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Mt. Sentinel, all in white

January 27, 2011

It’s been a weird winter in Missoula; snow started a bit earlier (at least in terms of sticking around), and it came fairly heavy. Through mid-January, it was the fourth wettest in history, with several major storms, no major warm-ups, and even a few chilly days with -20 wind chills. Couple this with a few avalanche deaths, and my desire to get into cross-country skiing and getting out there has been somewhat muted.

But the last couple of weeks have been downright non-winterish.  It warmed up enough to rain, clearing almost all of the snow, and though another few inches have fallen, temperature at or just above freezing for daytime highs has been the norm. Knowing the backside up is basically devoid of avalanche danger, south-facing an completely impossible to get lost on, I headed out today to get a look at the last of a somewhat snow-socked Missoula.

The trail up the backside is nice and simple – snow-covered, partially groomed for Nordic skiers.  A bit slick in places, and a good workout for your ankle strength. It’s short, though, only about three miles and gains about 1,500 feet or so.  Anyone in halfway decent shape shouldn’t have issues following the trail in dry weather; would still recommend picking up a free map at the trailhead, as there are a few trail intersections.

For some compare and contrast, I’ll offer a few views from the top from both late fall and today.  First, a view of Missoula and the valley, with Ch-paa-qn way off in the distance (more prominent in the snow picture):

To the north, across I-90 and Hellgate Canyon, lies Jumbo Mountain (see previous entry for a hike atop its modest rise). As I mentioned previously on this blog, one of the interesting bits about this area is that it has been repeatedly underwater when, in a previous ice age, glaciers blocked he river to the west, forming a gigantic lake (Glacial Lake Missoula), before breaking, reforming, and breaking many times. In the winter picture, it is easier to see the various shoreline remnants. In the snow picture you can also see the prominence of Stuart Peak in the Rattlesnake, about 3/4ths of the way across the picture on the horizon.

Finally, to the southwest you can see the northern high peaks of the Bitterroot Range.  The paks visible include St. Mary Peak on the far left and Lolo Peak/Carlton Peak towards the right, with the spires of the Bass Creek ridge, St. Joseph and Little St. Joseph also possible (the Pyramid Buttes are hiding behind Sweeney).

If this weather continues, I may be able to head to Sweeney Ridge, but not planning on getting any major new peaks until May at the least.

One Comment leave one →
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