With the tourist season in full swing, now is the time for the local hiker who wants some solitude to seek greener pastures. Of course, greener pastures typically come with a lot of work, and a recent jaunt into the Swan Front was no exception.
The Front can get busy in the summer — anyone who has ever visited upper Holland Lake or the Jewel Basin knows that. But there are a host of other trails that see far less traffic.
Last week decided to go up to Smith Creek Pass. It’s not a terribly long hike, at just over 5 miles, but it is steep — gaining more than 3,700 feet in elevation.
My main motivation was to get some pictures at the pass for an old friend of mine who had mentioned that his father, years ago when he was an outfitter, often went up and over the pass into the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
When I got back, however, my friend told me his father never took him up there when he was a kid — his brother always went. His father always told him, “It will be your turn next year.”
But next year never happened and my friend, who has hiked thousands of miles over his lifetime, never went up on his own.
That’s too bad, because Smith Creek Pass is a pleasant place, surrounded by high peaks, including a 9,000-footer that doesn’t have a formal name on the map.
The hike up, however, is not exactly fun. Not only is it very steep, it has almost no shade, save for the first mile or so.
Plum Creek 20 years ago cut most of the big timber off the slope and then a fire came through and burned what was left.
It will be 30 years before it’s a forested hike again.
There was also another unpleasantness: Ticks. Wood ticks were abundant and they seemed to ignore the bug spray we put on.
If you go, bring plenty of water as well. The shadeless slope is very warm on a sunny summer day and there’s no water for several miles from the Smith Creek to a spring about three-quarters of the way up. At the pass, there was still snow, so water wasn’t a problem, but later in the summer, it might be.
Hikers heading into the Bob can follow the trail (29) all the way to the South Fork (22-plus miles total),.