The Bitterroot Grand Traverse

The Bitterroot Grand Traverse

Page Type: Trip Report
Lat/Lon: 46.00286°N / 114.34321°W
Date Climbed/Hiked: Jun 9, 2007
Activities: Hiking, Mountaineering, Scrambling
Season: Spring, Summer

The Basics

Bitterroot Mountains, Montana

El Capitan 9983'
The Lonesome Bachelor 9185'
West Como Sister 9624'
Middle Como Sister 9530'
East Como Sister 9485'

A sixteen plus odd mile traverse (with 16,000 plus odd feet of elevation gain/loss) would take us from the Little Rock Creek trailhead across the summits of these five peaks, and back to the car, hopefully in less then a day.

The Trip

The day of heinous started a little before midnight as we (Dyaln, AJ, and I) set off for the Little Rock Creek trailhead. None of the three of us got more than an hour or so of sleep beforehand, so there was a general feeling of dread as we locked up the car and started hiking.

The idea to climb El Capitan, The Lonesome Bachelor, and all three Como Sisters had been floating around in the back of my mind for a little while (probably since I climbed El Cap a couple of years ago). There was just the problem of mentally and physically committing to an arduous series of climbs, not to mention finding partners who liken “fun” to such a task. I should pause to mention that we wanted to do it in one day, car to car. We had previously talked about such a trip, but it didn’t start to come together until Friday afternoon. I had called Dylan and AJ that afternoon, posing the question: “What are you doing between midnight tonight and midnight tomorrow night?” I got nervous laughs for answers.

All three of us had been to El Capitan before, so we knew the approach alone is slightly less than fun (and generally tick-ridden). With six miles of crappy trails, and a couple more of bush pushing, it is a five plus hour approach to the base of El Capitan.

The plan itself was loosely tied together, contrived in our heads and modified as we climbed. We had the general idea that we were going to summit El Capitan first, then follow the ridge to the Lonesome Bachelor and the three Comos. Having little beta on the Lonesome Bachelor and a moderate amount of info on all three Sisters, we brought a rope, some harnesses, a few nuts, and rappel material.

We planned to climb El Capitan first, and then make our way back South along the ridge (summiting the other four peaks) before dropping back onto the trail. We had planned for 20-24 hours, considering that it was more 15 miles, mostly off trail, with 16,000-odd feet of elevation gain and loss.

Moonset over the Lonesome BachelorThe Moon and The Lonesome Bachelor, right before nap-time

As we arrived at the base of El Capitan, we decided that a short nap was in order, and proceeded to do so on some large rocks. That was right at sunrise. El Capitan was a straight forward slog to the summit. We reached the summit at about 8:30 am, and were a little worried about time at that point; 8.5 hours in and we had summited one peak of five.

S. Couloir, El Cap.Dylan, heading up the couloir under the Lonesome Bachelor

El CapitanOn The summit of El Capitan

The Lonesome BachelorAJ, heading down El Cap, and toward the Lonesome Bachelor

The Lonesome Bachelor was next, and we were a little worried, as the peak itself is very steep and exposed, not to mention we had very little beta on the peak. We stuck to the South ridge, and were able to summit fairly quickly. The scrambling is pretty straightforward, and very exposed. The very top of the peak provided some steeper climbing (one section of low 5th class). We were able to descend the peak in a slightly easier manner, traversing ledge systems and down-climbing short sections.

Next up was the long haul to West Como Peak. At 9624 ft, it was one of the harder legs of the trip. We had to lose substantial elevation to bypass a small ridge before heading to the summit. We had also been on trail for more than 14 hours by the time we summited.

Middle and East Como SistersMiddle and East Como Sisters

Middle Como peak came pretty quickly, after a slightly scary section of steep, slick snow on the way down from West Como. It only took us an hour from West to Middle Como.

DescentSketchy going down...

From the Middle Sister, the East Sister looks like a brute, with steep, exposed rock faces. We continued to follow the ridge, and found that it wasn't as bad as it looked. It only took one more hour from the Middle Sister to the East Sister.

East SisterLast summit, 17 hours in, looking and feeling better than we should

5:30 PM, 17 hours in, put us on top of our final peak. Done, out, closed...right?

Well, what goes up must come down. Now only 5,000 feet and several miles down to the trail, and a few more out to the car. We were able to descend the East Sister fairly easily, sticking to the ridge before dropping into the cirque below it and following a scree field that appeared to nicely put us right on the trail.

After a bit of scree hopping and navigating around small cliffs, we finally had to use the rope I had been hauling. A little cliff posed a problem, and there was what appeared to be a bypass to the East, but we didn't want to do any more "over" hiking. We wanted to go down. A sixty foot rappel and more scree put us back on the trail, with daylight to spare.

Cliffed OutAJ raps the cliffout

An hour or two of Rock Creek's famously fun creekbed/wet root/down tree hiking brought us to the end: that part of the trail you look forward to the most: the several hundred foot climb back up to the cars. There was still enough light out that we didn't even have to use our headlamps.

10:10 pm brought us back to the car, 22 hours later. All in all, things went well. There were no injuries, route-finding mishaps, gear malfunctions, or hunger/exhaustion breakdowns. There was still a bit of recovery time involved, though...

And finally...

Note: "Bitterroot Grand Traverse" name was borrowed from SP-er Mtn_Ear. Some of the photos (all the B/W ones and more) were taken by Dylan (Alpine Climber). More photos to come, as I develop/scan slides and hopefully get some from AJ, too. Happy climbing everyone.


Post a Comment
Viewing: 1-10 of 10

Deb - Jun 12, 2007 6:39 pm - Voted 10/10


Well that wasn't a regular walk through the park huh? Tough trip, congrats on your crew's success!

Michael Hoyt

Michael Hoyt - Jun 12, 2007 7:17 pm - Voted 10/10



I know a couple of guys who did the same route with Mario Locatelli a few years ago. Only thing is, they did it after the snow had melted from the route.

Way to Go!

T Sharp

T Sharp - Jun 13, 2007 12:07 am - Voted 10/10


Congrats on the classic traverse route! It sounds like you guys had a great time!


benjohnson - Jun 14, 2007 12:17 pm - Hasn't voted


Thanks for the comments everyone. If you are in the area, I highly recomend these peaks - there is some great scrambling and exposure to be had.


shknbke - Jun 15, 2007 4:30 pm - Hasn't voted


16K vertical for 5 niners? Are you sure about that? It's hard to get that kind of vertical here in Colorado! Must have been a real low trailhead. I would be interested in a map of your route. Sounded like a very challenging day.


benjohnson - Jun 15, 2007 4:49 pm - Hasn't voted

Re: wow!

That is 16,000 up AND down, so really only 8,000 of up-vertical. You can see three of the peaks on this map (the others are to the east).

I tried to draw a route on a topo program the other day, but it didn't really work out.


Sonnik - Jun 19, 2007 7:59 am - Voted 10/10

choice photos

they really made this TR!


benjohnson - Jun 19, 2007 11:13 am - Hasn't voted

Re: choice photos

Thank you... Check back later though; I just got a CD of photos from one of my partners and might be able to upload some more by this evening.

jdbloom - Jun 20, 2007 12:04 pm - Voted 10/10


That is an impressive hike. I went on the trip with Mario Locatelli 6 or 7 years ago mentioned by one of the posts above. However, we didn't actually summit all five of the peaks, since we decided to bypass the Lonesome Bachelor since it was getting late and we'd heard rumors that it was a very difficult climb. We also went after almost all of the snow was gone.


PrestonRhea - Sep 24, 2008 10:49 pm - Hasn't voted


Way to go mate, I've been wanting to do a similar thing in the mountains near where I live. Good to hear it can be done. Haha, congrats on the success though, you've got one tough crew.

Viewing: 1-10 of 10