ESM PeakA nice introduction to a marvelous range!
Mission Mountains; it is approximately 28 miles north (as a crow flies) of Missoula, and 8.5 miles east of Saint Ignatius. The Missions are spectacularly big, with a precipitous western wall rising from 3,000 to just over 9,800 feet (when driving U.S. Hwy 93 north through Ravalli on the way to Saint Ignatius, upon reaching the top of the small "summit" between the two townsknown locally as "Ravalli Hill"you get your first broadside view of the range, a perspective that will most definitely get your attention!), and are relatively inaccessible, with many of the peaks being a two day affair, or even more—if you are going anywhere in these mountains it is because you WANT to. The range has several glaciers (of which the Sunset and McDonald Glaciers are largest), is full of wildlife (except maybe No Fish Lake, which I think is suspect), and will provide all the solitude for which you could possibly wish.
McDonald Peak (at 9,820 ft, the range's highest), but I did find one gem of an article, "Mission Mountains Divide," in the Fall, 2006, issue of Forest Magazine, which does a wonderful job of detailing the coexistence, and differences between, both the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness (western half of the range) and Mission Mountains Wilderness (eastern half). The article also gives a historical overview of the Tribal Wilderness; I found this to be one of the best articles of its type I have (ever!) come across, and is well worth your time!
Area views fromand toEast Saint Marys Peak
"This is one of the few alpine peaks in the Missoula area that can be climbed in the winter as a "day hike" with relatively low avalanche danger. The road to the trailhead is often passable in winter due to its low elevation (it isn't gated) with an average 4WD and is a popular snowmobile route. However, I have visited the trailhead during most months of the year and seldom do we have to hike very far, if at all, to get to it. The normal (southeast ridge) route is objectively very safe and is a common winter training route for The New Rocky Mountaineers climbing club which is based in Missoula."
...head past the campsite a few yards until encountering a dry stream bed (surprisingly enough, it was dry on my first attempt at ESM, early July); head up the stream bed, and you'll soon begin to see trails forming on the left. Follow these trails, which, within a hundred yards or so, will combine, and you'll be on a (reasonably) good game trail, which will take you up to timberline. At this point the trail becomes sketchy, but the destination is obvious, and it is a matter of simply strolling along a tundra-covered ridge until the final rocky ascent, which is relatively easy scrambling. From St. Mary’s Lake to the ESM Summit is 3.5 miles; elevation gain is just under 5,500 feet, mostly in the first two miles (yes, it's steepunrelentingly so!).
Red Tape, Wildlife, & Cautions Section
Most of the western half of the Mission Mountains are on the Flathead Indian Reservation (also known as the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes—"Flathead" and "Salish" are one and the same), and a Reservation Hiking Permit is required. These are easy to obtain at sporting goods stores throughout the Mission and Flathead Valleys, as well as Missoula and Thompson Falls, or throughout the Seeley-Swan Valley on the range's eastern side—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.
Another important, and unusual, detail to know about the Missions—which in this case does NOT affect either East or West Saint Marys, but is important enough to mention anyway: The McDonald Peak area on the Salish & Kootenai Reservation side of the Mission Mountains [the west side] is closed annually to allow grizzly bears to feed on a seasonal concentration of lady bugs and cut worms. This closure runs from July 15th through the last day of September, and minimizes potential confrontations between humans and bear. The closure area is shown on Topozone, as well as the Montana NGS Topo set, but neither source gives definite delineation of boundaries. I strongly recommend calling the above number in Pablo before finalizing summer plans in the McDonald Peak area!
grizzly country (this is an excellent, informative link!); they insist on being left alone—disagreement on that point is not an argument you’ll win! Bear spray and noise should be part of every foray you make into the back country. Black bears will be found in the forests, grizzlies commonly venture onto the above-timberline tundra, sometimes, when in pursuit of such delicacies as ladybugs or cutworm moth larva, even to the summits!
In addition to the wildlife already mentioned, the Missions are home to elk, Canadian lynx, bobcat, deer, wolves, the occasional grumpy wolverine (all wolverines are grumpyit's a rule with them), badgers, martens, innumerable rodents large and small, both bald and golden eagles, osprey, and loons (over 50 different species of birds!), and flowers. And to top it all off, in the spring of 2005, a pair of trumpeter swans took up residence on the Mission's eastern flank, nesting on one of the Seeley-Swan Valley's many lakes. The female was killed when she flew into power lines, but the male raised the cygnets, and the fervent hope is that the family will return each summertrumpeter swans are wonderful!
When To Climb
July, August, September. Late June and Early October may well be okay, but are iffy, and vary from year to year. The Missions get a lot of snow; don’t be mislead by the comparatively quick melt-off on the precipitous western front—the snow doesn’t stick to the steep slopes, and those western faces get a lot of sunlight. Just be aware: There’s a lot of snow in them thar hills, bucko....
There is camping at the Twin Lakes Recreation Area, which is a mile-and-a-half past where you turn off the road to reach the trailhead. A Reservation Camping Permit is required, which may be purchased when/where you obtain the Hiking Permit, or may be purchased separately, at a later date. These permits are not site specific, and may be used anywhere in the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness (to repeat: one permit per year is all that is necessary, and each is $15.00). The sign at the entrance makes no mention of any length of stay restrictions.
Any questions regarding the area? I've found the folks at the Cenex gas station in Saint Ignatius to have been very friendly and helpful in the past—I’d ask them. Also and lastly, Saint Ignatius does have at least two motels.
In TributeOn March 1, 2011, Vernon Garner, Saintgrizzly, left us after losing a bold, inspiring fight against pancreatic cancer. Or maybe he won, for he is at last free of his pain and has "shuffle[d] off this mortal coil."
Vernon was an important contributor on SummitPost, but beyond merely making good, informative pages, he actually inspired many who read his work. No one put more work into his or her pages than Vernon did, and many of those pages, especially those related to Glacier National Park, the place he loved above all others, are works of art in both the writing and layout. More than one person has wanted to visit Glacier or go back to Glacier largely due to what he shared about that magnificent place.
Many people on SP counted Vernon among their friends, and many more saw him as one of the best, one of those who exemplified the spirit of this site. He was one of the best of us, he will be missed, and he will not be forgotten.
As a tribute to him, Vernon's pages will remain in his name. Any member who sees a need for an addition or correction should please contact site management via the "Send PM to the Elves" feature.
Rest well and climb on, Vernon.
Additions and CorrectionsPost an Addition or Correction
East Saint Marys PeakMountain/Rock