Ascent of Red Mountain on 2016-07-23

Climber: Eric Higginbotham

Other People:Solo Ascent
Only Party on Mountain
Date:Saturday, July 23, 2016
Ascent Type:Successful Summit Attained
    Motorized Transport to Trailhead:4x4 Vehicle
Peak:Red Mountain
    Elevation:9411 ft / 2868 m

Ascent Trip Report

Sometime around February, I discovered I could see Red Mountain from my back deck, 59 miles away to the northwest. It was on my list of peaks to bag and I was doing a little research with peakbagger trip reports and google earth. I am a summer hiker, when and if I get the time, so many is the time I got to look out my window at the peak I wanted to climb. Finally around the end of July, 5 months later, I got my chance to go hike to the summit.
I used Tim Worth's County highpoint report for driving direction and for the route to the peak. Just a few things to add. Copper Creek road (FR330) takes off north from MT Highway 200 east of Lincoln MT, at approximately mile marker 78. Follow the signs to the Copper Creek Campground then continue along FR330 until the road makes a 180 degree turn, crossing 2 channels of the creek, a gate and two bridges. Other trip reports mentioned the gate being closed so when I showed up at twilight I was surprised to find the gate open. I drove on past the gate until the road again switches back to the west. The road quickly narrowed and I turned around at the switchback, unsure I should be past the gate and returned to the parking area by the bridges and camped for the night.
I woke to cloudy skies and a steady wind. I dislike wind and thought about bagging my attempt at the summit. The forecast was for mostly sunny with winds 25 mph, gusts to 35. Maybe things would get better as the day went on. I drove back to the turnaround spot just past the switchback eliminating, for good or bad, about 2.5 miles of roundtrip road hiking. I parked well off the road, got my pack ready and headed down the road facing into the wind. The road soon splits with a sign in between the roads stating FR771-1A. I wasn’t sure which road was which but took the lower, north road. This area burned several years ago and is mostly covered in brush about 4 to 6 feet high, with lots of downed logs and the occasionally standing dead tree. The steady winds making me keep a lookout for snags that might blow over on me. The wind must have been bothering the dog because I noticed she didn’t run ahead along the road but heeled close to my side. Odd. I continued down the road another hundred yards and coming around a bend in the road spotted the shoulder and back of a grizzly bear with its head down feeding in the willows just off the road eight yards in front of me.
The wind had kept both the sound and smell of our approach from the bear. I quickly tugged the zipper down on my jacket and pulled my bear deterrent from its holster. It is amazing how many thoughts can fly through your head in an instant when your circulatory system is running on adrenaline. I felt much better with the bear deterrent in my hands. I thought about backing up around the turn hoping to get out of sight before the griz raised its head. I thought about not wanting the bear to see me backing away when it first spotted me as it might entice the bear to chase me. All this ran through my head in less than a second and then the bear’s head started to come up.
I yelled, “Git out of here.” The bear’s head snapped around and we locked eyes. My past experience with locking eyes with a griz lead to an immediate charge. I yelled again, “Git.”
The bear ran, it was already quartering away from me and it ran in that direction, leaping over downed logs and breaking arm thick alder branches. I held my ground both watching the bear and scanning around me for cubs, even though I was pretty sure the bear was a boar. The bear stopped at 50 yards settling back on its haunches and looking back at me. I yelled again sticking with what worked, “Git out of here.” The bear took off again this time not so fast and angled across the hillside until it disappeared into a patch of timber about a hundred yards down and above the road.
Now what to do, walking down the road took me closer to the griz. Maybe I should call it a day and head back to the truck. Instead, I called my dog to me, she had also run when I yelled but toward the truck not the bear, and set off down the road with bear deterrent in hand. The encounter re-played through my head trying to decide if I had done the right thing by yelling at the bear. It could just as easily triggered its fight response instead of its flight response. I decided my yelling had worked and reminded myself that while it worked this time, it might not work in the future.
The road grew narrow as I left the burn area and entered the forest. Bushes grew up over the road on either side and visibility was limited. I hoped the bear hadn’t turned downhill after entering the treeline. The road curved into a small opening near the creek bottom and to my left, north, I spotted the remnants of a zigzag road on the hillside. That hillside was open, looked like it had been logged at some point, and I hurried through the tall bushes around the creek and up onto the open hillside. The bear was nowhere to be seen on the other side of the valley and I didn’t relish the prospect of having to walk that narrow section of road on the way out. I made my way to the top of the narrow finger ridge and then turned to my left following the ridge top.
I soon left the open logged area and entered a section of old burn. Standing dead trees were numerous and with the wind whistling through them I hurried past that section into the unburned green forest. Soon after entering the green trees I arrived at the adit. Normally I would have explored this hole in the side of the mountain but instead it only looked like a great place for a bear to hide. I continued up the now steep narrow ridge sticking to the open areas as much as I could. I sidehilled off the ridge for a little ways keeping to an open hillside. We walked past where a bear had dug a hole into the side of the mountain then left a large pile of sign beside the hole. The wind picked up and I headed back to the top of the ridge, which soon flattened out, and I caught a glimpse of Red Mountain to my right and more bear sign on the ridge.
We paused at the end of the finger ridge on the edge of the treeline studying the long traverse across the south southwest ridge leading up to Red Mountain. A half dozen goats fed in the bowl below us. I scanned the open hillside for any bears and saw none. The wind stopped and the black clouds above me began to look more like thunderclouds, time to get to the top before I got weathered out.
The wind picked up as we traversed across the hillside and soon we could look down and see the lake in the bowl south of the mountain. The hillside was churned in places from bears digging for pika or podunks and I spotted a few large old piles of bear sign. We curved around the hillside coming into the small saddle before the last climb to the summit. The dog growled and I spotted a sow grizzly with two cubs about 100 yards from us, slightly lower in elevation. The sow ran as soon as I looked at her bolting down the steep slope with a cub running beside each back leg. They kept running all the way down the hillside until they stopped a few hundred yards from the lake. They milled around for a while and we continued on our way towards the summit.
The wind increased vigorously at the summit and I signed the small register left in a glass jar underneath a red painted tin can. I took some video from the top and was getting out the camera for some still shots when the clouds to the north began rolling over the top of the mountain. The small saddle was already in the fog and the top would soon be covered. I didn’t want to have to traverse back across the hillside in the fog so I grabbed my pack and headed back to the treeline where we stopped and drank some water but I decided to forgo the tradition of sharing sardines and crackers with the dog. I didn’t want to carry the smelly tin in my backpack, we would snack when we got back to the truck. We headed down the narrow ridge with the dog suddenly sniffing the ground and heading off to the west with her ruff up. I continued down ridge and she soon caught up. I kept thinking of the bear we saw in the morning and wondering if he was thinking about me, "Think it's funny to sneak up on me and scare me, how about I just go lay along the road in the shade waiting for you to come back to your truck. I wonder how fast you'll run when I spring out on the road beside you." Or something like that.
When we reached the old logging unit at the base of the finger ridge and didn’t spot any bears on the road out to the truck, only a 4 wheeler driving slowly along the road. We hotfooted it across the creek and I made the dog lead the way down the road to the truck where we split a tin of sardines before heading home. At home, I set my spotting scope up on the dining table and studied Red Mountain. It seemed surreal that only a few hours earlier I had been standing on top of it. Now when I look at Red Mountain, I get to remember this exciting day of hiking.

Summary Total Data
    Total Elevation Gain:3432 ft / 1046 m
    Round-Trip Distance:7.5 mi / 12.1 km
    Route:South Ridge
    Trailhead:FR330 Copper Creek Rd  5979 ft / 1822 m
    Grade/Class:Class 2
    Quality:10 (on a subjective 1-10 scale)
    Route Conditions:
Road Hike, Open Country, Bushwhack, Stream Ford
    Gear Used:
    Weather:Pleasant, Very Windy, Overcast
25 mph winds, mostly cloudy
Ascent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 31 Minutes
Descent Statistics
    Time:2 Hours 11 Minutes

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