A great day to play hooky.
Hiking on trails is great, but occasionally I like to challenge myself by going off-trail and finding a way to the top of some mountain. I enjoy the type of problem-solving involved with finding the best route, and I like the varied terrain that comes with getting off the beaten path. We’re at the tail end of a very long snowy winter, so I’ve been especially anxious to get out and explore lately. Spring-like weather finally arrived last week and the forecast looked amazing, so I decided to use one of my personal vacation days to see if I could find a route up to the chest of the Sleeping Giant 25 miles north of Helena – and I wanted to do it without setting foot on private land. There are no trails to the chest, so my plan was to kayak 7.5 miles on the Missouri River to a place just east of the Giant’s head, follow a ridge up to the chest from the north, make my way down to the nose, and then hike back to my kayak – seemed simple enough. (Photo Tour)

Breaking curfew.
I left town at 7 am, and started paddling at 8 am. It took me 2 hours to kayak through the canyon (Gates of the Mountains Recreation Area) to the place where I started hiking. As usual, the hike was WAY more difficult than anticipated – As I plan my off-trail adventures, the routes always look so easy on maps! In fact, of the 8.8 miles that I walked, about 5 of them were very challenging – deep snow, steep terrain, thick brush, talus slopes. About half a mile below the chest of the Giant, I almost quit because the snow was so deep. I expected patches of snow, but I was post-holing 2-3 feet with every step – not awesome. If I hadn’t been so close to the top, if the weather had been less than perfect, or if I had been pressed for time, I would have turned back. But it ended up being worth the struggle – All day long I was surrounded by an amazing landscape that I got to see from some unique vantage points. I had planned to be home around 7, but knew there was going to be an almost full moon to light my way as I paddled back, so I decided to take my time. I called my wife and asked her to leave the porch light on. I was back on the river at 7 pm and got home at 10 pm.

NOTE: I have done several hikes in the Gates of the Mountains area. Links to previous blog posts about some of those hikes are listed below.

Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on bigskywalker.com so far, including several in Glacier Park – Select full screen to expand, zoom in for more detail, or click on a marker for a link to the post.