Date: May 19th, 2019
Participants: Mary Dalton, David and Julie Kahl
Of everybody that hoped to come on this trip, Mary Dalton was the only one that made it. We were glad to have her along, as on a spring trip, long ago, up above Fort Fizzle, she spotted a sow bear with cubs, way across the drainage, making it one of our most remembered hikes. We can only hope Mary’s bear luck would hold.
We left her car at the bottom of the Inez Cr. Trail, about seven miles/ 11.27k up Miller Cr. This is one of the new trails being developed between Pattee Canyon and Miller Cr. Then we took our Tacoma through Pattee Canyon, and up to the top of the West Fork Of Deer Cr., where the power lines cross over the Deer Cr. Miller Cr. divide. Bear Run Cr. is below on the Miller Cr. side. According to my GPS, the main road that runs along the ridge top here is Skyline Drive, West, and it is a continuation of roads that once came up from the now gated Little Park Cr. Rd., the site of a second trail head being developed. The land in this area is a combination of Nature Conservancy and state lands, with some private inholdings.
Having only been to the trail head up here once, when I explored the area with others last fall I was going by memory, and we went down what I remembered needed to be a right hand (north) road at a junction of also a second, left hand (south) road. The junction was just beyond where the power lines crossed the ridge. Parking by a locked gate a few hundred feet down, didn’t seem right, but the trail dropped like it should have, and we followed it around a bank to find ourselves under the power lines, our trail did go under the power lines but it seemed too soon. Back there we saw a nice trail going up on Mitten Mt., and lots of flowers and great views. The Bitterroot summits to the west remained in the clouds all day, but Miller Peak with its electronic towers was visible. There was snow up there and along the steep high ridge that forms the south wall of the Deer Cr. drainage to the east.
The cloudy day had good hiking temps in the 50’s /10c, but with 20 -30 mi / 48.28k- 64.37k wind gusts expected. We were getting some wind up here, and were busy looking at flowers and the copious elk sign that we hadn’t noticed that the road wasn’t dropping, but running along the mountain side at 5200 ft/1584.96m. When we got a little over 3/4 of a mile/1.12k, the houses at the end of Bear Run Cr. Rd that should have been just a few yards below us were way down below, and it was obvious that we were on the wrong road. I checked my GPS, and this road stayed at about 5200 ft/1584.96 and ran for another mile/ 1.61k or so and stopped. Now I remembered where the trail head we wanted was, and we went back to the Tacoma, having done just a little under two miles on this road. It wasn’t a wasted effort, being so high on the side of Mitten Mt. it ran through high open meadows, with great views. Being a nice level trail, it would be a good trail to take less adventurous hikers on.
We went back to the ridge and took the road that went down to the left (south), which took us down to the correct road junction, with plenty of space to park. Here two roads also leave, we could have driven down both to locked gates a short ways down, but didn’t, just left from here. The left hand road (south) is a nine mile/ 14.48k trail down to the Little Park Cr. trail head. We started down the Inez Cr. Trail, the right hand road (north). As I had explored it in two different trips last year, I estimated the distance as three to four miles, our GPS would show it as being 5 1/2 miles/8.85k, with an elevation loss of 1440 ft/ 438.92m. The elk had been busy down there as well as on the road above. There was springs and little creeks in the drainage heads down here. Above we had seen a few glacier lilies still blossoming, but down here they were mostly spent, among arrow leaf balsam root, shooting stars, prairie stars, biscuit root and other parsleys, and Indian paintbrush. Two shurbs were blossoming with white flowers, one was sarvis berry, couldn’t identify the other. Some sage brush was getting a hold in the roadbed, and we saw one tree with numerous vines going up it. As we went down we would see occasionally a spot where one flower was profusely blossoming like lupine, bluebells or arnica. Towards the bottom lark spur. Weed-wise we saw occasional knapweed or dandelions, further down leafly spurge. There were a few hounds tongue (think burrs) infestations that quick and dirty weed work could probably stop.
I had touted this as an all down hill trip, but had forgotten that in a few places the road dipped down to go around a drainage head and then climbed out. One was just past where we passed above the houses at the end of Bear Run Cr., right where they were suppose to be now. There also was the remains of an old road that joined with this road and goes down to Bear Run Rd., a road of bygone day’s bicyclists’ story and legend. The road climbed to a shoulder which should have had a good overlook, but trees were in the way. We went a few yards further and found a good spot to have lunch, with a view down Bear Run Cr. The same place where the exploration from above had stopped last year, where we could see a shoulder across the drainage where the power line crossed, where the up-hill exploration had stopped, this tiny bit of road was a section I had never been on. Now we were into some drier, steeper terrain, the prairie stars and elk sign stopped, and the flowers were more sparse. As we started down into yet another tree shaded drainage head Mary asked “Did that stump move?” She got me sighted on a spot across the drainage on the next logging road up from ours (logging roads are typically 200 ft/ 60.93m apart), where a stump looked “too black.” I kept looking as she was explaining to David, and yes the stump moved. There was bear up there on the higher road. We watched it move along the road, but saw no sign of other bears with it. As we went through the section of the road below that we talked loud, finding that when you had to talk it was hard to figure out what to say. That was why they invented walking/hiking songs, we belted out what we could remember, that surely scared the bear away. Hiking songs also would also deliver more oxygen to your lungs and brain. Before we reached the shoulder by the power line, we were surprised to find six people coming up the road. They remarked they were glad they were on the right trail, they had one of the funky trail maps. Our GPS’s showed that we had just come off of a corner of state land, so we could show them close to where they were on the map. They told us we had about 2 miles/ 3.22k to go. They were primarily bicyclists looking to check out the roads for future bike trips and were liking what they saw. Shortly on we came to the trail junction that had concerned the other party, this road continued on as an “Inspiration Point” trail, and the one we wanted dropped down on a less used road. This part of the road goes above a gulch with the old Holloman homestead in it. Inez Holloman lived there most of her, like, 95 years. Inez Cr. is named for her, and Holloman Cr. and Saddle are named for her family. What I noticed here was that there was a much more obvious tail than had been here last year, it had been getting some use. The new trail that comes up to this road from Miller Cr. has two trails, one down beside Inez Cr. and a switchback trail that comes down the ridge side. The creekside trail comes up first and was flagged, so we dropped down it, missing that we were suppose to join the switchback trail in one place and came out down into a grassy area just off the road and parking area.
After getting in Mary’s car we dove up to check out the Little Park Cr. tail head, which they haven’t had a chance to develop much yet. But we did see a sign a little further up the trail. Mary used Gharrett St. to get us back to Pattee Canyon – West Fork of Deer Cr. as we were driving up Deer Cr. I found a tick, threw it out the car window. Her thermometer said it was 47 degrees/ 8.33c up there. Later at home David found a tick, and he found another the next day.
Maybe in the fall we’ll go back and do the nine mile/ 14.48k trail.