Don't Tell the Hunters: Elk Everywhere on Flesher Pass
Any time you hike to a pass, you expect wind. at least in Montana, so we were pleasantly surprised when the day started out calm and sunny from the get-go. We left Great Falls at 8 a.m. and arrived at Flesher Pass around 9:30; and by the time we geared up, we hit the trail at 10 a.m. At the pass, it was a fine 23 degrees, yet down in the valley the thermometer had hovered around zero, making many of us wonder if we had brought enough warm layers. We needn't have worried.
After a quick group picture at the Flesher Pass/Continental Divide Trail sign, we headed straight uphill to our first overlook, catching a glimpse of the Mission Mountains and Scapegoat Wilderness areas. After our picture shooting, we noticed right away is that we couldn't see the trail. Why not? Elk tracks. Not just a single-file line; elk tracks all over as if a herd of 1,000 ungulates had trampled the whole area. We saw so many tracks and had to skirt around so many elk piles, we just could not believe our eyes. Almost every tree had indentation around it where elk had slept. We saw this the the entire way; for almost two miles the elk had completely trampled the area, obliterating any sign of a trail from prior snowshoers or skiers.
But elk tracks weren't the only prints we saw. We also spied cat tracks among the hoof prints. So we kept an eye out in the trees and overhanging branches just in case a mountain lion decided we looked like a nice meal. Luckily, we didn't happen upon any kitties today.
Without a clear trail, we took turns guestimating where we needed to be, looking for cut logs and clearings to guide our way. In this way, we also traded off trailbreaking as the snow was quite deep in places; yet in others, we found bare ground, especially under the trees. And snowshoeing over the uneven elk tracks was a bit tiresome. By the time we turned around, the snow was turning from powder and icy in spots to corn from the heat. It seemed more like spring snow than early winter. We need more snow, for sure.
All day, we enjoyed gorgeous views to the southeast (with a bit of a haze indicating an inversion in the valleys still), but we never did find the overlook to the northwest on the nice rock outcropping. We did, however, make it to the wolf lichen forest, the dead trees covered in the lime-green parasites wowing our eyes.
On this hike, we welcomed Judy to our group--her first snowshoe. And she liked us so much, she decided to join! On our way home, we stopped at the Amish/Mennonite Deli in Vaughn for ice cream and other goodies to take home. We arrived home by 3 p.m.
Who went: Sue M., Gail, Susan W, Susan C, Mary S., Maria, Paula, Judy, Christi, Kuntzie, Carolyn, Brenda, Jean, Viki, June and Katie