Ch-paa-qn (pronounced "cha-pock-qwin"), or Squaw Peak, as it is historically named, is the familiar symmetrical pyramid west of Missoula, sitting high atop the Ninemile drainage on the Reservation Divide. The peak is located in the northern Bitterroot Range within the Coeur d'Alene Mountains, Lolo National Forest, Ninemile Ranger District. The Reservation Divide is the ridgeline that separates the Ninemile drainage to the south from the Flathead Reservation and River drainage to the north. The summit is also on the boundary of Missoula and Sanders' counties.
Currently, most locals are unfamiliar with the new name, which comes from the original Salish place name for the mountain meaning "gray, treeless mountain top." Initial translations of the word were thought to mean "shining mountain," however this was later disproved.
Ch-paa-qn is unique in that it is one of very few peaks in the state that possesses at least 4,000 feet of prominence. You don't have to know the details surrounding the math here to realize how "prominently" Squaw stands out in the area - no other peak in the area is nearly as tall. (Prominence explained: If Glacial Lake Missoula were to refill, and the water kept rising, eventually Ch-paa-qn would become an island, with the summit towering 4,000 feet above the shoreline.)
Ch-paa-qn is popular with locals, as the peak is fairly close and easy to reach, as well as providing magnificent views of the Mission, Couer d'Alene, Flathead, Swan, and Bitterroot mountains. The peak is extremely popular with backcountry skiiers, as the numerous bowls, glades and chutes make for excellent opportunities.
Note: It is hard to determine exactly which mountain range this mountain belongs to, since none of the readily available maps demarcate the peaks within the Ninemile drainage. Looking at multiple map scales, Ch-paa-qn sits in a "no man's land" between the rest of the Couer d'Alene Mountains to the northwest, the Bitterroot Mountains to the south and southwest, the Salish Mountains to the north, and the Rattlesnake Wilderness/Garnet Range to the east. Caffrey reported the peak as belonging to the Coeur d'Alene in the Climber's Guide to Montana , and as such, will be considered part of the range unless someone can show otherwise.
From Interstate 90, 23 miles west of Missoula, take Ninemile exit 82 and head north three miles to the Nine Mile Ranger Station (turn right onto Remount Rd before the Ninemile House Bar, follow signs.) Continue on FS Road #476 (Edith Peak Rd.) for the following trailheads:
Reservation Divide Trail (#98):
3.5 miles, +1838 feet elevation overall elevation gain
At the Ninemile Ranger Station, continue on Edith Peak Road (FS# 476) for approximately 10 miles to the Reservation Divide boundary. [Stay right (straight) at the left turn to "Squaw Peak trailhead"]A large parking area is available on the left and the trailhead starts here.
Follow the well-marked trail over easy, rolling terrain for approximately two miles until the trail starts traversing west across the south face of the peak. Here, turn right and leave the trail and bushwhack up easy slopes onto the talus-covered southeast ridge. Boulder hop to the summit.
Alternatively, stay on the trail another 1/2 mile or so to its junction with the Squaw Peak Trail.
Squaw Peak Trail (Sleeping Woman Trail) (#707):
~3 miles, +2298 feet of overall elevation gain
Take I-90 west from Missoula to Exit 82, Ninemile Road. Go approximately 2 miles, then turn north just before Ninemile House Restaurant. Go 2 miles to four-way Junction. Proceed straight on Remount Road 476 for 2 miles, then bear northwest (left) on 5490 for 1.5 miles, then turn west on 456. Continue 1 mile turn north (right) on 2178, and it is approximately 6.5 miles to Squaw Peak Trail 707.
Kennedy Creek Trail (#746)
~8 miles, xx feet of overall elevation gain.
Take FS Road #5507 for about 14 miles from the ranger station to the trailhead.
Note:This route is unknown to the author. Please post a route description if you are familiar with this approach.
Camping and Red TapeThe usual FS restrictions apply when camping in the forest. There is no camping at the trailhead. There are several official FS campgrounds nearby.
Any travel within the Flathead Reservation (north side of the peak) requires a Reservation Hiking Permit. These are easy to obtain at sporting goods stores throughout the Mission and Flathead Valleys, as well as Missoula and Thompson Falls, or you can call the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Recreation Department in Pablo, at (406) 675-2700.
The license is $15 per season, and expires every year on the last day of February —whether you purchase yours in March, May, or December, it expires the end of February.
Political Correctness reigns supremeSquaw Peak is a common name in Montana: Missoula, Ravalli, Sanders, and Sweet Grass counties ALL contain a "Squaw Peak." Additionally, there are "Squaw Peaks" all over the country. In recent times, however, there have been a widespread movement to rename some of the controversial place names found on maps of the United States. For example, "Whorehouse Meadows" has been renamed "Naughty Woman Meadows." The word "Squaw" appears in numerous place names and is considered offensive by most recognized tribal communities.
The name Squaw Peak has appeared on Federal maps since 1959 and on County maps since 1958. As early as 1863, Captain John Mullan referred to the summit as Skiotah Peak, and in 1918, that name was made official by the BGN. However, one year later, that decision was reconsidered and the name Squaw Peak was made official. The 1919 BGN workcard indicated that the latter name was applied to the Lolo National Forest map, although the date of that map was not noted.
Squaw Peak was intially proposed to be renamed "Sleeping Woman Mountain," however after months of deliberations between government officals, the name "Cpaaqn" was suggested. The proponents reported that Cpaaqn is “the historical/aboriginal Salish-Pend d’Oreille place name” for the summit, but they were willing to submit the anglicized form Ch-paa-qn and to add the generic “Peak”.
The Montana House Bill 412 Advisory Committee, which was created to address the issue of removing the word “squaw” from the geographic names of Montana, recommended approval of the proposal. The government of Missoula County had also endorsed the change. The government of Sanders County indicated it understood the proponents’ desire to change the name, but expressed some concern that the local population would have difficulty pronouncing the Salish name. They suggested “ch-paa-gn Peak [sic] be the designated name and “Shining Peak” be put in parentheses below. Many tourists/people would find the name ch-paa-gn and interpretation fascinating”.
The Montana State Board on Geographic Names, after determining that the State’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC)/Water Resources Division had no objection to the change and the DNRC Trust Land Management Division supported the change, recommended approval of the name Ch-paa-qn Peak. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which is Federally-recognized, endorsed the change, as did the USDA Forest Service.