Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Fall in the Bitterroot – lantern ridge, cowboy ridge & fred burr to mill

Despite some busy six day school weeks in September, I was able to get out for a few great outings and enjoy the changing foliage.  First was a lolo peak loop, up lantern ridge and down mill creek.  With the Rut less than a week away, I took it easy, summitting in 2:44 and back to the car in 4:44.  About 18mi and 6000 vert.  Awesome loop, can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to it.
looking down on lantern ridge from atop N lolo peak
carlton lake.  looking forward to the typical early season skiing up here in the very near future
On a Sunday in mid-Sept, I tried to sneak in a morning on trapper’s cowboy ridge before a storm was forecasted to arrive.  Bria was unfortunately battling a cold so opted to only join til the saddle above gem lake.  From there I dropped into and crossed the trapper creek basin to the base of N trapper’s SE couloir.  Years ago I climbed N trapper for my first time in late June and with axe/crampons, was able to climb snow all the way up the couloir (including over the chockstone).  This time around I took the slabby out-and-back traverse on the S face to bypass the chockstone before continuing up the fun 3rd and 4th class scrambling to the summit. 

changing colors at middle lake 
from the saddle dropping N into the trapper basin (photo: bria)
base of N trapper's SE couloir
trapper peak from atop N trapper
It was cool to read through the various summit entries before departing on the traverse to trapper.  Armed with approach shoes, I did my best to stay true to the exposed ridge (lots of fun 4th class up to 5.4), but had to vacate it twice (which entailed some route-finding blunders) before reaching the big flat saddle. 
approximate beta of my route at the first prominent point you must vacate the ridgecrest
when traveling S from N trapper (may not be the easiest or preferred route)
a look back at N trapper from trapper's summit
By this point, the forecasted storm had arrived, in the form of howling winds and some snow flurries.  I continued making my way S towards trapper, well below the ridge on the W side.  I mistakenly went too far since by the time I decided to cut up to the ridge proper, I was forced to deal with steep, loose dirt and a lot of slab.  Once on the ridge, I continued up some fun 3rd and 4th class terrain to trapper’s summit.  After a quick snack, I began the descent down the main trail before cutting skier’s L at approx. 9000ft to find the baker ridge trail which I took down to baker lake and the car.

There is definitely room for improvement on my route-finding and time on this decent (but far cry from the tetons) scrambling loop.  About 9mi/4200 vert/up to 5.4 but could probably be kept to low 5th class with diligent route-finding   

A week later, with stormy weather precluding ridgeline scrambling, I set out for a fred burr to mill creek loop, another outing that has been on my to-do list for a long time.  After stashing a bike at the mill TH, I drove to fred burr TH and set off, excited for a day of exploration into a new corner of the bitterroot.  I passed a couple on horseback before the reservoir and didn’t know it at the time but I wouldn’t see another person the rest of the day. 
largest of several buttresses in the first few miles of fred burr canyon
an empty fred burr reservoir
green, yellow, orange and red as the first of several storm cells approaches
Other than a few wet creek crossings beyond the reservoir, the trail was in great shape and made for easy running.  This all came to a screeching halt about a mile before the switchbacks up to fred burr lake.  A microburst wind effect has created a sizeable stretch of horrendous downfall, with countless trees stacked up across one another, forcing me to climb, crawl and shimmy through the mess.  Forward progress was ridiculously slow but eventually the downfall ended just as abruptly as it started and I hiked the switchbacks up to fred burr lake (3:38).  The stretch of trail from here S to lockwood and heinrich lakes was outstanding and by far the highlight of the day. 
the start of the blow down
fred burr lake
looking S to the fred burr/mill divide
looking N to the upper end of fred burr canyon
lockwood lake
Once at the junction with the mill creek trail, I was well behind schedule and had to opt out of the short out-and-back to mill lake and begin the gradual 12mi descent to the mill TH (trail was well-cleared and in overall great shape).  The hour bike ride at the end of the day was a bit rough but couldn’t put a damper on my excitement for a great day out.  It felt extra rewarding to have had such a fun time in spite of the dreary weather - a sporadic mix of sun, rain, hail, and multiple sustained downpours that made for an annoyingly large number of jacket transitions throughout the day.

About 27mi/3600 vert in 7:10 TH-to-TH

Thoughts – I’m a little confused how it took me so long, despite running 90% of the mileage and no long breaks.  Other than the stretch of blow down (a big caveat), the trail was in great shape and definitely recommended for those looking for a beautiful marathon of running deep in the bitterroot wilderness 

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