July 30, 31st Bowman and Caruthers Lakes
What a great weekend it was for our trip to Bowman Lake on Saturday, July 30, and then to Mt. Ben Lake on Sunday, July 31. Ok the temperature was a bit on the hot side and the bugs ate on us at Mt. Ben, but still it was great. No, we didn’t spend the night at either lake, but several of us camped in Deer Lodge for the day trips.
Shawn and all three kids, Mark, Larry, Ron, Kim and guest Marc Quinn, Jarred and Jason, and Willie and Jeanne. We also had a couple of guests along John and Nancy Newell and Max and Marie Hillberry with son and daughter.
To get to the Bowman Lake trail we had to pass through some private land that is marked “NO trespassing”, but the Forest Service lists the trail as open. We were careful to respect the land owner and stay on the trail and closed the gates after passing through them.
About 5 miles up the trail off to the left there are the remains of two log buildings (be aware as lots of rusty nails), as well as a rock and cement arrasta along with the remains of a wooden water wheel that powered it, a wooden flume leading from the creek, and an old wooden wagon box that sits mysteriously within the area that once was a building. Etched into the cement of the arrasta hub is Daniels Mineing 1934. Note that the letter n is backwards and a “e” is in mineing. Someone has broken up the bottom of the arrasta in order to pan out any remaining gold.
In another mile or so is trail to right that leads to Ryan Lake. It’s worth driving all the way to top of area, maybe a total of 3 miles round trip, in order to peek down at the lake which is a ½ mile hike down an unbelievably loose, scree-ey steep slope. Area is filled with sage and then multi-trunked and branched limber pine, recognized by its trunk splitting near the ground and bottle brushy looking needles. We had called this the Dalmatian Trail last fall due to the white rock outcroppings spotted with black, but this summer most of the rocks were covered by tall grass. There were acres of lupines in bloom at this high elevation.
Returning to the main trail, at another 1.5 miles there is biggest mine in area, Further up is cabin remains with numerous tailing piles, caved in shaft, old wooden structure with rock supports where ore carts had entered. Rock from there looks like igneous scoria, dark and porous. There is also what looks like fractured blocky quartz with a dark intrusion. Some where in this area a two stamp mill once operated.
At 2 miles you’re atop the world on high elevation windswept barren area, with a few whitebark pines, and a true cushion plant community with aster, harebells, yarrow, phlox, anemone, and biscuitroot. You have a great view of Racetrack Canyon.
The trail then descended thru granite talus slope and spruce forest, with understory of kinnikinnick and low juniper shrubs. At 2.3 miles is steep hairpin turn, a true low range descent. At 2.7 miles is another switchback with remains of early ‘50s pickup. At 3.1 miles we crossed an huge bouldered granite talus slope, and at 3.3 miles cross the creek, with pink and yellow monkeyflowers, pearly everlastings, arrowleaf grounsel, and horsetail, cool and scenic. The trail then begins to climb, though not nearly as steep as it had descended, you definitely need four wheel drive to crawl over the large boulders, and crosses the creek again, where you might want to take a few minutes to try panning for any remaining gold.
At approximately 4.5 miles you’re at lower lake, though all you can see from vehicle is the dam berm. At 5 miles you’re at middle lake where Ted Beck’s well built cabin sits on cement slab, built by D. Jones, summer of 1967, lived in by Elmer J. McGhee 7-17-71 to 9-4-71. Follow the road across the dam to access the upper lake.
You do have to return on same trail, thought it is interesting to see what else you notice on the reverse route.
Sunday, July 31
Mark, Larry, Ron, Kim, Marc, Willie and Jeanne stayed in Deer Lodge and ran the Carruthers and Mountain Ben Lake trail.
Trail to Carruthers is LONG, bumpy, and dusty with only a little challenge of four wheeling shortly before you reach the lake. This is maybe just my opinion from having ran this trail so many times! Dempsey Creek, which the trail follows up, is quite scenic. The creek crossings can be interesting depending on what time of year you run the trail and how much water there is in them. It’s worth spending some time checking out the different wildflowers that grow in the moist areas, as this is the only place in Montana that I’ve seen one called elephant head growing. It truly looks like a miniature elephant’s head, trunk and all.
Carruthers was full to top, as apparently farmers aren’t irrigating out of any of the lakes yet due to wet spring. Caruthers shows evidence of old camps, including a tin outhouse. Fishing can be excellent unless the wind is blowing! Many rocks to sit and climb on make it a great place for lunch or to camp.
There are dams at Bohn Lake, Elliot Lake, and Caruthers Lake, which according to the Forest Service, were built in the 1930s, and have been used since then to irrigate the valley floor below. Check out the irrigation ditch and imagine trying to dig it in this rocky ground by hand.
We had interesting thought this trip, had always thought it was a dam at Goat Lake (between Carruthers and Mountain Ben), but maybe it was access road to Mountain Ben instead. There is a road or at one time was and now is not accessible with a vehicle on the opposite side of Mountain Ben that leads back down to Carruthers. Marc Quinn and Ron’s wife have hiked it.
The trail to Mountain Ben is probably some of the best four wheeling in Montana, quite technical and tough. You can almost walk the mile to the lake faster than you can drive it, though the high altitude will have you huffing and puffing.
Now the road gets interesting--on to Mountain Ben Lake--and don't plan to take anything but a CJ or your ATVs. That means no full size vehicles. When you have to back and turn and turn and back to make a corner in a CJ, you KNOW it's tight! Sometimes it's rocks that cause you grief, other times it's trees. This shows just as a trail on the map, but believe me, it can be done (in a CJ). This is truly a Rubicon type trail with large boulders that is steep! Lockers and 33 inch tires are mandatory for this trail
Willie had to try a different line around a tree rather than over a boulder that Mark got hung up on, and with a little more throttle or a couple more inches of forward movement would have been upside down. Total driver error! Or was it all that traction from his “skidder tires”, er 37 inch Pro Comp XTs?
The trail winds through twisty ghost trees, mostly white bark pines, and some larch and climbs over boulders. We even noticed some alive and growing twisty trees with bark. Scientists aren’t sure what causes them to twist, possibly the extreme weather including high winds, and the tough growing conditions at high altitudes.
Finally you arrive at Mountain Ben Lake and is it gorgeous. It seems like you're the only ones to ever have visited. The high altitude, approximately 8500 feet, contributes to much dead downed and standing timber which gives the area an eerie aura. Boy, does it make a great place to camp, with a big roaring campfire and ghost stories to tell.