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Switchbacks are for wusses

August 16, 2010

Ah, back in MOntana!

The first trip for this foray into my soon-new-home-state is to Trapper Peak, in the southern reaches of the Bitterroot Mountains.  The Bitterroots form a large section of the Montana/Idaho border south of Missoula to near the state line where US 93 crosses into Idaho in the south.  Trapper Peak, at 10,157 feet in elevation, is the highest point in the Bitterroots.  I have a great picture of it from the valley from an earlier trip I will add later.

One thing that makes Montana’s mountains a bit more spectacular than many other states is the exposure that they have, which is the total vertical distance from the top to the lowest connecting saddle.  Thus, with a prominence of 3,500 feet (and an extended prominence to the valley floor of almost 7,000 feet), Trapper Peak has a greater rise than all but eight of Colorado’s 14,000 foot peaks.

The drive up to the trailhead would have given my mom a conniption, but my jeep was happy to be in the mountains.  Six miles and 3000 feet of elevation gain later on a single lane, two way dirt road and I was at the trailhead!

The hike up is a bit different; the trail builders decided to eschew any semblance of switchbacks and simply have long, straight lines cutting through pine groves.  Previous to today, the only real non-switchback trails I had ever seen were in the hill country in Bandera (not a huge deal), but the 3500 feet in four miles with no switchbacks was a bit challenging.

The first half of the hike is boring and exhausting, merely plodding straight uphill on a trail that resembles a streambed from runoff through smaller and smaller pine and juniper.  Eventually the everrgreens start thinning out, rewarding the hiker with a daunting view up towards the summit, and an outstanding view of the surrounding mountains.

Three and a half miles later gets you to the good stuff; climbing to the saddle between the eastern knob on Trapper’s long East ridge and Trapper’s main peak, you’re rewarded first with a view of the nifty snow field that clings impractically to the north side of ridge:

And, more impressively, North Trapper Peak, which is separated from the main crest by a thousand foot cleft, making for a jagged tooth rising precipitously from the valley below.  North Trapper Peak, though, is an insanely technical climb, so it will wait for another day.

Climbing the middle of the ridge above the snow, I’m able to get a good view of Trapper’s eastern summit – if you look closely, on the summit you can see a nice couple from Darby whom I ran into later.

The true summit is a quarter mile or so east; I climb and hop over a lot of loose talus (which I’m suprisingly good at).  From the summit, views in all directions are astounding.  TO the south, the mass of El Capitan looms:

To the northwest, the peak drops off precipitously to a barely visible glacier below.

OK, it’s not much of a glacier anymore, here’s a view straight down:

North Trapper Peak is definitely lower, but is still impressively iposing from this angle:

And the world’s worst summit pic:

The trip back down was uneventful, but did get one pic to show the severity of the road; guard rails are for timid!

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