A running (ha…puns) list of projects I’d like to do someday. Putting this out there in the hopes of sparking conversation, sharing info & inspiration, etc. with others interested in some of the same.
These are mostly Montana adventures, because that’s where I live and what I know. And they’re not higher-profile efforts like the Sierra High Route, Nolan’s 14, etc. There’s plenty of info on stuff like that elsewhere; the point of this list is to think about lesser-known or more out-of-the box ideas. Want to share any info on these? Do any of these spark your own ideas? Let me know!
Swan Range – Full Traverse
N-S traverse of the full Swan range, from the northern terminus of Columbia Mountain to the southern terminus at the Morrell Lookout near Seeley Lake. Or maybe the southern terminus is farther south? Another logical possibility for the southern endpoint would be Lake Mountain, just before the range runs into the North Fork of the Blackfoot river. Anybody have some thoughts on this?
Any way you go about it, it would be an epic adventure. I’d prefer going N-S so I could do the first 70 miles of trail running along the beautiful Alpine Trail #7 while things are still fresh & rosy. After that the trail ends at Inspiration Point and the off-trail travel along the crest begins. There are miles and miles of rugged ridgeline scrambling, everything from runnable ridgeline to class 5 climbing, through some truly awe-inspiring territory. It sounds like most if not all of the class 5 can be skipped by taking more circuitous routes and dropping off the ridgeline some.
Roughly 130 miles and 30K’ ascent. The off-trail section intersects some trails, so it could be set up as either a supported or unsupported adventure.
Mission Mountains – Full Traverse
From the northern terminus near the north end of Flathead lake to the southern terminus at the North Fork of the Jocko river, just south of Grey Wolf peak.
Roughly 100 miles, 40k’ ascent. I don’t think a full end-to-end traverse of the range has ever been done.
Mission Mountains – Southern Traverse
I’d like to do this route again through the southern Missions from Lake McDonald to East Saint Marys, but this time see how fast I can go and include the two peaks — Lowary and ESM — we didn’t get to summit the first time around. On a good day I think it could go in under 12 hours.
17 miles, 12k’ ascent. 5ish miles of trail total. World-class terrain and views.
Bitterroot Mountains – “Path of Most Resistance” 50k
Mountains don’t lend themselves well to straight-line travel. You always follow contours and the path of least resistance over ridgelines, canyons, and rivers. But what would it be like to purposefully fight against that? To take as close to the straight-line path as possible, no matter that it makes no sense for the terrain you’re moving through? It’s an exceedingly stupid idea…and damn interesting.
The Bitterroot range runs nearly perfectly N-S and has an unbroken section of E-S canyons. This route runs against the grain through several of them. In the spirit of the adventure, this should be an early summer adventure to ensure that there’s plenty of shitty postholing snow and scary creek crossings to deal with. Also in the spirit — call it a 50k even though it’s 36 miles in Caltopo…and even that likely is under-estimated.
Start with seven miles of trail running up Kootenai creek to get back into the meat of the mountains. Then bushwhack south, trying to keep as straight a line as possible up and down across each canyon. End at Canyon peak and drop down to the Canyon Cr trail. Run out the four miles of that trail to the Canyon Cr trailhead. Drink lots of beer and never ever do this again.
Roughly 36 miles and 27k’ ascent: https://caltopo.com/m/686U
Bitterroot Mountains – Full Traverse
Full traverse of the Bitteroot Mountains, from southern terminus at Nez Perce pass to the northern terminus at Lolo Peak. End at the Lolo Pk. trailhead. No idea how big this is. 4-5 days, I’d guess. Probably 100+ miles, 40-50k’ ascent or so.
I was born and raised in Hamilton, and grew up looking across the valley at these mountains. It would be a pretty meaningful backyard adventure to put together this kind of traverse through my home range.
Rattlesnake Wilderness – Full Circumnavigation
Door-to-door adventure in Missoula’s backyard wilderness. Summiting all the major peaks in the Rattlesnake wilderness in a single-day push. I’d say this would be pretty akin to a hard 100k race effort.
Jog to the Jumbo trailhead from my house, then work up the eastern side of the wilderness by summiting Jumbo, Sheep, and Mineral peaks. Hit Boulder point and Triangle peak along the northern flank, then cross over the main corridor to summit McLeod. Work back south from there, tagging Sanders, Murphy, and Point Six, then either backtrack along the ridge or commit to bushwhacking through Grant Cr in order to connect to Mosquito peak from Point Six. Run south along the ridge to Stuart, then down the trail to the main Rattlesnake trailhead. Work your way down the Rattlesnake creek trails and connect into the Waterworks trails, just because that’s more aesthetic than running back into town on the road. Finish back at home, or more appropriately, at Big Dipper ice cream.
58 miles in Caltopo, 18,500′ ascent: https://caltopo.com/m/H0KR
Bitterroots – High Five Traverse FKT
Set the FKT on a local Bitterroot mountains testpiece connecting El Capitan, the Lonesome Bachelor, and the three Como Sisters — the High Five. It’s a lollipop loop where you start and finish on the Little Rock Cr. trail, with an extended off trail section in the middle.
What makes this linkup so compelling for me is the variety of terrain and movement. There’s legit running on a great, twisty, rocky trail up to Little Rock Cr lake, then running/hiking on an on-again, off-again cairn-marked social trail from the lake up to the head of the canyon, then about 10 miles of boulder hopping, rocky ridgelines, and committing scrambling as you connect the five peaks. Then, after East Como Sister you drop about 3,000 feet straight down a jungle-y, cliffy side canyon for about 45 minutes of no-holds-barred bushschwack action until you regain the trail. Then the final leg of the journey is about three miles of gut-check trail back to the truck.
I’ve got a bit of history with this area, but have never tried the full High Five route. I remember hiking in with my dad back when I was still a teenager and summiting El Cap and the west sister before bailing. Or hiking most of the route one time in college with a friend, spending 14 hours linking up four of the peaks and skipping the Lonesome Bachelor.
I’ve ran the linkup of El Cap & the three Sisters three times, but didn’t climb the Lonesome Bachelor on any of those runs. I’d always heard that the Bachelor was more of a class 4 or 5 climb, compared to how the rest of the route goes at class 3. So on all those efforts I just committed to what I knew and didn’t take the time to scout the Bachelor at all.
Last year I learned of a couple other Missoula/Bitterroot mountain guys — Ned Gall, Brian Story, and Ben Vandenbos — who’ve done the High Five several times, and I took a day myself to scout out the line up the Bachelor. It is definitely more class 4 climbing than anything else on the route, and in my opinion bumps the commitment level of the day up just a notch. I’d say the “High Four” traverse — just El Cap and the three Sisters — is a great option for people looking for a more class 3 outing. People looking for running and easy scrambling. And then the full High Five traverse would be for those that want to add a bit of spice to the day.
My fastest car-to-car time for just the four peaks, minus the Bachelor, is 6:51. So on another good day I think I could add the Bachelor in another hour on top of that time; so, complete the whole outing in under eight hours. I’ve heard the current word-through-the-grapevine FKT is just under 9.5 hours.
Selway to Bitterroots traverse
TBD…but run up the Selway, cross over the Bitterroots and finish in the Bitterroot valley. 100+ miles, probably — could be fun as a two-day fastpack.