Day of Hoodoo Climbing, RMF, Sun, Wind and Snowy Weather
We decided to take advantage of the last decent day before we face a week or more of winter weather even though snow was expected the night before and morning of. And we did hit some snow as we headed out of Augusta for McCarty Hill, the first of our two high-point destinations for the day. Doing both peaks would get Amber to 20 peaks in 2020, so we were all excited to have her get her last two summits on this day.
We left Great Falls at 8 a.m. and stopped in Augusta for bathroom break and to take a sad look at what was left of the Bunkhouse Inn, which had burned the week before. It was nothing but a huge pile of boards, clothing, doors, and other debris that reached almost the height of the store next door: Latigo and Lace. Thankfully, Latigo and Lace was saved; the owners posted a big sign on their doors thanking the firefighters for doing so.
Then we headed out the Benchmark Road, turning past Scoutana to our destination: McCarty Hill. It had snowed off and on, so the road was muddy with puddles,. We faced two inches on the ground as we hiked to the top. The views were outstanding, some aspen in the bottoms still holding their golden leaves, and Fairview mountain shining with fresh snow as a backdrop.
Once on top, we steadied ourselves for a very stiff wind, but we still took our time admiring the Rocky Mountain Front in one directions and the plains and buttes in the other with Haystack Butte really standing out.
On our way back to the cars, the snow was melting into mud, which clung to our boots. We went off trail most of the way, trying to step on brush and grasses rather than slop. We also had to dodge cowpies..
Then we piled into the cars. It was already almost noon, but we decided to hold off on lunch until we drove a half hour to our next hike along the Sun River, so we ate a quick snack and headed out. But we didn't get far as the forest service was closing the road. They said they have been doing it the last few years because hunters were driving in from both sides and trapping the elk herds. They will reopen the road Dec. 1.
So, then we had a decision to make: drive all the way back to Augusta and around the long way to Hogback cliff in Hannan Gulch, go home and call it a day or think of something else to do. So Katie figured we could drive to Choteau and climb Priest Butte. Then Amber would still get to 20 peaks in 2020!
We briefly stopped in Augusta, grabbed our lunches to eat on the road. We should have eaten at the lake, but Katie wasn't thinking until we hit Augusta that it was already 1 p.m. and would be 1:30 before we hit Choteau.
At 1:45 we headed up Priest Butte and were able to tackle all four of the peaks on the butte, which aren't really visible from the highway side: the first one with the three crosses and the last one that requires a bit of rock scrambling and use of hands to get to the top. Susan had been before and decided to pass on the rock scramble; we waved down at her from the top and then scrambled back down. Luckily, we didn't see any snakes, but we avoided the areas where we knew them to be as well as any overhanging rock or rock piles.
After a walk back down shooing some cattle, we arrived at the cars by 3:30 and home by 4:20, a really great way to end the summer hiking season and move toward winter.
Who went: Suzie, Susan, Randi, Amber, Anita, Katie