‘Gem’ of a peak in the Sapphire Range

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Searching for a new place to hike with our dogs on Memorial Day, we were led up Palisade Mountain east of Corvallis by an online guide.

“A surprising gem in the Sapphires,” the description on the Montana Wilderness Association’s Hike Wild Montana website states.

Indeed.

I’ve always thought of the forested summits of the Sapphire Mountains as being less interesting than the granite canyons and peaks of the Bitterroots across the valley to the west. But the Willlow Creek and Palisade trails have changed my perspective.

From the undeveloped trailhead, we started east up a wide trail through the trees on the north side of the creek. After crossing a couple of tributaries, we arrived at a break in the woods at about 1 mile, with rocky outcroppings above offering a preview of what was to come.

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At about 2 miles, the trail began to climb steep switchbacks through dense forest. A few feet through the trees to the south, boulder fields looked back east to the Bitteroots.

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We reached snow on the last switchback, then crossed a creek at 2.5 miles and stepped out of the forest at the foot of rocky spires. Re-entering the trees, we continued up through the snow aided by a topographic map on my iPhone.

As we hiked higher, the forest grew thinner and wildflowers bloomed from melted patches in the snow.

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At about 4 miles, we reached a saddle where the Willow Creek Trail joined the Palisade Trail. There, we turned northwest and continued out the ridge on firm snowpack, following blaze marks on trees and the topo map on my phone.

We exited the woods where boulders rose from the snow, then climbed to the 8,451-foot peak of Palisade Mountain at about 4.75 miles. While our older dog Josey had no trouble, the blocky rocks brought a few whines from puppy Gus and he stopped just short of the top.

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After taking in the views west to the Bitterroots, north and south along the Sapphires, and east to the Flint Creek and Anaconda ranges, we made our way back down through the snow and along the creek.

We arrived back at the trailhead, our SUV still the only one parked there and having seen no other hikers all day.

Here are more photos from Palisade Mountain.

Distance: About 9.5 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From its intersection with the Eastside Highway in Corvallis, follow Willow Creek Road 10.5 miles east to the undeveloped trailhead. At about 2.3 miles, Willow Creek Road turns south where Coal Pit Road continues east.

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Snowshoeing up Bear Creek with new puppy Gus

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Meet Gus, our newest addition!

This Beagle-American Staffordshire cross joined our family as an 11-pound 3 1/2-month-old in late November. One month older and a few pounds heavier, Gus went on his first real adventure showshoeing up Bear Creek in the Bitterroot Mountains on Christmas Day.

The outing was a fitting tribute to our old dog Belle, a 12-year-old black Lab-hound that died last summer not long after her final hike at Bear Creek.

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While we snowshoed only the first 1 1/2 miles west to the small waterfall, keeping up with Josey – our 6-year-old, 85-pound Rottweiler-hound cross – was no easy task for Gus. He ended up wrapped in a fleece blanked in my backpack after getting chilled when we stopped at the overlook.

In the end, he made it out on his own four legs and slept in the back of our SUV the whole way home – proving he was up to the bigger adventures to come.

Here are a few more pictures from Bear Creek.

Distance: 3 miles round trip.

Trailhead: From Victor, the Bear Creek trailhead is 3.3 miles south on U.S. Highway 93, 2.3 miles west on Bear Creek Road, 0.8 miles north on Red Crow Road and 3.2 miles west on Red Crow and Bear Creek roads.

Spring sights on the way to Camas Lakes

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A short May hike to Camas Lakes, southwest of Hamilton in the Bitterroot Mountains, highlighted the changing of the seasons: spring runoff and wildflowers, and the last of winter’s snow.

For the first mile, the trail climbed steadily to the north, crossing Hayes Creek at about a quarter mile then turning northwest at 1 mile and entering thicker forest. Along the way, purple and yellow violets dotted the edge of the path.

Nearly 2 miles up, the trail crossed an open outcrop that provided a brief view of the surrounding drainage and eastern ridge of Ward Mountain. Here, tufts of phlox could be found among the rocks.

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About another third of a mile up, a broken log bridge crossed Camas Creek as it cascaded down through the forest. While our younger dog Josey followed us across, our older dog Belle forded the creek.

Across the water, the trail climbed two-thirds of a mile of switchbacks as the forest thinned, then the final half mile past patches of snow to the lowest of the three Camas Lakes.

While it’s possible to round the lake and continue up the creek to the next two, we ate lunch on the shore then retreated to the trailhead when rain arrived.

Here are more photos from Camas Lakes.

Distance: About 7 miles round trip.

Trailhead: About 9.4 miles south of Hamilton on U.S. Highway 93, turn west on Lost Horse Road. Continue 2.4 miles, then turn northwest and follow Forest Road 496 about 6.1 miles to the trailhead.

Welcome to Trails+Travels

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A new year, a new blog – welcome to Trails+Travels!

Really, this is a continuation of my old blog, Hike MT. I was beginning to feel it was too limiting both in its name, which easily could be changed, and in its design, which seemed less easy to alter considering it was a basic Blogger site.

So I got a domain and am starting anew. You’ll find hiking here still, and backpacking, car camping, road and trail running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing – and dogs. Mostly, it will feature Montana, but my wife Jen and I spend a lot of time exploring the American West and enjoy traveling the world when we can.

Join us on our adventures!