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Today’s Montana lesson: Humility

August 18, 2010

So, after a few easy hikes (Trapper Peak, Mt. Sentinel), I decided to try something a bit more difficult:  Lolo Peak.  Lolo is a peak southwest of Missoula that, actually, isn’t visible from Missoula (as it’s generally hidden by a lower, northern neighbor, Carlton Peak).  Confusing the issue, Lolo has two peaks, with the northern peak being commonly called Lolo Peak, while the slightly higher southern peak (officially called Lolo), is somewhat ignored. And to really confuse things, all three peaks can be called Lolo, depending on who you ask.

Lolo Peak (no matter which one you’re referring to) can be accessed from two trailheads.  The most common is off the Mormon Peak road, and boasts a 5 mile, 3700 feet elevation gain.  A very rarely used route – which, being the masochist I am, I chose – starts 4 miles and 2000 feet lower.  THere are no trails to the summits, so the last 1,000 feet of elevation is pure scramble.

Ultimately,I got turned back trying to find a good route to the top, maybe 500 feet from the top.  18 miles and about 5500 feet of gain and loss – not a bad day.

The lower trailhead is in a nifty neighborhood west of Lolo.  As I pull up to the trailhead, I see the wildest creature I would see all day… unfortunately, it was just a hyperactive, disobedient corgi.   I talk to one of the homeowners at the trailhead for a bit then head on up the logging road that starts the hike

The trail is actually a bit hard to follow – not because the trail is faint, but because the logging roads are all over the place.  Basically, if you follow the logging roads uphill, you will, eventually, see a trail off to your right (west) which turns into the trail you want.  I didn’t realize this at first and walked about 3/4 mile up one of the logging roads until I started countouring back to the north, which felt wrong.

THe lower four miles of trail up to the higher trailhead are fairly rough.  The grade is fairly steep, but the footing reminded me of trails backin southwest Missouri – rocky, root, unstable footing, looking more like a streambed than a forest service trail.

There is also one interesting pint on the trail where discretion is advised…a great vista about 3/4 to the top has a nice view of Carlton Peak… but, the cliff is rather separating from the rest of the ridge, and it’s probably not a place to go jump up and down.

The trail is tough, but also great.  A fire in the fairly recent past thinned out most of the undergrowth, so one is able to see more of the surrounding countryside; plus, since the canopy isn’t thick, there is a lot of beautiful green undergrowth that provides an almost fantasy setting to distract you from your straining calves.

Once you connect to the trail off of Mormon Peak road, the trail becomes downright easy.  Yes, it still climbs 2,000 feet in 3 miles, but it is smooth, mostly covered with pine and larch needles, devoid of rocks and roots, and just generally a hiker’s dream.  The trail climbs to a pass to the east of Carlton Peak, where you’re rewarded with a nice view of Carlton Lake nestled underneath Carlton Peak and the northern Lolo Peak.

The trail then descends to a jeep trail, and follows that trail to Carlton Lake.  Looking at topo maps (yes, 1:24,000 is my friend), it appears the easiest way to climb the Lolos is to scramble up Carlton and then over; the loose scree and downed timber to the south thwarted me just enough to tire me out and rethink my water condition. Rather than push on blindly, I decided to leave this peak for another day (where I will start at Mormon Peak Road and bag all three peaks for good measure).

So I walk away a bit defeated, but enjoyed the upper part of the hike. The lower part was somewhat unenjoyable for an unusual reason:  it gets very, very little use so I was hitting spiderwebs on the trail every other step.  Thus, midway up the climb I had to – literally – pull the cobwebs out of my ears.

One Comment leave one →
  1. John permalink
    July 21, 2011 10:25 pm

    Nice review of the hike. I hiked up to the Vista from the official 1311 trail head. Beautiful! 🙂

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