January is typically the cloudiest month in Montana, and January 2019 has lived up to that distinction – at least for the Helena area. It’s been an especially windy month as well. Although I continued to take advantage of the trails on the southern edge of town and even made a few trips to MacDonald Pass (15 miles west of Helena) to Nordic ski or snowshoe, the weather has definitely dampened my enthusiasm for adventure.

Picked a winner.
Finally, this past Tuesday (1/29/19) I broke out of my slump. Our forecast called for “cold, calm, and sunny”, so I took the day off, drove over by Lincoln (60 miles), and snowshoed up to the Stonewall Mountain Lookout. The 14.5-mile round-trip trek gained over 3,600 feet of elevation, making it one of the most challenging snowshoe hikes I’ve ever done. But conditions were ideal – the temperature ranged from 10 to 20 degrees F, there was no wind, the skies were crystal clear, and the snow was a good depth and consistency for snowshoeing. (Photo Tour)

Above: View of Stonewall Mountain and Red Mountain from Flesher Pass.

Snow-whacking through the burn.
My plan was to follow trail #418, which (according to starts along Sucker Creek Road over 4 miles north of Lincoln. However, 2.5 miles north of Lincoln the road was closed to wheeled vehicles for the winter. So I parked there and started bush-whacking (9:10 am) northward up to the ridge that trail #418 follows (see photo tour for my route). As I hiked along the 3-4 mile-long ridge, my snowshoes were sinking 6-12 inches with every step. But the forest floor was fairly open with few obstacles between the dead still-standing trees, which burned as a fire swept through in 2017. The combination made for tiring, but pleasant hiking.

The fun begins.
Around 12:30 pm I reached a higher, east-west trending ridge, then followed it westward for the final few miles to the summit. Walking along the higher ridge was the best part of the hike. It was more open, not as steep, the snow was firm, and the views became more fantastic with every step. Once on the summit, the wind came up a bit, so I layered up and spent about 45 minutes enjoying the views, taking photos, and trying to figure out which distant mountains I was looking at. The most far-away range I could confidently identify was the Bridger Range near Bozeman, approximately 120 miles away!

In a nutshell.
All total, the hike took 9 hours, including 5 hours to hike up, 45 minutes of summit time, and 3 hours & 15 minutes to walk down. I started hiking at 9:10 am and finished at 6:10 pm. It was a great first adventure of 2019.

Below: This map marks hikes that have been featured on 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.