Category Archives: Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest

The Trask Lakes

The Trask Lakes lie in the Flint Creek Range just west of Deer Lodge but unless you have a high clearance vehicle, getting there is a bit stressful. The last 12 miles or so traverses dirt roads ranging the spectrum of quality from moderate stretches of cow shit-scattered gravel to what might be described as bisections of miniature ravines. I kept my Chevy Spark in first gear for at least the last five of those miles and still felt a bit uneasy about it. Fortunately, the weather was fine, because I would have aborted the trip in more uncertain conditions.

This is a simple out-and-back hike to Lower Trask Lake with options for camping and fishing at the lakes, which are scattered across a large basin above Rock Creek Lake (really a reservoir). While the hike is rewarded with excellent views, getting there involves a fairly humdrum forest walk. Though very well maintened by the Forest Service—foot bridges are conveniently placed over streams and muddy banks—the trail is littered with loose stones, nearly causing me to twist an ankle on several occassions.

The path closely follows Rock Creek for most of the way, which means water is abundant. I filled up at the lake for my return trip, but could easily have dispensed with more water weight than I did at the outset, simply filling up as needed from the numerous streams. I can’t imagine what the conditions are like in the early summer, but I’d guess very, very wet.

Once you arive at the lakes, the trail continues alongside several others, making for good additional trips if you choose to camp. The fishing is said to be excellent. Alas, that was not my intention and after snapping a few pictures, I headed straight back.

14068482_10102200897490827_1818460976035203695_o.jpg

It took me a bit of effort to dig up any information on the lakes’ namesake, but I seem to have found it at a defunct school in nearby Deer Lodge: the Montana Collegiate Institute, which opened in 1878. As Montana History Wiki explains:

The nonsectarian, coeducational college offered both high school classes and a classical graduating course “as comprehensive and thorough as that of most seminaries and female colleges.” Architects H. DeWitt and Henry L. Gay of Chicago designed the institute’s first building. However, the building committee stripped the design of much of its ornamentation after it received the initial construction bids.

Unfortunately, the institute closed within a year under financial strain and was acquired by the Presbyterian Church, which opened a private liberal arts college on the site and, in 1883, renamed it the College of Montana. In the process, they also named the original building at the site Trask Hall for a Mr. Alanson Trask of New York City, who balanced the remaining $6,000 of debt incurred by its construction and paid the salary of the school’s first president for a period of three years. The Reverend George Edwards’ describes the affair:

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 11.58.39.png

Despite the monetary salvation he seems to have bestowed upon the school, there’s no evidence I can find that Alanson Trask remained in Montana for very long or established any further connection with the territory.

The College of Montana eventually closed in 1900 and exchanged hands several times reopening intermittently until 1917, when the school was shuttered for good. In 1982, Trask Hall was listed in the Register of Historic Places.

I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to conclude that the lakes lying only a few miles to west of the school were also named after the mysterious benefactor from New York. It would be a pretty amazing coincidence if not.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 10.47.24.png
Source: George Edwards, The Pioneer Work of the Presbyterian Church in Montana (Helena, MT: Independent Publishing Company, 1907), 120.

When I made it back to Deer Lodge, I searched in in vain for a decent place to eat. Most of the restaurants were closed or shuttered. Someone pointed me to the Broken Arrow Steak House and Casino, a dingy, dark, and depressing dive with a handful of slot machines and a dining room like something from a 1980’s B-western. Several emaciated octogeniarians ordered up a round of Sex-on-the-Beaches and broke change, they announced, to continue on their “lucky streak.” Several cheered as one man counted his winnings and had them faithfully dispensed by the young woman at the bar—$1,400 in fifties. Meanwhile, I sat contently with a burger of adequate quality and a local IPA, while the spokesmen for the hunters on a television reality show silently explained the secrets of their sanguinary art.

Description:

0.0 miles: The parking lot at the trailhead is quite small. From there proceed along a jeep track for half a mile.

0.5 miles: Rock Creek Trail 8053 begins at the boundary of the Forest Service’s land. A sign indicates mileage to the Trask Lakes as well as Thompson Lake.

2.3 miles: Turn left at the junction with Trask Lakes Trail 8063, unless you plan to visit Thompson Lake.

6.3 miles: Arrive at Lower Trask Lake. From here, you can explore the other Trask Lakes as well as nearby Elbow Lake or retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

12.6: Return to the trailhead.

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 10.25.15
My route highlighted in green.

Trailhead GPS: 46°24’58.5″N 112°57’30.4″W
Elevation gain: ~1,750 feet
Distance: 12.6 mile out-and-back
Maps: U.S.G.S. Rock Creek Lake, Pike’s Peak, and Pozega Lakes; Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest Map (North)

Ⓐ Hiked by the author, August 26, 2016

Hollowtop Lake

After a couple of months abroad, it’s good to be back in Montana during the glorious month of August. For my 32nd birthday, we headed to the tiny (ghost) town of Pony, a gateway to the Tobacco Root Mountains with convenient access to a large swath of the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest.

Named for an early prospector of an unusually small stature, Pony was a 19th century gold boom town with a population of 5,000. Today, it’s a registered ghost town with about as many crumbling buildings as it has occupied. As one guide to rural Montana explains:

Pony’s early population reflected the whims of the gold seekers, growing larger when a miner struck pay dirt and dwindling when someone found a bigger lode somewhere else. By the 1880s, mines like the Boss Tweed and the Clipper were yielding fortunes in gold ore.

It didn’t last. By 1918, the population fell to only 300 and Pony today is a bleak little town with a miniscule population, a collection of old houses, empty shops, and a single bar. Still, it’s a haunting place, full of decaying charm. As one might imagine, the town has its share of amusing tales. Many seem to revolve around a former Marshal of the town, William B. Landon, who was known for his interest in rock chiselling.

Once of the marshal’s enduring works can be found near the town of Potosi, where he scrawled “One Mile to Hell.” Near the city dump is another Landon masterpiece consisting of strange letters, Landon’s initials, a Maltese cross, and the date of 1921. Rumor has it around Pony that the marshal did it all as a joke, thinking some of the more gullible would think it was a secret treasure map.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 15.11.59

If you’re interested in reading more about Pony, there’s a good overview in Ghost Towns of the Northwest, by Norman D. Weis.

So much for Pony.

The main street eventually transforms into a dirt road winding past the ruins of former dwellings to the North Willow Creek Trailhead. We followed the 12.5-mile loop route described by Bill and Russ Schneider in their excellent guide Hiking Montana, but it can easily be adapted for an overnight backpacking trip or a shorter out-and-back day hike. Hollow Top Lake has great fishing (so I hear) and the surrounding area would make a pleasant spot to camp. It certainly offers easy access to other trails leading to lesser subalpine lakes as well as Hollowtop, Jefferson, and Potosi Peaks.

At 10,604 ft., the peak with which Hollowtop Lake shares its name is the tallest in the Tobacco Root Range. My suspicions as to the origins of the name “Hollowtop” were confirmed in a book I found on Montana place names, which emphasizes “the peculiar bowl-shape the mountain presents when viewed from the north or northeast.”

After an initial 1.5 miles along a two-track ATV road, this is a nice forest walk through groves of spruce and fir. Best of all, it’s mercifully devoid of people during the week. Though a sign at the trailhead welcomes ATVs, we didn’t see (or hear) any. The only people we encountered were a handful of horseback riders led by a guide, likely tourists on a chartered trip.

The trail ascends slowly up to a beautiful lake basin and finishes with a stunning ridge walk featuring excellent views of the Tobacco Root Range. Water is abundant thanks to the proximity of North Willow creek—though the last four or five miles are dry so plan accordingly. The trail passes over the creek at several points and crossings might be difficult in the spring or early summer.

I thoroughly enjoyed this hike. The only real downside is the ubiquitous presence of cows—and their inevitable mounds of shit. Cows were the only fauna of any size we encountered, which was a bit disappointing. The full spectrum of fecal dessication was on display from the fresh and steaming to the dry and flakey, forcing us to watch where we walked. The stench was overpowering at times. Still, this is a minor issue for an otherwise wonderful trail.

By the time we returned to the trailhead, hunger had set it so we thought to try the fare at The Pony Bar. Unfortunately, the kitchen was not yet open at 4.30 P.M. so we drove to the (slightly) larger community of Harrison instead and enjoyed a meal at the the Town Haul Diner before heading back to Butte.

 

DSC_0995
Hollow Top Lake

Description:

0.0 miles: N. Willow Creek Trailhead. Begin at North Willow Creek Trail 6301 at the northwest side of the parking lot, near the privy.

1.5 miles: Keep right at the junction with Albro Lake Trail 6333.

2.0 miles: Pass through a barbed wire fence gate.

4.0 miles: Keep right at the junction with Potosi Peak Trail 6365 to continue on to Hollow Top Lake. The sign here is a bit confusing. When we came through it looked like someone had messed with the trail numbers. Just keep right. The trail should start climbing more steeply and become fairly rocky for the last stretch up to the lake.

5.0 miles: Reach Hollow Top Lake. The area around the lake has some good camping areas andturn around and retrace your steps one mile back to the junction with Potosi Peak Trail 6365.

6.0 miles: Turn right at the junction with Potosi Peak Trail 6365 and continue past Trail 6306 not long after after. (Bear in mind, Trail 6306 is not indicated in the description printed in Hiking Montana, so always refer to current maps.)

7.5 miles: Turn left at the junction with Albro Lake Trail 6333, an ATV road.

8.5 miles: Keep left at the junction with Trail 6303.

9.0 miles: Keep right at the junction with Loop Park Trail 6302 and enjoy the stunning scenery along this ridge. The trail in this stretch is not always clear. Remain alert and follow the wooden posts. Somewhere around mile 11.5, you pass over another barbed wire fence gate before switchbacks take you back down to the parking lot.

12.5 miles: Finish at the Loop Park trailhead on the opposite (southwest) side of the parking lot from where you began.

Hollowtop Lake Map.jpg
Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest Map (Central)

Trailhead GPS: 45°39’01.0″N 111°54’36.0″W
Elevation gain: ~2,500 feet
Distance: 12.5 mile loop
Maps: U.S.G.S. Pony and Potosie Peak; Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest Map (Central)

Ⓐ Hiked by the author, August 12, 2016

Haystack Mountain

Before getting into specifics, I should confess that this hike was something of a failed endeavor. It was gorgeous weather the other day and we decided to attempt a nearby hike I’ve had my eye on ever since moving to Butte. Unfortunately, a good deal of lingering snow prevented us from pushing on to the peak in the end.

Falling short of the peak was rather disappointing for a mountain that boasts views of the Highland, Tobacco Root, Madison, Gravelly, Elkhorn, Flint, Bridger, Pioneer, Anaconda, and Swan mountain ranges—as well as nearby Delmoe Lake, Elk Park, and the Boulder River Valley. I’d guess we came within 0.5 miles of the top before having to turn back. Had I been alone (and not with a baby strapped to my chest) I would have found a way to the top. For now at least, Haystack Mountain will remain on my list of unfinished local hikes.

The Forest Service trailhead is located just 12 miles north of Butte off the 90 and yet very few Buttians I’ve spoken with have attempted the hike, or even heard of it. This surprised me. After all, it is an officially designated National Recreation Trail and while there aren’t many guides to the trails around Butte, the one that does exist—Jon Wick’s out-of-print QWick Guide—features this hike. Local press has also advertised the trail rather extensively. Carrie Quigley called it a “gem of a hike” in her write-up for The Montana Standard back in 2008 and more recently, Carmen Winslow described her own experience on the trail for The Missoulian.

Though we failed to conquer the peak, this is a lovely—albeit quite strenuous—trail. It ascends sharply and without much respite up to the peak. Because of the grade, descent is also no picnic. Along the way, it passes through aromatic pine forests and alongside alpine streams. Unfortunately, someone seems to have established several informal campsites and fire-rings along the trail. I happily dismantled one fire-ring and scattered the ashes, then removed a large plastic jug left there (presumably for future trips). Leave no trace, people!

As for the name, Haystack Mountain, I really have little to go on. There are innumerable Haystack Mountains around the country (Montana alone has at least two that I know of) and I haven’t been able to find much of anything about this particular Haystack Mountain, who named it, etc.

The official trailhead is located about 1.2 miles past the dead-end sign on Haystack Road (FS #1538). This road is really best traversed with a high-clearance vehicle, so we left our Chevy Spark below and hiked the difference. However, since hiking this segment, I’m convinced we could have made it in the car. The road does look extremely daunting at first but it quickly evens out and unless there’s snow or mud, I’ll probably attempt to drive up the next time.

Pros: Very close to Butte; stunning views.

Cons: Snow at this elevation makes the route impassable until late-June or July.

Fire Rings Destroyed: 1

Trash Removed: 2 plastic bottles, 1 plastic jug

DSC_0037 (1).jpg
Still too much snow in mid-May.

Description:

0.0 miles: Forest Service trailhead. Ascend and ascend and ascend…

2.5 miles: Reach the peak with phenomenal views (on a clear day, so I’m told) of ten different mountain ranges as well as Delmoe Lake.

5.0 miles: Return to the trailhead.

Trailhead GPS: 46°09’51.8″N 112°20’45.8″W
Elevation gain: ~2,000 ft.
Distance: 5 miles out-and back; 7.4 if you begin at the dead-end.
Maps: Forest Service PDFU.S.G.S. Bison Canyon

Ⓐ Hiked Attempted by the author, May 18, 2016