|Sara with the Bob Marshall behind|
The Rocky Mountain Front is made up in part by the Sawtooth Mountains on the eastern edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness. Jutting up from the ground in long fins reminiscent of whirling blades ripping the length of a 2x4, the Sawtooth Mountains present an intimidating face that requires careful travel to pass through on foot, and no passage by car.
|Fossil in the limestone|
After a few days of backpacking on the Continental Divide Trail in the southern half of the Scapegoat and Bob Marshall Wilderness, Sara and I decided to try for an impromptu trip up Rocky Mountain. For the first time all summer I had not done couch research of the mountain. I had not read any blogs, squiggly topo lines, or SummitPost entries. We knew it was near Headquarters Pass and decided that was good enough.
My parents were up from Flagstaff to help us resupply on our aforementioned backpack trip, and were willing to drop us at the trailhead before making camp. We got a later start that day, about noon, so we started up the well-trod trail at a brisk pace to make up some time.
|Looking at Headquarters Pass and Rocky Mountain|
We quickly passed the turn for Our Lake and began ascending above the South Fork of the Teton River. In another few minutes we caught our first glimpse of the summit. Like a reflection in a review mirror, the top was actually closer than it appeared, but it still made us pause and wonder if we had left too late in the day. Looking at the big face in front of us we were also wondering if we should have read at least one blog on how to get up there. Our plan was to get to the pass and figure it out from there, but if the rest of the mountain looked like the north face we might be in trouble.
|Scrambling up the south side|
|A few summit intervals as Rut training|
After a little over three miles and some gorgeous mountain hiking, we hit Headquarters Pass. We had hoped to just continue on the ridge from the pass up to the summit, but after looking at it from the pass we decided it was bit more than we wanted for the day and opted to continue over the pass and then traverse up to the south side of the peak (after reading more info later it turns out that heading straight up from the pass isn't as scary as it looks).
We abandoned the trail a half mile over the pass and began hiking up a steep ramp to another little saddle. The rest of the way up became a series of navigating various goat trails, scrambling, trying to avoid kicking rocks down, and hoping we weren't going to get cliffed out. This entire quarter mile was like a geologic microcosm of the whole range. Various little fins of rock protruded up into the paths we wanted to take and created a crumbling mess of rocks below.
|On the summit of Rocky Mountain in the Sawtooth Range|
From the top we could easily see the saw blades of the Sawtooths, and a few of the incredibly large burn areas in the Bob Marshall. Just like grizzlies, mountain goats, and horsepackers, wildfire is part of the ecosystem in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex. As much as I prefer hiking through green, living trees, I still try to appreciate the important role fire has to play in the habitat. From the vantage of Rocky Mountain, however, the mass of devastation was unbelievable. Wildfires can cover some ground! A month or so earlier I fit shoes on a former Lolo National Forest Superintendent and he reminded me that before humans controlled fire, it's estimated that nearly 50% of any given watershed was recovering from fire at any given time. Seeing the remnants of recent fires from high above, I could definitely believe it.
|Heading down our much easier path.|
As we had struggled to find the correct path on the way up, we were hoping we would not have to pick a similar route down (remember we were simply guessing at the best way up). So we were grateful to see a climbers trail leading down the northeast ridge of the mountain. We only felt slightly ridiculous at having missed this path on the way up. The route made for a pleasant journey back down to the Headquarters Pass Trail and into camp in time for dinner.