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Monday, August 31, 2015

Pintler Backpacking and Peakbagging: Phyllis & Johnson Lakes, East Pintler and MacLaughlin Peaks

On the ridge to West Pintler.
Jen on West Pintler.

On the weekend of August 22, I went on a backpacking adventure with Jen, Ellie, and Ellie's boyfriend Danny McKay. The smoke was oppressive in Missoula, and I worried that the Pintler's proximity to the Bitterroot would make it oppressively smokey as well, but it turned out to be just fine, and a fantastic backpacking outing. It was my first time accessing the Pintler via the Moose Lake road, which is low clearance vehicle accessible. Our loop started and ended at the end of the Moose Lake Road. This trail head gets a lot of use, as Johnson Lake is a very popular Pintler destination. On the first day, we hiked six miles up to beautiful Phyllis Lake on trail #28, then Jen and I bagged West Pintler Peak, and we spent a nice evening chatting with the kids around the fire. For a detailed description of the West Pintler Peak climb, see this summit post site. On day 2, we hiked 2-3 miles over to the truly spectacular Johnson Lake, and I bagged MacLaughlin in the afternoon. This is an easy and unimposing summit, but the views from the top are outstanding: Warren Peak is huge to the north, West Goat dominates to the East, and impressive Peak 9805 to the south. The swimming and lounging at Johnson Lake kept the trip spirits high. On day 3, we hiked six miles out to the cars. This is a great short loop. The hearty peakbagger might do it in a day, summiting West and East Pinter, Peak 9805, MacLaughlin, and maybe even Warren, along the way. 
Upper Phyllis Lake

Jen pointing at West Pintler Peak

Me on West Pintler with the Phyllis Lakes below.
The Phyllis Lakes
Swimming at Johnson
Lounging at Johnson. McGlaughlin Peak above.
Again.
Ellie and Danny at Johnson Lake on the hike out.
McGlaughlin Peak above my head.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Fisher Peak to Ptarmigan Benchmark Ridge Walk: Swan Range

Fisher Peak and its north ridge. This is why I love this stuff!
Fisher Peak from FS Raod 4353 on the way out.

A definite highlight of my climbing year this year is in an outing that I did a couple of weeks back in the Swan, first bagging Fisher Peak, then walking the ridge line to Ptarmigan Benchmark, and finally, returning via a slightly alternate route, but up and over Fisher again. It was a big day at 10 hours of near-constant walking at a good clip, and at times the climbing was challenging, but not enough to give me a scare.

I've fallen in love with the Swan this past year. They're very challenging but are also inviting. In my opinion they are slightly more accessible than the daunting Missions across the Seeley-Swan Valley. And they also are rarely visited. For example, neither Fisher nor Ptarmigan had a summit cairn, which I think is fantastic! 

I started from the first switch back coming south on FS Road 4353, which I had thought was the beginning of the Sunday Mountain trail (further up the road). The bushwack to the western slopes of the Swan ridge was straightforward, gaining the ridge below the south ridge of Fisher required some class 3 climbing, and I was up on Fisher, after some class 3 moves on the southeast face, within 2.5 hours (and 2.5 miles according to my GPS). The ridge walk to Ptarmigan Benchmark is fun but challenging. I took care with route finding coming down the north ridge of Fisher, which some say is class 4, though I never felt out of my comfort zone, and then there were several class 3+ spots on the way to Ptarmigan, which I reached in another 2+ hours. I should also have done Peak 8894 on my way back. What was I thinking? It was hot and I was tired. My GPS route can be seen here.
The south ridge of Fisher. I ascended the gully to the right of the ridge.
The view north to Ptarmigan, in the center back, from the summit of Fisher.
The view south from Fisher.
Another view north from Fisher along the ridge, where the going gets steep!

Along the north ridge of Fisher, a view of George Lake.
Fisher and Fire Weed.
A portion of the knife edge between Fisher and Ptarmigan (in the distance).

Another wild flower shot below Ptarmigan
Ptarmigan Benchmark.
Looking north from Ptarmigan to Holland Peak in the distance.
Looking south back at Fisher.

A great shot of Fisher.
Heading back from the base of 8894 to the ridge.
Selfie on the ridge before climbing the north ridge of Fisher.
A shot looking south on the climb up Fisher's north ridge.
Fisher's summit again on the way home.

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Montana Vacation: Fairmont, Virginia City, the Tobacco Roots & Pintlers, and Haystack Mountain

The view east from our Fairmont condo.
It's easy to take the beauty of a place for granted and begin thinking of it as ordinary. Fairmont Hot Springs is such a place for me. I've been going there during summers since I was about 12 years old, when my grandfather bought a one week time share there, and we began going every summer. My mother inherited that time share when my grandpa died back in 2006 and since then we've gone many times. Every time I go, I'm struck by how beautiful and quiet it is. This year, we spent most of a week there, at the end of July, and had a very enjoyable time. We rested and watched old 90's-era romantic comedy classics, but also got out for several outings: a tour of underground Butte, hiking to Lost Cabin Lake in the Tobacco Roots,  a trip to Virginia City and to the Opera House to watch the Virginia City Players (which was great), a hike to the summit of Haystack Mountain just north of Butte, and a solo day trip for me to one of my favorite spots in the world: the Goat Flat region of the Pintlers and a summit tour of Kurt, Queener, and Rainbow Mountains. We ended the trip with a visit to Jen's grandparents in Helena. In hindsight, it's looking to be easily one of the best weeks of the summer.
Ellie at Lost Cabin Lake

Pudge posing
Jen doing the obligatory wahoo!

Throwing sticks for Pudge.

Virginia City shopping.
Virginia City old time photo prep

The old time photo.
Jen next to the church her grandpa went to growing up in Laurin, Montana near Virginia City.
We showed Ellie the spot where I proposed to Jen, just below the M overlooking Butte, back in 1995.

On the way up to Haystack Mountain
On the summit with Ellie. Note the old lookout steps.
Ellie with Elk Park below.
On Rainbow Mountain, the third peak on my tour of the Goat Flat area peaks: Kurt, Queener, and Rainbow. I love the Pintlers.

Jen's 88 year old grandfather in Helena. The same one who went to the church above as a boy.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Sheep Mountain: Missoula's Best Mountain Bike Ride

Jen riding toward Sheep Mountain (top) and on Sheep Mountain (bottom). The top shot was taken from the ridge on the upper-right in the second picture.
Since the Missoula XC mountain bike race, both Jen and I have been away from serious riding. I literally set my bike aside for the remainder of June and all of July, focusing my recreation on peakbagging and backpacking, while Jen coached multiple mountain biking camps and evening rides with kids. This is not typical, since for the past couple of years, training for the Butte 50 has consumed (for at least one of us) the month of July. The downside is that while many Missoula riders are currently at top fitness, we are not, and we've hardly ridden together so far this year. The upside is that we're not burned out and are both hungry to ride together. My goal for August is to do a few of the epic rides that Montana has to offer with Jen. One of those is Sheep Mountain here in Missoula. In my opinion Sheep Mountain is the best ride in Missoula and one of the best rides in the state. Why is this? For one, though you start from town, you really get into the wilderness, making it feel like an adventure. We took the standard route: climb to Blue Point (took us 2.5 hours), continue on to Sheep Mountain (another hour) and then, after relaxing on the summit for a little while, continue on, descending down the East Fork of Rattlesnake Creek. On the descent there is a spot or two where you could take a wrong turn, but it's basically a pretty straightforward route. As for physical challenge, it abounds: the downhill is challenging and physical, there's 5500 feet of climbing, and the ride is 30 miles and took us 6 hours at a leisurely pace. Taken all together, it makes for one of the best and most challenging rides around.  Oh, and we saw two bears, each in a different place, for some of the best wildlife viewing of the year. 
Summit of Sheep Mountain.
Old Friends.
Sheep Summit shot.