Here I am.
The Helena Valley is surrounded by mountains, but Casey Peak in the Elkhorns southeast of Helena definitely has a “presence” for those of us who live in the Capital City. The Sleeping Giant dominates the skyline to the north, but Casey stands out among the peaks to the south. I often notice it as I walk home after my days of teaching at Helena High School, and if I haven’t visited in a while it seems to remind me to return soon. This presence, combined with the it’s close proximity (only a 30-minute drive to the trailhead), and the nice 5.2-mile trail to the summit, makes Casey a favorite among Helena area hikers. (Photo Tour)

Snowshoeing – A team sport?
December 2016 brought some good snow to our area, so a couple friends and I (Mark and Rick) decided to see if we could snowshoe to the top of Casey Peak – something that none of us had done before. We left town at 7:30 am the day after Christmas, drove out into the Elkhorns, and started hiking at 8:15. It was cold (single digits) – but we were prepared. We just weren’t real sure we would be able to make it all the way to the top. Rick and I had tried in December of 2015, but the snow was simply too deep beneath the ridge to the summit (4-5 feet in places). Every step the leader took was followed by climbing out of the hole that his leg sunk into before he could take the next step – exhausting! But this time the snow wasn’t as deep (2-3 feet), and there were three of us. Anyone who has snowshoed in deep powder where no trail has been blazed knows that the person in front works much harder than the second and third person in line. This time the leader’s snowshoes were sinking down a couple feet, so it was still a lot of work to be in front – but nothing like a year ago. We took turns breaking trail, and were able to make it to the top – something that none of us could have done on our own. As we started down from the ridge, we met a couple college students following our tracks on their way up, as they should have been doing. It’s just too bad we hadn’t started together – we could have split the work five ways instead of three!

Casey wins the prize.
The hike ended up being 11.7 miles round-trip with 3,500 ft. of elevation gain. We started hiking at 8:15 am (over half a mile before the trialhead due to deep snow on the road), were back to the car at 4:45 pm, and back to town at 5:30. The weather was cold (temps varied from single digits to teens), but ranged from “tolerable” to “pleasant”. However, on top it was VERY windy (30-40 mph) so we huddled inside an old lookout building to rest, eat some lunch, and bask in the glory of our accomplishment. Due to the distance, the elevation gain, the cold temperatures, the fierce winds (only on the summit), and (most importantly) the unbroken trail in 2-4 feet of snow, I rate this one as “extreme”. Of the 22 hikes of over 10 miles (including several over 15 miles) that I did in 2016, this one was the most difficult. It took 3 hours to get from Casey Meadows to the top, so we were only going 1 mph during that stretch.

NOTE: My next post will feature a couple summer hikes to Triple Divide Peak in Glacier Park. Please sign up in the margin to the right to be notified of future posts. Thanks. -Rod Benson

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