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
"It was a snow beaching," Susan W, aka, Happy Camper, said after she fell over into very powdery deep snow, necessitating a rescue. But that was toward the end of the hike when we were speeding down the mountain as the snowflakes started flying.
The day started at 8 a.m., and we got on trail by 9:30, slowly making our way up the mountain, breaking trail the whole way until we hit the cat track at Showdown that wound us around the back of the mountain to the base of the lookout tower. Some of us realized how much the Christmas baking was slowing us down, but we realized we could do this climb. Most of those on today's trip were also planning to go on the eclipse snowshoe adventure, so this was a good test of our endurance; plus doing it first in the daylight was a good idea.
As we neared the top, we could really feel the wind picking up and see the clouds closing in overhead, leaving just a slim strip of sunshine on the surrounding mountains, which was pretty. By the time we were on top, the wind was picking up the powdery snow and blowing it in our face. Since the weather was turning, we decided to walk the short distance to the ski hill to eat our lunch in the warming hut. And warm it was. Susan W discovered that the heaters were right under the benches that ran along the outside walls, so those needing to warm up sat there. And some purchased coffee or hot chocolate as an extra warm treat to go with their lunches.
Then it was back outside to the wind and blowing snow, which encouraged us to hoof it down the mountain without stopping. We made it to the cars just after 1:30, a record, I'm sure!
After a brief bathroom break and drinks at Bob's Bar, we headed home. We did see Tony and teased him a bit about being back at the Bar since he had sold it before Christmas. He said he had to finalize the books on his last quarter and then he would truly be done. And he gave us his phone number and promised to take us to the stone arch on a summer hike.
We arrived back in Great Falls at 3:15; a very fun day with a bit of a challenge.