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The Mystery of Stockade Lake

Stockade Lake in the Beartooths is along a National Recreational Loop. At over 10,000 feet, the lake is crystal clear and very beautiful. Last year, a new friend 80 years old, a retired Forest Service employee, offered to show me an old stockade that lay in the trees on the southeast corner of the lake. In the 1980s the Service asked him to investigate, photograph and map the ancient enclosure.

Stockade Lake

Stockade Lake

All the Beartooth maps show a trail to Stockade via Loosekamp Lake. But there is an undocumented use trail that’s only a mere 2 miles directly to south Stockade Lake. We took that route and hopped the outlet.

In 1891, Benjamin Greenough, a cowboy from Red Lodge, Montana, stumbled upon this dilapidated wood and stone structure. Surrounded by remnant glacial lakes, the structural remains were assumed to be that of an old stockade. This observation was based on the roughly circular shape of the enclosure, the large, heavy logs used to form the walls, and the ax-cut notches carved into the elevation logs for rifle ports.

Ax cut end

Ax cut end

In 1907 John K. Rollinson, a forest ranger and friend of Greenough, and Harry W. Thurston, the then Supervisor of the Shoshone National Forest, visited the site. His narrative below talks about his discovery of the stockade.

On the way back to my camp I traveled a new route which was previously not accessible, due to old snowbanks. I passed a long narrow lake, and as I had been told of an old log stockade or enclosure there, I soon located it. I do not know what it had been used for. It was quite badly rotted down, but it had been a rectangular affair, about eight feet high, built of a double wall of rather light logs, with an eight- or ten-inch space between the two walls which had been filled in with rocks. Three or four old rock fireplaces had once been in use there. All the ax marks were those of a hand ax or tomahawk, as the cuts showed the tool had had a narrow bit. I concluded that squaws had done the work. On a line running due north and south, through scattered pine timber, all the trees had been peeled halfway around up to a height of about five feet. North of the stockade the blaze was facing north, and south of the enclosure the blaze faced south. Each line ran a distance of about a hundred yards. Some trees had been belted and were therefore dead.

Rollison believed that the structure was likely the remains from a party of white trappers and Indian women who were trapping beaver on the Plateau and had built a defensive structure to protect against a hostile Indian attack. He also felt the structure would date to the late 1860s or earlier based on the level of decay.DSC01354

In 1991, the site was recorded by several archaeologists. They reported seeing five culturally modified trees around the stockade.DSC01352 (1)

In 2009, a group of archaeologists, historians, and members of the Park County Historical Preservation Commission hiked to the stockade and collected tree-ring samples from trees and logs at the site. They located more than a dozen culturally modified trees. Their samples consistently produced two separate dates: 1806-1807 and 1861-1862. After this ‘preliminary’ report, Larry Todd returned the following summer, collected a few more tree samples, and so confirmed the later date, just as Rollinson had predicted.DSC01355

When my Forest Service friend was at the site in the 1980s, he told me the gunsights were visible on the logs, and the log enclosure stood about 3 feet high. But today the stockade is almost fully decayed. You can still see the circular outline and in a few places the enclosure still is two or three logs in height. The ax cuts are visible and young trees are growing in the center area.

Young trees inside Stockade

The stockade sits just a few 100 feet off the main trail, but is very easy to miss. In fact, I encountered two backpackers that had spent the night right near the enclosure and had no idea that it was there.

DSC01350

Koda enjoys the shade near the enclosure

Take a lunch and bear spray (last year I encountered a young grizzly near here at the lake) and enjoy the stockade while you contemplate what happened here 150 years ago.

Trail sign. What does an 'F' mean? Anyone know?

Trail sign. What does an ‘F’ mean? Anyone know?

 

ReWilding the Beartooths

It’s happening.  Grizzlies are re-inhabiting the Beartooth Mountains.

grizzly warning sign in the greater yellowstone area

Grizzly warning sign in the lower elevations. Now bears are returning to the high elevation Beartooths

In the last few years, Grizzly activity has increased along the flanks of the Beartooth Front, the southeastern base that nestles the community of Red Lodge and the long north and eastern drainages where berries and other fall foods are abundant. Red Lodge is now getting its share of grizzly bears. But still there were few reports of bear activity in the high alpine forests.

Certainly bears have used the lower drainages on the west side of the Beartooths like Crazy Creek,  Soda Butte, or Lily Lake.  These are low elevations that provided a corridor through Cooke City into and out of the Park.

Years ago I heard of a sow who lost her young cub in the spring to an automobile.  She bawled for a week around the Clay Butte/Beartooth Lake area, looking for her cub.  Yet although I’ve backpacked frequently, and spend a lot of time in the summers day-hiking the western Wyoming side every year, I’ve never seen any bear sign–tracks or scat.

The Beartooths still offer bears great habitat.  The excessive moisture brings a lot of plant food opportunities in the way of grasses, forbs and roots.  And they still have healthy stands of White Bark pines.  White Bark pines in the GYE are 90% dead.

Avalanche Peak, Yellowstone.  Dead whitebark pines

Avalanche Peak, Yellowstone. Dead whitebark pines

The exception to that rule are the Wind River Mountains and the Beartooths.

White Bark pines in the Winds.  Healthy stands

White Bark pines in the Winds. Healthy stands

And those Marmots have traditionally been a favorite protein for bears.

Marmot

Marmot

So when I began my hike today from Hauser Lake down to Stockade Lake, I figured that there were no bears around these parts–especially so high.

Losekamp Lake (around 9600′) sits at the base of Tibbs Butte (10,676′).  Grizzly bear watchers will tell you that these bears mysteriously disappear around the 4th of July.  For years no one knew where they went, until a pilot flying over high talus slopes in the mid-80s saw bears congregating there.  These bears were taking advantage of Army Cutworm moths who feed on alpine plants and summer here.  My understanding is that the Beartooths, although high and abundant in these talus slopes, do not have moth sites, although the Wind Rivers does.

Losekamp and Stockade lakes are rarely visited, being on the less popular southern side of the highway.  I was alone on my walk.  Koda and I made our way down to Stockade Lake, where I tooled around for a bit looking for an elusive Sheep Eater trap I was told was once there.

Stockade at stockade lake

Stockade at stockade lake

Stockade Lake

Stockade Lake, Beartooths, WY

With little wind and mosquitos too thick for a lunch break, we headed back towards Losekamp lake.  Koda a bit ahead, went off the trail about 10′ to smell something behind a boulder.  All of a sudden he growled–a sure sign of an animal he got scared of–and I looked up to see a sleepy bear rise from the boulder.  I quickly called Koda back, and grabbed my bear spray.  We stopped for a moment to access.  The bear, surprised and probably a bit scared himself, immediately began eating, displacing his fear to food.  He seemed sleepy and not about to run away, nor be aggressive.  He pondered us.

Young bear

Young bear

Grizzly bear

A young grizzly, probably just kicked out this year, I did wonder if his mama was around.  Lucky for us she was no where to be seen.  I gave the bear a big berth, going off and around the trail, while talking to him gently, apologizing for waking him up.

Most grizzly encounters end this way, with the bear usually running off. A few weeks ago around my area, Koda alerted me to a grizzly that was also sleeping by the trail, awakened by our presence.  Koda kept by my side, and the griz, about 200′ away, pondered us for a moment, then ran off.  Dogs will alert you and keep you safe if they are well-mannered and under good voice control.  A dog that runs all over the hills and is not very responsive poses a grave danger for a person, as the dog might bring the bear back to you in his fear, with the grizzly following.   The best book to read for safety with grizzlies is Hiking with Grizzlies by Tim Rubbert, or watch online The Edge of Eden: Living with Grizzlies with Charlie Russell and observe Charlie’s body posture when dealing with bears and using bear spray.  Stay away from those books about Grizzly attacks.  It’s like reading a book about fatal car accidents instead of actually learning how to drive safely.

Robin egg, hatched

Robin egg, hatched

Upon returning to the car at the trailhead, I stopped at the Top of the World Store to deliver some of my Wild Excellence books.  I told Kristi Milam, the owner, about my bear experience and she told me there’s been a lot more sightings this year than ever before.

One other note on the Beartooths:  it’s becoming an excellent place to possibly see, or hear, wolves.  I’ve been seeing tracks of the Beartooth pack around this same area for weeks, as well as Clay Butte and lower elevations like Crazy Creek drainage.  Wolves were spotted up at Top Lake just weeks ago in the meadows. Elephant's head

With Grizzly Bears and wolves returning to the Beartooths, they are finally re-wilding.  Carry bear spray and be safe.