Firebrand Pass among Fireweed during the Reynold's Creek Fire in St. Mary
Our hike originally planned for the day, Piegan Pass, was out due to the trail closures of the St. Mary Fire at Reynold's Creek, so we headed to Firebrand Pass, a fitting hike for the wildfire that was raging out of control at the time, just one valley over. Firebrand Pass is located at the southeast corner of the park, a section that has no gate. We just parked at mile marker 203 on HIghway 2, six miles from East Glacier and walked in through a small gap in the fence just over the train tracks.
But not before Katie had us start on the wrong trail, causing a 45-minute delay getting on trail and adding a mile and a half to a 10-mile hike, not to mention even more bushwacking! We were on the snowshoe trail at Lubec lake, so we did get to see the old homestead from the life of Clara Miller, written about in the book Dream Chasers of the West,
When we did get on trail, thanks to Chrissie's map, we found fireweed galore, which followed us all of the way up the trail, going from regular fireweed to the stunted alpine version. The other flowers were out in droves too with the paintbrush, yampah, and angelica particularly abundant and the silky and silver-leaf phacelias dominating at the high elevations. (see list for everything we saw).
The trail wasn't very worn, producing much bushwacking through waist-high grasses and flowering bushes. The fireweed, cow parsnip and false hellebore were often head-high. These conditions made it very easy to stumble due to now being able to see the trail, which held rocks and raised tree roots to trip us up. In addition, the cliff side was disguised due to the vegetation, and one gal did fall down the cliff partway from stepping off the side of the hidden trail. But a cut hand was all she sustained for injuries, thankfully.
Also along the way, we gained a bit of strength from the huckleberries that were just getting ripe. A few grouse whortleberries (mini hucks) were also ripening. The trail was full of elderberry bushes without berries as well as mountain ash with green berries.
Although the flowers and foliage were beautiful, we couldn't enjoy them much as we neared the top as we did face the famous Firebrand Pass wind. The gusts increased once we hit the shale above the sheltered saddle, where we ate lunch, and sent us to our seats when we reached the top of the pass as it pushed us down. The traverse down the scree slope was a bit hairy with the gusts reaching around the 60-mile-an-hour range and hitting us from behind and the side at times, again, throwing some of us to the ground on the trail. But the views on top of the mountains, with 8888 dominating the horizon, were worth it. It's too bad we couldn't have enjoyed them a bit more.
We met some through-hikers from Colorado hiking from Two Medicine who said they had a very difficult time coming across the pass with their large backpacks that caught the wind. They had been out for four days and hadn't heard about the fire in St. Mary. In fact, they were very surprised to hear about it. We told them to be sure to check in with the ranger station so that the authorities know that they got our safely.
We also met a young couple day as well as a CDT (Continental Divide Trail) hiker who was returning to Marias Pass after being turned back by rangers due to the fire. It was the second time he had hiked the CDT, he said.
We arrived back at the cars at 5:05 and headed to Serrano's. After a half hour wait, we ordered food as we sucked down tons of water and ate baskets of chips as we waited for our food. We hit the road and arrive back in Great Falls at 9:30.
Who went: Chrissie, Sue M, Gail, Susan W, Bonnie, Colette, Katie and Christine, a college exchange student from Austria
Link to all of Katie's pictures.
Flowers We Saw
Beardtongue/fuzzy tongue penstemon
False hellebore (corn plant)
Monkey flower (pink)
Parrot's beak (lousewort)
Rattlesnake plantain orchid
Richardson's (white) geranium
Showy fleabane daisy
Sticky geranium (pink)
Western tobacco root (valerian)
Wall flower (mustard)
Berries We Saw
Elderberry (bush only)
Grouse Whortleberries (mini hucks)
Service berry (Saskatoon)
Sitka Alder )cones)
Girls in Glacier and Katie Kotynski