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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Two Late-Season Outings: Big Hole Lookout and the Rattlesnake Wilderness Boundary

Big Hole Lookout: Jen lounging, Ellie in the shade, and Baldy Mountain in the distance.
One of the most beautiful days of the entire year was Saturday October 17. It was a bluebird day and was warm, but the sun's direct rays were soft. There are only a handful of such days in a year, and it was a gift to have one on a weekend. Even more of a gift was that Ellie woke up wanting to do something with Jen and I, so we cancelled our plans to do a long mountain bike ride and instead went with Ellie down to the Plains, Montana area for a hike. Last year at about this time we went to the same area and climbed Baldy Mountain on a similarly spectacular fall day. There are a number of great family friendly hikes near Plains and Thompson Falls. There's also a good ice cream parlor in Plains, and Quinn's Hot Springs nearby for a soak on the way home, making for a full and pleasurable day. 

This year we opted to hike to Big Hole Lookout, which I learned about because Big Hole Peak (about 1/8th of a mile from the lookout) is one of Montana's 143 peaks with 2000 or more feet of prominence. It's a bit of a drive to the trail head, but on a beautiful day, who cares? I highly recommend the hike for families. It's probably about 3 miles to the lookout with not much elevation gain for a summit hike; you gain most of the elevation on the drive to the trail head.       
A closer shot of Ellie and Big Hole Lookout.
Pudge looking off toward Big Hold Lookout from Big Hole Peak.
The next day, with the weekend winding down, Jen and I decided at the last minute to ride up the Stuart Peak Trail to the Rattlesnake Wilderness boundary. This is a ride neither or us had done, so it felt good to get it in before the snow flies. It was a great ride, and we got back to the trail head just as the last cars were leaving and dark was descending, for a very full weekend indeed.
Jen on the near endless climb to the Rattlesnake Wilderness Boundary on the Stuart Peak Trail.
Jen showing good cornering technique with Missoula Valley in the background.

Finally made it.
Missoula Valley at dusk on the descent.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

South Heavenly Twin: Bitterroot Mountains

From the summit of South Heavenly Twin: the Big Creek drainage with Big Creek Lake in the shadows, Ranger Peak in the upper-right, and Sky Pilot on the left.
During the long spell or gorgeous weather over the past couple of weeks, I took a day and climbed South Heavenly Twin, which is just west of St. Mary Peak in the Bitterroot. This was a summit that had been high on my list of peaks to climb this year, but I'd always found a reason to do something different when an opportunity arose. I admit that I was a bit intimidated by it, as it looks difficult from a distance; see the next picture, taken from Glen Lake Peak last spring of the Heavenly Twin/St Mary ridge. 
The Heavenly Twins are the craggy twin summits on the left, with South Twin the one further to the right. St. Mary Peak is on the right.
I was surprised to find the climb straightforward, however, with nothing more than class 2+ near the summit, though you have to traverse around to the west face to keep things non-technical. Actually, this was a really nice, challenging fall hike. The most difficult part is the bushwhacking once you leave the Big Creek Trail at 4800 feet, heading north up a drainage that leads you to the southern flank of South Heavenly Twin. And also navigating a couple of the small waterfalls along this drainage, which were still only barely class 3 at worst. For my GPS route, see here.  
Looking south from South Heavenly Twin.
Looking north. North Heavenly Twin is in the foreground. Bass Peak, Stormy Joe, and St. Joseph's are in the distance.
Looking up the drainage toward South Heavenly in the morning light.

Looking down the same drainage a little bit later.
The southern flank of South Heavenly. My route took me up to the saddle just down from the summit cliffs. 
The same saddle a bit closer. 
Larch on the way out. For views from the summit. Look above.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Traversing the Rattlesnake

Kevin and Charlie walking the ridge from Mosquito Peak to Stuart Peak, in the distance.
It doesn't seem long ago that I was a poor and lowly graduate student. From 1996 to 2002 - with the exception of one lost year after my dad passed away - I spent my work days studying and teaching mathematics in Bozeman and Eugene, Oregon. Those were great years: we were poor, but enjoyed rich friendship and experiences. And to this day, some of my strongest friendships remain those that I forged while in graduate school, even if I don't see some of those guys very often.

Now that I'm settled, new friendships are rare, and even when they do form, they build more slowly and seem to be less intense. I'm not sure what the difference is. Perhaps it's that I have so much more responsibility and am more scattered, or that I no longer go through truly challenging experiences with a group of others. Whatever the case, life is different, and special, for the graduate student. 

This past weekend, I walked across the Rattlesnake Wilderness with my PhD student Kevin Joyce and his good friend and fellow UM Math PhD student Charlie Katerba. It was clear to me, after observing them through the day, that their's is a unique friendship of the type I described above. It's neat to see. 

The walk we did is one that I did with Matt Roscoe and Eric Leithe back in 2007 (see my description here). You start at the Finley Lakes trail head, which is relatively unknown and can be gotten to by turning east onto McClure Road south of Arlee, and then turning right about 3/4 mile later and driving to the end of the road. You follow trail (sometimes faint) to Upper Finley Lake and then angle southeast to the Rattlesnake Wilderness Divide. At this point you can see the gorgeous Sanders Lake, which is where you will meet the trail that takes you all the way to the Rattlesnake Trail Head. Along the way, we made slight detours to bag Mosquito and Stuart Peaks. The day was long, at 20 miles, but mostly on trail. In my view, this is one of the best outings around.  You can download my partial GPS here.    
Upper Finley Lake

Heading up to the Rattlesnake Divide. Upper Finley Lake is just visible below.
The view of Sanders Lake from the divide, 9am.
Heading down to Sanders Lake.
Some neat rock along the way.
Past Sanders Lake on our way to Mosquito Peak on the horizon.
Gaining Mosquito.
On the summit of Mosquito. McLeod Peak looms behind Charlie.
Another -- these guys are good friends. It brought back the strong friendships that I forged in grad school.
Walking the ridge south of Mosquito, with the Missoula Valley in the distance.

Some remote Rattlesnake lakes. At this point my camera batteries died.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Mill Creek Trail with Jen

Jen riding up Mormon Peak Road.
Last Friday after work, Jen and I drove over to Lolo to ride Mill Creek Trail, which begins about a mile up the trail to Lolo Peak. To get there, turn right onto Highway 12 in Lolo and a few miles later, look for the Mormon Creek Road sign on your left. This is the road that takes you to the Lolo Peak Trail Head. You can park here, but we drove a few miles further up on Highway 12, and turned left onto Mill Creek Road, which is where the Mill Creek Trail Head is. Regardless of where you park, you've got to climb Mormon Creek Road for 8 miles to the Lolo Peak Trail Head. It's a long slog up the road, but you'll be glad you did it. Continue on the Lolo Peak trail for about a mile, looking for the sign indicating Mill Creek Trail on your right. If you give yourself enough time (we didn't), you can keep going another 4 miles up Lolo Peak Trail to Carlton Ridge to extend your climb and descent. We rode up about another 3/4 mile before riding back to the Mill Creek Trail junction. The descent down Mill Creek is great, with some more technical spots than typical Missoula riding. And even more, it's just nice to get out and ride something different; I had never ridden Mill Creek Trail prior to this ride. Here's Mountain Bike Missoula's map of the ride.
The larches in full color on Carlton Ridge from Mormon Peak Road.

On Mill Creek trail
Mill Creek trail.

Nearing the car.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Kakashe and Flattop: Mission Mountains

A few Mission giants, looking north from Flattop: Calowahcan (back), Sheep's Head, and McDonald. 
I was just talking to a friend recently about how this has been one of the nicest fall seasons, in terms of weather, in recent memory. He made the point that he didn't think it had frozen in the Missoula Valley yet, which is unheard of this time of year. The weather has, indeed, been fantastic, and the high country remains open (though I did see snow on Lolo Peak this morning), which is also quite unusual this time of year. And so my mind still wanders to the big peaks on my list that require (at least for me) dry conditions and that I had hoped to climb this year. I must admit that there's a part of me that is looking forward to winter and a hunkering down. I can feel that it's near. Perhaps I'll get in one more challenging one though...

A week or two ago, I climbed Kakashe and Flattop in the Missions. As you come over the pass into St. Ignatius and see the always stunning view of the western front of the Missions, Flattop is the obvious flat topped summit just ahead, and Kakashe is the next peak south along the ridge. To climb them, you go to Mission Reservoir and continue on beyond to the Mission Falls trailhead, or just before it. The goal is to gain the ridge just to the north, which you then follow to the summit. There's a good trail there, but it's the most slowly switch backing trail I've ever seen, so I didn't stay on it long. Once to the top of the ridge, you have to traverse east to the south face of Kakashe, where there is, perhaps, some class 3 climbing, but nothing too difficult. The walk over to Flattop from Kakashe is straightforward, and since it's the higher of the two, you've got to do it if you've reached Kakashe. For my GPS route, click here.

On the map, this looks like it might be a relatively straightforward climb, and it is in terms of the route, but it's a real butt kicker. Jen said I looked green when I got home, but I was just totally spent having had banged it out 'quick'.

On the way up, looking at the final traverse and climb up to Kakashe.

The Garden Wall from Kakashe.

Western views from Kakashe.

South from Kakashe: Sonielem Ridge Highpoint and East and West St. Marrys. 

Flattop and McDonald from Kakashe.
Looking back at Kakashe on the way to Flattop.

Sheep's Head and McDonald from Tlattop.

Sheep's Head and Calowahcan in the back.

On the way down, a view of Mountaineer Peak.

Sonielem Highpoint again, calling to me.

Looking back at, from left to right, Flattop, Kakashe, the Garden Wall, and Sonielem Highpoint. 

Flattop and Kakashe from the Mission Valley.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Warm Springs Ridge: A Great Bitterroot Valley Mountain Bike Ride

Jen climbing up to the ridge. You can see the trailhead below, where the white camper is parked.
On October 3, Jen and I finally made it over to the far southern end of the Bitterroot Valley to ride Warm Springs Ridge. We did it as a big loop, beginning near Lost Trail Hot Springs at Indian Trees Campground, climbing 7-8 miles on a Forest Service Road to Porcupine Saddle Trail Head, getting on the Warm Springs Ridge Trail and riding it all the way south back to Highway 93, and then back 7 miles on 93 to the car. All in all, it was a 30 mile loop with 5000 feet of gain, but since most of the climbing is gradual and the descending relatively non-technical (similar to the standard Rattlesnake rides), it's a less strenuous ride than Sheep Mountain or Curly Lakes. We had a ball, and I highly recommend the ride. The only change I'd make is to start and finish at the Sula store.

Climbing up the road from Indian Trees Campground.

After 7 or so miles, the sign to Porcupine Saddle. The mountain on the left is Lost Trail.

The beginning of single track at Porcupine Saddle.

Early climbing.

Open fields on Warm Springs Ridge. Boulder Peak in the distance (left).

A close-up of Boulder Peak.

Warm Springs Ridge Trail.

I got a side wall cut and learned that a 10 dollar bill is not strong enought, but a Hammer Gel packet is.

Fixing a flat.

More ridge riding further on. Trapper Peak comes into view and the Bitterroot Valley looking north.

Jen descending late in the ride.