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Mt. Jumbo – Ungulate Invasion

October 1, 2010

Most visitors to Missoula notice two mountains that loom over the city.  The first is Mt. Sentinel – rising directly from the university and adorned with a large “M”, the grass-covered western face forms a brilliant yellow backdrop to the university.  North, across the hellgate and adorned with the remnants of the shoreline for Glacial Lake Missoula (and sporting a big “L”), Mount Jumbo is also the most accessible of any Missoula mountain.

Jumbo has several trailheads, and numerous trails that crawl all over its south and western face (with others leading to the east, and to the north).  There are also hundreds of game trails to potentially confuse hikers; however, as there are very few trees on the entire mountain, the danger of getting lost is practically nil.

My first foray, I hit up the Poplar Street trailhead (just north of I90 off Van Buren); the trailhead even has a very detailed map of the trail system, including connecting trails to the north hills and Rattlesnake.  There are two easy options to the top – the direct west face, visiting the “L”; and the more gradual (and runnable) south face, which has the advantage of also being in sunlight early in the morning.  I take the direct route, of course.

Hitting the trail before sunrise, one thing about Jumbo that strikes you is just how many elk and deer there are lurking on the outskirts of Missoula; I counted over a hundred in several large packs all around the mountain.  I play tag with a couple of young deer as I take the direct line for the L, disturbing a few other packs as I head up.

The “L”, incidentally, stands for Loyola (or, more correctly, the Loyola Sacred Heart High School).  Unlike the “M”, the L is concrete and has quite sharp edges.  The trail continues up from the L near the upper left hand side of the L; I take a countouring trail and wind up having to cut straight up the mountain.

How much does Jumbo loom over Missoula?  Well, the high ridges of the Rattlesnake and Hellgate form a nice wall on the Eastern side of town; you can even watch the shadows of the mountains retreat as the sun rises – here’s a view of Missoula, looking west, with the shadow of Jumbo and Sentinel hitting the mountains on the west side of town.

The elevation gain is moderate, and I’m able to see first light hitting Lolo Peak southwest of Missoula.

Sentinel is about a thousand feet higher; here’s a look at Sentinel and University Mountain near the top of the ridge with sunlight just hitting the grass up top.

Bob Geldof once remarked in song, “We are shadows of what we were; but we’re a long, long shadow.”  Here’s a visual image of just that – my shadow at this point is roughly four miles long.

Any rate, Jumbo is a great place to watch the sun rise on Missoula, as there are numerous hills and valleys for the sunlight to play peak-a-boo with.  A view northwest; Ch-paa-qn is the sharp point on the horizon; the north hills and other foothills play their grassy selves out in the middle ground.

Like Sentinel and Lolo, Missoula is not very visible from the true summit of Jumbo, which is back northeast of the main crest. However, you can see a large swath of the Bitterroots; on the left is St. Mary Peak, with the Bass Creek ridge, Little Joe, St. Joe, Sweeney and Lolo Peak easily visible (but tough to pick out in this photo). Mt. Dean Stone on the left peaks its head head above Mt. Sentinel.

You can make a lollipop loop by combining routes on the west and south face; overall, it’s maybe a five mile loop with maybe 1200 feet of elevation gain – easily doable for most people in halfway decent shape, and again, a great place to watch the sun rise.

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