Monday, July 21, 2014

Hiking Mirror Lake Trail

Mirror Lake Trail
One of the most famous and sought after hiking trails in Southwestern Montana is the Mirror Lake Trail. This hike is in the Lee Metcalf Wilderness, a unique area in Montana, as it is surrounded by a National Forests, wild and undisturbed by development. This popular trail is utilized by horses and hikers alike for a day trip or overnight adventure. If you have the time, there are many options to make a loop out of the hike and explore some of Montana’s Big Sky country.
My husband and I have had this on our hiking list forever. We really wanted to hike from the Spanish Creek trailhead through the ridgeline and out to Deer Creek trailhead. This 25 mile or more hike will require a multiple day commitment and we had just one day for fun-so we went with the famous Mirror Lake Trail.
To reach the trailhead you turn off Highway 191 at Spanish Creek Road and drive through the Flying D Ranch, Ted Turner’s property, which has a large Bison herd on it. There is access for two trailheads the Little Hell Roaring Creek and the South Fork Spanish Creek trails. To access the Mirror Lake Trail you need to take the South Fork of the Spanish Creek Trail Number 407.
We started our hike in the morning. The wildflowers were gorgeous and abundant throughout the whole hike, I had to resist stopping to take photos otherwise the hike would have been much longer. The beginning of the hike is relatively flat and slightly shady. There are plenty of watering holes for your furry friends that hike with you. We hit our first split in the trail, about 3 miles out. The sign will direct you to follow the left trail onto the South Fork of the Spanish Creek Trail Number 407-Mirror Lake and Spanish Lakes access. If you took the trail on the right, you would continue onto Pioneer Falls and eventually ending in a long trek to Ennis, Montana.
As we hiked, we passed in and out of the woods, with Blaze Mountain in the background and we could see the draw that we would be hiking into Mirror Lake.



We eventually came to a split in the trail again with a sign pointing us left towards Mirror Lake. The split to the right would take you to High Lakes Trail. The sign said we had hiked 4.5 miles at this fork on the trail-yeah! It was not a hard 4.5 miles but we could see that ahead we would be hitting switchback hell very shortly.



We continued on for about another mile going up and down through a thick forest. Finally the first switchback was on us. There was intermittent shade and water for my dog Fredo, which helped all of us.
We kept climbing and of course thinking at every turn in the switchbacks that we were almost there. As we hiked there was still snow clinging to the couloirs and waterfalls pouring over the steep drops of Blaze Mountain.



As we ascended we got a great view of the valley we had hiked up, what a trek. We finally made it to the top and to our surprise and luck were the only people at Mirror Lake. Fredo couldn’t wait to swim and I was so hot and sticky I wanted to swim also. As soon as I stepped into the lake I changed my mind, it was ice cold, but Fredo enjoyed it-must be nice having a fur coat.





We enjoyed sitting by the lake and eating our lunch and resting sore legs. We walked around and there were many backcountry camping spots that could host hikers or horseback riders. We saw a herd of Mountain goats on the cliffs of Blaze Mountain and saw ski tracks from some adventurous skiers in the couloirs. If you continued to ascend you would head towards Gallatin Peak and could end up hiking towards Big Sky or make a loop and drop into Hell Roaring Trail.

After an hour of relaxing and Fredo swimming, we headed back down the trail. Of course the downhill went faster and we couldn’t wait to get back to the car. I would say we averaged about 2 mile per hour on this 14 mile hike. I would recommend making a loop and camping if you have the time. On the Huffing and Puffing Scale, I would give it a 6. Finally, I checked Mirror Lake off my list but I can’t wait to hike it again.




Meghan’s
Huffing and Puffing Scale
1 = A piece of cake, I could hike this all day! (easy)
2 = Should I go farther…why not! (easy)
3 = Did I even sweat? (easy/moderate)
4 = A few switchbacks aren’t so bad (moderate)
5 = Thank god for the downhill sections (moderate)
6 = One switchback at a time (moderate/high)
7: Can’t talk, must breathe (high)

8 = Sweating and swearing a lot, but the view will be worth it! (high/extreme)


Saturday, July 5, 2014

Hiking Elk Horn Trail

Elk Horn Trail part 1….
The Elk Horn Trail starts at the Red Cliff campground. A few days prior to my hike, I had taken my dog for a quick walk. The wild flowers were gorgeous, so I had to go back to take pictures. Get out and hike this trail soon before the flowers die off.
I started the hike with the intention of walking to where the trail connects into other trails on the Eastside of the Gallatin National Forest. You can eventually make a loop out of the trail to Cabin Creek or the Buffalo Horn Trail.
As you start the hike you will pass by Red Cliff cave and some sport rock climbing. If you head up to the cave be careful as it is steep and there is loose footing. In the cave, you can look for crystals but bring tools to dig them out as it is pretty picked over. You might also be able to watch rock climbers working up routes on the Red Cliff face. I took a shot of some wild roses blooming just below the cave. (Photo 1)

Photo of wild roses with the Red Cliff Cave in the background
Back on the main trail, you will head south following the Gallatin River. About half a mile along the trail it will start switch backing, climbing up higher on the bench above the Gallatin River. There are beautiful views of the surrounding mountains and river along the trail (Photo 2- Pink and Yellow Columbine with river and cliff background)  








This is where the wild flowers were most prevalent in variety and quantity. (Photos 3-Orange Paintbrush, Photo 4-Pink and Yellow Columbine, Photo 5-Wild Onion)
       






As I walked along the trail I saw many varieties of wild flowers: Columbine, Harebells, Sticky Geranium, Roses, Paintbrush, Wild Onion, Lupine, Potentilla, Balsamroot, and Mountain Kitten Tails. The trail eventually leaves the Gallatin River, running through a meadow area, then it turns into the canyon that meets up with Elk Horn Creek.
I really wanted to see how long it would take me to connect with the other trails and Fredo, my dog and I hiked on. We tried to stop for a lunch break and got attacked by mosquitos so we canceled lunch! Also if your furry friend is with you, once you leave the river, water is not available for the next two miles until a small creek and then many small creeks to follow. As I continued up the canyon, there were several points on the trail with downed trees to navigate. We worked around them and enjoyed the quiet of the woods. It is quite peaceful in this draw, lots of rocks covered with lichen and moss, some wild flowers where the sun can peak in and evidence of animals.
We trekked on, going up a couple small climbs. The hike is a low grade uphill, and once we got above one of the small climbs, I was surprised how high we had climbed in three miles. We finally got to the first watering hole, a small creek no larger than a foot wide. Fredo, my Golden Doodle, walked around in it and cooled off with a drink of water. We continued on and came upon three large, downed trees across the trail. They were so massive and close together we would have had to bush whack through the dense woods to get around them. We were out about 3.5 miles or an hour and a half of walking. I contemplated if I wanted to struggle around this section, when I got the heebie geebie’s. Now I have been told if that happens get out of there, your natural instincts are kicking in because there is a predator nearby. Well as soon as I turn around I found this next to the trail…



A large pile of Bear Scat! I poked it with that stick lying next to it and it was soft and fresh. So I gave a few hollers, clapped a bunch and headed back out the way we came in. As soon as I started walking back down the trail, I heard some branches crack on the other side of the downed trees, I was so glad we did not continue on. Another thing I noticed while we were hiking was Fredo sniffing the foliage next to the trail a lot, I thought maybe he smelled another dog but it was probably that bear. Sometimes I wish he could talk! Since I hike with just my dog I am really loud as a rule. That day I did my usual wild life alerting-loud signing/shouts and rhythmic claps…it is not scientifically proven but it at least alerts animals to our presence. I usually don’t see a lot of wildlife but that is alight if it keeps the predators away!

Since I did not meet my goal of joining up with the other trails, look for Part two later this summer. This hike is nice as there weren’t many people on the trail and it wasn’t a steep grade. On the “Huffing and Puffing” scale, I would give it a three!



Hiking Tip: To avoid an accidental run in with an animal, always look for signs of animals while hiking. Animals like to use the trails to travel also, as it takes less effort than blazing your own trail.

If you cross a muddy section look for fresh tracks, if you find some determine the following: What kind of animal track? Prey or Predator? What direction is the print going? Does it look fresh? Did it rain recently or is the track dry and partial destroyed from others walking over it? That should help determine when the animal traveled through there.

Look for Scat (Animal Poop) on or around the trail. If you find some give it a poke with your shoe or a stick, to see how fresh it is. If the Scat is soft or a light green it is fresh and be aware. 

Meghan’s
Huffing and Puffing Scale
1 = A piece of cake, I could hike this all day! (easy)
2 = Should I go farther…why not! (easy)
3 = Did I even sweat? (easy/moderate)
4 = A few switchbacks aren’t so bad (moderate)
5 = Thank god for the downhill sections (moderate)
6 = One switchback at a time (moderate/high)
7: Can’t talk, must breathe (high)
8 = Sweating and swearing a lot, but the view will be worth it! (high/extreme)

 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Hiking Albino Lake, Gallatin National Forest



Albino Lake hike is a 2.5 mile trek to the lake, making it a 5 mile out and back or you can make it a 4 mile loop connecting with Taylor Fork Rd. This hike is located off the Taylor Fork Rd. on Highway 191, just South of the 320 Guest Ranch. When you turn onto Taylor Fork Rd., follow it about 3.8 miles to the Wapiti Creek Rd. split. There will be a pit toilet and parking area, the trail starts across the Taylor Fork Rd.

I scoured my hiking map for a new trail to hike and this hike looked interesting. Of course I tried to find information online about it and got a couple descriptions for the mileage and what to expect.
I planned on going on the Albino Lake trail by myself but my husband insisted I did not go by myself as it is heavily populated by Grizzlies. So I recruited my nephew and my fur child, Fredo to join me on the hike. We hiked in the afternoon as I knew mid-day would be very warm. Once you cross Taylor Fork Rd. you will see the trail head sign and within ¼ of a mile there will be a bridge to cross the Taylor Fork Creek.
The trail winds through the open meadows, with lots of wild flowers. The hike is moderate and climbs slowly up to the lake. About half way, there will be a section where the earth has shifted and sunk, forming two small lakes. The first lake was dried up and the second lake Fredo jumped in for a swim. In the upper right of picture 2, you can see the sunken earth in the photo. We arrived at Albino Lake and found a small trail around the lake. There was lots of activity at the lake with fish rising, ducks swimming, birds and even a beaver (Picture 3 & 4). We hiked back the way we came but you can make it a loop by heading around the lake and out to the Taylor Fork Road.



Saturday, August 24, 2013

Hiking in Big Sky Area


This spring I planned a hike to Indian Ridge Trail, located north of the 320 Guest Ranch. I had hiked it probably eight years ago and remembered only a few details about the trek. As I was planning the hike, I searched the internet for information about the trail. I found information about the some trails in the Big Sky area, mostly the heavy traveled trails though. It seemed that the less traveled hiking trails weren’t written about or had little details or pictures available, go figure!  For the remaining hiking season, I will blog about these obscure trails. My hope is to aid fellow hikers and guests to explore the beautiful and less trodden trails. So let’s start where it all began at Indian Ridge Trailhead.

Indian Ridge Trail, Hwy 191-9 miles out and back.

I had a wild hair to re-hike Indian Ridge Trail this spring. I knew the hike was up hill most of the way but couldn’t remember how far it was and how hard it was. I talked my nephew into joining me on this trek. He was visiting from the Midwest and looked forward to a hike. Also hiking was my four legged friend Fredo. We started the hike at ten in the morning with another car parked at the trailhead. The hike started up hill, then into the woods. We walked along the draw of the drainage basin for about a half mile, allowing my dog to play in the water and drink some too (Photo 1). As we walked on, the switch backs began. The switch backs were of the longer version not being too steep but I still took a break here and there to catch my breath (Photo 2).  As we gained elevation on the switch backs we walked into a beautiful bloom of wild flowers and great views of Garnett Mtn (Photo 3). After about an hour we started to ascend quite high almost level to adjacent ridges and kept wondering and saying aloud to each other if we were close to the top yet (Photo 4). We kept on hiking with each turn in the trail looking like it was the top. After another half an hour of walking we took a break and enjoyed the view. Of course we both forgot to wear watches or bring a cell phone so we weren’t sure how long we had been hiking or how far we had gone. We discussed turning back as it seemed we just kept on walking uphill with no end in sight. We decided to suck it up and keeping going as I remembered there was a large open field at the top of the ridge. We trekked on, walking in the woods and looking for the top of the ridge. We finally came out of the woods and it flattened out a little with the trail following the edge of a steep meadow. As we walked, there was still snow present and sticking to the trail. My nephew loved seeing the snow and didn’t mind venturing on as we were not heading up hill anymore. We finally could see the meadow I remembered a few turns ahead on the trail. Of course a storm was blowing in with rain clouds and the snow was slick and difficult to walk in (Photo 5 &6). We decided to turn back, after almost summiting the ridge and glad we did because the storm blew in and it got nasty. The walk back down was of course faster than the way up and we cruised through all the switch back sections. When we got to the car, the clock said it was 2 p.m. and it had been four hours that we were hiking. I would guess it was a nine mile out and back for us. Needless to say we ate a big meal and loved every bite after that hike. Next week Albino Lake.






Saturday, March 23, 2013

Upgrades and Updates ...

Wow, it's been a while since we've posted - sorry about that!

The ranch has had a pretty busy winter right until Mother Nature gave us a spring preview a bit too early and melted our snow a little too quickly down here! We had to stop our sleighs just after St Patrick's day... but we gave plenty of folks some good ol' Montana fun until then. The sleigh rides really never get old, you can be on your 20th one and it's still as cool as the first time you did it. We all already thinking about next year and more snowy fun!

The Steakhouse has had a pretty busy winter - and there is just one more week to enjoy the delicious food and then you have to wait all the way until June 10 for it again...SO you better mosey on down and get some of the delicious food they are cooking up ... I recommend the elk medallions or the pork - BOTH DIVINE! But then again everything on the menu is so it's kind of hard to pick!

Well, although things are quieting down we are working hard behind the scenes to get some things lined out for the summer to make the ranch better than ever.

First thing we are working on is expanding our kitchen. Chef Martin and his crew do a great job of putting out delicious food each and every day but we are busting at the seams in the summer when we have 2 or 3 events happening and we are running the steakhouse, so we have, with the help of Hackbarth Construction, starting putting in another partial line so we can handle the ever growing lists of events more easily. The new line will be up and running for the summer season and we are all so excited!

Secondly we are finishing the room renovations that we started last winter. All the cabins got new paint, carpet, tile, light fixtures, linen, and mattresses last year - this year they are getting new window coverings, furniture, lamps, headboards, alarm clocks (with Mp3 connections), Kuerigs, kitchenettes in the units that have those, new counter-tops in the units with kitchens, new appliances in the full size kitchens, refrigerators in the deluxe log cabins, new TV's and new artwork and a few other little things here and there to make everything look great. PHEEW that's a lot of upgrades!!!

We are working hard to make our cabins as comfortable as we can and keep them up to date but let them keep their cabin-y charm. We think that the upgrades are pretty great and hope that you do too!

We will try to keep you updated with pictures as things progress - all the projects are just coming to fruition and the hard work will start soon!!


Friday, January 4, 2013

Snow, Snow, Snow.... what do we do with all the snow?

People are always asking us - what do you guys do with all of the snow you get?
Especially if you live somewhere that doesn't get much or any.

It's not an easy answer and it isn't easy work, but living where we see snow 6 months of the year we have to keep up with it and it's a part of our life.

For the roads we have two trucks with plows attached to them. We have a larger dully HD truck and an older Chevy (red rover we call him) - that work together to get the main roadways plowed and cleared of snow. We have several areas on the ranch that we have to push the snow out of the way. Later in the winter when the snow really piles up sometime the piles are too large for the truck to push over so Marce has to fire up the Caterpillar 966 front end loader and move the piles back or make them higher.

We also have a skid-steerer that we use that has a bucket and also a snow blower attachment that is pretty handy in getting into the little crevices that the trucks can't. Also because we have metal roofs on all of our buildings, after it snows and the sun comes out the snow on the roofs will slide off in front of the cabins - this is where the skid-steerer really shines.

Also we have good ol man power shoveling that has to be done to keep the walkways, decks, and steps clear. For the large decks that aren't covered we have a hand driven Honda snow-blower. Most of the decks, steps etc are shoveled by hand by our maintenance and housekeeping crews.

The key to snow removal is getting the snow up before it's been walked or driven on; so on days that mother nature likes to send us large amounts of snow it's up and at'em early by 5 am to get things cleared before people head to breakfast at 7.But it takes nearly the whole day of work to get everything cleaned up; even with the early start.

So, there's  how we do it... just piece by piece and keeping up with it we are able to deal with the about 300 inches of snow annually that we receive here at the ranch.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The 320 Steakhouse is open!

The 320 Steakhouse opened December 14th. We had a great start to the winter season. The 320 Steakhouse features favorites like the Cowboy Ribeye or Rainbow Trout with Chef Lewis' culinary twist to the entrees. Chef is inspired by the west and utilizes locally grown foods to fulfill his vision of Montana Cowboy Cuisine.

Our first night went well, we had some diners from the ranch and locals that evening. All were happy and well fed, some saying too well. The second evening the Sleigh Rides began and we had a busy dining room with guests enjoying a relaxing dinner after their sleigh ride.

This week Chef Lewis is featuring three course dinner. The first course has three Montana cheese's. The entree is a 16 oz. Cowboy Cut Ribeye from the Lazy SR Ranch in Wilsaw, MT. He is cold smoking the steak, a process that uses ice in the smoker instead of heat.  This process delivers the smokey flavor and allows the steak to be grilled to temperature later. The Ribeye melts in your mouth with a Flathead Cherry Port Wine Demi-Glace. To finish a creme brulee with a huckleberry brittle. Come down for this amazing taste of Montana, the three course dinner has a limited supply.

In the Steakhouse you will still find Steve tending bar and we have two new servers, Anna and Nathan. Anna is a true Big Sky local, born and raised here in Big Sky-rare to find but always a gem! Nathan has been pursuing his literary studies at MSU and has just finished the semester, now he is ready to learn how to ski. Any night you might find John Richardson, our General Manager greeting the guests, or Meghan and Angela making the 320 Magic happen in The Steakhouse.

If you pop your head into the kitchen you will find Chef Martin Lewis directing his staff, long time employee's Lee and Mike. Also on the line is Daniel, he is a true weekend warrior in the army reserve. As the winter season picks up we will have more staff returning or starting to work for us.
We are so excited by the snow that has been falling, turning the ranch into a true winter wonderland. Come down and see us soon, whether it is a Sleigh Ride with Marce or for a delicious dinner from Chef Martin's Montana Cowboy Cuisine. Happy holidays-The Steakhouse Staff