"...PART INFORMATION, PART TRIP REPORT, AND A PORTION WILD-EYED RAVING..."
...which is that: This fine and special view, and its accompanying commentary, relegates one of the Bitterroot’s greatest climbing peaks* to subsidiary status, and only over time—and a growing familiarity with both the Bitterroot Mountains and the all-inclusive Bitterroot Range—will the exclamation, and the peak’s stature, change to something along the lines of, "Wow, Trapper Peak! And look, that needle to the right—that’s North Trapper! Awesome!"
These mountains are a thrill to look at, and in doing so, when seen from the highway it is only natural to make the assumption of a Trapper Peak massif incorporating North Trapper Peak, which is in a sense partly true, yet at the same time somewhat inaccurate. There are really four distinct peaks here, of which two do not have official names but are designated by locals as East and West Trapper. Trapper and North Trapper, of course, are official, but there is a ridge running between the two, lengthy enough to make any thoughts of the one-massif appellation a bit controversial. So maybe, maybe not—ultimately, the distinction is not that important. What matters is that these are spectacular mountains, and besting them all—perhaps besting not only its neighbors in the Trapper Peak "Massif," but all the Bitterroots—North Trapper Peak is nothing less than a climber’s paradise. It is a remarkable mountain!
The day we climbed North Trapper was one of those which can only be described as perfect. Mid-October, and it was closer to a nice mid-September; good enough, in fact, we really had no right to expect conditions to be the way they were, and upon reaching Gem Lake it seemed the morning exploded with all that is best in such places. That lake, that morning, was a mirror of calm, an amazing sight of reflected, glowing light. It seemed my camera took its own pictures while I watched, an outsider hoping merely to stay out of the way, marveling at the images before me. From this point the day became more than the climb of a great peak; we weren’t even in our destination basin yet, and all the best reasons to climb in the first place were manifest around us, and—I dare say—within us, as well.
So this page becomes part information, part trip report, and a portion wild-eyed raving over an experience that was one of the best ever. The light at Gem Lake, the beauty of both basins through which we traversed, the really dangerous north-facing couloir (see route page, watch your footing, and wear your helmet!) we were forced to descend in order to enter the basin bordering our destination peak, the difficult but enjoyable terrain through that basin to actually reach North Trapper
The mountain itself, typical of this portion of the Bitterroots, is good granite. In fact, after spending most of this summer hiking and climbing just a few miles to the north on the sedimentary geology of Glacier N.P. and the Missions, the feel of something solid in hand and underfoot was quite exhilarating! Even the couloir marking the beginning of the actual ascent wasn’t bad, but provided reasonably good footing without backsliding and grumbling. And after leaving the couloir it was a pleasure to walk across good, clean granite slabs, which though sloping gave enough grip to our boots so as to pose no problem. Time after time, hand and foot placement were abetted by solid rock. Climbing at its considerable best!
End to (head-lamp) end, this day was not about to disappoint, and it only remains to be said that the summit blocks of granite match the ascent, are equal in character to the surrounding basins. Relatively small, with substantial exposure, this is a summit of real quality! The only thing not present is a "to the ends of the earth" view; not possible because you’re trying to look up and over the rather imposing Trapper (and East Trapper) Peak to the south, and to the north, vision runs into Sugarloaf, The Shard, and El Capitan. It is a fine view, just not running horizon to horizon!
Okay, that’s it for this rather convoluted page. In my mind North Trapper Peak is one of the great ones, great to look at, and an absolute joy to climb.* The very next day, winter came down the pipe, slamming the door on this type of outing until next year. What a great way to end a summer! I think Tim Sharp, Fred Rhoderick, Mike Hoyt, Matt Wright, Meleah Himber, and Vernon Garner all agree to that.
[*It has been suggested to me, and is thus only fair to point out, that another of the Bitterroot's best climbs, Canyon Peak, is on a par, difficulty-wise, with North Trapper. I've not (yet) climbed Canyon, but have been at its base, and can attest to both its beauty and difficulty.]
SUMMIT, & SUMMIT VIEWS.
A CAUTIONARY NOTE ON THIS MOUNTAIN
Baker Lake Trailhead
From Darby, MT, drive south about 4.5 miles on Hwy 93 and turn right (west) onto Montana 473, also known as the West Fork Road.
Shortly after mile marker 6, then passing the Trapper Creek Job Corps, on your right (west), will see a USFS sign indicating a turnoff for the Trapper Creek Trailhead. Immediately begin looking for the USFS sign to the Baker Lake Trailhead which you should see on the same side of the road in a very short distance (It’s the next right after the Trapper Creek Trailhead turnoff).
Turn right (west) onto Pierce Creek Road (FS 363).
At 1.1 miles after leaving the West Fork Road, a road cuts off to your left (southwest). You want to continue straight ahead, just as the sign indicates.
Another mile along the road, at 2.1 miles, you turn right onto FS 5634 and the trailhead for Baker Lake. This intersection is signed. Follow it to the end, which is 10.1 miles from your turnoff from the West Fork Road..
There is parking space for several cars, but it’s a tight spot for turning around.
The trail begins going immediately uphill at the end of the road.
Red Tape and Camping
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.