Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Absaroka Beartooth Wilderness, Montana - July 2015 - Part Five

please remember you can click on a photo to see a larger version

After our evening hike up the trail, up past the old power generating building, we returned to the near empty campground and our camper. I studied the Montana Mountain Lakes Guide, bringing back to memory where the large cutthroat trout were up from this trailhead. The Lady studied the USGS topo quads. I knew she would see it, and rise to it like I dreamed a huge cutthroat trout would rise to my perfectly presented dry fly.

"Look here," she said. I didn't need to.

She went on, "The Phantom Trail from East Rosebud crosses Froze to Death Plateau and with a series of switchbacks drops down to the Mystic Lake Trail just three miles up from this trailhead. We can get to Froze to Death Plateau from this side!" I could feel the momentary tug of a large trout on my fly line, then it was gone. "If the weather's nice tomorrow, we can go back up and see everything we couldn't see!"

We were going up. No ifs, ands, or buts. We were going high. I could have started a story about how trout don't live in the air, contrary to all the false casting some fly casters do. Trout live in water not on mountain tops.  This would be a failed effort from the start. I let it go.

"We better get an early start," I said. I set the Mountain Lakes Guide aside. To be honest, I had the bug too. I wanted to see it. And, I had a surprise in store for the Lady.

Wednesday morning was perfect, cool and clear. We got the early start, the Lady acting like a thoroughbred in the starting gates.

The first three miles gets you up to Mystic Lake, the high water source for the powerhouse far below.

After another half mile, we intersected with the Phantom Creek Trail and started up a marvelous set of switchbacks that took us higher and higher. The morning was perfect.

We worked our way up from sub alpine timber to alpine tundra.

Mystic Lake was now far below as shown in this panorama.

Soon we were back on Froze to Death Plateau. The Lady took it all in;  discovering what had been hidden by all those clouds.

"See that highpoint?" I asked and pointed to the knob on the plateau to the south. "That is the top of Froze to Death Mountain. It is about three miles away and another 1700 feet of vertical. It would seem like a waste of such a beautiful day to not touch that highpoint, don't you think?"

She started to sound like me when she said. "That's going to take longer than we think up at this elevation. What's our turnaround time? It is all cross country with broken ground. There will be long stretches of talus with large granite blocks. We'll probably hit snowfields too."

None of this meant she didn't want to do it.

When we reached the first rise, I noticed a group of Rocky Mountain Goats far across the plateau.

Our route would take us around above them. We hoped our presence would not disturb. I was concerned a hiker had approached from below and spooked them when I saw them moving in our direction.

They continued to approach and looked happy about it.

I was now convinced that the Lady's special magnetism with Bighorn Sheep included Mountain Goats.

Nothing in their approach caused us any alarm. The matriarch of the group led the way.

They found their prize, the Lady.

The group included the matriarch and her second in command.

Four young ones rounded out the group of six. They paid little attention to us and busied themselves with play. One was a billy who was already displaying mounting behavior. "You boys learn so young," the Lady said out loud. The little guy's playmates would move away when he tried to mount. When he would approach the second in command, she would give him "the look" and he stopped immediately. He never, ever, approached the matriarch. I enjoyed observing the strong discipline. A few times we laughed out loud at the young ones' play, they were funny.

After satisfying their curiosity, they moved up the mountain.

This was an interesting encounter. There was never any sign of wanting anything from us. No animal approached us or our gear closely to sniff, lick, touch us, or appeared to ask for anything. In no way did we try to interact with them other than with our presence.

The matriarch had a quiet disposition about her but it was clear she was in charge. She watched as we put our packs back on and prepared to continue our hike.

She was completely at ease.

She let the group go on alone as she came back and joined us again.

What intrigued me was their massive hooves and strong build.

It was time for us to move.

The old girl walked with the Lady for about 50 yards and then slowly fell back and we said goodbye.

Note - There have been unfortunate encounters with mountain goats. It is thought that they crave salt and are attracted to human urine, thus the recommendation to move well off a maintained trail to urinate and not turn the trail into an attractive linear salt lick. There have been issues with goats messing with high country camps. I would suggest the same kinds of precautions we use for bears in keeping cooking areas a good distance from sleeping. I would not urinate in the vicinity of our equipment. Here is one video on goat encounters I found. Bottom line - a strong animal equipped with stiletto horns I will treat with caution and respect.

The mountain goats were a once in a lifetime encounter but the real thrill was moving through this majestic terrain. The experience was beyond words.

The Lady is in the far right in the panorama above.

The Lady took the lead in going up the summit block.......................

.........................and was soon on the top of Froze to Death Mountain.

The summit of Montana's highest peak, Granite Peak, came into view. Froze to Death Plateau is used as an access route with base camp set up on the slopes of Tempest Peak just above the saddle with Granite. Granite is considered the second hardest (after Denali) summit of the 50 state's highpoints to achieve. 

We had a tremendous view of Froze to Death Lake basin below us. This is the basin we had hoped to backpack into but chose not to because of the weather.

Two glaciers nest in north facing cirques and feed into the basin.

The Lady insisted on a summit shot of me.

On the way down we saw Emma and her dad slowly making their way toward Granite Peak.

We spoke with them earlier on the switchbacks up from Mystic Lake. Emma was fourteen, cute as a button, complete with braces on her teeth, and she and her dad were heading for the summit of Granite Peak. We told Emma she was our hero and Montana girls were tough. We also told them they were sure lucking out with a good weather window, the first we had seen in almost two weeks. They were well equipped and their equipment looked used, including each carrying a climbing helmet. Our only concern was dad was wearing cotton blue jeans and Emma was wearing a pair of cutoff cotton sweat pants

We soaked in the experience of moving back down the incline of Froze to Death Plateau.

We saw three hikers in the distance as we worked our way down. They were coming toward us. I noticed every time we changed direction they made a correction to come right at us. This continued until the three women waved and shouted hello. They had come up from East Rosebud and wanted to know where to go to get a view of Granite Peak. We suggested it was far too late in the day. The Lady soon was busy in conversation - she has the knack - and they wanted to adopt her into the Bee-Wacs, "You'd make a good one!" they said. We both looked at the three women. "Bozeman Woman's Adventure Club!" they explained. I wanted to join the Bee-Wacs.

It was an incredible day of perfect mountain weather, almost unbelievable. We dropped off the plateau and started our way down and enjoyed every step.

It was late afternoon when we passed Mystic Lake.

We had hiked 19.5 miles with a 5400 feet elevation gain and loss. We slept soundly our second night in a roll without quietly counting from flash to thunder and the wind rocking the camper as we fell into deep sleep. I dreamt of three to five pound cutthroat trout. The Lady dreamt of expanses above timberline. What would it be?

On adventure continues in Part Six - Please Click Here

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