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Return to Lolo Peak(s) – Sep 9 2010

September 16, 2010

So while waiting for my apartment to be cleaned and available, I had a day to kill.  As I had been turned back by an unsure route after trying to tackle the North summit of Lolo from Mill Creek earlier this summer, I decided to tackle the peak again, along with its higher southern summit and a tarn north of both peaks. I decided to take the higher trailhead, however, to allow more time for off-trail scrambling.

The Mormon Peak Road to the trailhead at a high switchback is interesting; while many such roads are steep, narrow and a bit nerve-wracking, this road is unique for having virtually no switchbacks – only one!  The trail just climbs clockwise, switchbacks once, crosses a ridge and gets to the trailhead.  A pretty drive, but not for anyone afraid of heights.

The trail is very easy to follow as it climbs about a thousand feet or so to a nice scenic lookout.  The route goes through a lot of old burn, and there is a lot of deadfall, some of it lorded over by the locals.

The vista gives a great view of the first part of the climb.  I’ll climb the peak on the right first (referred to as Carlton Peak), climbing the ridge you see ascending from left to right; then descend a ridge and climb another ridge to the peak on the left (North Lolo Peak).

A dark sense of foreboding accompanies the overcast skies; a crow warns me to stay off the high peaks!  Stay off!  Caw!

Carlton Peak is reached via a very easy off-trail scramble – basically, climb to the ridgeline and head up.  It’s a mix of talus and brush, not much more difficult than a regular trail.  Anyone could climb this.

Missoula looks so small and faraway… it’s only about ten miles as the foreboding crow flies.

The ridge walk to North Lolo Peak is a bit more of a concern, though.  The summit of Carlton is tree-covered, but the view from below the summit shows a wooded ridge followed by, holy crap, looks like a good talus climb to North Lolo!

It doesn’t look very promising as I reach the saddle… looks like climbing is in store!

It’s steep, but not too bad; the talus is pretty solid, so I’m able to scramble pretty quickly.  Looks to be around a 30 to 35 degree slope – this looks pretty indicative:

It only takes me fifteen minutes or so to scramble the 800 vertical feet – a decent workout, but maybe not for everyone.  Now, you can see Missoula still from North Lolo (again, the lower of Lolo’s two summits).  You cannot see the true summit from Missoula (or Missoula from its summit).  Here’s a view from North Lolo back to Missoula, with Carlton Peak in the foreground:

To the south, I can finally see the true summit of Lolo Peak, near foreground.  From left to right, the peaks on the horizon are St. Mary; St. Joseph; the Heavenly Twins; Bass Peak; and Lolo (and then lots of stuff in Idaho I can’t identify).

You may notice the weather is looking dodgy; there’s no lightning or thunder anywhere, and while I figure I may get some occasional drizzle, I figure I’m probably safe and push on to the south! but not before grabbing a quick summit pic on North Lolo.

The ridge is an easy walk, with the saddle dipping maybe 200 feet or so.  Looking back at North Lolo, indeed, you can’t see Missoula at all:

The summit is also huge – literally acres and acres of barren land.  To the south, a few more Biterroot Peaks become visible. Heavenly twins are now on the far left; Bass Peak; Sky Pilot and Ranger Peak are visible.

The weather isn’t perfect, so I make a race back to the trailhead. Well, not a good race; I decide to head down the talus slopes, and it’s very loose talus.  At one point, a large slab slides from under my right foot, releasing a nice large rock behind my left foot, rolling and pinning my foot for an alarming second. I make it down to Carlton Lake (where it’s just a simple hike back to the trailhead); a cute wittle pika welcomes me to the lake.

So I get rained on a little, find a few more ptarmigan, and go grab some Staggering Ox sammiches.  Good times!

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