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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

A Northern Bitterroot Pilgrimage: Ranger and Sky Pilot Peaks


Heading out.
The weather has been fabulous in the Missoula area over these past few weeks. Last weekend it reached a pinnacle, as my friend and work colleague Matt Roscoe and I did an exceptional 2+ day trip in the Bitterroot Wilderness. Matt set the itinerary: up Big Creek Friday night, summit Ranger Peak Saturday, spend Saturday night at Pearl Lake, and out Bear Canyon on Sunday with a summit of Sky Pilot Peak along the way. It was a strenuous affair, at roughly 30 miles and lots of up-and-down.  
Fall colors in Big Creek Canyon.
The fall colors were peaking, and the conversation as we walked the nine miles to Big Creek Lake was such that time flew, and I was amazed that we had logged nine miles once we got there. It's interesting that on that same day I had read an op-ed by David Brooks on friendship in which he argued that if he had hundreds of millions of dollars to give to charity, he'd use it to help the cultivation of friendships in society. Well then, in my view, a donation to Wilderness preservation would be well-spent, since I know it to be a place in which friendships are strengthened.
Matt and the bonfires set by the fellows who were clearing the log jam at the lake's outlet. Ranger Point and Peak behind.
When we arrived at Big Creek Lakes it was near dark and there were a couple of fellows clearing logs from the outlet dam. (Farmers in the Bitterroot Valley depend on mountain lake water in August to irrigate their crops, so many high Bitterroot lakes have dams.) These two guys had been moving logs and cutting them up for a couple of days and were finally burning it all in three big bonfires, two of which you can see in the picture above. After eating, we sat around one of the fires and talked with one of the guys, Stan, who is a small-scale cattle rancher down in the Bitterroot.
Evening light at Big Creek Lake with Ranger Point (left) and Ranger Peak (right) above.
In the morning, we took down camp, walked half a mile around the lake and began the long slog up to the Ranger Point/Ranger Peak ridge, which you can see in both of the previous two pictures. Our route took us to Ranger Point first and then along the connecting ridge to Ranger Peak.
The beginning stages of a long climb to Ranger Point and Peak.
Eyeing our route. On the left is Ranger Point and on the right is Ranger Peak.
Heading up the ridge to Ranger Point.
Headin up to Ranger Point

From Ranger Point looking at the Heavenly Twins and St. Mary Peak in the distance.
Close up: Heavenly Twins and St. Mary Peak
Ranger Peak from near the Ranger Point summit.
Looking south from Ranger Point. Sky Pilot is just to the right of Matt.
Matt at the Idaho Montana State line marker on Ranger Point.

Matt heading out along the ridge from Ranger Point to Ranger Peak
On the way, we came across a spot where lightning had struck.

Looking south from the summit.

Looking north from the summit. Matt is checking out the class 4 ridge to Old Stormy, which we didn't take.

Picking our way down to the amazing hanging valley below Ranger Peak.
From Ranger Peak's summit, we took a different route down, hitting the hanging valley below the peak, with two beautiful lakes and a swim in the upper one, which is in both the picture above and below. 
Tairn below Ranger Peak. Time for a swim.
Hanging valley above Big Creek Lake and below Ranger Peak.
Once back down to Big Creek Lake, it was time to put on our packs and climb again up to Packbox pass. I was satisfied and tired and felt tempted to hightail it back to the car after Ranger Peak, but the best of the trip was yet to come, so I'm glad Matt kept us moving on to Pearl Lake. Nonetheless, this second half of the day was challenging after five hours climbing Ranger, and we pulled into camp at Pearl Lake at twilight.
Matt boulder hopping at days end.
The final push off-trail to Pearl Lake, Ranger Point and Peak in the background.
Cresting the ridge above Pearl Lake, Sky Pilot Peak in the background.
Pearl Lake after a long day on the trail.
Pearl Lake.
The view down valley from Pearl Lake of the Heavenly Twins.
A close up: Heavenly Twins in twilight from Pearl Lake.
Pearl Lake has no maintained trail leading to it, so it's little-visited, and the view down canyon from the lake is spectacular (see the above pictures). And that night, with a new moon on the rise, the stars were as clear as I've seen. 

The next day, we continued hiking off-trail to Bear Pass, where we dropped our packs and made the quick trip up to Sky Pilot.
Heading up to Sky Pilot, South Fork Lake on the lower left.
Matt heading up out of the Pearl/South Fork Lakes basin.

Looking down at Bryan Lake and upper-Bear Canyon from Bear Pass. Castle Crag looms craggy in the distance.
Matt & alpine larch on the ridge to Sky Pilot.
Alpine larch colors and Castle Crag.
This was in a register roughly half-way between Bear Pass and Sky Pilot on one of the few prominent gendarmes.
Ranger Peak is straight above me, and Pearl Lake is just above and to the right of my head.
A close up of Ranger Point (left), Ranger Peak (right), and in the lower right is Pearl Lake, from Sky Pilot.
Yeow! On Sky Pilot's summit.
It was all downhill from Sky Pilot and we made the trip quickly. Maybe even a bit too quickly, since my left knee is still sore. Nonetheless, this was one of the best backpacking trips I've done: great weather, great country (peaks and lakes), and great company. 
It's all downhill from here.
Trips like this are a pilgrimage of sorts for me. I go in seeking a part of myself that's easily beaten down in the day-to-day. I'm happy to say that after this trip, that part of me is alive and well.
Bear Canyon strolling.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Some recent listening

I can't get enough of The Roots J Dilla tribute. It's a collection of hip hop style instrumental tunes.

I've also been loving Double Exposure by Kelley Stolz. It's a 90's-esque folk album that's solid all the way through.

And finally, the whole family has been listening to the electronica group Odesza. One of their albums with a title appropriate for today is Summer's Gone.


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

East St. Mary and Lowary Peaks, Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness


West St. Mary (left), East St. Mary, Lowary Peak (the triangle shaped peak in the back right).
The heart is a fickle beast. It loves what it loves, and the Missions are easy to love. They are beautiful and nearby for Missoulians. After last weekend's climb of Mount Calowahcan, I had to visit again. So I opted for the 'easy' Mission summit, which follows an extremely steep trail 5000 or so feet to the high country you see in these pictures (taken with a crappy cell phone since my camera battery died). It's awesome to get so high so quick...until you have to come back down the same brutally steep trail, but more on that later. 
West St. Mary from the summit of East St. Mary, Mission valley behind.
Getting to East St. Mary is a straightforward walk, and once there, you have great views in all directions. 
McDonald Peak, Lowary Peak (right), Swan Range (back).
To the North-Northeast sits McDonald Peak and the Swan Range. In the foreground of the above shot, you see Peak Y and Loward Peak (the pointed one). Since Lowary Peak is a pretty mellow trip from East St Mary, I bagged it as well.
Rattlesnake and Bitterroot (way back).
But before moving on, let's not forgot that to the south is the great (in my mind) Rattlesnake Wilderness; indeed, McCleod Peak looms large throughout this hike. It's the tallest one in the above picture.
Animal tracks.
Getting to Lowary from East St. Mary requires crossing a big snow field, where I saw these tracks from some kind of feline species. 

Looking southeast from Vacation Pass.
The Swans held up the sky in the east as I walked across Vacation Pass to Lowary.
East and West St. Mary from Lowary
Once there, East and West St. Mary and their connecting ridge were in full view. From East, I had walked down that ridge toward West until the near-vertical bit you see in the picture, where I thought I'd save it for a day when I had a partner with me. 
Sheeps Head (left) and McDonald Peak.
The views from Lowary may even be better than those from East St. Mary. 
Another of McDonald with the Swan and Glacier Park too far for the phone camera to pick up.
Gray Wolf Lake and Peak, definitely near the top of my to-climb list.
Rattlesnake and East St. Mary with the Bitterroots way in the back.
Another of Sheep's Head and McDonald.
On the way down, Lowary and Peak Y (out the near flat ridge left).
There are awesome views of Gray Wolf on the ridge walk heading down (and up). Can't wait to climb this beautiful beast.
A decent shot of Gray Wolf for a crappy phone.
another
A few flowers hanging on, McCleod Peak looming large.
And finally, the knee punishing drop to the car. As with child birth, so I'm told, you quickly forget how painful it was last time. Two west-side-of-the-Missions climbs on consecutive weekends -- What was I thinking? -- the heart is a fickle beast indeed.
And finally, on the way home: St Mary Peaks.