Bob Marshall Country
|Caribou Peak, Scapegoat Wilderness|
Adapted from Adventure Treks: Western North America
Dawn revealed a cold gray headwall that slowly turned to burnished gold as the sun rose. I felt reluctant to leave Halfmoon Park and kept turning round for a final look at the cliffs, as the trail descended through meadows beside Halfmoon Creek. After 1.5 miles (2.4 km) the trail crosses the creek and turns up beside Telephone Creek to the Dearborn River which is followed downstream for just 0.5 miles (0.8 km) to a junction with the Cave Creek Trail. This is taken upwards for 1,400 feet (420 m) to the Continental Divide and magnificent views dominated by the sheer cliffs of Scapegoat Mountain to the northwest.
Here, for the first time, there begins a ridge walk along the Divide. The narrow crest is rocky and flower-strewn and so enjoyable to walk along that Scott and 1, oblivious of where we were, walked off it in the wrong direction! We only realized what we'd done when the descent began to"feel" wrong, an indefinable growing sense of uneasiness that I find comes over me when I've made a navigational error. In fact, we'd turned down the Lost Cabin Creek Trail which met the Dearborn River Trail 4 miles (6.4 km) upstream of where we'd intended to join it. Once we'd realized our mistake, it was easier to go on than turn back.
However, the route as described by Jim Wolf in his guidebook seems to involve a fair amount of uncertainty and bushwhacking, so the Lost Cabin Creek Trail may well be a good way to go. Both routes are about the same length at 10 miles (16 km) or so. A mile and a half (2.4 km) further along the Dearborn River from where the two traits meet up, there are several campsites in the wide valley near where the river is split by several large shingle banks. As a steep climb comes next, this is a good place to stop. This is exactly what Scott and I did, camping in a tree grove not far from four of the CCDE group.
The 1,700-foot (510 m) in 2 miles (3.2 km) ascent up the Blacktail Creek Trail from the Dearborn River leads back to the Continental Divide and a long walk along, or just below, its winding ridge, much of it cross-country. Some careful navigation with map and compass is needed in the wooded sections, especially at the viewless saddles, to make sure a spur ridge is not followed by mistake. Most of the walking, however, is above the trees on gravel and grass with flowers all around and wonderful views of the Scapegoat Wilderness. After 5 miles (8 km) there are views down to blue-green Bighorn Lake and the Valley of the Moon below the loose shaley slopes of Caribou Peak. The route avoids those slopes by cutting down into the Valley of the Moon on a good path. There is water and a good campsite here but Scott and I wanted to camp further on upon the Divide itself, so we loaded up here with three gallons of water, with none certain for the next ,and last 19 miles (30.4 km) of the walk, and commenced the climb back up above timberline. The Divide is reached after 11/4 miles (2.8 km) and the Scapegoat Wilderness left after 11/4 (2 km) more. A partially wooded 8,150-foot (2,445 m) unnamed summit with a steep drop-off to the east and vast views in every direction 2 miles (3.2 km) beyond the Wilderness boundary, is where we bivvied out. Sturdy 10- to 15-foot (4.5 m) high whitebark pine provided shelter from the wind. Clarks Nutcrackers screeched around the hilltop and prairie falcons soared in the air above as we laid out our sleeping bags on the soft turf. A pleasant pale sunset ended a fine day.
From the 8,150-foot (2,445 m) summit, a complex route along the grassy Divide leads to 6,323-foot (1,897 m) Lewis and Clark Pass. Here, returning from the two men's epic expedition across the continent in 1804-6, Meriwether Lewis recrossed the Continental Divide on his way back east on 7 July 1806. South of the pass, our meandering route climbs Green Mountain, at 7,453 feet (2,236 m) and then travels on jeep roads and cross-country for the last 5.5 miles (8.8 km) to Roger Pass and Montana Highway 200. The. final drop to the 5,600 ft (1,680 m) pass is very steep.
The daily Great Falls - Kalispell bus service runs through the pass, but on the day we arrived no bus came (we later learned that the drivers were on strike) and we had to wait over four hours for a lift. As it was very hot and we'd had no water since the three gallons we'd picked up in the Valley of the Moon, which had long been finished, this was a most unpleasant and thirsty wait. During it I reflected on the fact that in January 1954 the temperature here fell to minus 70 F, a record for the USA. And with those cold thoughts, we leave the lonely wildernesses of the northern Montana Rockies.
Distances given in mileage, kilometers in parentheses.
0.0 miles (0.0) — Elk Calf Trail. Elevation: 5,215 feet (1,564.5 meters)
4.1 miles (6.5) — Trail 101. Elevation: 5,050 (1,515 meters)
14.5 miles (23.2) — Badger Guard Station. Elevation: 5,500 feet (1,650 meters)
20.0 miles (32.0) — North Badger Creek. Elevation: 5,750 feet (1,725 meters)
23.1 miles (36.9) — Lost Horse Camp. Elevation: 5,500 feet (1,650 meters)
26.7 miles (42.7) — Muskrat Pass. Elevation: 6,000 feet (1,800 meters)
29.0 miles (46.4) — Badger Pass/Bob Marshall Wilderness. Elevation: 6,300 feet (1,890 meters)
40.2 miles (64.3) — Strawberry Creek final ford. Elevation: 5,350 feet (1,605 meters)
45.2 miles (72.3) — Sun River Pass. Elevation: 6,300 feet (1,890 meters)
56.3 miles (90.0) — Pass south of Kevan Mtn. Elevation: 8,050 feet (2,415 meters)
63.1 miles (100.9) — Pentagon Guard Station. Elevation: 4,850 feet (1,455 meters)
73.4 miles (117.4) — Spotted Bear Pass. Elevation: 6,700 feet (2,010 meters)
75.2 miles (120.3) — Larch Hill. Elevation: 8,183 feet (2,454.9 meters)
81.6 miles (130.5) — Saddle below Cliff Mtn. Elevation: 7,600 feet (2,280 meters)
84.7 miles (135.5) — West Fork of South Fork, Sun River. Elevation: 6,050 feet (1,815 meters)
90.5 miles (144.8) — Indian Point Guard Station Elevation: 5,400 feet (1,620 meters)
101.5 miles (162.4) — Benchmark Elevation: 5,300 feet (1,590 meters)
111.3 miles (178.0) — Green Fork Guard Station Elevation: 6,000 feet (2,277 meters)
115.0 miles (184.0) — Halfmoon Park Elevation: 6,950 feet (2,085 meters)
120.5 miles (192.8) — Continental Divide east of Scapegoat Mountain. Elevation: 7,800 (2,340 meters)
134.1 miles (214.5) — Blacktail Creek Trail jct. Elevation: 5,250 feet (1,575 meters)
142.4 miles (227.8) — Valley of the Moon Elevation: 7,700 feet (2,310 meters)
154.9 miles (247.8) — Lewis and Clark Pass Elevation: 6,400 feet (1,920 meters)
161.8 miles (258.8) — Rogers Pass Elevation: 5,600 feet (1,680 meters)
From the Summit Campground at Marias Pass on Highway 2, take the Elk Calf Trail (5,215ft, Mile 0) for 4 miles to a junction with Trail 101 (5,050ft, Mile 4.1), a dirt road at this point, which is followed southwards besides the South Fork of the Two Medicine River, which is crossed several times. The river is left for an ascending trail (still 101) at Whiterock Creek (5,750ft, Mile 12.5) that leads over a wooded divide and down to the Badger Guard Station (5,500, Mile 14.5).
Trail 101 is left here for a dirt road that soon becomes the North Badger Trail (No 103), which is followed up the North Badger Creek valley to a Junction in a meadow, where it is left for the Elbow Creek Trail (No 145), just before North Badger Creek is crossed (5,750ft, Mile 20), which leads to the junction of Elbow Creek and Muskrat Creek at Lost Horse Camp (5,500ft, Mile 23.1). From the camp, take the Muskrat Creek Trail (No 147) which crosses both creeks and then ascends above Muskrat Creek to Muskrat Pass (6,000ft, Mile 26.7). Here the Bob Marshall Wilderness is entered and the trail meanders along the Continental Divide to Badger Pass (6,300ft Mile 29).
From the pass, take the Strawberry Creek Trail (No 161) down the Strawberry Creek valley, crossing the creek several times to a final ford (5,350ft, Mile 40.2), beyond which the trail ascends beside Bowl Creek to Sun River Pass (6,300ft, Mile 45.2) on the Bowl Creek (No 324) and Sun River Pass (No 116) Trails. After 3 more miles, take the Open Creek Trail to Round Park and up beside Open Creek to where the Wall Trail (No 175) joins from the left and is taken up to the high pass on the Divide south of Kevan Mountain (8,050ft, Mile 56.3). Descend 3/4 mile to Switchback Pass where the Basin Creek Pentagon Cabin Trail (No 177) is taken, for a long switchbacking descent to the Spotted Bear River and the Pentagon Guard Station (4,850ft, Mile 63.1). Here the Spotted Bear River Trail (No 83) is taken across Pentagon Creek and for the 10-mile climb to Spotted Bear Pass (6,700ft, Mile 73.4). The Wall Trail (No 175) is rejoined for a mile to a junction with a trail which is taken Larch Hill (8,183ft, Mile 75.2) to Larch Hill Pass and the north end of the Chinese Wall.
The Wall Trail is joined again 1/4 mile beyond the pass and followed along the base of the Chinese Wall to a saddle near the base of Cliff Mountain (7,600ft, Mile 81.6). Here, the trail leaves the wall and heads south and east to the West Fork of the South Fork of the Sun River (6,050ft, Mile 84.7), which is followed to the Indian Point Guard Station (5,400ft, Mile 90.5). The well-used trail continues beside the West Fork and then the South Fork to the roadhead and campground at Benchmark (5,300ft, Mile 101.5). Follow the road for 1/2 mile to the Straight Creek Trail (No 112), which is taken into the Scapegoat Wilderness (5,600ft, Mile 104.7) and on to the Green Fork Guard Station (6,000ft, Mile 112.1).
Here the Green Fork Trail (No 228) is joined and followed up to Halfmoon Park (6,950ft, Mile 116) and the Halfmoon Trail (No 216) which leads to the Dearborn River and then a junction with the Cave Creek Trail (No 217) (6,450ft, Mile 118.8). Follow the latter trail up to the Continental Divide (7,800ft, Mile 121.3), south-east of Scapegoat Mountain. Travel along the Divide for 21/2 miles on an intermittent trail to a junction with the Lost Cabin Creek Trail, which is taken for the 3 mile descent to the Dearborn River. Five and a half miles down the river leave the trail along its banks for the Blacktail Creek Trail (No 207) (5,250ft, Mile 134.1) and a climb back up to the Divide which is followed, with a few contours below it, cross-country for 6 miles to a trail that descends into the Valley of the Moon (7,700ft, Mile 142.4).
Ascend south-southeast back to the Divide near Caribou Peak and again follow the Divide, mostly crosscountry, to Lewis and Clark Pass (6,400ft, Mile 154.9) taking care not to take a wrong turning on the wooded saddles. Jeep tracks, dirt roads, pack trail and bits of cross-country then lead over Green Mountain, and finally, down steeply to Rogers Pass and Highway 200 (5,600ft, Mile 161.8).
USGS 1:24,000 topographic maps: Summit; Hyde Creek; Crescent Cliff; Morningstar Mountain; Gooseberry Park; Pentagon Mountain; Porphyry Reef; Trilobite Peak; Bungalow Mountain; Three Sisters; Slategoat Mountain; Amphitheatre Mountain; Prairie Reef; Trap Mountain; Benchmark; Wood Lake; Scapegoat Mountain; Jakie Creek; Steamboat Mountain; Heart Lake; Caribou Peak; Blowout Mountain; Cadette Creek; Roger's Pass.
Only the last eight of these are essential as they cover the final cross-country section. For the earlier part of the walk, the Forest Service Teton Ranger District Map 3, Bob Marshall Wilderness and Scapegoat Wilderness maps are adequate.
Guide to the Continental Divide Trail Volume 1: Northern Montana by James R. Wolf (Continental Divide Trail Society).
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication