Saturday, July 20, 2013

Hanging Valley Trail

In my effort to get out and about, I joined up with a meetup group, the Helena Hikers, and today went for my first hike.  Hanging Valley Trail is listed in a couple of books and online as a "moderate" hike.  I talked to one of the hikers and she asked some very good questions about my abilities (none) and we agreed I would try it and stop when I reached my limit.  My goal is to get so that I can hike the majority of the trails in and around Montana.  The day was cool to start with and I had my pack all filled with water and snacks (and bandaids and ibuprofen) and met the group at the trailhead in Vigilante Campgrounds. 

Now to start off, the directions to get to the trailhead is to follow York Road out of Helena and the campgrounds are about 30 miles away.  York Road starts out as a nice, winding road.  The it gets 'windier'.  And then the pavement ends and you still have about 10 more miles left.  The road ends at the camp grounds.  Apparently York Road was once a valid road and a scenic route.  However, after it washed out a few times, the Parks Department said forget it.  

There are actually two trails at Vigilante Campgrounds.  One is Trout Canyon which is suppose to be easy (rated wheelchair accessible for the first mile).  The other is Hanging Valley, labeled moderate.  I have not had much experience with camping or campgrounds, but I was impressed with this campground.  Small, but neat.  A couple of bathrooms and each site had a picnic table and a fire pit.

Trout Canyon Trail is at the end of the road where you turn into the campgrounds, crossing over the creek.

After the walk, one of the hikers and I dipped our feet into the creek.  Unlike a creek in North Carolina, which in July would have been tepid, this definitely woke you up.

Since it was questionable if I would make even part of the hike, I met up with the group at the trailhead.  This little beauty was waiting here for me.

This I could identify, a thistle, complete with a little white spider.

There were six of us which showed up for the hike.  Two other women and 3 men and one of the best trained dogs I have been around, Marky.

So up the trail we go.  And my brain was going "are you really this stupid?"

Please note, I had been advised, both by one of the other hikers and by what I was reading there is about a 3000 foot change in elevation in about 4 miles.  Then you drop down a 1000 feet, back up a 1000 feet before you get to the end of the trail.  But the view is suppose to be fantastic and the drop down is suppose to be like something out of Bryce Canyon in Utah.  I wanted to go.

The trail goes up.  As in straight up.  As in I was huffing and puffing within a few feet of starting.  After a bit, we split up into two groups.  Marky's owner wasn't sure if he could make it and the two of us stayed together.  Actually, I think he and Marky could have done it fine, but he was a sweetheart and  we lagged behind (way behind) and only made it part of the way.  For 'moderate' hikers, the 12 miles round trip was a 6 hour hike, just about.  Up and back for me as far as I went was 3 hours.  I figure I walked up the mountain for 2 hours and 1 hour back down.

I think this was one of the only 'flat' parts of the trail.  I love flat now.  I adore downhill!

I did miss out of the more spectacular scenery at the end of the trail.  But what I did stumble through was breathtaking.

One thing that did give me pause was the "Spanish Moss" on the pine trees.  I know it is probably something else, but it really gave me pause.  

And I definitely need to get a field guide on the flora of Montana.  There were so many flowers and plants which I wanted to identify on the trail.

According to one of the hiking books, May is when I need to be there for the pink lady slippers and other 'spring' flowers.  

So what I learned today....

1.  I need more work to make the 'moderate' mark as far as hiking goes.  But at least I have a definite goal now.  I WILL BE BACK!

2.  What I had packed in my backpack was about right for the walk.  Not too much, not too little.

3.  My new hiking boots worked well.  My nice little bunion likes the men's wider toe box much better.

4.  I meet a really great group of people who I can hike with now.

5.  My dogs are wild and crazy and have no manners whatsoever compared to Marky.  I am such a bad doggy mother.


  1. Hi Judy,
    nice blog... it was definitely on the tougher end of a 'moderate' hike but I'm sure after a Montana summer of regular hiking you'll be flying up the hills!
    Hopefully we can get a good mix of varying difficult hikes to suit everyone.
    Hope to catch up with you more next time.

  2. Depending on when they are me and baby will come with you just remember youll be carrying the baby goodies and ill carry the baby!