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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Wonderland Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Starting out.
Mt. Ranier at Reflection Lakes
I've postponed this blog for darn near six weeks, because I wanted to give it proper time. It was a monumental excursion and one of the best backpacks I've ever done. Now that so much time has gone by, I just need to get it out there and let the pictures tell most of the story.

I meet-up with my friend Dave Sumner most summers in early August for about a week in the backcountry. This year was Dave's turn to plan, and he chose the Wonderland Trail, which circumnavigates Mt. Ranier. I had never heard of it and didn't know what to expect. In the end, I was blown away by the relentless beauty and long days on the trail.
Dave at Indian Bar shelter on day 2.
Heading up over the pass from Indian Bar, Day 2.

Hiking the Wonderland Trail is National Park backpacking, meaning that there are quite a few (by Montana standards) people traveling from Seattle and Portland and other far flung parts of the country to do it. Once you get used to the extra people, however, it's fun. You meet some real characters, and the exceptional scenery and hard days on the trail are unparalleled.

Night 2 camp vistas.
This is the way up for most folks climbing Ranier.
The Wonderland Trail is 90+ miles. We did it in seven days, starting from Reflection Lakes, though the first day included my flight and the drive to the trailhead, so we only got in 5 miles. The remaining days were all 14-18 miles, making this the most difficult backpack we've done in terms of per day mileage.

Day 3
Yet another gorgeous shot of Mt. Ranier, day 4.
Carbon Glacier, day 4.
Wonderland is rugged and the total elevation gain is 23,000'. The views of Mount Rainier are spectacular, with huge snowfields and several enormous glaciers, some of which require the trail to drop far down a given drainage in order to skirt the outflow. You also see great changes in flora, from the gnarled alpine regions down to temperate rain forest with huge old growth cedar and fir.
Cedar grove, beginning of day 5.

day 6.

day 6.
As backpacks go, I don't think there's a better week long trip out there. I'd do it again and would recommend it to anyone who's thinking about it. It was also another success on the friendship front. Dave and I travel well together and make the most of the opportunity for physical punishment in a beautiful place, followed by evening conversations about what existential struggle is most on our minds, aided by the day's whiskey ration.
day 6.

day 6.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

McLeod Peak, Rattlesnake Wilderness

McLeod from the West, Highway 93. (All photos taken from the internet.)
McLeod Peak has been on my to do list since I first discovered the Rattlesnake Wilderness shortly after we moved to Missoula in 2003. The Rattlesnake is unassuming as Montana Wilderness goes, more in the spirit of  the Bob Marshall or Scapegoat than the rock-and-ice Missions, Pintler, or Bitterroot. The peaks aren't very high, McLeod being the highest at 8640ft, but the country is nonetheless extremely rugged.
McLeod from the east, near the summit. This is the way I approached it.
The other beauty of the Rattlesnake is that it's so close to Missoula. The main trailhead is on the edge of town, though from it the Wilderness boundary requires a long hard hike, or an even longer bike ride, so again the lion's share of the wilderness beyond the edge closest to Missoula sees few visitors.
McLeod from Mosquito Peak to the south.
McLeod Peak is at the very back of the designated Wilderness, bordering the Flathead Indian Reservation, as far from the main trailhead as you can get and requires a long bike/hike to bag. I opted to stretch the trip out and bike back in 10 miles (two hours ride from my doorstep) on a Saturday night, carrying my camping gear in my new Bob trailer, and then spend the night and bang out the rest of the trip the next day. Even so, the outing on Sunday was a long and hard 8+ hours, much of the hiking off trail. I got lost for a bit way back in, but eventually found my way, got to the summit, and was back home by five.
McLeod elevation profile Missoula-McLeod-Missoula. Brutal! Thanks for this Steve Sheriff.
This was my second attempt at the peak in as many weeks. I had been turned back on a trip from the west, Finley Creek drainage, having had not allotted myself enough time for an outing that I had underestimated. McLeod Peak is a challenge no matter which way you go at it, but well worth the effort. The presence of such testing grounds is why I love where I live.