longer than normal as the huckleberries and whortleberries were ripe and plentiful. We also saw elderberries, currants, mountain ash berries and raspberries over the course of our hike. On top, we had good views; the smoke hindered a bit, but it hadn't really moved in yet. However, when we looked west, we saw a wall of haze.
From there, the going got a bit trickier. From Flattop to Elkcalf, there is no real trail. We had to step over much deadfall from the Skyland fire in 2007. Read more here and here. Luckily, the deadfall wasn't too hard to step over. It didn't bring back memories of Colorado mountain, which three of us had been on, or anything that bad. In this area, we found the wild raspberry bushes, with ripe raspberries on them, another taste trip.
Elkcalf has quite a bit longer approach, another two miles of climbing. Our views became more and more obscure as the winds from the west started blowing, but we made our way bit by bit. Two started feeling the elevation gain and needed a sit-down rest; One of the husbands, Chuck, had a blister, so he had to stop to doctor it before it got worse.
As we approached the top, we had to watch out for the telephone line from the former lookout tower. It was the only relic we saw from the building, but we didn't look very hard.
On top, we were surprised to see two GEO markers; we took pictures and then went over to the east side of the rocks to get out of the wind, which was starting to howl, literally.
Now, you would think our return trip would be a piece of cake since it was all downhill, but this is where the hike got interesting. instead of retracing our steps, which would have meant reclimbing Flattop, we headed down the backside of Elkcalf. This ended up with much bushwhacking, bushes chest-high at times. Most of the brush didn't have stickers; we didn't happen upon and stinging nettles or rose bushes, so those with shorts only received a few scratches. But it made for an interesting day. On the way down, Susan got a muscle pull or cramp, we weren't sure which, but after taking some meds, she was fine. Maybe the huckleberries
The flowers all along were pretty good for end of season: yarrow, pearly everlasting, fireweed, buckwheat, sulfur buckwheat, fireweed, showy asters.
We were off trail around 3:30; and Katie, Tom and Susan were home by 6:30. Chuck and Paula stopped at Serrano's for takeout, while Madelon headed for Eureka.
Who went: Paula P (and husband Chuck), Susan, Madelon, Katie (and husband Tom)