West Fork

Let's go for a nice walk, shall we?  An hour or two, all day if you like.  Feeling ambitious?  Well, how about grabbing the big pack and throwing in a tent too?

Jo and I got away for a few days of backpacking early last August.  We'd originally planned a longer trip.  But, as the departure date neared, we decided on a "tamer" venture.   So, off to the Red Lodge side of Beartooths we went. 

A big burn swept through the area in 2008, leaving a ghostly forest of standing dead timber. Interested in fire ecology and plant succession?  Well, this is a good place to observe the process. Dead trees are being replaced by lots of little ones.  Then there's  the namesake fireweed that blooms profusely after a fire.  Farther up the drainage, the forest is unburned, wildflower aficionados will be pleased by the riot of color that awaits in the meadows.

There's a nice trail.   It's quite popular with day hikers and backpackers alike.  You won't be wanting for company. 

Ambitious folks do a "through hike".  It's nineteen miles over the top of Sundance Pass and into the Lake Fork. We decided to stay in the West Fork.  One day, we watched a jogger traverse the switchbacks at Sundance and disappear over the top.  

We found a secluded spot in the trees and set up a base camp. A short stroll  to the creek provided nice views, a few fish,  and water for our morning coffee.  Not surprisingly, the mosquitos were kind enough to share this spot with us.

The next couple of days were spent exploring the drainage.  We hiked to several lakes. Trails led to some, but most required cross country travel, and a bit of a climb.  Toil is good.  One appreciates earned views a bit more. 

Freeze-dried backpacking food

A cutthroat trout from the Beartooth Mountains, Montana.

The fishing?  Well, it was pretty good.  The cutthroat lakes are all stocked from the air.  So, it's best to check the stocking schedules. The brook trout do just fine without any additional help. Regardless of the fishing, the trip was more than worth it just for the scenery.  It is alpine grandeur at its finest.


Bill Trussell said…
Outstanding scenery, and those lakes and streams are a paradise for any trout fisherman. It is a shame fire had to destroy some of the timber, but it is still beautiful. I have never heard of stocking trout with a plane. I would think it would kill most of them simply by the impact of hitting the water. What size are they at stocking? Great post, thanks for sharing
Lester Kish said…
Actually, the fire is a good thing. A burn here, and one there create a series of natural firebreaks. So, at least in theory, we should lessen the chances of a massive burn. Nonetheless, fire causes anxiety among cabin owners. As for the trees, lodgepole pine sprout profusely after a burn. Hiking through a burn on a summer afternoon can get pretty uncomfortable. The burned timber and rock can sure intensify the heat.

Most of the fish in our mountain lakes arrived by air. Some are isolated bodies of water. Others may have outlet streams with obstacles that are not navigable by fish. So, they get a plane ride. I think most are fingerling size. They must tolerate the impact pretty well.

Glad you like the scenery Bill. I liked it too!

Lester Kish said…
I should add that while Montana got out of stocking streams some forty years ago, lakes, and alpine lakes especially, are a different matter. Most of these lakes were historically barren but suitable for trout. Many lack spawning habitat, and so require periodic stocking so folks like you and me can enjoy the sight of trout rising in a pretty setting. Stocking frequency can run from two to eight years or so. Lakes with lots of food get stocked more often. Lakes offering less food, receiving more pressure, or perhaps being managed as trophy fisheries get fish every six or more years (no doubt there's more to it than that). After that the fish die out. It takes a couple of years to grow a catchable fish. Four or five year olds can be pretty impressive. I just love mountain lakes.
Lydia said…
I agree that this is a great post. Set me off to dreaming of getting out in your back country (or Oregon's for that matter!). As the laundry spins, I thank you so much for the beauty of these pictures and words.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for sharing this very special place that is/was as you saw it. An awesome locale. Especially like that photo with the peaks, the evergreens, and the creek.
Lester Kish said…
You are oh so welcome Lydia. I've sat on the trip photos since last summer and finally got around to doing something with them. I look at them often, and dream about getting back.
Lester Kish said…
Most welcome Walt. I like that shot too. It was a neat spot to mill around and take photos. The 360 degree views were outstanding.
penbayman said…
All I can say is..WOW..nice Les..
Lester Kish said…
It is pretty spectacular isn't it? I'd be thrilled to get back someday.