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Eagles and Sky

March 27, 2011

Your river has gulls and tugs. Mine has eagles and sky. – Richard Hugo, on The Clark Fork

With the weather finally cooperating a bit more I’m able to do sillier and sillier things. One to-do I’d been kicking around all winter was seeing what all I could do from my home – that is, what all hikes can I do and what all can I see without using my Jeep?

Today’s answer was a seventeen mile hike that saw me completely encircling Mt. Sentinel. Here’s the route for anyone who’s curious:

A run mapped on 03/26/2011

It’s a bit chilly but brilliant as I pass by the Lowes here west of Reserve. From this pic (1) you can see Mt. Jumbo on the left; University Peak and Mt. Sentinel rising on the other side of the Hellgate; and Mt. Dean Stone off in the distance. My route will take me up a trail between Sentinel and University and then back down the other side.

The hike through Missoula is uneventful, but I’m only a bit up the Kim Williams Trail heading up the Hellgate Canyon when I see an odd, large bird on a dead tree right beside the path. It looks unreal, but as I get closer, the bald eagle shrugs its shoulders and gives me a “wha?” sort of look. I manage to snag a couple of pics as I quietly walk buy. A few minutes later, a guy with a dog spooks the bird, and I get to watch it fly towards me, over me, then arc up into a side drainage. Ahh.

I soon get to the crux of the hike – the side trail up to the saddle between Sentinel and University some 1600 feet of so above me. I immediately get a taste of what is to come, as the steep, gravel trail is also mixed with ice. (The trail is on the north/northeast side of the massif, and so snow lingers here long after the southern and western faces are clear.

The trail is a bit breathtaking, but isn’t too steep; but the ice makes large sections pretty annoying and dangerous. As I move up, it stops being an icy trail and starts becoming an icy trail with two to twelve inches of ice/snow on top of it with what I can only describe as cornices in places. A bit nerve wracking as I hit the first switchback

The climb goes mostly without incident, though. It takes a full hour to get to the top, but given the distance/ice/elevation, I’m quite happy. From close to the top, here’s another good view looking north and down at Mt. Jumbo; it’s fun just watching cloud shadows cross this big lump o’ dirt.

The final nice little bulge to climb before I’m back on safe fire roads:

I had been thinking of bagging University Peak, but the ridge up looks icy, and from experience I Know it’s steep and a slip could be very painful. And since I don’t have crampons or trekking poles with me, I opt to head back home. The backside of Sentinel is laced with many trails, and I take the trail to Mosquito Gulch, which is pine-filled, mostly clear of snow and, once you are on the southwestern slopes of Sentinel, is wonderfully open and warm. I strip off my shell and gloves and enjoy the hike home.

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