Participants: Jaynee Levy, Dave Gonzales, Steve Schombel, David and Julie Kahl
This was called the Burdette Cr. Trail #2, wondering why, I looked for a Burdette Cr. Trail #1, but didn’t find one. A website for biking trails did have a Burdette Ridge trail that comes off of Wagon Mt. Rd. and follows Burdette Ridge – the divide between Burdette Cr. and the South Fork of Petty Cr. to the east. Maybe that was trail #1? Also Steve mentioned that he remembers from the past that some of the Mountaineers had lead trips that may have gone up Burdette Cr. and come out another drainage. Not sure about any of that, except FS maps do show a maze of older roads at the beginning of Burdette Cr. that could have facilitated that.
Before I go on to describe the trip I want to digress to one of the surprises, ticks. We actually saw ticks on this trip, first time all spring. Two of them were the typical deer ticks and miniature version of deer ticks we see all the time, but today there was a new type of tick. It was about the size of a common deer tick but was medium gray color, its body was little more square and on its back was a pattern of tiny, darker gray squares. I should have taken a picture but I didn’t, just wanted to get them off me.
One of the first surprises of the trip was when Jaynee sent me the link to the FS site for the trail. I had estimated the distance at about 3 1/2 miles/5.63k by counting the square mile/1.61k sections it crossed, on maps and GPS’s. The FS offical site showed the trail going beyond those sections and said it was 5.1 miles/8.2k (distance input #1) long and ended by an old corral. The site also had an elevation gain profile that showed a spike of about 400 feet/2255.52m at the beginning of the trail. Seemed like nonsense on a trail that we expected to run along at creek level as it had in the past. We met in town and carpooled to the trail head via Hy 12. When you turn onto Fish Cr. Rd. from Hwy 12 you are in the Mud Cr. drainage, go over a low divide into the Granite Cr. drainage, that drains those hot spring to the east of Lolo Hot Springs. Then up over the Granite Cr./Fish Cr. divide, which is actually the Bitterroot River and Clark Fork River divide. Up at the saddle another surprise occured. Last fall we had gone up to the Burdette Cr. trail head and set a way point on my GPS, now I had my GPS turned on to follow it and it showed us on a “dotted line” – dirt road that followed all of the contours of the land, while the GPS showed a solid line road (the ersatz main road) paralleling this road, without all the curves, going down the other side of the creek from the saddle. This was the only road we had ever traveled on up there, and at a spot ahead where the two roads met (on the GPS) we looked for the other road, as it needed to cross the creek there would be bridge. There was nothing at the spot except a wide flat spot, no bridge, or bridge approaches, but on the other side there was gaps in the vegetation that suggested there had once been a road there. Now we were down into the flatter terrain at the extreme south end of Fish Cr. and there were private homes and ranches, one had a small sign by their gate that said “Black Labs Matter.”
At the trail head the parking is limited and there was another vehicle there, a couple that were just leaving. The guy asked how far we were going on the trail, they had just come off it, and when I showed him the FS map that said the trail was 5.1 miles/8.2k long his first comment was that it was longer than that (distance input #2), then he showed us a place on the upper trail where he said the brush on the trail had become so thick they were swimming through it and turned back. Then came the big surprise! We started out on a new trail, which the maps showed went over and came up on the south side of Burdette Cr., where it crossed over to the north side where the trail ran for the rest of the distance, like when we had hiked it in the past. What hadn’t been clear was that the trail head was on the southwest flank of the ridge that forms the south wall of the Burdette Cr. drainage and the trail went up and over the west end of that ridge, a climb of over 400 ft/2255.52m, only to then drop back down the 400 feet/2255.52m on the other side, back to our 3800 ft/1158.24m baseline. This was unexpected and explained the spike in elevation gain, on the profile map, at the beginning of the hike. The tail we stared on quickly got the profile of an old road which dumped us onto an more recent road. In here we saw a slope covered with arrow leaf balsam root and some flowers in the aster family I have trouble telling apart and just call marigolds. This road ended at the top of the climb, and became a trail. Here we saw larkspur, agoseris and the first mariposa lilies of the season. From there the trail seemed to go down forever, first along the west shoulder of the ridge then the north slope as we dropped down into Baudette Cr. The only blessing to this climb was that the trail was well shaded, but on the west side we did get a few views down across Fish Cr. to the MT/ID state line on the far west side. Just about where the trail stopped dropping, now in a lodge pole forest, a section had been sawed out of a large tree that had fallen across the trail – it must have been a good 3 feet/0.915m in diameter as we stood next to it on the ground. The trail wandered through the lodge pole pines out onto the wide flood plane and the creek crossing. My GPS showed that we had gone 1.24 miles/1.94k just to reach the creek. The creek was about 10 feet/3.5m wide and there was stock ford -we saw lots of evidence of stock use on the trail- and a bridge made out of like 8 small diameter poles (2-3 inches/5.08-7.62cm) laid across the creek side by side. Steve took his boots off and crossed at the ford, the rest of us went across the bridge. I secured my camera and stuff and crawled across on hands and knees, my knees fit nicely in the grooves made by the logs. At the center it was a little more flexible than I would have liked, but no problem. Some of the others crossed on foot with their hiking poles, but as the creek bottom was a good 3 feet/0.915m below the bridge, the poles weren’t much use. On the other side there was evidence of the roads that had once been there, but the trail once again wandered through the flood plain to go up on the higher ground at the base of the north ridge. In here we saw wild hyacinths, Oregon grape and a yellow camas, and came upon a few just starting to bloom bear grass. It must not be a super bloom year, in this area, as one clump of grass would have one lonely fresh blossom amid five or six stalks left from last year’s bloom. On the slope we saw the vegetation we expected to see with lupine, woodland stars, more larkspur. Not too far on we came on the edge of what must have been a beaver pond that had just drained. We could see the remains of a dam and there was a high water mark in the grass just below us. Out in the old pond bottom was mud flats with lost of tracks, but it was too wet to go out there and check them out. Now we were into tall timber with low growing vegetation as the under story. Still skirting along the beaver pond and meadow, Jaynee and Dave were out ahead and said something about a duck flew out of the trail, down into the beaver meadow. In the trail at the base of a large ponderosa, on the uphill side and a drop off to the beaver meadow on the other, was a large, just cracked egg. Big enough to be a duck egg, apparently a predator of some sort (fox or member of the weasel family?) had snatched an egg out of a duck nest and the duck had followed, until we came along and disturbed this natural drama in progress. I don’t remember seeing the egg when we came back down and was wondering why the ducks were nesting this late in the season. There was a boggy area where a small side stream came into the beaver meadow at its upper end. The tall timber and low growing vegetation, with a lot of blow down that had been cut through for the trail, continued for a bit, with some slight up hill stretches, and in a spot with good logs and stumps to sit on, stopped for lunch. It was there I saw the gray ticks. We visited and then continued on. Somewhere in this stretch we saw a ponderosa so old its bark was turning yellow, a maybe 60 ft/ 18.29m tall snag with two piliated woodpecker cavities about half way up, piliates make a new nest cavity every year, leaving the old ones for other critters to use, and a pine tree with a huge hole in its trunk, that a large fungus was growing from, like a huge tongue.
Soon the terrain changed to tall timber with more shruby ground cover then to mixed forest with the shruby ground cover that started to take over the trail in small stretches. It was probably all the changes in vegetation types and altitude that resulted in the remarkable number of wildflowers we saw during the day. Dave spotted a group of pink fairy slippers. Small streams and bogs were coming down from the slope above us then we came to the largest stream we would encounter, my GPS said it was at 4 miles/6.44k (distance input #3). Neither the creek or the trail were on my GPS map so we guessed our progress by the stream crossing we saw on the FS map. This stream was wide enough to have a three pole bridge we crossed on. Now the canyon walls were starting to close in, we could see the trees growing on the other side, but over all it was more open with views up and down the canyon. Once again, the terrain had changed, first there were longer stretches of thick brush were it was hard to see the trail, alternated with rocky hill side climbs, those eventually became scree slopes where it was hard to follow the trail. The brush had gone from knee high to waist high to shoulder high “swimming” including small aspen saplings and evergreens while trying to follow a trail you couldn’t see. In one place the trail dropped down to creekside, where a beaver dam had washed about half of it out, we could still walk on it carefully, but it had young trees growing over it. I wondered why the beavers hadn’t chewed those trees out of the way if they were going to flood the trail. On the other side of the wash-out the trail went steeply up a hill and crossed over a dirt bank on one of those 2 foot/61m,60.9cm wide, steep bank on the uphill side and a dirt drop off of 40-50 ft/12.19m-15.24m on the down hill side. As we were coming back though this section we heard a sharp noise that seemed like maybe a large rock rolling down the slope may have made, but there was no evidence of that having happened. Jaynee suggest it was a beaver tail slap, which made more sense. Jaynee, Dave and David got ahead of Steve and I, as we were looking at our maps trying to figure out by creek crossings where we were, then we came across a plant that looked like buckwheat, that I knew wasn’t and we stopped to ID it. I incorrectly called it a ball head gila, only with further research to realize it was a silver leaf phacelia, its flower heads weren’t all the way open so the telltale long stamens weren’t visible. When my GPS said we had gone 6 miles/9.66 k (distance input #4), way more than Steve and I had planned for, and faced with another long vegetation swimming hidden trail, Steve and I climbed onto the grassy slope and decided to wait for the others to return. Now the area had opened up enough so the dry treeless hillsides above were visible. The scree slopes were long, coming all the way down from the ridge above. We had started out under a sunny sky, and thunderstorms were predicted for the afternoon, and it was clouding up, but nothing was threatening. We waited about 15 minutes before we heard the others coming back. They had gone to the end of the trail, about another five minutes of walking, which ended in a meadow where the canyon walls all closed in, with no indication anywhere of the old corral. But the trail did definitely end, not just on the ground but on the track on David’s GPS as well. At our rendezvous site we compared notes (distance input #5). Jaynee’s tracking app said the end of the tail was 5.5 miles/8.85k, mine said 6 miles/9.66 k to there. David set the trip computer on his GPS there, to get a read on the back trail, and we started back. We hadn’t gone very far when we saw what was the neatest surprise of the day. On the up side of the trail was one lone glacier lily surrounded by 4-5 small trilliums still in bloom. Yes, the glacier lily and trilliums were growing right next to each other on the high side of the trail! I suspect a late melting snow pile made the ideal conditions. Not much beyond that we saw one ragged buttercup. On the way back out we now knew how to get across the scree slopes and where to find the hidden parts of the trail and the best way through the bogs. Back across the big side creek I wanted to take a break and Jaynee suggested we go back to where we had lunch. We went on and on and finally not finding that spot, stopped in a similar, blow down of big logs, patch and had a short break. Back at the main creek crossing, where my GPS said 10.3 miles/16.58k, (distance input#6) everyone crossed on the bridge. I knew I would be tired and slow going back up over the ridge and told the others not to wait for David and I but to go at their own pace, they had their own vehicle. It was going slow at that part of the trail where it stated up the ridge, that glancing through the woods I saw the clamatis bunched up at the base of a tree. Of the 1.24 miles/1.94k to the creek 3/4 of that must have been this climbing part of the trail, though as it went up and got out on the west side of the ridge it got less steep with longer “level” sections between the climbing sections. At the top, now back on the old roads it was the 400 ft/2255.52m drop to the road. The others were just preparing to leave as we got there. Once again we compared distances. Jaynee’s showed 11 miles/17.71k, David had 5 miles/ 8.05k and I had 11.9 miles/19.15k. Usually my GPS was the most accurate but we’ll split the difference and say it was 11 1/2 miles/18.51k. The surprises weren’t over, as we came back down Hwy 12, by the OZ Ranch with their cattle on both sides of the highway we saw cow elk by the creek, and looking straight ahead we could see a short rainbow over Lolo. It was a good day to be out in mother nature (unless you were an embryonic duck).
The list of wildflowers we saw in all this varied terrain was impressive, actually what I saw, as few, like the clamatis may not have been seen by the others. Here’s the list roughly by color, and for some we only saw the buds (B) and not full blossoming flowers. Brown: last years pine drops, Green: elk thistle (B), Blue/purple: wild hyacinths, lupine, larkspur, bluebells, forget-me-nots, clamatis, pentsemons, phacelia, blue-eyed Marys and a common clover and maybe one knapweed (no blossom). Yellow: glacier lily, white camas, buttercup, Oregon grape, gromwell (grayish plant with flowers growing out of the leaf axis), stone crop, sulfur cinquefoil, parsley, arrow leaf balsam root, heart leaf arnicia, agoseris: wild dandelion, also comes in bright orange, and European dandelions, “marigolds” and what we call buck brush. One plant that I thought might be a golden aster, I now think was a groundsel. Red: indian paintbrush (the only color paintbrush we saw) and …I suspect that higher up in the really brushy areas where we would see one lone paintbrush seemingly out of place, we were actually seeing Rocky Mountain lily. This is a plant that from a distance closely resembles paintbrush, I first was shown them in 2017 on a hike to Hazel-Hub Lakes, in a meadowy area, where it looked like a field of paintbrush. But their foliage is greener than paintbrush’s and the flowers are a shiner, deep crimson, and where as a paintbrush flower seems to be mostly the same feathery shape all the way up, the lily appears top-heavy with a blossom head denser than the parts below. You can’t find it in most flower books, but it was in an Audubon field guide, and on line I found a photo of how it looks from a distance. Pink: fairy slippers, prarie smoke, kinnickinnic, narrow leaf collumia, alpine fleabane daisy, Pink/white: ninebark (B), and two varieties of pussy toes (B) one stays white and the other is rosy pussy toes with pink in the flower. White: choke cherry and sarvis berry, bishops miter (miterwort?), bunch berry, woodland stars, bear grass, mouse ears, trillium, mariposa lily, strawberries, wild carrot (B), and a small white flower I’ve always called a queen flower, but can’t find in plant books (not a queen’s cup or spring beauty). We also saw 3 varieties of false Solomon seal, in one spot the starry form was growing right next to the feathery form, and up high we saw what the flower books are calling clasping leaf twisted stalk, which is different from what we call twisted stalk. This form (which is what we saw) had little bell shaped flowers hanging down from each leaf junction, where as what we call twisted stalk, through similar, only has one blossom or berry hanging from the very tip. If those were indeed Rocky Mountain lilies then it would round it out to about 51 different species, of which only the European dandelions, knapweed, clover and cinquefoil would be species of concern, and all seemed well contained within their respective environs.