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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Boulder Peaks with Kevin Joyce: Bitterroot Mountains

Looking north from the summit of Boulder Peak with Kevin Joyce.
Last weekend, I got out and climbed a mountain with Kevin Joyce, who has been my PhD student for the past few years and who has also become a friend. Kevin will be wrapping up his studies next May and is wondering where he'll be in a year. For now, he's soaking up Missoula and the surroundings. He's great guy to climb mountains with, because he's fit, he's at ease on rugged terrain, and he's great company.

We took a beautiful day (it's been stunning weather lately) and went down to the southern Bitterroots to climb Boulder Peak and East Boulder Peak. The Boulder Peak ridge sits just south of Trapper Peak, across the Boulder Creek drainage. The hike begins on the steep trail to Boulder Point Lookout, and then goes off trail, west along the ridge, first to East Boulder Peak then on to Boulder Peak. You return to your car by reversing the route. It took Kevin and I 8.5 hours to do it with several leisurely stops along the way. On the way home we had food and beer at Bitterroot Brewing in Hamilton, for an all around fantastic day.

A detailed description of how to get to the trail head and up to the peaks can be found here

Trapper Peak and Kevin from Boulder Point lookout.
The larch were in full fall colors.
Me nearing the East Boulder summit with Boulder Peak beyond and the ridge swinging down to the left.
On the ridge out to Boulder Peak from East Boulder.
Another along the ridge.
Gaining the Boulder Peak summit slopes
Another on the summit slopes of Boulder Peak
Looking west from the summit of Boulder Peak
East Boulder Peak from the summit of Boulder Peak.
The mighty Bitterroots from Boulder Peak, looking north.
Boots and summit cairn.
Yours truly.
The ridge from Boulder back to East Boulder.
Along the walk back to East Boulder. 
Almost back to the trail: Boulder Point Lookout.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Curly Lakes Trail, Tobacco Roots: One of Montana's Best Mountain Bike Rides

Jen at the saddle above Curly Lakes
One of my goals for summer was to do some big mountain bike rides in the high country with Jen. This was going to happen during August, and we started out good with our annual Sheep Mountain ride, but then during the following week my mountain bike frame broke, and our plans went haywire. However, as luck would have it, last weekend, Ellie raced cross country in Bozeman and Alex had just moved into town, so we decided to head over to see them both on Saturday and then rent a bike for me, camp in the Tobacco Roots Saturday night, and do the ride on Sunday. We got an early-ish start at 9:30am, and it took us six hours. The ride doesn't disappoint: fun climbs and really challenging descending. In fact, one thing to be ready for on this ride is technical descending - nothing like the smooth stuff we've got in Missoula - and a total body workout. An enduro bike would actually be ideal on this ride. Anyway, it was a fun adventure with Jen. My dream would be to get in one more high country ride before the snow flies, but we'll see.  

A GPS route of the ride can be found here.

Curly Lakes (not Curly Creek!) Trailhead.
Resting at the junction of Curly Creek and Curly Lakes trails.
Cresting the rise to the saddle above Curly Lakes.
Looking west from the saddle into the Jefferson River Valley.
Looking east to the saddle at the Hollowtop Mountain (at Jen's head) ridge. Would love to trek this.
Continuing up.
Nearing the top.

Highcountry scenery.
That's me bagging the 10,000+ summit near the highpoint of the trail.

Jen at the top.
Beginning the technical descent.
Nearing the end on the last descent. Great day!!

Thursday, September 17, 2015

East and West Saint Marys Peaks: Mission Mountains

My shadow as I look toward West Saint Marys from the north ridge of East Saint Marys
 Anyone who has spent much time in the Mission Mountains knows that they're special. First off, they are spectacularly beautiful. Second, and equally important, they are less-visited than other equally beautiful places. This is due, in part, to the fact that access into the range is difficult: there are few well-maintained trails. Access from the west side is particularly challenging, with primitive trails that are rarely maintained and huge elevation gains to get up to the high peaks. One of the best maintained trails from the west side is the trail to East Saint Marys Peak (ESM), making ESM perhaps the Missions most accessible major peak.  On the other hand, the hike to ESM starts low and gains over 5000 feet without a switchback; my quads were soar from the descent for days afterwards. 

Last year, around this time, I climbed ESM and on the way down saw Nathan Noble who was heading up to climb WSM on his way to climbing all of the named peaks in the range. Nathan is a student at UM who plays music, studies, and has a deep passion for the Mission Mountains. Since our meeting last year, the thought of coming back to climb WSM has been in the back of my mind. After many class 3 climbs this summer, I figured I could pull it off. And I was right: the ridge between ESM and WSM goes at what seems to me to be class 3, though in spots there's plenty of exposure. The crux is at the low point on the ridge, where I down climbed a 50 feet, or so, off the ridge to the west to keep things class 3.

It was great day of weather for another enchanted outing in the Mission Mountains.
ESM and WSM on the way up.
A few giants of the range from ESM: WSM, Kakashe, Flattop, Sonielem, Sheep's Head (just behind), and McDonald.
Another panorama looking a bit more east than the last photo: Sonielem, McDonald, Iceflow, Peak Y, Mountaineer, and Lowary.
Gray Wolf in the smokey haze from ESM.
Sonielem Ridge from the notch between ESM and WSM.
The ridge to WSM from near the notch.
The fantastic view of ESM from WSM. My route followed the ridge, or just to the right (west) of the ridge.
Flattop, Sheep's Head, McDonald, and Sonielem (foreground).
The strange smoke effect looking west.
Selfie with ESM
Fellow ridge walker. What kind of tracks are these?
Selfie with WSM.
Two beauties: ESM & Gray Wolf.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Glacier Classic 2015, Part 2: Heavens Peak

Relaxing on the summit. Bryan Kercher photo.
Richard Smith at the beginning of the summit ridge. Photo by Joshua Phillips.
Humans are social animals. Mountain climbers, in contrast, tend to be loaners, but we're all still human, so it's great to get together, enjoy each others company, and climb a mountain. On the second day of the Glacier Classic, there were 20+ people waking up at Apgar, raring to go on a hike or climb. One of the harder hikes/climbs was lead by Forest Dean, of Heavens Peak. If you've ever hiked the Highline Trail from Logan Pass, Heavens totally dominates the views west. It's a gorgeous mountain that I wanted to climb after staring at it for three days on the trip to Granite Park with Jen and the kids in July. So I was excited when it was offered as a Glacier Classic climb. 

The climb is off-trail the entire way. About 7.5 miles beyond Lake McDonald Lodge, there's a pull-out where a prominent drainage enters McDonald Creek from the west, and Heaven's Peak sits massively above. The route is relatively straightforward as far as route finding: hike up the drainage to the basin below the summit cliffs, then look to your right (north) for a gully that reaches the summit ridge, gain the ridge, and follow it to the summit. The last 1/4-1/2 mile is an amazing walk on a giant slab. It steepens near the summit, which is the one potentially sketchy spot on the route. In early season, you'd need an ice axe and crampons.  

It was a great day with good folks on one of the most amazing mountains I've ever been on - what a pleasure! After 10 hours of challenging hiking, we reached the cars and drove back to Apgar for burritos as a group.  
Climbing up. You can see the Going to the Sun Road below.
One of the class 3 sections up along the creek.

Heading up to the class 3 gully to gain the summit ridge.

Looking down from the gully, with the sweeping summit ridge of Heavens.
Joshua Phillips and George in the distance.
Resting on the slabs just after gaining the ridge from the gully.

Higher up: Forest Dean, the trip leader.
Forest and Joshua.
Love this shot. Bryan Kercher photo.

Forest on the summit slabs.

A closeup of Forest at the same spot.
Joshua (left) and George on the summit slabs.
Summit slabs near the summit. The pitch steepens.
George and Forest gaining the summit.
Forest on the summit.
Group summit shot. Bryan Kercher photo.
The first bit getting back on the slabs was sketchy.
A shot of me by Joshua Phillips.
Bryan Kercher and the sweeping slabs to Heavens Peak.
Rest stop on the descent.
Sperry Glacier and Gunsight Mountain barely visible in the smoke.
At the end of a long day.