es, we hiked the O'Brien ski trail, not knowing what to expect without the cover of snow. We did get a surprise or two along the way in the form of bushwhacking through willows, rock-hopping at stream crossings, climbing over and under deadfall and slogging through mucky springs.
We left Great Falls at 7:15 a.m. and got on trail at 8:45 a.m. after dropping a car in Neihart and a bathroom stop at Silver Crest. At the top of Kings Hill Pass, we were surprised to see all of the rigs with trailers, but then we remembered it was the start of bow season. Frustrating us, the hunters had parked sideways, blocking all of the spots, so we had to park across the highway.
The hike starts straightforward enough, following the cat track of the snow machines to the edge of the Golden Goose ski run. Then it takes a turn from Showdown and continues through the lodgepole pines until it hits the open area of O'Brien Park: so far so good. The trail was very easy to follow without many obstacles until this point. And the blue diamonds were plentiful as well, clearly marking the way. During this part of the hike, we followed a bow hunter, dressed in camouflage. We figured he was really thrilled to have us yakking and laughing, scaring all of the elk away.
After we crossed the service road by O'Brien Park, the going started to get rough. At this point, the trail follows a drainage with many rocks in it, real ankle twisters. To avoid the rocks, we often found ourselves in tall brush which disguised holes left by elk hooves and burrowing animals. We saw many piles of elk droppings and matted areas where the herds had slept.
This drainage then ends where it enters O'Brien Creek, the start of our bushwhacking portion of the adventure. The rest of the day we were searching for the few blue diamonds (some of which were new and of a royal blue color instead of the traditional aqua and much harder to see, we found), in hopes that they would aid us in finding a way out of the marshy mess of willows.
Several times we tried to go higher on the sidehills to avoid the muck. However, there were many springs oozing out, which created a bog too. Our boots sunk down. At times, it was easier to step on the willow branches to help stay atop of mud. Another obstacle we found when we went high on the hillsides was deadfall: hundreds of trees littered the forest floor. The going was very slow at these places.
We also faced about 15 stream crossings; a few of us fell in at various times as we used downed logs and rocks to avoid wading. We all brought water shoes/sandals, but we never did change. Some of us probably would do so next time.
The trail was pretty despite the obstacles with deep greens along the creek, with even a few late blooming flowers: purple showy asters and harebells, deep orange paintbrush, fringed grass of Parnassus, yellow and pink monkey flowers, Shasta daisies, to name a few.
We were also fascinated with all of the green-lichened rocks that had tumbled down the mountains, producing enormous talus fields. In several places, the steep rock walls created beautiful canyon. And we came across the old homestead, that is fast disappearing--in the snow, only a few logs are apparent; however, we saw some old kitchen items including a washbasin.
Despite the pluses, we all said we weren't eager to hike O'Brien Creek again any time soon. We were happy we did do it, but it wasn't the easiest trail to follow in summer. It is a much better ski (but most felt trying to snowshoe this route would be over the top--a very long day indeed)
The trip took us six hours to cover 8.5 miles, a long time due to all of the difficulties along the trail along with route finding. Then four of us walked the extra mile to Bob's bar while the others shuttled to get the two cars at the top of Kings Hill.
After a late lunch (3-4 p.m) at Bob's, we arrived home at 5:15 p.m. On a side note, Tony at Bob's Bar said he has an offer on his business. If he does sell, the new owners will take over by Christmas. And he wants us to stop by his house after he leaves. However, he may have to move as the new owners are from Texas and as of yet can't find a house that is acceptable. They may want to buy his house as part of the deal. We were all saddened by this news.
Who went: Karen, Anita, Susan C, Katie, Gail, Jeanne, Susan W, Sara, Catherine