Sorry. Not that North Pole
Thank gawd for the mountains. The mother-in-law showed up for a three day visit and I just had to get away. North Pole, visible out my window, had been beckoning for quite a while and it was time to listen. It was an easy mountain, just a hike on a trail all the way. But it got me out of town and into some of the highest country around.
The hike starts at the west end of Wildhorse campground on the north edge of the Gospel Hump Wilderness. The area is high and cool being dominated by subalpine fir and spruce. There are also many small boggy meadows surrounded by cold tolerant lodgepole pine. The trail passes through these on a delightful stroll before climbing the north ridge system of the mountain. This is a beautiful stretch of broken granite boulders jutting from the beargrass and accented with scattered subalpine forest. To the south is the broad Kelly Creek basin that contains four subalpine lakes.
Soon the top of the ridge system is reached and from here it’s a nearly flat walk through open twisted whitebark pine to the summit ridge. North Pole is a broad lenticular mountain without any distinguishing features. The footings of an old lookout are present and the view in all directions is fabulous. To the west, Oregon is visible and the high Bitteroots, just east of the Montana border are on the east horizon. Not much else to say about the top so after lunch I hiked down the east face to the uppermost lake in the Kelly Lake Basin. This is a beautiful lake that sits just above 8,000 feet.
After a break and pictures at the lake, I headed north on a path parallel to the mountain through the parklands below the summit. The east Gospels have interesting drainage patterns below the highest peaks that form straight parallel patterns sort of like a trellis. These beautiful areas are studded with open runs and flower-filled meadows and numerous springs. I can’t imagine a nicer area to camp if I return here.
Near the north end of this level parkland I pick up a trail that climbs the slope and ties in with the main trail across the north ridge. The actual connection isn’t really there since the trail seems to stop at the break in the slope, but a few feet away, the main trial is marked with a rock pile at this point. I head down the trail to the north and am back at the trailhead in less than an hour.
With only a two hour drive home, I realize I could have picked a further away mountain since there are a few hours of daylight and the monster-in-law waiting at home. But it was a beautiful fall day so I can’t complain too much. Who knows, maybe someday I'll go to that other North Pole.
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