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Pikas: Good. Insect swarm: Bad.

August 19, 2010

Today’s hike took me west and slightly north of Missoula, to the… well, that’s a good question.  The mountain range I visited today, especially the specific peak, is in a kind of no-man’s land.  It’s not part of the Cour D’Alene mountains to the west, or the Missions to the East, the Salish to the north, or the Bitterroots to the south.  Some have referred to this range as the Ninemile range, after the Ranger district headquarters nearby, and I’ve seen it referred to as the “reservation divide”, as the highline separates the ranger district from the Flathead Indian Reservation.  Regardless, today’s peak has an interesting history, and an almost Welsh looking name:  Cpaaqn.

For many years, the peak was known as “Squaw Peak”, but as ‘squaw’ is a derugatory term for most tribes, the name was ultimately changed back to an anglicanized version.  Cpaaqn is the Salish Indian name, and it was changed slightly to Ch-paa-qn (Chuh-pock-quinn) Peak.  Many Missoulians still use Squaw Peak, just as many Alaskans use McKinley instead of Denali and Australians use Ayers Rock instead of Uluru.

A rose by any other name, as they say.

Ch-paa-qn is a very distinct peak west of Missoula, easily identified by its matterhornish/volcanic profile; here’s a view of the peak from 30 or so miles south; the peak is two-thirds of the way across the skyline:

The peak is incredibly easy to reach, and the round-trip took me less than three hours for the route described.  If you’re interested in the trip, be sure to stop in at the Ninemile Ranger station – several really nice folks, including one park ranger who’s also a trail runner and showed me a lot of other loops/routes to consider in the future.

I took the Edith Peak Road trailhead, making for a short 3.5 mile (one-way) trip to the top, 3 miles by trail. There was even bear scat at the trailhead, woohoo!

From the trailhead, the trail follows a long, evergreen-choked ridge.  It is easy to follow and climbs very little over as it heads three miles west  to the southern slopes of Ch-paa-qn.

Deciding where to leave the trail is a bit tough, as the forest is very thick until you get almost south of the peak.  Currently, you’ll pass two wooden bridges, go about a quarter mile and climb over a fallen tree; from this point, you can bushwhack north and slightly west to attain the southeast ridge; AI kept going until I could clearly see talus fields and a point close to the top of the mountain before leaving the trail.

Once you start climbing, you can finally start getting a look around.  Here’s a view only a few hundred feet up the slopes; you can see the long dirt road I drove up in the foreground, Missoula about 20 miles distant, and the northern peaks of the Bitterroot range on the right horizon.

The route is a total scramble from this point.  The mountain is mostly broken talus, which is easy but a bit dangerous to climb on, as you can have rocks the size of mattresses shift as you climb on them; the trick is to keep your knees somewhat bent, think three or four moves ahead and never have all your weight on whatever foot you’re placing next.  It’s also much easier to go up than go down, and if there is lichen and moss on the rocks (like here), you have to be extra careful if they get wet.  The good thing about Talus?  Pikas!  Easily the cutest part of any mountaineering expedition, these tiny rodents have a distinctive “squee!” call, and live in between gaps in talus slopes. I saw quite a few, though none decided to stick around and be truly photogenic today.

My favorite mountain range, the Missions, rise spectacularly to the east. McDonald Peak still has snow on it. The grassy hills in the middle are the southern reaches of the National Bison Reserve.

Approaching the top, I’m a bit surprised to see that what I thought were raptos circling above were actually crows, which is curious – crows are more associated with carrion than with riding thermals near mountains.

So why crows?  I soon found out.  Hundreds, possibly thousands, of half inch flying insects were infesting the top of the mountain.  What should have been a nice half hour leisurely looking at mountains from all angles instead turned into a few hurriedly snapped shots.

The summit cairn:

The Swans and the Mission Range to the Northeast:

The Salish mountains to the north:

The requisite summit shot (actually about 20 foot down from the summit to avoid the swarm):

And finally, one shot where a few of the annoying things landed.  Checking with an entomologist friend of mine to figure out what they are.  I wasn’t stung, just annoyingly swarmed!

So, an easy and very scenic climb.  If you go, please check in with the rangers, and ask about bear activity (I found out, afterward, that there are two male grizzlies that make the area close to the top of the peak home).  Other than the bear scat at the trailhead, though, I saw and smelled nothing ursine, thankfully!

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One Comment leave one →
  1. August 19, 2010 5:12 pm

    Would you PLEASE stay away from the edge of deep crevices! I swear you are going to put me in an early grave 🙂

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